With 1:22 remaining VCU and George Mason were tied at 51 in a hotly-contested, defensive-minded affair. There were no easy shots to be found in the matchup of two of the three teams that entered Tuesday's action tied for first in the CAA. That's where the real fun began, with the Rams and Patriots combining to score 21 points in that final 1:22 to cap an outstanding matchup. The difference wasn't so much what one team did wrong but rather what one did right. Sherrod Wright.
Wright's 25-footer as time expired gave the Patriots the 62-61 win, moving them to 14-2 in the CAA and keeping them tied for first place with Drexel. A Bradford Burgess three with 1:20 remaining kicked off the scoring and a pair of Briante Weber free throws with 43 seconds remaining gave VCU a 56-51 lead. George Mason would respond with a Ryan Pearson three, and at that stage it was about extending the game for Paul Hewitt's team. There was one small issue, however: VCU took care of business from the foul line.
Shaka Smart's Rams would make seven of eight free throws in the final 43 seconds, and after two more Weber free throws made the score 60-56 with just over 11 seconds to go it was clear that the Patriots would need a three. Enter Vertail Vaughns, whose bonus shot cut the lead to one just seconds later, and the margin would grow to two with 3.8 seconds to go. 94 feet to go for George Mason, a distance covered by Wright's dribbling up the floor and game-winner.
"I'm sure we can watch the tape and nitpick and say 'well we should have pressured the ball a little bit more or we should have cotested a little bit more,'" said Smart. "But the reality is that Sherrod Wright made a phenomenal shot and he's a very good player.
Within the game it was Pearson who separated himself from the pack, finishing with 24 points and 11 rebounds as VCU struggled with finding a way in which to slow him down. The issue for George Mason was the foul trouble that Mike Morrison encountered, severely limiting his impact on the game. Burgess and Troy Daniels scored 13 apiece to lead VCU, who also had a big man struggle albeit in a different way. Juvonte Reddic shot 1-for-8 from the field and scored four points, and on a night that saw Morrison struggle for Mason a better performance from the sophomore big man would have helped.
With two conference games left there's still a lot to be decided in the CAA race, and the fact that VCU gets a rematch on their floor to end the regular season will help the Rams when it comes to possibly winning a share (at least) of the title. And if that matchup on February 25th is anything like Round One, college basketball fans should consider themselves lucky.
Other Notable Happenings
1. Hank Thorns burns his hometown school and leads TCU past #11 UNLV.
There were more than a few people who may have expected Wednesday's game between New Mexico and San Diego State to be a battle for a share of first place in the Mountain West, with it being a mere formality that UNLV would win at TCU. But the Horned Frogs had other ideas, specifically point guard and Las Vegas native Hank Thorns, as they beat the Runnin' Rebels 102-97 in a wild overtime affair. TCU had chance to win the game in regulation but an extra pass on the fast break (the proper basketball play in most instances) prevented the Frogs from getting their shot off in time. However that wouldn't stop TCU from completing their comeback from an 18-point second half deficit, and just as important as Thorns' scoring was TCU's work on the glass.
TCU out-rebounded UNLV 46-31 and their 19 offensive rebounds were a season high for a UNLV opponent. TCU only scored 19 second-chance points but that was more than enough when compared to UNLV's eight. J.R. Cadot (five offensive boards; 16 points and 12 rebounds) and Amric Fields (four offensive boards; 17 points and seven rebounds) were a problem for UNLV in that regard, and those second chances can add up over the course of a game. With the race at the top of the Mountain West being as tight as it is losses to teams outside of the top three could prove costly in the end. This makes Saturday's game at New Mexico even more important for Dave Rice's bunch.
2. Cleveland State continues their trend in the wrong direction as they fall at Milwaukee.
Just over a week ago Gary Waters' Vikings looked to be on their way to at the least a top two seed in the Horizon League tournament, which would advance them directly to the semifinals. But Cleveland State has now dropped three in a row to fall to 10-5 in league play, most recently losing 86-84 at Milwaukee on Tuesday night. As a result both Butler and Detroit trail Cleveland State by just a game in the loss column, meaning that the Vikings need to get things turned around quickly with three league games remaining. CSU played well offensively against the Panthers, shooting 60.9% from the field and 47.1% from three. But they were outscored by 15 points from three (39-24) and 13 from the foul line (33-20), which allowed Milwaukee to make up for their 7-for-17 night from inside of the arc. Tony Meier was fouled on a three-pointer with just over a second remaining and the score tied at 84, and he made two of three to provide the final margin. James Haarsma scored 25 to lead the victors and Trevon Harmon led Cleveland State with 27.
3. Both #22 Virginia and #23 Mississippi State fall on the road.
Neither Clemson nor LSU are likely to reach the NCAA tournament given their current records, but that doesn't mean they can't make things difficult for other teams within their respective conferences. Clemson was able to pull away from #22 Virginia in the second half, outscoring the Cavaliers 36-24 on their way to a 60-48 victory. The problem for Virginia was that they had just two scorers, as Jontel Evans (17 points) and Mike Scott (13) led the way. Joe Harris, who broke a bone in his non-shooting hand in Saturday's loss at North Carolina, scored just two points on 1-for-5 shooting and Sammy Zeglinski shot the same in scoring three. Those two will need to be better down the stretch if Tony Bennett's team is to go into postseason play with any kind of momentum.
As for LSU, Anthony Hickey's shot in the final seconds of overtime propelled them to a 69-67 win over Mississippi State in Baton Rouge. Ralston Turner led four Tigers in double figures with 17 points and Storm Warren added ten points and 11 rebounds off the bench, and LSU made up for a 43-32 rebounding disadvantage by racking up 15 steals and forcing 21 Mississippi State turnovers. Dee Bost led four Mississippi State players in double figures with 15 points but he (five turnovers) and Arnett Moultrie (six) combined for 11 of the 21 turnovers, a number that's too high to get away with especially on the road.
1. Anthony Raffa scored 20 points, leading four Coastal Carolina players in double figures as the Chanticleers beat UNC Asheville 74-69. The Bulldogs have already clinched the regular season title in the Big South but both CCU and Campbell are capable of knocking them off. While Matt Dickey (19 points) shot 6-for-12 from the field backcourt mates J.P. Primm (12 points) and Chris Stephenson (four points) shot a combined 7-for-26 on the night.
2. The battle behind Akron in the East Division of the MAC has been magnified in importance due to the league's move to seed one through twelve without regard to divisions. And with the top two seeds getting byes to the semifinals of the conference tournament it was critical that Kent State beat Buffalo, and they did by the final of 76-71. Justin Green led the Golden Flashes with 18 points and Micheal Porrini scored 14 in the second half, pulling Kent State into a tie with Buffalo for second place at 9-3.
3. Not only could Manhattan's chances of winning the MAAC be slipping away, but their hopes in the conference tournament may have taken a hit as well in their 70-64 loss at Siena. Starting point guard Michael Alvarado went down with an injury in the first half, one that head coach Steve Masiello stated could be a concussion and possible fracture of his eye socket according to Big Apple Buckets. To say that would be a big loss for the Jaspers would be accurate if he's out for an extended period.
4. Creighton ended their three-game losing streak with the greatest offensive performance in school history, shooting 75% in their 88-69 win at Southern Illinois. Doug McDermott led four starters in double figures with 18 points and Ethan Wragge added 15 off the bench for the Bluejays, who host Long Beach State on Saturday. As for the Salukis, this is just another sign of just how far things have fallen in Carbondale.
5. Part of the battle in getting to the NCAA tournament is making sure you don't lose the game you're supposed to win, so in that regard the wins by Texas (69-58 at Oklahoma) and Seton Hall (94-64 over St. John's) should be noted. While the focus centers on "marquee wins" when discussing resumes, the more teams can do to make sure they don't have "bad losses" the better.
6. Jared Sullnger and William Buford both bounced back from tough evenings in #6 Ohio State's loss to Michigan State to lead the Buckeyes past Minnesota by the final score of 78-68. Buford scored a game-high 24 points to go along with eight rebounds and five assists, and Sullinger finished with 23 and eight caroms.
Three Notable Performances
1. G Jake Odum (Indiana State)
34 points (8-12 FG, 17-21 FT), seven rebounds and seven assists in the Sycamores' 83-77 overtime win over Illinois State.
2. G Hank Thorns (TCU)
32 points (8-12 3PT), five rebounds and four assists in the Horned Frogs' 102-97 overtime win over #11 UNLV.
3. F Robert Covington (Tennessee State)
28 points and 12 rebounds in the Tigers' 69-64 overtime win over Jacksonville State.