It's tough enough for most teams to manage the emotions that come with Senior Night; what happens when you add in a conference title and a team that's beaten you six straight times? If you're Greivis Vasquez and company all that meant on Wednesday night was the opportunity to show the nation that you can play with a highly-touted Duke team that blew you out in the first meeting this season. And from an individual perspective Vasquez made the plays late, showing off exactly why many feel that he should be the Player of the Year in the ACC, knocking down a pair of off-balance shots late to seal Maryland's 79-72 win over the Blue Devils at a raucous Comcast Center. Vasquez led four Terps in double figures with 20 points and Maryland also received a second-half boost off the bench from Adrian Bowie, who finished with nine points.
"Adrian really saved us in the second half," said senior guard Eric Hayes. "We were struggling to score and he came in there when Greivis and I were on the bench and he provided us a nice spark of scoring, playing good defense, getting out on the break. He really stepped up for us (quote courtesy of GoDuke.com)."
Jordan Williams also played well for Maryland, scoring fifteen points and grabbing 11 rebounds as he got the better of the matchup with Duke's frontcourt. But this night was about two things: Vasquez adding a line to his legacy and Duke's reliance on the three-point shot. The Blue Devils shot 41% from two, attempting 39 shots from inside the arc and 27 from behind it (making ten). You can't really complain about a style of offense that's gotten a team to 25-5 on the year but to be so reliant upon the three makes it that much more important that you not only shoot well in that area but also from inside the arc when afforded those opportunities. 41% won't get it done as the progress (hopefully in their case) through the NCAA Tournament.
As for the Venezuelan who put together a clutch performance in front of his parents, his growth as a player and person has been a sight to behold for head coach Gary Williams. "What he has done for himself, as a person, for his family, what lies ahead for him and his family, it is a great story," said Williams. "It is tremendous to see. That's the part of coaching that I enjoy and get a lot of satisfaction from, even at this point. To see the guy that comes over here and can barely speak English at all and now he is going to graduate with the other three seniors (quote courtesy of GoDuke.com)." But there's one thing that Vasquez and his classmates have yet to accomplish: an ACC title. With a win at Virginia on Saturday they'll have that piece of hardware in their hands as well.
Three Key Happenings
1. Kansas clinches the outright Big 12 title on an emotional Senior Night. The tears came down both before and after the Jayhawks' 82-65 win over rival Kansas State for point guard Sherron Collins, who had a hard time managing his emotions at the start of the game. Enter freshman Xavier Henry, who scored fifteen first-half points in helping get the Jayhawks into the locker room with a 45-38 halftime lead. Collins (17 points) made the plays during an important run on the heels of the Wildcats tying the game early in the second half to regain control of the contest, racking up his 125th victory as a Jayhawk in the process. But defense was just as important in the second half as Kansas limited the Wildcats to 29.2% shooting while making 61.9% of their shots.
"In the second half we came out and had an unbelievably bad start," said head coach Bill Self. "After we let them tie it up after a big run, we played very well down the stretch. We played smart and defended them well (quote courtesy of KUAthletics.com)." Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente combined to score 41 points but no other Wildcat finished with more than six points; the "supporting cast" made just eight of twenty-four shots from the field. But on this night it didn't seem like there was much that K-State could do to ruin Collins' moment; he (with help from his teammates) did what he's done for four years in Lawrence: he won.
2. Notre Dame picks up a key "bubble" victory against a listless Connecticut. In an important Big East matchup in regards to both the bubble and Big East Tournament seeding neither Notre Dame nor Connecticut put their best foot forward in the first half. The Huskies led at the half 20-17 in a game that didn't look too promising in regards to cleaning itself up. Well, one team got itself going and it wasn't the visiting team, who essentially went through the motions for forty minutes with the idea that they are either already in the field of 65 or have no desire to be there. Notre Dame came out like a team in need of a win and that's exactly what they got, winning 58-50 behind 22 points and four steals from senior guard Tory Jackson. Neither team shot well from the field but the differences were Notre Dame making six more free throws while also turning the ball over eight less times.
In games like these you need your seniors to step up, as was the case with Jackson. UConn's Jerome Dyson (2-14 FG, 5 TOs) and Stanley Robinson (four field goals attempted in 35 minutes) did not answer the bell while Gavin Edwards (10 points, 11 rebounds) did. The result now give Notre Dame a good chance at earning that final bye, protecting them from playing a first round game that will mean practically nothing in regards to their tournament resume. As for the Huskies, who really knows what's next. They've got three wins that no one else on the bubble can boast (Texas, Villanova and West Virginia) but they've also got a 1-5 record against fellow Big East teams on the bubble (Cincinnati, Louisville and Notre Dame).
3. Kennesaw State (Atlantic Sun) and Holy Cross (Patriot) pick up upset quarterfinal victories. The conference tournament surprises got off to an early start on Wednesday with the Owls knocking off the top seed in the Atlantic Sun (Lipscomb) 72-69 to move on to the semifinals. A Kurtis Woods layup with 19 seconds remaining gave KSU the lead for good, and an impressive effort from A-Sun Player of the Year Adnan Hodzic (29 points, 16 rebounds) fell by the wayside as a result. These two actually split two regular season meetings but with Kennesaw's win coming all the way back in early December few gave them a chance to win. KSU shot 11-for-27 from behind the arc while Lipscomb made just six of twenty-two and that kept the Owls in the game, allowing them to pull the upset in the final moments. As for the Crusaders their win wasn't as much of a surprise to those who follow the Patriot League.
Sean Kearney's club has struggled for much of the season, and a team rounding into form can be a dangerous foe come March. That's exactly what happened to Bucknell, who learned the painful lesson that where you finish in the regular season means nothing in a one-and-done scenario with the 67-64 defeat. St. John's transfer Mike Cavataio led all scorers with 20 points while Darryl Shazier led the Bison with 19. The Crusaders, who beat Bucknell by thirteen in January, avenged a five-point loss at Sojka Pavilion on Valentine's Day by shooting 46.8% from the field and getting to the foul line (17-20 FT). The reward: Holy Cross visits Lafayette on Sunday, and they split that series as well (won 73-46 on February 6th). To all the remaining favorites: "beware the ides of March".
Top Three Games
1. Kennesaw St 72, Lipscomb 69 See above.
2. Holy Cross 67, Bucknell 64 See above.
3. Southeast Louisiana 60, McNeese St 59 Brandon Fortenberry's layup with two seconds remaining gave the Lions the win in Hammond. Trent Hutchin led the victors with fifteen while Stephan Martin, whose two free throws with 30 seconds remaining gave the Cowboys a 59-58 lead, led McNeese with fifteen.
Three Notable Performances
1. F Adnan Hodzic (Lipscomb) Hodzic accounted for 29 points and 16 rebounds in the Bisons' 72-69 loss to Kennesaw State.
2. F Darington Hobson (New Mexico) The junior helped the Lobos lock up the outright Mountain West title with 20 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in a 73-66 win over TCU.
3. G Kevin Palmer (Texas A&M-Corpus Christi) Palmer led the Islanders to a 79-55 pasting of Lamar with 28 points, eight rebounds and three assists.