The first Big Monday of the season was supposed to be tipped off with an entertaining affair from the Big East between Villanova and Louisville. With both teams entering the game undefeated in league play there was no reason to think otherwise...until the game got underway. When it was all said and done there were sixty-seven fouls, ninety-four foul shots, forty-four turnovers...and one 36-point performance from Scottie Reynolds. Reynolds scored sixteen points in the final six minutes of the game on Monday night, leading the fourth-ranked Wildcats to a 92-84 victory.
Louisville's pressure was able to force turnovers in the first half but they missed opportunities to extend their lead approaching halftime, instead going into the locker room with a 43-36 lead. Seventeen of Villanova's 22 turnovers came in the first half, and combining their improvement in taking care of the ball with two other key factors (Louisville turning the ball over and also not getting the ball to Samardo Samuels early in the second half) the Wildcats were able to wrestle away control of the game. Samuels still led the Cardinals with 21 points but something has to be said for the fact that he had just four official field goal attempts (making all four) and scored 13 points from the foul line.
The disparity in field goal percentage told the story of the second half, as Villanova made 51.9% of their shots while holding the Cardinals to 29.2% from the field. Their defense was far more active while offensively they did a better job of finding better shots. And it also didn't hurt that Scottie Reynolds caught fire late to sew up the victory.
Three Key Happenings
1. Yet another in-season firing. Will DePaul really gain anything from it? Of course the frustration of losing 22 consecutive Big East regular season got to many around the DePaul program, leading to today's firing of Jerry Wainwright. But the question needs to be asked in this case, as it was with firings at Fordham and Penn: is there really anything to be gained from this move at this point in time? You can make a good case for "no" as Tracy Webster takes over on an interim basis. The first sign may have come in the off-season when Wainwright was forced to make changes to his staff, bringing in three guys with extensive Chicago ties. But when you play far from campus in front of relatively (compared to many other Big East schools) sparse crowds you're going to struggle on the court as well as in recruiting.
Now with the head coaching position needing to be filled (AD Jean Lenti Ponsetto stated in the press conference that there will be a national search at the end of the season) how can the staff go out and capably recruit? And lost in the "sudden" fall of the Blue Demons following their surprising 5-1 start is the fact that Mac Koshwal missed eight games (DePaul went 5-3; his first game back was a rusty effort in their loss at Florida Gulf Coast). Obviously things needed to change but if you're going to make a move why not do it before the season began? You already made the coach revamp his entire staff; the move itself makes sense but the timing is woefully off.
2. Oklahoma State loses a game that they should have won. "Bedlam Series" or not if the Cowboys expect to hear their name called on Selection Sunday they cannot afford to lose many more games like the one they dropped in Norman. Behind a double-double of 13 points and 18 rebounds from Tiny Gallon and 15 points from Willie Warren the Sooners beat Oklahoma State 62-57 in overtime. The game featured bad shot selection and questionable ball-handling (Warren matched his seven assists with seven turnovers) but Oklahoma made the plays down the stretch.
The two guys to look at when examining the Pokes' offensive issues: Keiton Page (1-7 FG) and Obi Muonelo (1-12 FG). There were times when Muonelo forced the issue offensively and when you're having the night that he had it may benefit the team if you attempt to find better shots within the offense. Oklahoma State has to be more consistent on offense if they want to be a tournament team come March; they found out first-hand what happens when they aren't on Monday night.
3. Murray State makes a second-half statement to the rest of the OVC. Eastern Illinois showed up in Murray with a 4-1 record in the OVC hoping to pull off the upset and head back home in a tie for first place with the Racers. And they looked solid in the first twenty minutes, leading 28-24 at the half. But in the final twenty minutes the Racers possibly declared themselves the favorite in the regular season race, winning 75-59 behind 21 points from Isaac Miles. Now 6-0 in conference play, Murray State is off to its best conference start since going 13-0 during the 1998-99 season.
The Racers shot just 34.5% from the field but they did two things on Monday night: hit their free throws (28-31) and forced the Panthers to commit twenty turnovers. Already possessing a 30-point win over defending champion Morehead State (86-56 on December 5th), Murray State has the ability to go on a run and cement their status as the OVC favorites.
Top Three Games
1. Saint Peter's 90, Niagara 86 (2OT) Nick Leon (29 points) and Wesley Jenkins (27) combined for fifty-six points in leading the Peacocks to the double overtime win in Jersey City. Niagara, who needed a Tyrone Lewis (27 points) three to send the game to overtime, shot just 37.3% from the field.
2. Bethune-Cookman 66, North Carolina A&T 65 C.J. Reed's jumper with four seconds left in the game gave the Wildcats the win, moving BCC to 3-0 in the MEAC. Albert Abrahams led the Wildcats and all scorers with 19 points while North Carolina A&T was led by Dwane Joshua's fifteen.
3. New Mexico St 75, Idaho 72 Jahmar Young took over for the Aggies, scoring nineteen of his game-high 32 points in the game's final 7:36 to lead NMSU to the comeback win. Mac Hopson led the Vandals in scoring with seventeen.
Three Notable Perfomances
1. Scottie Reynolds (Villanova) Reynolds led the Wildcats to a 94-86 win at Louisville with thirty-six points.
2. Jahmar Young (New Mexico St) Young scored thirty-two points in the Aggies' 75-72 victory at Idaho, scoring nineteen in the game's final 7:36.
3. Savannah State As a team the Tigers shot 70% from the field (28-40) and 75% from behind the arc (9-12) in their 73-63 win at Central Connecticut State.