Big East Thursday: Syracuse Falls and Loses Onuaku

March 12th, 2010
Going into the Big East Tournament there wasn't much concern in regards to whether or not the Syracuse Orange would be a one-seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. Prevailing wisdom had Jim Boeheim's team doing more than enough before this weekend to wrap up the top spot in one of the other three regions (can't stay in the East since the Carrier Dome hosts a regional).

But now instead of seeding or locale the Orange have to worry about the health of center Arinze Onuaku, who went down in the second half of their 91-84 loss to Georgetown in the first game of the day at Madison Square Garden. Chris Wright led all scorers with 27 points and three other Hoya starters scored in double figures, and as a team Georgetown shot 69.2% in the second half and scored 54 points.

Wes Johnson led for Syracuse players in double figures with 24 points but Rick Jackson and the aforementioned Onuaku had little impact on either end of the floor against Greg Monroe, who made up for not being allowed to score as much with ten rebounds and seven assists to go along with 15 points.

"He's the best inside passer in college basketball easily," said Boeheim. "And he can score in there. I thought overall we didn't do a bad job with him. I think Chris Wright had a big night. He really had a great game. I thought when he plays like that, that's when they beat people."

Next up for Georgetown is Marquette, who knocked off Villanova 80-76 in the second quarterfinal of the day. Darius Johnson-Odom and Jimmy Butler, two players who did not play well in their win over St. John's on Wednesday, answered the challenge of head coach Buzz Williams and combined for 38 points. Lazar Hayward (20 points, seven rebounds) and David Cubillan (17 points) were the other two Marquette starters to score in double figures. In regards to Johnson-Odom, Williams noted after the game that "he's really hard to guard, and I think he does a great job of forcing help."

Corey Stokes led Villanova with 22 points but while Jay Wright's club shot well from the field (54%), turnovers (14; converted into 18 points by Marquette) and second-half defense (65.2% FG; 6-6 3PT for Marquette) sealed their fate. But how much could they have really done against Marquette's offense in the final twenty minutes? "They do such a great job of making the extra passes, driving the ball, not taking the initial shot," said Coach Wright. "They get you scrambling. If you're not great at playing every possession for 35 seconds defensively, they're going to get you. I think that was the difference."

West Virginia 54, Cincinnati 51
Playing their third game in as many nights it would have been easy for Mick Cronin's Cincinnati Bearcats to simply fold up the tent when the score hit 18-4 with 10:53 left in the first half. But it should be seen as a testament to his team that the Bearcats not only fought their way back into the game but also had a chance to win with 6.4 seconds left in the game. And even after Dion Dixon lost control of the basketball, returning possession to West Virginia with 3.1 seconds remaining, the Bearcats still had life. All they needed was a defensive stop.

Unfortunately for them, West Virginia had Da'Sean Butler.

Butler banked in a three over the outstretched hands of Lance Stephenson, who hit a three to tie the game at 51, as time expired to give the Mountaineers the 54-51 win and salvage something on a bad day for double-bye recipients. Butler finished with 16 points, six rebounds and five assists while Kevin Jones led the team with seventeen. Stephenson, who led the Cincinnati charge with his ability to get to the basket, finished with a game-high 19 points to go along with seven rebounds. But to tell Cronin's team that they played hard would be of little solace to a team that fought so hard to get back into the game.

"They deserved a better ending than to get beat on two shots, one at the end of the first half, a bank shot at the end of the second half," said Cronin. As for Stephenson, outside of blocking the shot he really couldn't do much else to stop the senior from making yet another game-winner. "I was all over him," said the freshman from Brooklyn. "Nothing I could do...He called it. He said ‘bank'." Neither team shot particularly well from the field, fitting right in with the first quarterfinal of the night session. The Bearcats finished the game with a percentage of 33.3% while WVU made 35.0% of their field goal attempts. Next up for the Mountaineers: Notre Dame.

Notre Dame 50, Pittsburgh 45
After being called for a travel on the previous possession, Luke Harangody came through with a key rebound and a pair of free throws after being fouled to get the Fighting Irish into the semifinals for the first time since 2007. The two seniors, Harangody and Tory Jackson, led the way with twelve points apiece as the Irish rode their new "style" of play to yet another victory. In regards to the stylistic change Jackson commented that "it slows the game down. It gives guys great shots, open shots. A lot of teams don't want to guard for the whole 30, 35 seconds."

Another byproduct of the change: opponents can fire up shots too quickly in an attempt to ramp up the tempo of the game. "Sometimes they come down and rush it," said Jackson. "Then they have to get back and guard again. If they miss, it makes it more aggravating and more frustrating for them." Brad Wanamaker led the Panthers with 16 points but their offense was nowhere near as effective in the second half. Pitt made just 30% of their shots in the second stanza, and with neither team showing the ability to make shots in the final twenty minutes it was Notre Dame that did the better job of scraping together points. The Irish scored 15 points off of 11 Panther turnovers, and as a result they were able to hang on.

Friday's Schedule (Semifinals)

7p ESPN #8 Georgetown vs. #5 Marquette
With the lone regular season meeting taking place all the way back on January 6th (62-59 Marquette) it's tough to make much of a correlation between the teams then and now. Both are playing good basketball, especially on the offensive end, meaning that the team that does a better job of taking away the opponent's good looks will win. Greg Monroe stands to have more of a scoring role against a smaller Marquette squad than he did against Syracuse, but he's also likely to have to guard one of the Golden Eagles' forwards on the perimeter given the versatility of Lazar Hayward and Jimmy Butler. Guard play, as it always is in March, will be crucial with Chris Wright and David Cubillan playing good basketball of late.

9p ESPN #7 Notre Dame vs. #3 West Virginia
This is also a rematch of a regular season game that was played back in early January, a 70-68 Notre Dame victory way back on January 9th. But there's one lesson the Irish can take from that game and apply it to Friday night: keep the Mountaineers off the offensive boards. WVU grabbed 19 offensive rebounds in that game and despite shooting 37.5% from the field they still had a chance to win late. That becomes even more important given the way in which Mike Brey has limited the number of possessions within a game; if they're not rebounding at a solid rate that strategy could very well backfire. West Virginia needs to remain disciplined on the defensive end and guard throughout the entire possession if they're to move on.