Suspense was expected in the matchup between Georgetown and #12 Alabama, and that's exactly what the two teams provided as the Hoyas beat the Crimson Tide 57-55 on a Hollis Thompson three-pointer with 1.8 seconds remaining. Instead of simply giving Jason Clark (22 points) the ball and telling him to shoot, Georgetown used the senior guard to run a dribble hand-off with Thompson on the right wing and the junior rose up and knocked down the shot. Levi Randolph's shot from half court missed just left of the rim at the buzzer, ending the Tide's 24-game home win streak.
"We had some breakdowns during the play," said Alabama head coach Anthony Grant of the game-winning sequence. "We talked about what we needed to do from a defensive standpoint in the timeout but unfortunately we didn't get it done on the court."
Alabama had a lackluster first half from an offensive standpoint, shooting 31% and scoring just 16 points as the visiting Hoyas took a seven-point lead into the locker room. The big issue for the Crimson Tide throughout the game was their offensive execution against the Georgetown zone. Alabama made just three of sixteen shots from beyond the arc, and for a team that shoots 27% from deep on the season that may be too many attempts. But as they didn't perform as well as they would have hoped in finding the open areas in the zone defense, Alabama had to resort to perimeter shots. Look for opponents down the road to give the Tide more zone looks as a result of this.
As for the Hoyas, their wins over Memphis and Alabama may be the best that the Big East has to offer from a non-conference standpoint, and in hindsight the preseason pick to finish 10th in the conference could be a bit conservative. But that will ultimately depend on the play of Thompson (12 points, eight rebounds) and Henry Sims (13 points), not to mention the progression of young contributors such as Markel Starks, Otto Porter and Greg Whittington. At the very least John Thompson III's team has shown signs of growth, and they've picked up a couple decent non-conference wins to boot.
"This is our third game against a team in the Top 15 so we've had a few tests and battles," said Thompson III. "To come in here and win against a team that's so well coached; on a court where they don't lose is a huge win for our group. I don't want to get into where we thought we would be at this time. Our guys have a lot of room for growth."
Other Notable Happenings
1. Youngstown State drops Detroit in their Horizon League opener for both.
Many, myself included, pegged Detroit as the team most likely to win the Horizon League even with Eli Holman being out indefinitely for personal reasons. But the Titans didn't get off to the best of starts in league play, losing to Youngstown State 64-61 at Calihan Hall. DuShawn Brooks knocked down six three-pointers for the Penguins, who fired away from beyond the arc with reckless abandon (9-for-28). But YSU only turned the ball over seven times, and that combined with their outscoring Detroit by 12 from deep proved to be the difference. Chase Simon and Ray McCallum Jr. scored 21 points apiece to lead UDM, but they need guys such as LaMarcus Lowe to step up in order to win a conference title. Losing Nick Minnerath hurts the Titans, who find themselves now down two expected contributors (counting Holman) and that could be a serious issue when discussing their chances against the likes of Butler and Cleveland State.
2. Distracted (?) Quinnipiac falls to Sacred Heart at home in their NEC opener.
Two Bobcat playes, James Johnson and Ike Azotam, were arrested in mid-October for their alleged roles in an on-campus fight back in September. But while Tom Moore's key players were disciplined in house the strength of the distraction was minimized by the timing of the case. No such luck on Thursday night as three more players, Jamee Jackson, David Johnson and Nate Gause, were arrested just hours before their game against Sacred Heart. All three were bailed out and able to play since the team handled their punishment in October as well, but the question of whether or not Quinnipiac was distracted on the floor is a fair one to ask. Quinnipiac shot just 31% in their 68-55 loss to Sacred Heart and made a deplorable nine of twenty from the foul line. The Bobcats have the talent needed to be a factor in the NEC, but bad decisions off the court could end up stunting this team's growth.
3. Ole Miss survives a wild finish and wins at DePaul.
With 13:55 remaining in the game Andy Kennedy's team led DePaul 50-33 and seemingly had things in control at Allstate Arena. But Oliver Purnell's pressing style began to affect the Rebels, who would finish with 20 turnovers on the night with young guards Nick Williams and Jarvis Summer combining for ten. But thanks to some critical missed free throws by the Blue Demons and Murphy Holloway's driving basket in the final seconds Ole Miss escaped with a 70-68 win in the HTC Big East/SEC Invitational. Williams and Summers did combine to score 29 points, and both their talent and inexperience were on display Thursday night. Holloway finished with a double-double (16 points, 12 rebounds) and his return after a brief stint at South Carolina is a good pickup after the graduation of Chris Warren. The one problem for the Rebels this season: the move to one division in the SEC, which makes it that much tougher to win a title. But they still play a similar conference schedule, which may set them up for a decent league campaign.
1. It took a half or so but Kentucky showed glimpses of the team pegged as one of the favorites to win the national title. Anthony Davis (15 points, 15 rebounds and eight blocks) was two blocks short of a triple-double in the Wildcats' 81-59 win over St. John's and Terrence Jones scored 26 points and grabbed nine rebounds. As a team the Wildcats set a school record with 18 blocked shots.
2. South Dakota State won the game of the night, beating IUPUI 97-93 in overtime with Nate Wolters (32 points, eight rebounds and eight assists) leading the way. Alex Young led the Jaguars with 28 points and nine rebounds and the two teams combined to make 25 three-pointers.
3. C.J. Garner scored all 15 of his points in the second half and Jamal Olasewere scored 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as Long Island beat Wagner 78-73 in Brooklyn. Tyler Murray led the Seahawks with 19 points, and along with Robert Morris and CCSU look for these teams to fight it out at the top of the NEC all season long.
4. Thursday was a big night for Bilal Dixon, who scored ten points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked seven shots off the bench in Providence's 76-67 win at South Carolina. Ed Cooley's got a team that's accountable, especially on the defensive end, and that change has been noticeable in the early going. Five players finished in double figures.
5. Mercer picked up a nice road win to open Atlantic Sun as they beat Lipscomb 79-72. Justin Cecil led four starters in double figures with 22 points and seven rebounds, but they're going to face a tougher challenge on Saturday at defending league champion Belmont. Can Bob Hoffman's team play what amounts to a six-man rotation all season long and be successful? Why not?
Three Notable Performances
1. G Nate Wolters (South Dakota State)
32 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in the Jackrabbits' 97-93 overtime win at IUPUI.
2. F Terrence Jones and F Anthony Davis (Kentucky)
Jones finished with 26 points, nine rebounds and four blocks while Davis added 15 points, 15 rebounds and eight blocks in Kentucky's 81-59 win over St. John's.
3. F Ken Horton (Central Connecticut State)
32 points (6-10 3PT), nine rebounds and three steals in CCSU's 83-51 win at Bryant.