This time around Syracuse didn't wait to get going against Georgetown, racing out to a 20-6 lead in the game's first six minutes. Things didn't get much better for the Hoyas despite Chris Wright scoring 12 first half points as they went into the locker room trailing by thirteen (44-31), and the Orange increased the lead to as many as 23 points (60-37) by the time the second half was less than eight minutes old. It would have been understandable if some turned to other games but the Hoyas refused to quit as a hot-shooting Austin Freeman led them all the way back to within one (71-70) with just over one minute remaining.
But thanks in large part to Andy Rautins (26 points, seven rebounds), Wes Johnson (16 points, eight rebounds and five blocks) and Kris Joseph (11 points off the bench), Syracuse made enough plays late to survive 75-71. Greg Monroe got into foul trouble early, a development that didn't help matters given how well Rautins played to start the game. And after Thursday night there should be little doubt as to who Syracuse's most valuable player is.
He's the key to the whole team, defensively, offensively," said Coach Boeheim. "Say whatever you want to say he makes the plays and obviously he's a tremendous shooter but he makes plays, he gets other people the ball and is really key on our defensive end. This was really, I thought, one of his best offensive games and they were right there with him and he made some tough shots (quote courtesy of guhoyas.com)."
Rautins was outstanding while Johnson and Joseph made up for both Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson fouling out in the middle of Georgetown's frantic rally. The Montreal native made two key plays late, including scoring a driving layup to put Syracuse up 73-70 with nine seconds remaining. And for Johnson to play the way he did made up for Onuaku playing just thirteen minutes due to his foul difficulties.
The big three for the Hoyas each scored twenty or more points but they received virtually no help from the supporting cast. And against a team like Syracuse that can turn to a Kris Joseph off the bench that will be fatal more times than not. Syracuse shot better than the Hoyas from three as well as from the foul line, making up for an eighteen-turnover night that nearly slipped away. But in holding on the Orange may have shown a little "championship resolve".
Three Key Happenings
1. Ole Miss' NCAA Tournament hopes took a serious hit with their loss to Vanderbilt. The Rebels are in trouble due to their missed opportunities in big games and a remaining schedule that lacks a serious shot at a resume-building win outside of hosting Florida on Saturday. The Commodores dropped Ole Miss to 5-6 in SEC play with the 82-78 win as A.J. Ogilvy played his best game of the season, finishing with 27 points and eight rebounds. It didn't matter than Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy spent six days drilling into the heads of his players what they'd need to do to slow the big man down; he simply found whatever shot he wanted and scored with relative ease.
Chris Warren led the Rebels with 23 points but Vandy was able to get to the line, making twenty-six of thirty-four from the charity stripe. And given the fact that the Commodores lead the conference in free throws attempted it must have been discussed that they can't be given opportunities to score "free" points. Yet Kevin Stallings' team did just that and as a result Ole Miss finds itself in trouble with five games left in the season. Warren and Terrico White have the talent to lead this team to a solid finish but they'll need someone else to step up and be a consistent scoring option if they're to make the field of 65.
2. A wild night in the NEC sees a favorite emerge, one team no one wants to play and Bryant picking up their first win. In regards to the standings the biggest development was Quinnipiac losing at Saint Francis (PA), dropping them two games behind first-place Robert Morris ahead of their meeting on Saturday at RMU. But neither of those teams may be the one that no one wants to see in the NEC Tournament. That honor falls to Mount St. Mary's who won their seventh straight game with a dominant second half, beating Central Connecticut State 85-58 in Emmittsburg. Jeremy Goode led the way with 26 points while Kelly Beidler and Jean Cajou scored 14 apiece and defensively the Mountaineers locked up the Blue Devils in the second half.
Shemik Thompson scored 20 for the Blue Devils in the first half...and finished the game with 22. Central may have finished the game shooting 50% from the field but they also had 21 turnovers and shot just 36% in the second half. They've played well offensively for much of the season, but now with the defense playing better look out. No one's looking forward to meeting the Mountaineers in the upcoming NEC Tournament, where they've played in each of the last two title games (winning in 2008). Lastly, Tim O'Shea's Bryant Bulldogs picked up their first win of the season with a 53-51 road win over Wagner. Raphael Jordan's two free throws with a second remaining snapped the Bulldogs' 28-game losing skid, meaning that no one will go winless in college basketball this season.
3. Gonzaga falls at Loyola Marymount; has the opportunity to stay in Spokane slipped away? On a night that saw the Lions not only back at full strength for the first time in nearly two months but also honoring the 1989-90 team that went to the Elite 8, Gonzaga shot poorly from the field as LMU picked up their first win over a ranked opponent since that Tournament run (beating Alabama). The Bulldogs hit just 34.4% of their shots (25.9% in the second half) and scored just 27 second-half points as they fell 74-66 in Los Angeles. Four LMU starters scored in double figures with Ashley Hamilton's 17 leading the way, but to see where the matchup truly went downhill for Gonzaga a look at Robert Sacre's line would tell part of the story.
Sacre missed all five of his shots, scoring just two points in 27 minutes. By no means does Gonzaga need him to be a primary scoring option due to the presence of Matt Bouldin, Steven Gray and Elias Harris. But when any of those three are off (they shot a combined 11-37 from the field Thursday night) the Bulldogs need Sacre to get them a few baskets. While their work thus far in WCC play still has them in the driver's seat for the regular season crown this is more about how far they can go in the NCAA Tournament. And have they lost out on the opportunity to play their first two Tournament games at Spokane Arena? Not if they can win out, but by no means is that a guarantee either.
Top Three Games
1. Syracuse 75, Georgetown 71 See above.
2. Bryant 53, Wagner 51 See above.
3. Pittsburgh 58, Marquette 51 The Panthers picked up a big win on the road, knocking off a foe that's given them trouble in recent meetings. Four Panther starters scored ten points as they shot 54.8% from the field and assisted on 19 of their 23 baskets. Jimmy Butler led all scorers with 14 but the Golden Eagles couldn't make up for Pitt's harassment of Lazar Hayward into a 4-17 night from the field.
Three Notable Performances
1. F Mark Yelovich (SIU-Edwardsville) Yelovich made eleven of fourteen shots from the field on his way to 34 points while also grabbing five rebounds in the Cougars' 91-76 win at North Dakota.
2. Forwards Robert Glenn and Alex Young (IUPUI) These two combined for 54 points (Young with 29, Glenn 26) while also tallying five assists apiece in the Jaguars' 103-65 pasting of UMKC.
3. G A.J. Slaughter (Western Kentucky) Slaughter scored 31 points on 10-16 shooting while also accounting for six assists and three rebounds in the Hilltoppers' 99-69 win over South Alabama.