The matchup between Arizona and St. John's in the second semifinal of the 2K Sports Classic Benefitting Coaches vs. Cancer was a highly-anticipated affair due in large part to the talented newcomers on both teams. And while those talented young players delivered what to this point in the season is the first big game to live up to the expectations, Arizona's more experienced players ultimately tipped the scales in their favor. Solomon Hill scored a team-high 15 points and senior guard Kyle Fogg drew a crucial second half charge to lead the Wildcats to an 81-72 win at Madison Square Garden.
St. John's led by eight (66-58) with 7:17 remaining following a Nurideen Lindsey layup, but those would be the last of his 18 points on the night. Lindsey picked up a pair of fouls before the under-4 media timeout, the second of which being the charge drawn by Fogg with 4:02 to go, fouling out of the game.
With his departure the Red Storm would struggle to find good looks as Arizona went on their game-changing 16-2 run. Eleven of the sixteen points were scored by Hill, Fogg or senior forward Jesse Perry, with a three and a dunk from freshmen Nick Johnson and Josiah Turner respectively.
"Those last eight minutes we really kind of wear on a team as with foul trouble, guys getting fatigued," said Fogg of the decisive run. "I think at the end we really were able to wear them with our depth."
While the result was a negative for the Red Storm, there are more positives than negatives to be taken out of the game. Lindsey once again showed himself to be fitting of the "go-to" role, and their thin front line was outrebounded by just one (34-33) with Moe Harkless (nine rebounds) and Sir'Dominic Pointer (seven) leading the way. But they turned the ball over 17 times, and allowing 16 offensive rebounds didn't help matter either.
The ability to take a punch and counterpunch, I thought was a positive," said St. John's head coach Steve Lavin. "We competed against a team that has more size and depth, but we competed well on the boards. The disappointment was the turnovers and some shot selection that we need to clean-up in certain critical stretches and then defensive discipline."
Those are all lessons that young teams have to learn in November and December, and while the Wildcats' young players will go through similar growing pains they've got the benefit of experienced hands leading the way. That proved to be the difference on Thursday night.
Other Notable Happenings
1. Purdue survives a track meet with Robbie Hummel knocking down the game-winner.
Supposedly the Puerto Rico Tipoff quarterfinal between Purdue and MAAC preseason favorite Iona offered a contrast in styles. Iona looking to play a fast-paced, free-wheeling game while the Boilermakers would look to keep things in the half court. But an interesting (and not so funny for both coaching staffs) thing happened: neither team could guard a chair. Or maybe the offensive execution was that good, but that all depends on the perspective of the viewer. What can't be disputed however is the game-winning three pointer knocked down by Robbie Hummel, giving the Boilers a 91-90 win in San Juan.
Hummel finished with 24 points and nine rebounds as he outplayed Iona's Mike Glover (13 points, 12 rebounds but 2-7 FG), but the play of guards Scott Machado and Momo Jones and big man Taaj Ridley kept the Gaels in the game throughout. The big question for both teams in regards to possible NCAA hopes comes on the defensive end. Can they buckle down and get the stops needed to win in March? Both Purdue and Iona are a work in progress in that area right now.
2. Not enough people have been talking about Tulsa in Conference USA. That could change after this weekend.
When discussing who can win Conference USA this season there's no disputing that Memphis is the clear favorite to win the league (no debating that here). But in discussing other contenders folks tend to say Marshall...and then draw a blank. Well, how about Doug Wojcik's Tulsa Golden Hurricane? Tulsa was in a different class (65-49 win) than a Western Kentucky team that's one of the youngest in the country, but to be fair it wouldn't be a surprise if they were to end up winning the Charleston Classic.
Sophomore center Kodi Maduka is a big reason as to why Tulsa's got a shot, as there isn't another big in the event that can be as imposing a shot blocker as he. Maduka put up 16 points, seven rebounds and seven blocks on Thursday, and he could pose problems for Northwestern as well. And while guards Scott Haralson and Jordan Clarkson struggled from the field against WKU it's difficult to see them making a habit of shooting a combined 7-for-23. Keep an eye on the Golden Hurricane this weekend, as they could leave Charleston with a trophy in tow.
3. Mississippi State's guards lead the way in their win over Texas A&M.
Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney combined to make just two of their sixteen shots on the night (Moultrie made both), and against Texas A&M at first glance that would be the death knell for Mississippi State. But it wasn't, and guards Dee Bost, Brian Bryant and Rodney Hood were the reasons why. Bost led the way with 20 points and four steals while Bryant and Hood combined to score 23 points in the Bulldogs' 69-60 win that wasn't as close as the margin would indicate. Texas A&M's Ray Turner, who scored 20 points in each of the first two games of the season, scored just two points as he had issues with Mississippi State's size inside.
The foul line also came into play as Mississippi State outscored the Aggies 19-10, and the margin would have been larger had they taken better advantage of their 31-14 margin in free throws attempted. So while the majority of the stories written about the Bulldogs on a nightly basis will focus on the inside play (and rightfully so), don't forget about Rick Stansbury's guards. They'll also have a lot to say about the path of MSU's season.
1. It's clearly very early in the season, but if one thing can be said about Seton Hall it's that the Pirates are a tougher basketball team. The Hall put together an impressive second half in their 69-54 win over VCU. Senior point guard Jordan Theodore deserves a lot of credit for the transformation.
2. The Mountain West has benefitted from UCLA's recent inability to keep players in the program for whatever reason, and the next good import was on display at UNLV. Mike Moser has been outstanding in the early going, and he put up 19 points, nine rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks in the Rebels' 95-70 win over Canisius.
3. USC will struggle to score points this season, but their willingness to battle on every possession defensively will keep them in games. Unfortunately for the Trojans, San Diego State's Xavier Thames went the length of the floor for the game-winning basket last night. Keep an eye on the Aztecs hosting Long Beach State this weekend.
4. Fairfield dropped to 1-2 on the season with a 67-57 loss at Minnesota as the Golden Gophers survived 23 turnovers by limiting the Stags to 42% shooting. These two could very well meet again in the Old Spice Classic next week, but not if Fairfield's Rakim Sanders can't avoid foul trouble.
5. Syracuse associate head coach Bernie Fine has been placed on administrative leave while the school looks into allegations of years of sexual abuse by a former SU ball boy. It will be interesting to see how this affects the players on the floor, as they play in the Preseason NIT semifinals in New York next week.
Three Notable Performances
1. F John Shurna (Northwestern)
37 points, seven rebounds and four assists in the Wildcats' 88-82 win over LSU.
2. G Darren White (Campbell)
33 points, 11 rebounds and three assists in the Camels' 94-66 win over North Carolina A&T. Oh, his teammate Eric Griffin did this.
3. F Kevin Jones (West Virginia)
29 points, 13 rebounds, two assists and two steals in the Mountaineers' 97-62 win over Alcorn State.