Demetri McCamey led Illinois with 15 points but fellow starters D.J. Richardson and Jereme Richmond struggled, with Richmond scoring seven points (3-9 FG) and Richardson being shut out on a night where all available contributors were needed. No other Michigan State players reached double figures but they survived thanks to Lucas, who recently has played as if he fully understands what time it is.
"He's got a great mid-range game where earlier in the year you saw him getting in there and getting shots blocked, you hardly see any of that now," said head coach Tom Izzo of his senior point guard. "His mid-range game in the last three games has been unbelievable. It's good to see the swagger back and it's good to see the speed back you saw on that one drive." (quote courtesy of Michigan State Athletics)
But despite the lack of scoring there were other key contributors to the Spartan victory, including forward Delvon Roe. Roe's been dealing with knee troubles of late, and moving into the starting lineup for the ill Draymond Green the junior finished with eight points, seven rebounds and four assists in 22 minutes of action. And Mike Kebler got the start for the struggling Durrell Summers, who they need to get going if they're to make a run once tournament play starts. Saturday night's effort sums up what Michigan State will need down the stretch: toughness. And for a program that's built itself based on that attribute it's time for this group to show they have what it takes. The win over Illinois was a step in the right direction for Michigan State.
Other Notable Happenings
1. If you haven't added Derrick Williams to the National Player of the Year race it's time to do so.
And frankly if it's taken you this long to do so the question has to be why. Williams has been the focal point of the revival at Arizona all season long, but while his resume featured a number of big plays on both ends of the floor his defense at the end of Arizona's 87-86 win over Washington may have turned the Pac-10 into a two-team race. Williams' emphatic block of a Matthew Bryan-Amaning shoot with two tenths of a second remaining preserved the win for the Wildcats, who remain a game ahead of UCLA atop the conference standings. Williams finished with 26 points, 11 rebounds, two assists, two blocks and two steals to lead the way. MoMo Jones added 15 as they hung on to win a game that was allowed to play with a level of physicality that would lead some to believe that the players were better off calling their own fouls.
Matthew Bryan-Amaning and C.J. Wilcox were outstanding for Washington and Isaiah Thomas did a good job of distributing the basketball with 10 assists to just three turnovers in addition to his 12 points, but it wasn't enough to prevent a fifth league loss. But back to Williams, who hasn't been mentioned much in the Player of the Year race due to the hype surrounding other players. His full skill set, which has "lottery pick" stamped all over it, was on full display in front of a national television audience. It's time to stop overlooking the sophomore, who will also be on a number of All-America teams come March. Don't be surprised if he ends up being one of the stars of the NCAA Tournament.
2. Nebraska survives bad fouls late to knock off Texas in Lincoln.
One foul on a three-point attempt is bad, but how about two with both coming in late-game situations? Somehow Nebraska pulled off said dubious feat and managed to survive, knocking off #2 Texas by the final score of 70-67. The reasons why: the Huskers shot 47% from the field, and the Longhorns failed to take full advantage of the mistakes due to poor free throw shooting. Brandon Richardson led Nebraska with 15 points, and the win on Saturday may set them up with regards to making a late charge at an NCAA Tournament bid.
Jordan Hamilton scored 18 points to lead Texas but shot 3-for-16 from the field as Nebraska succeeded in making him work for everything he got, and Tristan Thompson took just four shots and finished with five points and three rebounds in 33 minutes of action. Should there be serious concern over Texas because of Saturday's loss? Outside of foul shooting, and they actually shot above their team average in Lincoln (67.9% to an average of 64.5%), no. They've defended well leading up to the loss and should get back to fundamentals, and despite having their lead in the Big 12 cut to one game the win over Kansas looms large in that regard. Saturday was more about Nebraska, who may have given themselves a new lease on their tournament lives with the win.
3. Utah State picks up a crucial road win at Saint Mary's.
Saturday night was a good time for a multiple-TV setup in your home with Blake Griffin jumping over a car (personally I can't do it so why nitpick on what part of the car he jumped over?) and Michigan State's important win over Illinois. But the most important result would have to be Utah State winning at Saint Mary's 75-65, going on a 19-2 run in the second half with a Brady Jardine dunk sucking the air out of McKeon Pavilion. Tai Wesley navigated a poor first half and a whack on the nose (he'd ditched the mask worn to protect it after having the nose broken) to finish with 22 points and 11 rebounds, and the same went for guard Brockeith Pane who also finished with 22.
The most important development for Stew Morrill's team with regards to what they can do in March may have been Pane, who attempted just seven shots (making five) but his ability to get to the foul line resulted in 11 points from the charity stripe (14 attempts). Pane also posted four assists and four steals, making up for six turnovers with all six coming in the first half. If Pane can build on this performance chances are Utah State won't have to rely on the selection committee to join the field of 68, and to get that first RPI Top 50 win (losses to BYU and Georgetown on the road preceded Saturday night) is a boost that their resume needed.
4. The bad loss club welcomes Baylor, Memphis and Washington State.
Two of the three losses came on the road, with Memphis falling at Rice and Washington State capping an 0-2 week in the desert with a loss at Arizona State. Baylor on the other hand dropped a 78-69 decision to Texas Tech at home, casting serious doubt on their NCAA Tournament chances. LaceDarius Dunn scored 21 points to lead the Bears but once again they were loose with the basketball, turning it over 16 times while also shooting 4-for-18 from beyond the arc. Point guard play has been the biggest difference for the Bears this season compared to their Elite 8 campaign of a season ago, with A.J. Walton already with more turnovers than Tweety Carter finished with all season. And there's not much excuse for Perry Jones III, who's been their best offensive player outside of Dunn this season, to take just four shots.
But Baylor still has opportunities for solid wins on their schedule, including another shot at Texas. The other two aren't as fortunate due to the strength of their respective leagues, and it may be time to write Washington State's epitaph right now. Klay Thompson came off the bench to score a game-high 28 points but it wasn't enough to avoid losing to a team that had dropped 11 straight conference games and was without both Ty Abbott and Rihards Kuksiks due to injury. As for Memphis they were soundly whipped in a game they really didn't show up for. Tamir Jackson led the Owls with 20 points as they beat the Tigers for the first time in school history 67-52. Memphis' starters for all intents and purposes didn't show up in Houston and it cost them dearly, quite possibly resulting in them needing to win the conference tournament in order to dance. It's that time of the year again, when teams have every opportunity to make their case. Unfortunately for these three this latest piece of evidence doesn't work in their favor.
5. St. John's knocks off another ranked team at Madison Square Garden.
One thing is certain at this point: Madison Square Garden will be even more of a madhouse for the Big East Tournament, thanks to the resurgence of the St. John's basketball program. Steve Lavin's team has now beaten five teams ranked in the top 13 at MSG, most recently beating #4 Pittsburgh 60-59 on a tough Dwight Hardy layup with 1.2 seconds remaining. Hardy finished with 19 points to lead the Red Storm and Justin Burrell's 15 points and eight rebounds were also crucial to the effort as they moved into a tie for third place.
Ashton Gibbs made his return off the bench for the Panthers and showed no signs of rust, scoring a game-high 26 points in 34 minutes of action. The foul line, which victimized St. John's in a loss at UCLA, had an impact as well with the Red Storm outscoring Pitt by 13 (23-10) on the afternoon. Ten seniors, who'd taken their fair share of lumps in the three seasons prior, will more than likely receive the reward of a Top 25 ranking come Monday and become one of the "hunted" as a result. But with a standout like Hardy and all players accepting of their roles, this is a group that could be dangerous in March.
Top Five Games
1. (13) Arizona 87, Washington 86
2. (14) Villanova 77, DePaul 75 (OT) A Corey Fisher three-pointer in the final seconds of regulation sent the game into overtime, and Villanova ultimately escaped Chicago with the win. Fisher scored a game-high 34 points while the Blue Demons were led by Jeremiah Kelly's 25.
3. St. John's 60, (4) Pittsburgh 59
4. Utah 62, New Mexico 60 Despite a career performance from Drew Gordon the Lobos dropped a game they could ill-afford to lose as Chris Hines banked in a three-pointer as time expired at The Pit. Gordon finished with 17 points and a Mountain West record 23 rebounds, and HInes led the Utes with 15.
5. Bethune-Cookman 78, Hampton 76 (2OT) C.J. Reed knocked down a jumper as time expired to give the Wildcats the win at Hampton, moving them into sole possession of first place in the MEAC. Reed scored a game-high 31 points and Darrion Pellum led the Pirates with 22
Five Notable Performances
1. G Tu Holloway (Xavier) 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in the Musketeers' 79-72 win over Fordham.
2. F Drew Gordon (New Mexico) 17 points and 23 rebounds in the Lobos' 62-60 loss to Utah. The rebounds are a new Mountain West record.
3. G Corey Fisher (Villanova) Fisher bailed out the Wildcats with 34 points (11-18 FG), five rebounds and three assists in a 77-75 overtime win at DePaul.
4. F Derrick Williams (Arizona) and F Matthew Bryan-Amaning (Washington) Williams got the crucial block and the win in the final seconds but both were outstanding. Williams finished with 26 points and 11 rebounds while Bryan-Amaning tallied 24 points, eight rebounds, seven blocks, four assists and four steals.
5. F/C Kenneth Faried (Morehead State) Compared to some of the other performances 17 points and 12 rebounds may not be all that impressive. But when you become the NCAA's all-time leading rebounder in the process you deserve mention. Faried passed Tim Duncan in the Eagles' 71-65 win at Indiana State.