On a night that saw some of the nation's best teams go on the road and pick up victories it was appropriate that one of the less experienced teams fell in front of a raucous crowd. North Carolina started off slowly and paid dearly at Clemson, falling by the final score of 83-64. Trevor Booker led the way with 21 points while Demontez Stitt (20 points) and Tanner Smith (14 points, six rebounds, five steals) helped make life difficult for North Carolina. Dexter Strickland scored seventeen off the bench but he was the only player to score in double figures for the Tar Heels.
The inexperience reared its ugly head in the form of twenty-five turnovers that Clemson converted into thirty-three points. The Tigers were a +20 in the points off turnovers category and a +11 in points from the foul line, additional numbers that compensated for North Carolina outrebounding Clemson 38-30. Roy Williams even benched his starting five for a short stretch of the second half in attempts to snap them out of their offensive doldrums but that was to no avail. In what's a huge victory for the Clemson program (their first over UNC since 2004) Oliver Purnell now encounters the task of getting the Tigers to take this show on the road. If they can do that, they'll be a true contender in what's shaping up to be a wild ACC race.
Three Key Happenings
1. Pitt completes three-game road swing with a win. The Panthers, who were at times a terrible offensive team in the season's first month, may have declared themselves to be a team with staying power in their 67-57 win at Connecticut on Wednesday. While some may remain hesitant to say that the Panthers are a title contender you cannot ignore what they've done in their first three Big East road games. In Hartford the Panthers won despite shooting 39.0% from the field thanks to their defense and rebounding, staples of the Pittsburgh program.
Brad Wanamaker and Ashton Gibbs scored nineteen points apiece and Pitt pulled away thanks to a +13 second-half rebounding margin. Stanley Robinson led the Huskies with nineteen but once again the Huskies struggled to get their main cogs going at the same time. In the first half it was all Robinson, who scored seventeen of the Huskies' first 34 points. But he scored just two the rest of the way while Jerome Dyson and Kemba Walker didn't get going until Robinson cooled off. Credit Pittsburgh for doing a better job of running the half-court sets, allowing them to move to 4-0 in league play.
2. Georgia Tech shows the inability to handle prosperity. It's tough to go on the road in any conference, much less one the caliber of the ACC. But for the Yellow Jackets, coming off of a win over Duke on Saturday, to drop one at Virginia leads to the questioning of Georgia Tech's ability to play a role in the title hunt. But turnovers weren't the culprit on this night; the ability of the Cavaliers to get to the foul line and convert (23-26 FT) while Georgia Tech made just three of eleven from the charity stripe. Sylven Landesburg led four Cavaliers in double figures with 22 points and Mustapha Farrakhan added fifteen off the bench.
But more important for the Yellow Jackets, who had five players finish in double figures, is the issue of allowing the euphoria of their win over Duke to linger. You can't afford to do that when the games become bigger in March; such an attitude will more times than not result in your season ending earlier than anticipated. And don't look now but there's just one ACC team undefeated in conference play: Virginia.
3. It's time to pay attention to the one Conference USA team many have ignored. In the midst of Memphis continuing their epic conference win streak and some of the more glamorous schools being thought of a worthy challengers to the throne, Donnie Jones' Marshall Thundering Herd have gotten off to a 14-2 start. The Herd moved to 3-0 in league play with their 81-75 win at UCF as Chris Lutz (21 points) and freshman Hassan Whiteside (14 points, 14 rebounds and 10 blocks) led the way. In total five Thundering Herd players reached double figures and as a team Marshall was a +13 in rebounding margin and a +17 in points at the foul line. Next up for Marshall is Tulane before they hit the roughest stretch of games on their schedule, beginning with rival West Virginia next week. Winners of five straight and 9-0 at home, it may be time to pay closer attention to Marshall in regards to who could possibly win Conference USA.
Top Three Games
1. Missouri 94, Texas Tech 89 (OT) The Tigers were able to survive on the road thanks to a team-high 20 points from Marcus Denmon. Texas Tech's John Roberson led all scorers with 25 points while Mike Singletary grabbed a game-high 17 rebounds.
2. Vanderbilt 65, Alabama 64 A Jeffrey Taylor free throw with six seconds remaining capped an 8-2 Vanderbilt run over the final 3:19. Alabama's Mikhail Torrance led all scorers with 25 points while Vandy was led in scoring by A.J. Ogilvy (13 pts).
3. Creighton 71, Southern Illinois 69 Antoine Young's basket with 1.3 seconds left in the game gave the Blue Jays the win in Omaha. On a day that also featured Greg Echenique making the decision to transfer to Creighton by way of Rutgers Justin Carter led Creighton with 19 points.
Three Notable Performances
1. F/C Hassan Whiteside (Marshall) Whiteside posted his second triple-double of the season with 14 points, 14 rebounds and 10 blocks to aid in the Thundering Herd's 81-75 win at UCF.
2. F Amu Saaka (Furman) Saaka led the Paladins with 34 points and nine rebounds in an 86-81 home loss to Davidson.
3. G Andy Rautins (Syracuse) Rautins stuffed the stat sheet in the 81-65 win over Rutgers with 23 points, eight rebounds and nine assists.