With the Baylor Bears achievig the highest ranking in school history on Monday it would have been easy for Scott Drew's team to suffer a letdown against Texas A&M. But the fourth-ranked Bears were ready from the start, scoring the first eight points of the game on their way to a 61-52 win that wasn't as close as the margin would indicate. The Bears shot just 35.7% from the field in the first half but still went into the break with a 30-17 lead thanks to their defense, which limited the Aggies to 21.4% shooting. Perry Jones III led four starters in double figures with 14 points to go along with 12 rebounds and the Bears led by as many as 19 points early in the second half.
"We came in prepared, but we played very timidly and a little bit overwhelmed," said Texas A&M guard Elston Turner, who led the Aggies with 21 points. "The fact that we weren't making shots didn't help either. Like coach said, the foul trouble kind of got our offense out of sync."
Khris Middleton, who entered the game as Texas A&M's leading scorer, finished with 14 points but played just ten minutes in the first half due to foul trouble (scoring three points). It also didn't help that David Lobeau picked up three first-half fouls and didn't attempt a shot, and he was unable to get into the flow of things at all for that reason. Texas A&M needed guys to step up to assist Turner and that simply did not happen, with the other three starters scoring 15 points combined and the bench getting outscored 13-2 by Baylor. That didn't get it done in Waco and similar production will land the Aggies in serious trouble down the line as well, but they won't encounter many defenses like Baylor's either.
"The back line of that zone is very big and takes time to adjust to," said Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy. "I thought we got some pretty good looks early. We just didn't make them and got in foul trouble. We didn't get a whole lot of help from the bench either."
Baylor won comfortably despite 16 turnovers (Pierre Jackson had seven) and A&M limiting Jackson and Brady Heslip to four points combined, as A.J. Walton picked up the slack with 10 points and two assists. That's the scary thing about the Bears: while they've had some good wins the potential is there to be a much better team. And with the players Baylor has on the back line of that zone, from Jones III to Quincy Acy to Quincy Miller, Anthony Jones and even Cory Jefferson they're an extremely difficult matchup. The turnovers and rebounding need to be cleaned up, but this could be a special season in Waco.
"One game it might be the guards, one game it might be the wings and one game it is the inside players," said Drew of his team's versatility. "It all depends on what the defense gives you and that is what makes us good - our depth. We're unselfish and we work for each other."
Other Notable Happenings
1. Another rough day for the bottom of the ACC as Boston College and Wake Forest both fall.
The ACC hasn't had the best start to the season from a non-conference standpoint when you remove Duke, North Carolina, Virginia and Virginia Tech. Florida State is 0-2 against the Ivy League and other teams have also had their issues. So what Boston College and Wake Forest did on Monday didn't help matters despite the fact that neither has the look of a team headed for postseason play come March. The Eagles fell 78-72 in double overtime to a Rhode Island team that's won just three games on the season, with the combination of 16 turnovers, URI making 27 free throws to BC's 11 and a 46-35 URI rebounding edge dooming Steve Donahue's team.
As for the Demon Deacons, with C.J. Harris (groin) out they fell to Wofford 56-52 in Winston-Salem. Wake shot 34.8% from the field in the first half as they trailed 32-22 at the break, and they couldn't do enough in the second half to make it up. Results like these won't do the ACC any favors in the computers, and that could be the difference for a league bubble team. So for the sake of the middle of the pack, the teams at the bottom needed to do more to carry their weight outside of the league. Safe to say that hasn't been the case.
2. Robert Morris finds a way to win at Ohio despite turning the ball over 31 times.
Very rarely will a team that turns the ball over 31 times and shoots 21 fewer shots than their opponent ends up winning, but that's exactly what happened for Andy Toole's Colonials as they beat Ohio 70-67. Why was Robert Morris able to end the Bobcats' nine-game win streak? Because of their defense, which didn't allow Ohio to take advantage of those extra opportunities. Ohio shot just 35.3% from the field and Walter Offutt and D.J. Cooper combined to make six of their thirty-two shots from the field, and as a team the Bobcats also shot 3-for-26 from beyond the arc.
Velton Jones led three RMU starters in double figures with 17 points, and it's difficult to see the Colonials turning the ball over 31 times in a game again. With Wagner's excellent holiday run and this win the Northeast Conference has received a welcome boost, which should make the race for the regular season title all the more entertaining. Robert Morris will definitely be a player, and an NCAA Tournament bid is definitely possible for a team that was one win away last season.
3. Orlando Johnson makes up for a quiet night with a big shot to lead UCSB past Cal Poly.
Monday marked the first game in over a week for UCSB and it wasn't an easy contest either, as the Gauchos were on the road to take on a Cal Poly team that's surprised folks this season. Orlando Johnson, UCSB's leading scorer, made just three of his first thirteen shots from the field in what was one of his worst outings of the season. But he saved his best for last, getting a shooter's roll on a three-pointer with 5.1 seconds remaining being the difference in UCSB's 58-57 win. Alan Williams was the unsung hero for UCSB with 13 points and ten rebounds off the bench as the Gauchos picked up a key Big West victory, while Will Taylor led the Mustangs with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Even with the time off not playing a home game in 35 days took its toll on UCSB, who is expected to be right there with Long Beach State in the run for the regular season title. And with Johnson and James Nunnally leading the way, Bob Williams team should be able to do just that.
1. Staying in the Big West for a moment, keep an eye on Cal-State Fullerton. Bob Burton's Titans moved to 10-3 overall and 2-0 in league play with a 78-73 win over Pacific, and their surplus of Division I transfers could make them the dark horse in that title race. Cal transfer D.J. Seeley scored 20 points and San Francisco transfer Kwame Vaughn scored a team-best 21, while another former Golden Bear (Amondi Omoke) scored 11 and grabbed 11 rebounds.
2. It wasn't pretty as the two teams combined to turn the ball over 31 times but Virginia did what they had to do in beating LSU 57-52 in Baton Rouge. Sammy Zeglinski led three starters in double figures with 17 points as the Cavailers had the offensive balance that LSU failed to create (outside of Justin Hamilton (21 points, 9-14 FG) the Tigers shot 12-for-34 from the field.
3. Can Rider (4-11) find a way to snap out of their funk and be a factor in the MAAC race? That remains to be seen, but the Broncs took the first step in their 88-77 win at Manhattan. Novar Gadson led five players in double figures with 21 points and Brandon Penn posted a double-double (12 points, 11 rebounds) as Rider avenged their loss to Manhattan last month. The talent's there to make a run but the productivity needs to be there as well.
4. Staying in the MAAC, Niagara picked up a big victory as they won 66-61 at Loyola (MD). Juan'Ya Green and Antoine Mason combined to score 35 points while Ameen Tanksley added 15 (averaging 8.2 per game) as the Purple Eagles handed the Greyhounds their first conference loss.
5. Campbell moved to 3-0 in Big South play as they beat Coastal Carolina 70-65 in overtime. CCU turned the ball over 20 times as they fell to 3-1 in league play and Trey Freeman led the Camels to the win with 20 points and five assists. Look for these two teams to be right there with UNC Asheville in the run for the Big South crown.
6. Big news from early Monday in Stillwater as Oklahoma State announced that guard J.P. Olukemi would miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. With the Cowboys losing two guards at the end of the semester (transferring) this was one loss they didn't need. Even more will be asked of Keiton Page and Cezar Guerrero now, and going into Big 12 play shorthanded could be too much for Travis Ford's team.
7. It's early but VCU is looking to be the class of the CAA right now. The Rams have won 10 of their last 11 games, beating Hofstra 80-63 in Hempstead. Also preseason favorite Drexel fell at Georgia State 58-44, and even with players such as Chris Fouch at his disposal scoring could once again be a concern for Bruiser Flint.
Three Notable Performances
1. F Kenny Gabriel (Auburn)
24 points (11-13 FG), 13 rebounds, ten blocked shots, four steals and three assists in the Tigers' 67-41 win over Bethune-Cookman.
2. F Kenny Kadji (Miami) and G Trevis Simpson (UNC Greensboro)
Both players put up career-best performances in the Hurricanes' 99-89 victory. Kadji finished with 30 points and 12 rebounds while Simpson paced the Spartans with 36 points and some emphatic above-the-rim finishes.
3. F Stan Okoye (VMI)
25 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, four steals and three blocks in the Keydets' 76-72 win over Gardner-Webb.