In order to enjoy success against the top-ranked Texas Longhorns you have to hold your own on the boards. Kansas State, hosting their first matchup of Top 10 teams in school history, may lack in sheer bulk when compared to the Longhorn front line but they had to match (or exceed) the intensity of the visitors if they were to pull off the upset. And thanks to Jamar Samuels and Curtis Kelly they did just that, leading the way in the Wildcats' 71-62 win in Manhattan. Samuels, a tantalizing talent due to his size and athleticism, led the Wildcats with a game-high 20 points and 12 rebounds while Kelly added 17 points and eight rebounds.
Samuels' production came off the bench but when you combine his and Kelly's production they far exceeded what the tandem of Damion James and Dexter Pittman produced (15 points, 14 rebounds), with James shooting just 3-for-12 from the field and Pittman hindered by foul trouble (just 16 minutes played). And in a game that saw both teams shoot less than 40% from the field it was Kansas State who won the battle on the boards, outreboundng the Longhorns 50-41 and making 62.5% of their free throws while Texas made just nine of twenty-two from the charity stripe. Avery Bradley was the lone Texas player in double figures (11 points) while four Wildcats finished with at least eleven points.
And the guards need to be mentioned as well. Denis Clemente had a bad night from the field (and even worse from the foul line) but his eight assists (three turnovers) far exceeded what Dogus Balbay gave the visitors at the point (four assists, six turnovers). Jacob Pullen was also cold from the field, making just two of fifteen field goal attempts but his clutch foul shooting late sealed the win. The overall performances of Clemente and Pullen should be an eye-opener for the nation: few people would expect Kansas State to win on a night like that for their two most recognizable figures. But with the frontcourt stepping forward, Kansas State has made itself a team that will be heard from in the Big 12 race.
Three Key Happenings
1. The more things change the more they stay the same for Notre Dame. The talk for much of last season was that the Fighting Irish needed a third scoring option to step up alongside Luke Harangody and Kyle McAlarney. That didn't happen enough for Mike Brey's team, who went from preseason lock to play in the NCAA Tournament to the NIT. And that could once again happen this year with Tim Abromaitis (26 points) replacing McAlarney as that second option. Why? Once again in a big game just two options stepped up against a foe with a variety of weapons as Syracuse pulled away to win 84-71. Luke Harangody was his usual self with 31 points and 14 rebounds but outside of Abromaitis there was little help coming in the scoring department from their teammates, and as a team the Irish shot just 38.8% from the field.
Wesley Johnson led the Orange with 22 points while Andy Rautins (21 points) and Arinze Onuaku (13 points) also finished in double figures, and the Orange's two bench players (Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph) outscored Notre Dame's two reserves (Jonathan Peoples and Carleton Scott) 14-2. Simply put, Notre Dame is by no means safely into the NCAA field and if they expect to get there then a third scoring option will need to be there on a nightly basis. Does it have to be the same person every night? No, but at the least it needs to be someone.
2. Virginia nearly blows the momentum gained in the last week. The Cavaliers have already endured one shocking loss to a CAA school in this academic year (that was to William & Mary in football), and the basketball team nearly joined the club against a bad UNC Wilmington team. Sylven Landesburg rose to the occasion late, knocking down a 15-foot jumper with just over two seconds remaining to ensure survival by the final score of 69-67. How was the game this close? The Seahawks shot 51% from the field and made eleven of twenty-four three pointers to stay well within striking distance despite the Cavaliers attempting nineteen more foul shots.
Chad Tomko (17 points, eight assists) and Ahmad Grant (19 points) led UNCW to the near-upset but the foul line and a turnover margin of minus-5 came back to bite them in the end. Virginia learned a lesson in defending the three-point line, something they'd done a good job of in moving to 3-0 in ACC play. And if they want to keep that roll going they'll need to get back to their "old" ways.
3. Iona is one team the rest of the MAAC may want to avoid. Led by sophomore guard Scott Machado, who scored a game-high 20 points, the Gaels won their fourth straight game 72-59 over a slumping Rider. The Broncs were the ones picked in the preseason to challenge Siena and Niagara atop the Metro Atlantic but while they fade into the background it's the Gaels (and Fairfield) who find themselves in pursuit of the Saints. Kevin Willard's team was efficient offensively while holding Rider to 1-for-15 from behind the arc (Iona was 10-for-21), and they outrebounded Rider 38-23. With three of their last four wins coming by double digits (including two over Rider), Iona is a team that will have to be accounted for when the MAAC Tournament rolls around in early March.
Top Three Games
1. Kansas State 71, Texas 62 See above.
2. Virginia 69, UNC Wilmington 67 See above.
3. Syracuse 84, Notre Dame 71 See above.
Three Notable Performances
1. F Jamar Samuels (Kansas State) Samuels accounted for 20 points and 12 rebounds off the bench in Kansas State's 71-62 win over Texas.
2. F Luke Harangody (Notre Dame) Harangody scored 31 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in Notre Dame's 84-71 loss to Syracuse.
3. F Ryan Rossiter (Siena) Rossiter posted a double-double with 19 points and 14 rebounds in the Saints' 83-68 win over Manhattan.