With first place on the line in Columbus the expectation was that #11 Michigan State and #3 Ohio State would play a tight, physical affair. And that's exactly what it was, with the visitors from East Lansing seeming to be the more comfortable of the two teams in the first half. Michigan State shot 46.9% from the field but the reason for their 35-25 lead at the half was their defense, as they limited Ohio State to 33.3% and forced eight turnovers. The Spartans' defending of Jared Sullinger was central to that effort, as they forced the sophomore big man into five of Ohio State's eight turnovers (he finished with ten) in the half. Michigan State scored 14 points off of those eight turnovers, and the ten-point margin proved too much for the home team to overcome in the 58-48 loss.
"You have to give them a lot of credit," said Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft, who finished with 15 points. "What they hang their hat on is big pressure defense. They limited us to one shot and they shrink the floor. Our guys weren't ready for it tonight."
Draymond Green didn't shoot his best from the field as he made just five of sixteen shots in scoring 12 points and grabbing nine rebounds, but his work on the defensive end of the floor more than made up for that. Keith Appling turned the ball over seven times but managed to score 14 points, but the star of the evening ended up being big man Adriean Payne. Payne, who entered the game averaging 7.3 points per game, made all six of his field goals in scoring 15 points in 20 minutes of action. Payne and Derrick Nix combined to guard Sullinger, who did score 17 points and grab 16 rebounds but those ten turnovers gave him an unwanted triple-double.
"Most of the turnovers I had were me going up for shots," noted Sullinger. "I wasn't expecting the [double-team] because that's not what Michigan State shows on the film. They dig but they don't dig like they did today. We have to give them credit, they had a great plan and they stuck to their system."
Payne was also a big reason why the Spartans outscored Ohio State 30-12 in the paint, and with William Buford and Deshaun Thomas both shooting 2-for-12 from the field this disadvantage proved to be too much for Ohio State to overcome. The win moves Michigan State into a tie with Ohio State atop the Big Ten standings, and while there's still a long way to go Tom Izzo's team made a major statement in a hostile environment. Michigan State is a Big Ten title contender, and at this rate there's a whole lot more that the Spartans can accomplish this season.
Other Notable Happenings
1. Wichita State wins big at Creighton and is well on their way to the MVC crown.
The rematch between the Shockers and Bluejays was one of the most-anticipated games on the schedule, as the outcome would go a long way in determining the regular season champ in the Missouri Valley. Creighton, who won the first meeting 68-61 in Wichita, would have pulled into a tie for first and owned the head-to-head tiebreaker with a win but they were outclassed on their home floor. Joe Ragland (24 points, six assists) and Ben Smith (22 points, six rebounds) led the way for Wichita State, who shot 58.2% in an 89-68 win to move two games ahead of Creighton in the standings.
Gregory Echenique led the Bluejays with 16 points and five rebounds but a quiet afternoon from Doug McDermott (5-14 FG, 15 points, six rebounds) and 40.4% shooting (5-for-23 from beyond the arc) proved to be too much to overcome when combined with Wichita State's offensive execution (efficiency of 141.3). Gregg Marshall's Shockers entered the game as the more balanced team when looking at their performance both offensively and defensively, and that's why they remain atop the MVC. Creighton, who has now lost three straight, needs to straighten things out defensively ahead of their BracketBusters game with Long Beach State next weekend. Because while the Bluejays remain a good bet to go dancing, their defensive performance will determine how long they stick around.
2. UNLV relies on their defense down the stretch to beat San Diego State.
There haven't been many home-and-home series this season that have been either as tight or as entertaining as the two games between UNLV and San Diego State, with the home team winning both contests by a margin of two points. Jamaal Franklin's runner was the difference in the first meeting, but the Runnin' Rebels had to lean on their defense to return the favor in Las Vegas. Dave Rice's team shot 39.4% from the field in the second half and went more than seven minutes without a made field goal, but steals from Mike Moser (which resulted in the Anthony Marshall layup that gave them a 64-63 lead), Marshall and Justin Hawkins proved to be the difference in the 65-63 win.
Moser scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds and Oscar Bellfield added 15 (Brice Massamba was also productive with 12 points as he outplayed the SDSU big men), but on an afternoon that saw Marshall and Chace Stanback combine to shoot 4-for-17 from the field UNLV was able to rely on their defense late. San Diego State turned the ball over 17 times to just eight for UNLV and was outscored 16-2 in fast break points, which negated their 49% shooting from the field and also didn't allow them to take advantage of UNLV shooting 6-for-25 from three. Chase Tapley led the Aztecs with 22 points and Franklin added 15, but James Rahon and Xavier Thames were quiet for much of the day. What does this all mean? We need a "Round 3" despite the fact that calls for such will likely motivate New Mexico, who is also 6-2 in the Mountain West.
3. North Carolina adjusts to the tempo well enough to beat Virginia.
Coming off of their tough loss to rival Duke on Wednesday, there were questions as to how #5 North Carolina would not only get over that defeat but deal with the slow pace that #19 Virginia would look to play at. Well, Roy Williams' team did just fine, pulling away with a 22-5 second half run to win 70-52 and remain part of a three-way tie for first in the ACC. Tyler Zeller, who took a great deal of criticism following Wednesday's loss due to missed free throws and his defending of Austin Rivers in the final sequence (he did go for 23 and 11), bounced back with 25 points and nine rebounds and as a team the Tar Heels made up for 35.3% shooting by grabbing 23 offensive rebounds.
Mike Scott led the Cavaliers with 18 points and six rebounds but it wasn't enough to make up for a 40-20 disadvantage in the paint and a 23-9 margin in second chance points. Unlike many teams that run into Virginia's pack line defense, North Carolina remained composed and didn't try to force things especially in the first half. And that's largely a credit to point guard Kendall Marshall, who dished out six assists and as a team the Tar Heels finished with just eight turnovers. Harrison Barnes (14 points, 11 rebounds) and John Henson (ten points, ten rebounds and four blocks) posted double-doubles, and while this result didn't make waves nationally UNC made sure to not allow Duke to beat them "twice".
4. Anthony Davis and Marquis Teague lead Kentucky past Vanderbilt in Nashville.
The national Player of the Year race seems to be a two-horse race at this point, with Kansas' Thomas Robinson and Kentucky's Anthony Davis being the thoroughbreds of choice. Davis was a key figure in the Wildcats' 69-63 win at Vanderbilt as he finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and seven blocked shots. But just as important was the play of point guard Marquis Teague, who followed up a double-double against Florida with 13 points, eight assists and four rebounds...with just one turnover. Four Kentucky starters finished in double figures as Doron Lamb led the way with 16 and Terrence Jones bounced back from a slow start to score 14 and grab nine boards, and they limited the Commodores to 27.6% shooting in the first half to take a 36-23 lead into the locker room.
But as expected Kevin Stallings' team fought back in the second half, scoring 40 points as they improved their shooting inside of the arc (45.4% to 25.0% in the first) and turned the ball over just two times. John Jenkins led four VU starters in double figures with 15 points but their 36.5% shooting from the field (and 35.7% from two) proved to be costly. Vanderbilt's going to win games down the stretch and reach the NCAA tournament, but the Wildcats are simply on another level right now. With Davis, Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (who had a quiet game on Saturday night) John Calipari's got a front line that extremely difficult for opponents to score on. The key to cutting down the nets in New Orleans however could be Teague, which makes his improved play of late that much more important. While there definitely are other contenders (Syracuse chief among them), Kentucky's at the head of the class right now.
5. Missouri completes the season sweep of Baylor, whose ceiling really needs to be reevaluated.
The day's lone game matching Top 10 teams was intriguing not just because of the Big 12 race but also due to the fact that it gave viewers the chance to see how Baylor would bounce back from their loss to Kansas on Wednesday night. There was also the question of how the Bears would apply the lessons learned in their 89-88 home loss to Missouri last month, which would go a long way in determining the outcome. Well, Baylor made sure to not get whipped on the glass (40-27 edge) but they didn't accomplish much else, as Missouri limited the Bears to 36.2% shooting while knocking down 14 of 28 from beyond the arc in their 72-57 win. Paul Pressey led four Tigers in double figures with 19 points while Baylor's Quincy Miller (20 points, seven rebounds and three steals) had no such help from his teammates.
Removing Miller's 7-for-10 afternoon from the equation, Baylor shot a putrid 14-for-48 (29.2%) from the field on the day. Not going to beat many teams much less one the caliber of Missouri, who should definitely be considered to be a national title contender, by shooting that poorly. Perry Jones III, considered by many to be a lock for the lottery in the NBA Draft (should be leave), shot 2-for-12 and scored four points while Pierre Jackson (2-9 FG, five points) wasn't much better. Baylor went 0-4 in regular season games against Kansas and Missouri, and to be frank this team's ceiling is limited due to the inconsistency of their frontcourt and an inability to make key adjustments. When the stakes are raised simply relying on superior athletic ability won't get the job done, a lesson Baylor's had hammered home by both Missouri and Kansas.
1. Many were interested to see what Connecticut would bring to the table as they visited #2 Syracuse, and while the 85-67 final screams "blowout" the margin is a bit deceiving. The game turned for good when Andre Drummond left the game momentarily with an ankle injury, and the Orange went on a 19-3 run to put the game away. If the Huskies are to make a run at not just getting into the Big Dance but making waves once they get there, they need more from Alex Oriakhi (two points, two rebounds).
2. Wednesday night's hero was Austin Rivers but in #9 Duke's 73-55 win over Maryland it was the Plumlee brothers who led the way. Miles scored 13 points and grabbed 22 boards while Mason added 16 and ten to keep the Blue Devils tied with Florida State and North Carolina atop the ACC. If those two can build on this performance, Duke may end up being the favorite to win the league.
3. In a matchup of two of the top teams in the Atlantic 10, Temple sent a message in an 85-72 win over Xavier at the Liacouras Center. Ramone Moore scored 30 points, Micheal Eric added 11 and 16 boards inside and Khalif Wyatt scored 18 to move the Owls to 8-2 in conference play. Saint Louis, who won 59-51 at La Salle, are a game back in the loss column at 8-3.
4. Two ranked SEC teams did themselves no favors at home, as both #7 Florida and #18 Mississippi State dropped games they were expected to win. Trae Golden scored 17 points and dished out seven assists to lead Tennessee past the Gators 75-70 while Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led Georgia past Mississippi State 60-58 in overtime with 20 points, eight rebounds and three assists. While both teams should be safely in the Field of 68, results like these don't do much to help their possible seeding.
5. The race in the Ivy League regained some intrigue on Saturday night as #21 Harvard fell 70-62 at Princeton. This wasn't a huge surprise as the Crimson haven't won at Jadwin Gym since 1989, and Ian Hummer led the victors with 20 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Keith Wright led Harvard with 16 points and 12 rebounds, but they still lead Yale and Penn by a game in the loss column.
6. The Big East Coach of the Year "race" should be interesting to keep an eye on in the final month of the season, and while Jim Boeheim coaches the league's best team there are other solid candidates. Mike Brey, who won the award last season, has a Notre Dame squad that moved to 9-3 on the season with an 84-76 win over DePaul. Buzz Williams is also worthy as #19 Marquette is now 10-3 in league play after they recovered from another slow start to blitz Cincinnati 95-78, and one can't forget USF's Stan Heath as his Bulls are 8-4 following their 55-48 comeback win at Providence. Georgetown's John Thompson III and #23 Louisville's Rick Pitino, whose Cardinals came back to beat West Virginia 77-74 in Morgantown, should also be considered.
7. It's time to move from "he lit up Baylor" to "he's doggone good" when it comes to #10 Kansas big man Jeff Withey, who was outstanding in the Jayhawks' 81-66 win over Oklahoma State. Withey scored 18 points, grabbed 20 rebounds and blocked seven shots, which proved to be too much for the Cowboys to overcome with Thomas Robinson going for 24 and 12. The better Withey gets the better this team gets, which makes Kansas a serious threat to get to New Orleans.
8. The Pac-12, at the very least, needed its top contenders to establish some separation from the rest of the conference and that happened on Saturday as all four contenders that played won. California moved into sole possession of first with a 73-63 win at UCLA (Washington can move into a tie for first with a win at Oregon State on Sunday) as Justin Cobbs scored 18 points and dished out five assists. A game behind them at 9-4 are Arizona (who rebounded from arguably their poorest half of basketball this season to beat Utah 70-61), Colorado (63-49 win over Arizona State) and Oregon (78-69 win over Washington State). That separation may not help the national perception much but it was necessary for the contenders to move away from the bottom seven in order to boost their chances come Selection Sunday.
9. #7 Murray State rebounded from their first loss of the season as they beat Austin Peay 82-63. Isaiah Canaan scored 23 points and dished out six assists and Ivan Aska and Jewuan Long scored 12 apiece, and they also received the boost from the bench that wasn't there on Thursday night as the reserved combined to score 24 points.
10. Kentucky (11-0 SEC) still has company when it comes to teams undefeated in conference play as Long Beach State (Big West) and Mississippi Valley State (SWAC) moved to 12-0 with wins on Saturday. Casper Ware (school's all-time assist record) and T.J. Robinson (conference's all-time leading rebounder) established new standards in the 49ers' 89-69 win at UC Davis, and Luka Pavjovic led four Delta Devils in double figures with 16 points in their 71-63 win at Alcorn State. There are five conference undefeateds in college basketball as Utah Valley (Great West), Bucknell (Patriot) and UT-Arlington (Southland) are also unblemished.
11. With Kevin Van Wijk (knee) out and Ben Boggs (reaction after being poked in the eye on Thursday night) limited, Valparaiso fell into a tie for first in the Horizon League with a 71-53 loss at Youngstown State. The Crusaders (11-4), who beat 10-4 Cleveland State 59-41 on Thursday, still don't know the severity of Van Wijk's injury and if he's lost for an extended period of time their regular season title hopes could be in trouble.
12. The CAA has gained a little separation at the top as the three teams tied for first are now two games up on the closest competition with three to go. VCU knocked off rival Old Dominion 68-64 with Bradford Burgess leading the way with 24 points, six rebounds and five steals to move to 13-2 in league play. Joining them are Drexel (78-67 win over Hofstra) and George Mason (75-69 win at UNC Wilimington), and the separation could be part of the equation when it comes to earning multiple NCAA bids. The possible keys now: a good showing in Sears BracketBusters next weekend and two of these three meeting in the CAA tournament final.
13. While Loyola Marymount has been the "road warrior" of the WCC, entering their game at Gonzaga with a 6-0 record in league road games, they were no match for "The Kennel" and the Bulldogs as they fell 78-59. Kevin Pangos scored 21 points and dished out nine assists and Elias Harris added 17 and 15 caroms in the win, which moved Gonzaga to 10-2 in WCC play. The win keeps Gonzaga a game behind Saint Mary's and one ahead of BYU, who whipped Pepperdine 86-48.
14. Antwaine Wiggins scored 25 points and grabbed ten rebounds as Charleston beat Davidson 86-78, dealing the Wildcats' at-large hopes a major blow. The good news for Davidson, who was led by De'Mon Brooks (25 points, nine rebounds), is that they host Wichita State next week in the Sears BracketBusters event.
15. Sometimes a coach has to put the future of a program ahead of the present regardless of the possible consequences, and that's what Alabama head coach Anthony Grant did in suspending three starters ahead of their 67-58 loss at LSU. Already without Tony Mitchell (also suspended), JaMychal Green, Trevor Releford and Andrew Steele were all left in Tuscaloosa due to conduct detrimental to the team. While the loss likely kills their at-large hopes, Grant made a decision that a lot of other coaches would not have been willing to make.
16. Saturday marked the end of crossover games in the Mid-American Conference, and that's probably a good thing for the West Division as the East went 30-6 in those games this season. Akron leads the division with a 10-1 record after 75-51 win over Northern Illinois, and the top five conference records in the conference are all in the East (Eastern Michigan leads the West with a 6-5 mark). Does this mean that the East dominates the conference tournament? That would be the expectation, but you never know especially with the Eagles beating Ohio 68-55 on Saturday afternoon.
Five Notable Performances
1. F Thomas Robinson and C Jeff Withey (Kansas)
Robinson scored 24 points and grabbed 12 rebounds while Withey accounted for 18 points, 20 rebounds and seven blocks in the Jayhawks' 81-66 win over Oklahoma State.
2. F/C Andrew Nicholson (St. Bonaventure)
21 points and 23 rebounds in the Bonnies' 69-48 win over Duquesne.
3. F Mason Plumlee and F Miles Plumlee (Duke)
In the Blue Devils' 73-55 win over Maryland, Mason scored 16 points and grabbed ten rebounds and Miles scored 13 and grabbed 22 caroms.
4. G Tim Frazier (Penn State)
23 points, ten rebounds and nine assists in the Nittany Lions' 72-54 win over Nebraska.
5. G Kenny McGowen (Idaho State) and G Shane Gibson (Sacred Heart)
McGowen scored 37 points (7-12 3PT) and dished out three helpers in the Bengals' 79-73 win at Northern Arizona, and Gibson accounted for 34 points and four assists in the Pioneers' 72-46 win over Bryant.