Throughout the course of conference play in both the Atlantic 10 ad Big East many have been waiting for the moment when Xavier and Connecticut, two teams many thought to be Final Four possibilities at the start of the season, would turn things around. At this rate the Musketeers and Huskies seem destined for the NIT, as both teams' ships have taken on an incredible amount of water in recent weeks. And it's not for a lack of skill either, despite the struggles of these two teams.
The problem: it remains unknown who will step up and hold themselves and their teammates accountable, and that's a scary prospect at this point in the season. Both teams went on the road Tuesday night needing to take care of business and both will return home with losses, and these weren't "silver lining" defeats either. Chris Mack's Musketeers played well in the first half, shooting 51.9% from the field and taking a 39-29 lead into the locker room.
But it all fell apart in the second half at Chaifetz Arena as Saint Louis made the adjustments needed on both ends of the floor to hand the Muskies a 70-59 loss. A Dwayne Evans basket with 18:19 remaining kicked off a stunning 22-2 run for SLU, who picked up a much-needed bounceback victory after falling at lowly Rhode Island on Saturday. Brian Conklin capped his career at home with 23 points and six rebounds while Kwamain Mitchell added 14 despite missing part of the second half after getting his bell rung on a screen he didn't see coming.
As for UConn, they were wrapping up a 72-70 loss at Providence just as the Musketeers were getting going in St. Louis, and the defeat really didn't come as a surprise despite UConn leading by as many as 14 points in the second half. After a pair of Roscoe Smith free throws pushed the lead out to 51-37 with 12:30 to go Providence went on a 26-5 run to take a 63-56 lead with 4:33 left on the clock. Providence had three players play all 40 minutes: Bryce Cotton (22 points), Vincent Council (nine points, 11 assists) and Gerard Coleman (13 points, seven rebounds and four assists).
The common thread in both games: the one "star" expected to step up offered no production to back that up, and it cost their teams dearly. Tu Holloway shot 1-for-6 from the field, finishing with four points, four assists and three turnovers. Mark Lyons scoring 19 points and Dezmine Well adding 13 kept Xavier afloat for a while, but during SLU's run Xavier needed Holloway to step up and he couldn't. The same goes for UConn's Jeremy Lamb, whose 12-point output was rather deceiving. Lamb shot 5-for-15 from the field and scored six of his eight second-half points well after Providence went on their run to take control of the game.
At a certain point the endless "when will they turn things around" questions turn into questions of the "do they even have the capability to turn things around" variety. That's where both Xavier and Connecticut sit at this point, and with just one regular season game remaining for each there's isn't much time remaining. But is it already too late? That's a leap more were willing to make in light of Tuesday's results.
Three Notable Performances
1. F Kevin Jones and G Truck Bryant (West Virginia)
The seniors went out in style, as Bryant scored 28 points to go along with four steals and Jones added 22 points and 16 rebounds in the Mountaineers' 92-75 win over DePaul.
2. G Will Barton (Memphis)
18 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and four blocks in the Tigers' 84-55 whipping of UCF.
3. F Draymond Green (Michigan State)
29 points, eight rebounds, two assists and two steals in the Spartans' 70-55 loss at Indiana. No other Spartan scored more than eight points, and that's a good way to get beat on the road against a quality team like IU.
Indiana's balance too much for Michigan State and the rest of Tuesday's Quick Hitters