For the first half, the championship game of the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament between North Carolina and Syracuse was a competitive affair that promised to go down to the wire. That's when Syracuse flipped a switch, going on a 22-1 run that removed any doubt in regards to the result and ultimately winning 87-71 in front of a pro-Syracuse crowd at Madison Square Garden. Wesley Johnson scored twenty-five points and added eight rebounds while Andy Rautins posted one of the better overall stat lines of his career with 11 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists and 7 steals.
Johnson is the story of tonight's win because he's the most talented player on Jim Boeheim's roster and when assertive he's tough to control. Add this to the two-headed monster at the point (Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine), big men Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku and Rautins firing away from the perimeter and you've got a team that can exceed preseason expectations in a major way. And their commitment to the defensive end of the floor is something that was seldom-seen last season. It's important to remember just how early it is in the season, but you can shelve those LeMoyne jokes. Syracuse is the real deal.
Three Key Happenings
1. For all the talk about Kentucky and Tennessee in the SEC, don't ignore South Carolina or Ole Miss. Both are now slated to play in the championship game of their respective in-season tournaments following wins on Friday night. The Gamecocks survived a late rally from USF in the Charleston Classic, winning 69-66 and setting up a game with Miami (FL). Devin Downey led the Gamecocks with seventeen and with players such as Brandis Raley-Ross and Marquis Muldrow also playing well Darrin Horn could have an NCAA Tournament team at his fingertips.
The same goes for Andy Kennedy's Rebels, who beat Kansas State 86-74 behind 27 points from Chris Warren. They'll have a "resume-building" opportunity on Sunday in San Juan as they take on #6 Villanova in that final. And you can't forget about Vanderbilt, who picked up a big win on their way to the Maui Invitational by winning 72-70 at St. Mary's. The Wildcats and Volunteers may be the two most talented teams in the SEC but these games are a nice step for the conference following some early losses.
2. Davidson still finding their way without Stephen Curry. You'd have to be an overly optimistic fan to think that the impact that the departure of star guard Stephen Curry would be minimal. You don't lose a player of that caliber and simply plug another guy in and move forward at a school such as Davidson, evidenced by their 0-3 start to the season. Friday night brought Rodney Green and the LaSalle Explorers, who beat Bob McKillop's team 84-70 with four players scoring in double figures.
Brian Barr led the Wildcats with nineteen points but thirteen of his fourteen shot attempts came from behind the arc. This team is going to be most effective with a balanced attack and after having a threat the caliber of Curry the adjustment can take some time. Davidson will take their fair share of hits due to a schedule that's extremely difficult and the fact that they don't have one guy to be "the man" on offense, but those scars could make this team tougher come conference play.
3. The best freshman very few people talked about heading into the season: Marshawn Powell. Arkansas was in the news in the offseason due to the errors in judgement by a few of their players and as a result the freshman forward from Virginia was overlooked by many. But Powell has been key figure in the Razorbacks' 2-1 start with averages of 16 points and 11 rebounds per game. Friday night's performance, 29 points and seven rebounds, was huge as it helped stave off Appalachian State's upset attempt in Fayetteville (81-72).
Things could have fallen apart for the Hogs with Courtney Fortson and a few other key players suspended, but Powell has combined with Rotnei Clarke, Jemal Farmer and Michael Washington to keep this team afloat in the early going.
Three Best Games
1. Vanderbilt 72, St. Mary's 70 Jeffrey Taylor scored nineteen points as the Commodores survived their final game before the Maui Invitational despite seventeen turnovers and a 41-30 rebounding deficit.
2. Tulane 63, Penn St. 60 Kevin Sims' three pointer with nineteen second remaining gave the Green wave their first win of the season while dropping the Nittany Lions, a team some pegged as underrated in the Big Ten, to 0-2 in the Charleston Classic.
3. St. Joseph's 84, Boston College 80 Garrett Williamson scored ten points in the final two minutes to lead the Hawks to the come from behind win over the Eagles in St. Thomas (Virgin Islands). Joe Trapani led the Eagles with twenty points while Reggie Jackson posted a double-double (18 points, 11 rebounds).
Three Notable Offensive Performances
1. G Jeremy Hazell (Seton Hall) The junior scored thirty-three points in leading the Pirates to an 89-79 win at Cornell. Jordan Theodore added twenty off the bench for Seton Hall.
2. F Quincy Pondexter (Washington) Pondexter posted an impressive double-double (30 points, 15 rebounds) in the Huskies' 80-70 win over San Jose State.
3. G Evan Turner (Ohio State) Turner posted a stat line of 26 points, 14 rebounds and six assists in the Buckeyes' 76-70 win over California.