Before getting into the games of Thursday it would be appropriate to mention the tragic death of University of Southern Indiana basketball player Jeron Lewis, who fell and hit his head during a game against Kentucky Wesleyan. Tragically the senior had returned to school following the birth of his first child around Christmas. An autopsy will be performed on Friday. Jeron Lewis was 21 years old.
Three Key Happenings
1. Gonzaga picks up a big win at Saint Mary's. After winning at Portland in their last game there was just one obstacle left in the way of Mark Few's team making the early statement in regards to who will eventually be the top dog in the WCC. And while Randy Bennett's Gaels were competitive for most of the game they didn't have an answer for Elias Harris, who scored a career-high 31 points and grabbed thirteen rebounds in the Bulldogs' 89-82 win. Now with wins over said contenders, on the road no less, the Bulldogs have taken a definitive step towards yet another WCC regular season title despite the fact that they're just two games into the league schedule.
What cost the Gaels? Simply put they couldn't get stops when they needed them. Gonzaga shot 59.7% from the field and outrebounded Saint Mary's 45-25. To put that in a proper place Omar Samhan had twelve of those rebounds for the home team; Gonzaga is too good of a team to be afforded that kind of edge on the glass. Samhan (31 points) and Matthew Dellavedova (23 points) led the way for SMC but it wasn't enough to pull off the win. Gonzaga has been through the battles in the non-conference schedule, a slate that has them more than ready to make a run at their tenth consecutive WCC title.
2. Louisiana Tech defends their home floor against Fresno State. Louisiana Tech had the look of a team that would have serious staying power in the WAC race going into tonight's game against Fresno State (who was also undefeated in league play). And they did little to dispel that notion in beating Fresno State 81-73 to move to 5-0 in WAC play and take early control of the regular season race. Kyle Gibson, one of the best guards in college basketball that you don't see on ESPN every night, led the way with 32 points while Jamel Guyton added seventeen and Magnum Rolle 16 points and 13 rebounds.
The good news for Kerry Rupp's team is that they already have wins over both Nevada and Utah State, and while both of those games were in Ruston they have an edge that could be a cushion once they hit the road for rematches if they take care of business. Four Fresno State players finished in double figures (Sylvester Seay's 19 led the way) but their rebounding (-9 margin) and three point shooting (33.3%/7-21 to Louisiana Tech's 47.8%/11-23) played a major role in their demise. There's still a long way to go in the WAC race but Louisiana Tech took a step in the direction of their first-ever WAC title.
3. Radford reminds Coastal Carolina that they're defending Big South champions. It's not like the Chanticleers didn't know that the Highlanders were the conference's representative in the NCAA Tournament. But on a night that began with the home folks hoping that Cliff Ellis' team could take a solid hold of the Big South race Radford responded with a gritty effort to win 62-52. Reigning conference Player of the Year Artsiom Parakhouski scored 20 points and grabbed ten rebounds in the win as Radford was first to wake up from a slow start to take a 26-19 lead into the locker room.
And while the second half brought an increase in offensive production the Highlanders remained in front as CCU shot just 31.7% from the field. And on a night that saw both teams struggle from behind the arc Radford did a better job of getting good looks to make up for the cold night. The ability to adjust is one more reason why Radford was the preseason pick to win the conference and they backed it up in Conway.
Top Three Games
1. Mississippi State 82, Arkansas 80 Jarvis Varnado posted his second triple-double in leading the Bulldogs to the win in Starkville. Dee Bost added 20 points while Marshawn Powell (25 points, eight rebounds) spearheaded a furious Razorback rally with 14 points in the final eight minutes.
2. New Orleans 67, Arkansas-Little Rock 66 (OT) A Carl Blair layup with 34 seconds left in overtime gave the Privateers the home win. Devin McDonald led UNO with 20 points and Charles Carmouche added 18 with leading scorer Billy Humphrey out with a knee injury. Courtney Jackson led the Trojans with sixteen points.
3. San Francisco 70, Loyola Marymount 67 Kwame Vaughn scored six of his seventeen points in the game's final two minutes to lead the Dons to the victory in Los Angeles. Larry Davis led the Lions with sixteen points off the bench.
Three Notable Performances
1. F Jarvis Varnado (Mississippi State) Varnado's triple-double (17 points, 12 rebounds and 10 blocks) led the Bulldogs to an 82-80 win over Arkansas.
2. G Chase Simon (Detroit) Simon scored 33 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in leading the Titans to an 81-65 win at Milwaukee.
3. F Elias Harris (Gonzaga) Harris scored 31 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in the Bulldogs' 89-82 win at Saint Mary's.