The game between Duke and Kansas more than lived up to the pregame expectations on Wednesday night, but it was an unsung hero who stepped to the forefront late. Tyler Thornton, essentially a defensive substitute when Austin Rivers picked up his fourth foul, knocked down a pair of critical three pointers late to catapult the Blue Devils to the 68-61 win. Duke earned their fifth Maui Invitational title and moved to 15-0 all-time in the prestigious early season event.
Tournament MVP Ryan Kelly and forward Mason Plumlee scored 17 points apiece with Plumlee also grabbing 12 rebounds, and the big difference between the two teams was the three-point line. Duke made 11 of their 25 attempts from beyond the arc while Kansas finished 2-for-8, and that 27-point difference made up for a combined 4-for-13 night for guards Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins.
Tyshawn Taylor led the Jayhawks with 17 points but also had an unfortunate double-double with 11 turnovers, with things getting away from him in the second half. Thomas Robinson was a warrior for Kansas all week, and he added 16 points and 15 rebounds while Jeff Withey added 14 and 10 to cap a solid three days in Maui. But turnovers played a major role in the outcome, with one of Taylor's miscues setting the stage for Thornton's game-sealing three pointer.
Kansas held a 61-60 lead with 1:31 to go following a Travis Releford three, only to have Thornton answer with a trifecta of his own 21 seconds later. Coming out of a timeout Taylor turned the ball over five seconds later, and Duke's ensuing possession looked to be headed nowhere. But Thornton let fly from in front of the Duke bench at the end of the shot clock with the primary goal being to avoid the violation. The shot fell, making the score 66-61 with 20 seconds to go and essentially putting the game away.
"When Seth kicked me the ball, I looked at the shot clock, it was [at] three seconds, and I just tried to get up a good shot," said Thornton. "Once it left my hands, I kind of thought it was going to be good and luckily it was."
Duke capped a stretch of seven games in 13 days, so the rest that comes will be welcomed for a group that's had the quest for the all-time wins record for their coach to deal with as well. Rivers, who made the All-Tournament team, will continue to figure out how to mesh his superlative talents with what the teams wants to get done offensively and he'll grow defensively as well.
But most importantly Duke learned more about veterans such as Kelly, who averaged 17.0 points per game in Maui and emerged as an offensive option they'll be able to count on. And Mason Plumlee showed the ability to handle the workload on the glass, which in turn allows Duke to start the more offensively-inclined Kelly and bring Miles Plumlee off the bench. As for Kansas, he Jayhawks showed themselves to be a more talented team than many anticipated before the season began, meaning an eighth straight Big 12 title is more than possible.
Other Notable Happenings
1. Iowa fails to bounce back from their loss to Creighton, falling to Campbell at home.
Sunday was a flat-out bad day from Fran McCaffery's team as they were blown out in Des Moines by the Creighton Bluejays, but it wasn't unrealistic to expect the Hawkeyes to bounce back against Campbell on Wednesday night. That did not happen, as Eric Griffin led the Camels to a 77-61 win with 23 points and 13 rebound. Four Campbell starters reached double figures and as a team the Camels shot 62.2% from the field. In many games like this the expectation is that the winner concentrated heavily on the three-point line. Not so much with Campbell, who only attempted eight (making four) while shooting 68% from inside of the arc.
One tie in both losses for Iowa: Melsahn Basabe. He didn't play well against Creighton and that was the case on Wednesday as well, scoring two points and grabbing three rebounds in 19 minutes of action. Is Basabe solely to blame? Of course not, but when a player with the talent to become an All-Big Ten caliber player says things like this he'd better step up. Matt Gatens scored 17 points and Devyn Marble 14 to lead Iowa, who's going to need guys such as Basabe and Eric May to step up if they're to make a move in the Big Ten standings.
2. The evolution of Dion Waiters sparks Syracuse's win over Virginia Tech in New York City.
It's been reported many times in the preseason as well as early in the year about Dion Waiters, that the frustrated freshman was ready to transfer at the end of the season. But he stuck it out, and both he and the Orange look to be better off as a result. Waiters scored 11 points to go along with four assists and three steals in 25 minutes off the bench to help lead Syracuse to a 69-58 win over Virginia Tech in the second semifinal of the NIT Season Tipoff. Kris Joseph led the Orange with 20 points and 10 rebounds and Brandon Triche added 17 and six assists, but the big development (or continuation of it, rather) was the play of Waiters.
He's improved his physical conditioning, is playing with more confidence and isn't worried about what he does so long as the team wins. He and C.J. Fair (12 points, 10 rebounds) look to be the two "locks" to be in the rotation should Jim Boeheim look to cut the number down from ten players, and performances like last night's make sure that remains the case in the future.
3. San Diego State ends Arizona's 22-game home win streak, but they better not suffer a "hangover".
For the second consecutive game Sean Miller's Wildcats failed to lead at any point in the game, but unlike their their loss to Mississippi State in the title game of the 2K Sports Classic Arizona was jumped early. San Diego State opened the game with a 21-4 run, and despite their attempts to rally the Wildcats were unable to fully recover as the Aztecs won 61-57. A deep two at the top of the key from Chase Tapley (17 points) sealed the game with just over a minute remaining, and removing Utah (once a fellow Mountain West member) SDSU is 4-1 against the Pac-12 since 2009.
Nick Johnson and Josiah Turner scored ten points apiece off the bench for Arizona, but guards Kyle Fogg (five points) and Jordin Mayes (two points) struggled all night. SDSU limited the Wildcats to 33.3% shooting in their best defensive performance of the season, but they better be ready to go with a trip to UCSB on Saturday. SDSU lost an awful lot from last year's Sweet 16 team, but they've shown in this 6-1 start that they're still a threat in the Mountain West.
1. On the injury front Alabama saw forward Tony Mitchell go down in their win over Alabama A&M but luckily for the Crimson Tide it was a sprained ankle and nothing worse. To not meet the same fate as Arkansas, who lost Marshawn Powell for the season with a knee injury in practice last week, is a piece of good luck for Alabama.
2. Josh Pastner's Memphis Tigers can score with just about anyone, and they're going to win their fair share of shootouts. But if the Tigers want to be a factor in March they have to get better defensively. Georgetown beat the Tigers 91-88 in overtime, and in Maui the Tigers allowed an average of 1.13 points per possession over three games. That's not going to get it done in big games.
3. Stanford was highly impressive in their 82-67 win over Oklahoma State in New York City, and it can be argued that the game wasn't as close as the final margin would indicate. Josh Owens (21 points) led the way while guards Chasson Randle and Aaron Bright proved to be a handful for the Cowboys. We'll see just how good this team is on Friday when they take on Syracuse.
4. A pair of Brian Voelkel steals late in overtime sealed Vermont's 65-63 win at Old Dominion, and while the CAA takes another early season hit this is a good win for the Catamounts. Luke Apfeld led three players in double figures with 15 points, and while Voelkel scored just six points he chipped in with 14 rebounds and five assists.
5. Keep an eye on Denver in the Sun Belt, who put together an impressive 70-58 win over Saint Mary's to move to 4-0. Seven players scored at least six points for the Pioneers, led by Rob Lewis' 17 points. Joe Scott's team has been solid defensively as well, allowing an average of just 0.92 points per possession thus far.
Three Notable Performances
1. G Scott Machado and F Mike Glover (Iona)
Machado scored 33 points and dished out ten assists while Glover led the Gaels with 34 points and 15 rebounds in their 104-99 double overtime win over Saint Joseph's.
2. G Michael Lyons (Air Force)
31 points, seven rebounds, three steals and two assists in the Falcons' 76-73 overtime loss to Colorado.
3. F Quincy Acy and F Quincy Miller (Baylor)
Miller finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds and six assists while Acy put up ten points, 11 rebounds and six blocks in the Bears' 75-65 win over UT-Arlington.