"Everybody all year says that's what we're going to miss a guy like [Donald] Sloan," said forward Nathan Walkup, who finished with 16 points and six rebounds. "But we have a go-to guy. We knew Khris, from last year in the tournament, hit a few threes in that Utah State game and can score in big games. We have a go-to scorer now and we need one."
Missouri managed to shoot 52% from the field but their pressure defense wasn't as effective on the Aggies as it's been on prior opponents. Texas A&M turned the ball over a total of nine times, an amazing number considering the fact that Missouri forces 18 turnovers per game. Mizzou handed the ball over 12 times, resulting in the Aggies outscoring them 17-10 in points off turnovers. A&M also enjoyed a 17-7 advantage in fast break points, and while the Aggies can get out and run when they want to that difference is also a result of the job they did taking care of the basketball. And in addition to the turnovers A&M got to the foul line, make 29 of 38 while the Tigers were just 9-for-19. When you can get nearly 32% of your points from the foul line your offensive productivity receives a nice boost, and if A&M can continue to work the ball inside and get to the line they're going to celebrate quite a bit in College Station this season.
"When it comes down to it the players make the right plays, and that's stepping up to the free throw line and make free throws," said Missouri's Marcus Denmon on the Tigers' woes at the charity stripe. "That's ten points we lost out on."
As for Missouri they don't have much to hang their heads about outside of the free throws, something you'd expect to improve given the shooting ability of guys such as Denmon and Phil Pressey despite their issues on Saturday. Does Missouri have to force turnovers in order to win? Certainly not, and the fact that they had a chance to win on the road against a tough opponent underlines that. But there's also no denying that the presence of Dash Harris and B.J. Holmes makes a difference when dealing with a defense like that of the Tigers. Texas A&M picked up a very good win on Saturday, and despite the desires of Middleton to continue to fly under the radar those days may be coming to an end for a group that numbers-wise looks a lot like last year's West Virginia squad. Is Khris Middleton a Da'Sean Butler clone? No, but the more he develops as a primary option (as Butler was for the Mountaineers) the better he and his teammates become.
(quotes courtesy of Texas A&M Athletics)
Other Notable Happenings
1. Marquette suffers an epic collapse and gives one away at Louisville.
Up 65-47 at Louisville with 5:44 remaining, Buzz Williams' team looked a safe bet to cap an impressive week with a second win over a ranked opponent. But Preston Knowles had different ideas, scoring 12 points on four three pointers to help pull the Cardinals back into the game. But the senior wasn't done there, finding a wide open Kyle Kuric underneath for what would prove to be the game-winning basket with four seconds remaining. The Golden Eagles looked to salvage the ball game following a timeout but when Jimmy Butler's shot missed the mark they were headed back to Milwaukee with a feeling no one expected them to have six minutes prior. Knowles led all scorers with 17 while Darius Johnson-Odom led the visitors with 16, and while Louisville can admire their fighting spirit Marquette provided what would turn out to be a harbinger of things to come on Saturday (in terms of teams blowing leads). The task for Marquette now is to make sure Louisville doesn't beat them a "second" time with DePaul visiting on Tuesday night. With veterans like Butler, Johnson-Odom and Dwight Buycks, Coach Williams will look to them to take the lead emotionally. If they do then this likely is little more than a bump in the road, albeit a tough one to take at the moment.
2. Now entering the early Atlantic 10 title discussion: Duquesne.
It was expected that Temple would have their hands full with Duquesne at the A.J. Palumbo Center in Pittsburgh. But for the Owls to miss their first 13 shots and fall behind 19-1 underlines how poorly they shot in what would eventually be a 78-66 loss. But keep this in mind as well: despite averaging 80 points per game Ron Everhart's team has made improvements on the defensive end, and Saturday's win was the second consecutive game in which a Duquesne opponent has gone at least 11 minutes without a field goal. Bill Clark led four Dukes in double figures with 22 points as they shot 47.7% from the field and out-rebounded the Owls 35-29. Temple shot 30.9%, and in addition the offense as a whole Fran Dunphy has to hope that the loss serves as a wake-up call for Lavoy Allen. Allen was just 1-for-6 from the field, a line Temple can't afford from him with a healthy Juan Fernandez much less a Fernandez who didn't start due to a bone bruise on his knee. Many talk about Duquesne as a team worth watching solely for offensive reasons, but with the defense coming around they may be a team to keep tabs on in regards to the top of the Atlantic 10.
3. While the top three struggle at home San Diego State impresses in winning at New Mexico.
Duke had its issues with Virginia before taking over halfway through the second half in beating Virginia, Ohio State was taken to the wire by Penn State and the same happened to Kansas against Nebraska. The favorites all won at home while Syracuse and Pittsburgh took care of their opposition by more comfortable margins. But what about Steve Fisher's Aztecs, who some feel the need for more "evidence" in order to consider them legit? Does an 87-77 win at The Pit do anything for the naysayers? D.J. Gay led the way with 30 points, getting hot to the point of knocking down six consecutive three pointers (as a team the Aztecs were 13-25) at one point, while Kawhi Leonard added 19 points and 15 rebounds to move SDSU to 19-0 overall and 4-0 in the Mountain West. Chase Tapley added 15 to make up for quiet evenings offensively from Malcolm Thomas and Billy White, and defensively the Aztecs limited the Lobos to 37.9% shooting. If there was one question about San Diego State it was their ability to knock down perimeter shots, and if Saturday was any indication of their progress they're in good shape. Continue to sleep on this team at your own risk; San Diego State can play.
4. Premature bubble talk needs more Colorado and less Northwestern.
A lot of the talk in regards to teams making long-awaited NCAA Tournament appearances has centered on Northwestern due in large part to the fact that they've never made the field. But after a number of missed opportunities it's time to call their resume what it is: lacking any wins that would make a serious impression and running out of chances to make a statement despite the quality of the Big Ten. The Wildcats missed out on another Saturday, being reckless with the basketball in crucial situations in falling at Michigan State in overtime. So why not move on the Colorado Buffaloes, who moved to 3-0 in the Big 12 with a 75-71 win over Oklahoma State in Boulder? Tad Boyle's squad owns a pair of what should be very good conference wins (Missouri, at Kansas State) and Saturday's victory is one that could ultimately be a difference-maker in the selection room come March. Alec Burks and Cory Higgins combined to score 43 points while Marcus Relphorde added 14, and as a team the Buffs got it done from the foul line (34-39) while also out-rebounding the Cowboys 34-22. Next up for Colorado are road games at Nebraska and Oklahoma, and wins there aren't out of the realm of possibility either. Following that is Kansas on the 25th in Boulder. It would be hasty to say this is a Big 12 contender (they haven't gone 3-0 in the league since 1996-97) but they're definitely in play for an at-large bid.
5. Southern Miss uses a strong second half to whip UCF in Hattiesburg.
Out of habit the focus on Conference USA tends to be on Memphis and given their recent dominance rightfully so. But with the young Tigers having their fair share of issues (the most recent being the indefinite suspension of Wesley Witherspoon) there's an opportunity for someone else to step up in C-USA. That was the subplot of UCF's trip to Southern Miss, and the Golden Eagles made a nice statement in the second half of their 86-69 victory. Larry Eustachy's team went on a 21-2 run halfway through the second half to turn a game they trailed into one they'd control until the final buzzer. R.L. Horton led three starters in double figures with 18 (six rebounds, five assists and four steals as well) while Maurice Bolden added 17 off the bench in the win. Marcus Jordan led the Knights with 20 points but outside of him and Keith Clanton (14) there wasn't much going on offensively for the visitors (12-for-30 FG). Seven Conference USA teams have just one league loss but it's hard to say that any have made a statement on par with what the Golden Eagles made on Saturday.
Top Five Games
1. (13) Texas A&M 91, (12) Missouri 89 (OT)
2. (17) Louisville 71, Marquette 70
3. Tennessee 67, Vanderbilt 64 The Volunteers bounced back from a truly horrendous start to beat the Commodores in Knoxville. Scotty Hopson led four Vols in double figures with 16 while John Jenkins led Vandy, who will lament the fact that they once again failed to close out a game, with 21.
4. Xavier 81, Dayton 76 Thanks to 24 points from Tu Holloway the Musketeers extended their Atlantic 10 home win streak to 34 games, tying the record set by Temple from 1987-91. The win also prolongs the misery of the Flyers, who haven't beaten Xavier in Cincinnati since 1981. Juwan Staten led five Dayton players in double figures with 17.
5. Oral Roberts 69, UMKC 63 (OT) The Golden Eagles took advantage of a length of the court pass from Rod Pearson to Damen Bell-Holter, who converted the layup as time expired, to get the game into overtime. Bell-Holter then scored four points in the extra session to help move ORU to 5-3 in Summit League play. UMKC's Jay Cousinard led all scorers with 20 while Warren Niles paced the victors with 18.
Five Notable Performances
1. F Derrick Williams (Arizona) 31 points and 10 rebounds in the Wildcats' 80-69 win over rival Arizona State.
2. F Kawhi Leonard and G D.J. Gay (San Diego State) Leonard tallied 19 points, 15 rebounds and four assists in the Aztecs' win at New Mexico while Gay scored a game-high 30.
3. F Greg Magnano (Yale) 23 points and 17 rebounds in the Bulldogs' 69-64 win at Brown.
4. G Kemba Walker (Connecticut) 31 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals in the Huskies' 82-62 win at DePaul.
5. F Jordan Williams (Maryland) 25 points and 14 rebounds in the Terrapins' 74-66 loss at (7) Villanova.
Bonus: F Brian Benson (New Hampshire) Grabbed 22 rebounds in the Wildcats' 64-60 double overtime loss at Stony Brook.