With games at #13 San Diego State and against #11 UNLV this week, Steve Alford's New Mexico Lobos had a great opportunity to not only take control of the Mountain West but also make a statement nationally.
Drew Gordon was outstanding, scoring 27 points and grabbing 20 rebounds as the Lobos whipped UNLV 65-45 in Albuquerque. And while Gordon was outstanding the effort of New Mexico on the defensive end of the floor shouldn't be ignored. UNLV shot just 31.1% from the field for the game, by far their worst performance of the season, and the Runnin' Rebels scored just 18 points in the second half. Anthony Marshall, who finished with 18 points, scored 12 of those second half points and outside of the junior UNLV shot 2-for-13 from the field.
Meanwhile Gordon was a man among boys in the final 20 minutes as he shot 9-for-13 from the field and accounted for 18 points and 11 rebounds. Tony Snell added 12 points in a game that saw both teams go on runs early, but neither could establish any kind of distance in the first half. But the Lobos' intensity on the defensive end combined with heavy doses of Gordon proved to be too much in front of a frenzied crowd at The Pit.
"I don't know if we are the best team in this league yet but there is no team in the last month that has guarded the way that we have guarded," remarked Alford. "To hold a team like this who is averaging 80 points a game, and you hold them to four field goals in one half is great."
In addition to their victory New Mexico received some help from an unlikely source as San Diego State fell 58-56 at Air Force. As a result the Lobos find themselves two games up on both the Aztecs and Runnin' Rebels with four league games to go. Remember that SDSU/UNLV "round three" that many (myself included) were clamoring for in light of their split of the season series? We may get that matchup, but thanks to New Mexico it will likely have to come a round early in the Mountain West tournament.
Other Notable Happenings
1. Murray State takes care of a hobbled Saint Mary's in the Sears BracketBusters headliner.
Much importance was placed on the Sears BracketBusters matchup between Murray State and Saint Mary's, with many hypothesizing that the Racers would have to get this game in order to have a shot at an at-large bid (at 25-1 coming in, this talk seemed to be an absurd overreaction). The Gaels were with a hobbled Matthew Dellavedova and without the injured Stephen Holt, and Isaiah Canaan and company took care of business accordingly. Canaan scored 23 points and dished out four assists in leading Murray State to the 65-51 win, and despite their size disadvantage inside Steve Prohm's club out-rebounded SMC 31-24.
Just as important as Canaan however was the Murray State effort on the defensive end, as they limited Saint Mary's to 37.7% shooting and 2-for-14 from beyond the arc. Dellavedova managed a team-best 17 points but getting outscored by 21 points from beyond the arc (27-6) and Jorden Page and Rob Jones combining to shoot 3-for-18 from the field proved to be too much to overcome. The win should satisfy the masses with regards to Murray State's chances should they not win the OVC's automatic bid, and the task for Randy Bennett's team is to simply get healthy and protect their one-game lead in the WCC.
2. Trey Burke makes the difference as Michigan beat Ohio State in Ann Arbor.
It may be time to end the debate as to not only who the best freshman point guard in America is but also the conversation regarding the Big Ten's best point guard regardless of class. Michigan's Trey Burke scored 17 points and dished out five assists in the Wolverines' 56-51 win over #6 Ohio State to pull into a tie with the Buckeyes a game behind Michigan State in the loss column. His work against Aaron Craft proved to be the difference as Craft struggled, scoring four points on 1-for-6 shooting with three assists and two turnovers.
Deshaun Thomas led the Buckeyes with 25 points and Jared Sullinger was able to muster 14 despite being the focus of Michigan's interior defense, but with Tim Hardaway Jr. adding 13 points and Jordan Morgan a double-double (11 points, 11 rebounds) Michigan was able to give the home folks what they wanted. Guard play wins out more times than not especially in March, and it's very apparent that Michigan is in a good position thanks to Burke.
3. Antoine Young's shot with three-tenths of a second remaining completes the Creighton comeback.
This Sears BracketBuster did not fail to live up to the hype that preceded it as the 49ers and Bluejays put on a show in Omaha. Dan Monson's club led for much of the night but down the stretch Creighton was able to turn the momentum in their favor. And they were able to do so by ramping up their intensity of the defensive end of the floor. "Holding" a team to 50% shooting from the field isn't all that impressive until two factors are noticed: Long Beach State shot 68% in the first half, and the 49ers were just 1-for-5 from beyond the arc after shooting 60% in the first half. Antoine Young would cap the rally with a jumper over T.J. Robinson with less than a second remaining, giving Creighton a needed 81-79 win.
Long Beach State's versatility allows them to switch just about any ball screen, and to head coach Greg McDermott and his players' credit they were able to take advantage of it. Creighton's win can't be mentioned without noting the play of Doug McDermott either, who took full advantage of playing a team unfamiliar with his skill set by scoring 36 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Robinson (20 points, eight rebounds) and Casper Ware (21 points) led the way for the 49ers, who have the remainder of the Big West season to look forward to. Creighton likely locked up an at-large bid barring a collapse, and while Long Beach State has seen some of their bigger wins devalued two things need to be remembered. One, it's not their fault that Xavier and Pittsburgh haven't performed to expectations, and two 37 teams are needed should the 49ers not win the automatic bid. Are there really 37 teams better than Long Beach State? No.
4. Kansas State picks up a win they truly needed as they beat #10 Baylor in Waco.
Given the tough four-game stretch that Frank Martin's team is currently in, it was clear that the Wildcats would have their work cut out for them from a tournament resume standpoint. But those games can be looked at as either a challenge or an opportunity, and how they're seen is up to the team and no one else. Opportunity knocked in the form of a trip to Baylor on Saturday and the Wildcats took advantage, beating the Bears 57-56 in a weird finish. A Jordan Henriquez dunk with 1:55 remaining gave K-State a 57-56 lead, and with neither team scoring another point that would be the final score as well.
Quincy Acy, who finished with 14 points, looked to have been fouled just over 20 seconds later on a shot attempt but no call came and Quincy Miller (12 points, 11 rebounds) missed a shot that would have given the Bears the lead in the final seconds. Angel Rodriguez and Rodney McGruder scored 15 apiece to lead the Wildcats, but the biggest story on the box score has to be the lack of production from Perry Jones III. Jones III managed just four points and four rebounds before fouling out in just 22 minutes of action, and if Baylor's to do anything of note in March these kind of performances can't happen. Kansas State picked up a win they desperately needed however, helping to relieve some of the pressure they may have felt going to their game at Missouri on Tuesday night.
5. Washington beats Arizona but was there anything gained from the result?
There's no denying the fact that the game between the Huskies and Wildcats was an important one within the Pac-12, as the Huskies (tied with California) enjoyed a one-game lead over Arizona (Colorado and Oregon as well) going into Saturday's action. But what does the game, which Washington won 79-70, mean to both in regards to their hopes of an at-large berth? For Arizona it seems quite simple in defeat: win out with games against the L.A. schools at home and a trip to Arizona State and then do some damage at the Pac-12 tournament.
The Wildcats shot just 35.5% from the field in the second half, 2-for-13 from three, as they were unable to make up the two-point halftime deficit (39-37). Terrence Ross led the Huskies with 25 points and Tony Wroten added 22 and nine assists, but with computer numbers that don't jump off the screen at first glance and an 0-4 record against RPI Top 50 teams it will be interesting to see what's made of the Huskies. To say the least a regular season Pac-12 crown would help their cause immensely, and Washington took a step in that direction on Saturday afternoon.
1. There were few results more impressive than Wichita State's 91-74 win at Davidson, moving the Shockers to 24-4 on the season. Joe Ragland scored 30 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead the way for Wichita State, who shot a scalding 63.5% from the field. Jake Cohen led the Wildcats, who are the prohibitive favorite to win the SoCon's automatic bid, with 25 points.
2. The story of Florida State's 76-62 win at NC State should be the Seminoles limiting the Wolfpack to 29.3% shooting from the field, but thanks to the actions of official Karl Hess that's not the case. Hess thought it necessary to throw Wolfpack legends Tom Gugliotta and Chris Corchiani out of the RBC Center, and according to those in the area it was a blatant overreaction. Much has been made about officials being overworked, but the real problem is that some act as if the fans show up to watch them. This really needs to be dealt with.
3. Things have gotten even worse for Connecticut and Illinois as both teams were on the receiving end of whippings on Saturday afternoon. The Huskies fell to #13 Marquette 79-64 thanks to 53 combined points from Jae Crowder (29 points, 12 rebounds) and Darius Johnson-Odom (24 points). But the bigger issue was point guard Shabazz Napier calling out his teammates following the game. The Huskies don't have the look of a team capable of turning things around and neither does Illinois, who was whipped at Nebraska. In the 80-57 loss the Fighting Illini saw Bo Spencer score 27 points and Nebraska shoot 55.3% from the field.
4. Saint Mary's may have lost but they actually gained a game in the loss column with regards to the WCC race. Rashad Green's jumper with 3.3 seconds remaining pushed San Francisco past #24 Gonzaga by the final score of 66-65. Gonzaga's now tied with BYU for second place at 11-3 with Saint Mary's a game ahead at 12-2 with all three having two games remaining, and the Bulldogs and Cougars meet in Spokane on Thursday night.
5. One way to make earning an NCAA berth tougher than it should be is to lose games you're supposed to win, which is exactly what #23 Mississippi State did. The Bulldogs struggled offensively, shooting 35.2% from the field and 5-for-22 from three in a 65-55 loss at Auburn. Frankie Sullivan led the Tigers with 16 points and Kenny Gabriel added 15 and nine boards.
6. Drexel went on the road and beat Cleveland State 69-49, and while the Vikings are a far different team without D'Aundray Brown this was an impressive result for the Dragons. Drexel has now won 15 in a row, and it may be time to consider where Bruiser Flint's team stacks up against last year's George Mason squad. The Patriots won 16 in a row but would eventually need an at-large bid (8-seed), and a quick look at the numbers (see the "Rankings" area) for both teams shows how difficult it could be for the CAA to get two bids.
7. Both Memphis and Southern Miss dropped games they weren't expected to, meaning that not only do the two teams remain tied for first in Conference USA but they also move closer to the pack. UTEP was able to come back and beat Memphis 60-58 for their first road win of the season, and Houston knocked off Southern Miss 73-71 as Jonathon Simmons led the Cougars with 28 points and eight rebounds. Conference USA needed Southern Miss and Memphis to separate in order to feel good about two bids, and that may not happen at this rate.
8. The streak will live for another year as Dayton was once again unable to win at Xavier, losing 86-83 in overtime at the Cintas Center. The Flyers, who were led by Kevin Dillard's 20 points and six assists, haven't beaten the Musketeers in Cincinnati since 1981. Tu Holloway (32 points, six rebounds, five assists) and Mark Lyons (20 points, three rebounds) led the way for the Musketeers, who remain in the A-10 race with the win.
9. The Patriot League race has become much tighter than expected with two games remaining. While both American (74-50 win at Army) and Lehigh (72-53 win over Lafayette) took care of business they received the help they needed from Holy Cross, who beat first-place Bucknell 54-52 despite 20 points and ten rebounds from Mike Muscala. The Bison are now just a game up on the Eagles and Mountain Hawks, and with two to go there's always the chance that Bucknell could drop all the way down to the 3rd seed. Bucknell and American meet in D.C. on Thursday night.
10. Not only did Belmont take care of what they needed to do in beating East Tennessee State 80-58 but they also received help in the form of Jacksonville's 81-75 win over Mercer. This gives the Bruins a one-game lead over the Bears in the Atlantic Sun with three to go, and the regular season finale is a battle between the two at Mercer (the Bears also host the conference tournament).
11. Similar to the battle between Arizona and Washington, the second meeting of the season between Wyoming and Colorado State is a contest that we'll still have some work to do when it comes to figuring out the meaning. Behind Greg Smith (14 points, eight rebounds) and a defense that limited the Cowboys to 38.6% shooting, the Rams picked up a much-needed split of the season series with a 54-46 win (Wyoming won the first meeting in Laramie by 19). Both teams have plenty of work to do (despite solid computer numbers for CSU) but this is a good step for the Rams.
12. Not only did Northwestern pick up a much-needed win (64-53 over Minnesota) but John Shurna became the school's all-time leading scorer. The senior was all over the stat sheet for the Wildcats, finishing with 18 points, five rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocked shots. At 6-8 in league play Northwestern has opportunities remaining as they host Michigan and Ohio State, while the remaining road games are Penn State and Iowa.
13. Harvard once again took care of Yale, this time by the final score of 66-51, to remain alone in first place in the Ivy League. Brandyn Curry scored 18 points and Keith Wright ten as the Crimson, who host Princeton and Penn next week, soundly defeated the Bulldogs for the second time this season despite 22 and 11 from Greg Magnano. A sweep of next weekend would guarantee Tommy Amaker's bunch at least a share of the Ivy crown.
14. The nation's second-longest win streak came to an end on Saturday night as Weber State edged out UT-Arlington 72-70 in Ogden. The Mavericks, who had won 16 in a row, limited the nation's leading scorer (Damian Lillard) to 17 points but Scott Bamforth scored 16 of his 19 in the second half to propel the Wildcats to the victory.
15. Two teams in need of wins took losses on the road Saturday as Texas fell 90-78 to Oklahoma State and Seton Hall dropped a 62-57 decision at Cincinnati. Safe to say that both the Longhorns and Pirates have work to do if they're to go dancing, but the good news for both is that their leagues will provide the opportunities needed to strengthen their case.
Five Notable Performances
1. F Drew Gordon (New Mexico)
27 points and 20 rebounds in the Lobos' 65-45 win over #11 UNLV.
2. G Keiton Page (Oklahoma State)
40 points (20-20 FT) in the Cowboys' 90-78 win over Texas.
3. F/C Andrew Nicholson (St. Bonaventure)
32 points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots in the Bonnies' 81-61 win over Rhode Island.
4. F Doug McDermott (Creighton)
36 points and 11 rebounds in the Bluejays' 81-79 win over Long Beach State.
5. G Louie Krogman (South Dakota)
37 points, six assists and four steals in the Coyotes' 93-92 loss to Texas State.