A week after being outclassed at home by first-place Saint Mary's there was no ignoring the importance of BYU's game against Gonzaga, especially if the Cougars were to remain alive in the race for second place in the WCC. Dave Rose's team responded as good teams should, taking control of the game with an 11-4 run to close out the first half on their way to an 83-73 victory. The frontcourt matchup proved to be the difference as BYU's duo of Noah Hartsock and Brandon Davies outplayed Elias Harris and Robert Sacre, with Hartsock's 24 points and 14 rebounds leading the way.
Davies added 15 points and five rebounds for BYU, who picked up an important resume-building victory to move to 19-6 (7-3) on the season. Harris attempted just three shots for the Bulldogs, making one and finishing with seven points in 21 minutes of action, while Sacre scored 11 points and grabbed five boards. Sam Dower (15 points, five rebounds) and Marquise Carter (11 points) led the way off the bench for Gonzaga, who as a whole didn't not deal well with one of the toughest environments in college basketball.
"We were rattled, frazzled, played with no poise and no composure," remarked Gonzaga head coach Mark Few. "We have two freshmen guards out there. But they were only part of the problem. It was everybody - seniors, juniors. BYU came out and played us physical and got after us. Their posts attacked us very well - Hartsock and Davies."
Gonzaga did manage to score 49 points in the second half as they shot 51.4% from the field but that didn't matter much as BYU was able to find the shots they wanted on the other end (45 points, 54.5% FG). Two reasons for that were guards Matt Carlino (18 points, five assists) and Anson Winder (10 points, five assists). Winder made his first start of the year on Thursday night, replacing Brock Zylstra in the starting lineup as Rose hoped that Zylstra would provide a spark to the bench scoring. Safe to say that Winder provided a boost himself by reaching double figures for the first time since December 20th.
Entering the week ranked 48th in the NCAA's most recently released RPI, BYU was without a win over an RPI Top 50 opponent (0-4) going into Thursday night. To take care of that now is a good development for the Cougars, who wouldn't have another shot until their regular season finale in Spokane. But more importantly the win keeps BYU in the conversation for one of the two double-byes in the conference tournament, which leaves a team two games away from an automatic bid.
"That's a big win for our team and for our guys," said Rose. "Every player that went in the game tonight played with real urgency and a great effort. Our effort was extremely high the whole night and that was our focus going in."
Other Notable Happenings
1. Arizona makes big plays late to win at Cal, showing that they aren't done yet.
There were some who left the Arizona Wildcats for dead in the aftermath of Kevin Parrom's season-ending injury as he broke his right foot in the first half of their two-point loss to Washington (the Huskies are now in sole possession of first place). And the Wildcats did little to erase that doubt early in Berkeley as they trailed Cal by as many as 12 halfway through the first half. But Arizona stormed back, outscoring the Golden Bears 36-14 over the final 10:43 of the half and holding off Cal's many attempts to wrestle away control in the second half to win 78-74. Kyle Fogg came up big on a night that saw Solomon Hill struggle with foul trouble, scoring 23 points and blocking an Allen Crabbe three that would have tied the game in the final seconds.
Jesse Perry added 18 points and four rebounds but there was also a bit of a youth movement for the Wildcats as well. Nick Johnson, who also had a critical blocked shot in the final minute of play, scored 11 points and dished out a team-high five assists and Angelo Chol added eight points, four rebounds and two blocked shots in his best performance of the season with regards to both the stat line and his activity. Josiah Turner was solid as well despite four turnovers, and he's going to have more on his plate with Jordin Mayes going down with a foot injury that could sideline him for the remainder of the season. That would be another tough blow for Arizona to absorb, but if Thursday's effort showed anything it's that they won't be going down without a fight.
2. Murray State storms back in the second half to remain undefeated.
Second-place Southeast Missouri State is the biggest threat to Murray State's hope of winning the OVC's automatic bid, and the Redhawks showed why in the first half on Thursday night as they led by as many as 11 and took a 39-33 lead into the half. But that margin proved to be too close for comfort on the road as Isaiah Canaan and company got rolling in the final 20 minutes. Murray shot 22-for-28 from the foul line and out-rebounded SEMO 28-18 (14 offensive rebounds) on their way to the 81-73 win.
Canaan finished with 32 points, five rebounds and three assists and Ivan Aska was one of three other players to reach double figures with ten points and 11 rebounds, moving the Racers to 22-0 on the season. Marcus Brister led four Redhawks in double figures with 17 points and eight rebounds but it's tough to win anywhere, much less on the road, when allowing a team to not only whip you on the offensive glass but also attempt 28 free throws. They'll get another crack at Murray State on the 15th, allowing Dickey Nutt's team the opportunity to apply the lessons they've learned, but that's far easier said than done against Steve Prohm's talented squad.
3. St. Francis (NY) beats CCSU to move to 9-2 in the NEC.
One of the better (and more unheralded) coaching jobs has been done in Brooklyn, and while many will rush to point out what Jim Ferry has done at LIU Brooklyn (and rightfully so) he's not the only one getting it done in the borough. Glen Braica's St. Francis (NY) Terriers have been the surprise of the NEC this season, and the continued their run of success with a 73-67 win over Central Connecticut State to move to 9-2 in league play. Akeem Johnson and Travis Nichols scored 16 points apiece to lead the way for the Terriers, who won despite allowing the Blue Devils to grab 18 offensive rebounds.
The reason: balance. The CCSU trio of Ken Horton, Robbie Ptacek and Kyle Vinales combined to score 53 points but no other Blue Devil put up more than four while SFNY had four players reach double figures. Also SFNY took care of the basketball as they finished with just eight turnovers, a far cry from their season average of 16.7 per game. St. Francis (NY) doesn't have the star power of an LIU or a Wagner but they're every bit the threat to win the league, something they can take advantage of with two meetings with their borough rivals next week.
1. In recent years the matchup with Virginia Tech has given Duke trouble, but there was no such luck for the Hokies on Thursday as the Blue Devils won 75-60. Austin Rivers accounted for 18 points, five rebounds and five assists and Seth Curry and Ryan Kelley combined to score 26 points off the bench.
2. #11 Florida shot just 37.3% from the field against South Carolina but made up for it by making 23 of their 32 free throws in a 74-66 win. Kenny Boynton scored 24 points and Bradley Beal added his first career double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Quick turnaround for the Gators too as they host Vanderbilt on Saturday afternoon.
3. Nate Wolters scored 24 points and dished out nine assists to lead South Dakota State past Oral Roberts 75-60, handing the Golden Eagles their first Summit League loss of the season. Dominique Morrison struggled with foul trouble all night, scoring 12 points but attempting just eight shots before fouling out.
4. Josh Brown scored 21 points and grabbed ten rebounds and Elfrid Payton added 20 off the bench as Louisiana-Lafayette beat Denver 72-71 in overtime, a result that left the visitors none too pleased thanks to some dubious officiating late. Denver needs to bounce back quickly however as their host the Sun Belt's best team (Middle Tennessee, who beat North Texas) on Saturday afternoon.
5. Idaho State was the preseason pick to finish last in the Big Sky, but after the second game-winning shot from Kenny McGowen (30 points) in less than a week the Bengals are now tied for third with Montana State (who they beat 87-86). At the least ISU is doing themselves the favor of remaining above the fight for those final Big Sky tournament slots, something few expected to happen back in October.
6. Latif Rivers scored 28 points in leading Wagner past Robert Morris 80-69 to keep the Seahawks a game behind LIU Brooklyn in the NEC race. Wagner's tied for second with surprising SFNY, who plays LIU Brooklyn twice next week and the outcome could very well open things up atop the NEC standings.
7. Wes Miller's making it tough on the administration to look for someone other than he to lead the UNC Greensboro program on a permanent basis. The Spartans beat The Citadel 82-71 to move to 7-4 in SoCon play, remaining atop the North Division standings. Trevis Simpson scored 23 and grabbed seven rebounds and Aloysius Henry and Derrell Armstrong combined to score 27 points off the bench.
8. Thanks to some questionable decisions from Detroit early in the second half along with their own shooting Valparaiso moved to 9-3 in the Horizon League with a 78-73 win. Valpo shot 57.9% from the field and 15-for-20 from the foul line in the second half, and Ryan Broekhoff led three Crusaders in double figures with 26 points.
9. Marcos Knight scored 19 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead Middle Tennessee to a 68-66 win at North Texas, moving the Blue Raiders to 10-0 in the Sun Belt. Alzee Williams scored 29 points to lead the Mean Green, who will be a team to keep an eye on in the conference tournament due to talented players such as Williams and Tony Mitchell. But Kermit Davis' team is clearly the class of the conference, and they're up four games in the loss column in the East Division with six to play.
Three Notable Performances
1. G Lamont "MoMo" Jones and G Scott Machado (Iona)
Jones set a Hynes Center record by scoring 43 points in the Gaels' 105-86 win over Canisius while Machado dished out 14 assists with just two turnovers (14 points as well).
2. G Damian Lillard (Weber State)
The nation's leading scorer put up 40 points and five assists in the Wildcats' 92-79 win over Portland State.
3. G Kevin Murphy (Tennessee Tech) and C John Fraley (Austin Peay)
These were two of the stars in the matchup between the Golden Eagles and the Governors, which Tennessee Tech won 94-88. Murphy, who scored 50 points in a game earlier this week, paced Tennessee Tech with 33 points and seven rebounds while Fraley scored 31 and grabbed 17 rebounds in a losing effort. Can't forget Tennessee Tech's Jud Dillard either as he scored 29 and grabbed nine boards.