Montana Wins Big Sky Title: Wednesday's Quick Hitters

March 8th, 2012

UConn and USF were the big winners on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, while West Virginia and Seton Hall now await their NCAA tournament fate.

1. Montana pulls away in the second half to beat Weber State and win the Big Sky's automatic bid.
The Big Sky title game was one of two championship game rubber matches on Wednesday night, and even though the home team won each meeting by double digits the expectation was that the Wildcats and Grizzlies would be close throughout. That was true for about 33 minutes, as from the 6:41 mark on Montana outscored Weber State 27-14 on their way to the 85-66 victory. Damian Lillard played very well for Weber State, finishing with 29 points, ten rebounds and seven assists, but on this night he likely would have needed to score in upwards of 40 points to give Randy Rahe's team a shot at winning.

Why? Because while Montana didn't receive one point from their bench all five starters reached double figures, with Kareem Jamar and Mathias Ward scored 23 points apiece to lead the way. In addition to those two the Grizzlies can also call on guard Will Cherry and Derek Selvig, which could make them a tough matchup for someone next week. Both teams will return some key pieces next season, meaning that Weber State and Montana could very well meet with another NCAA berth on the line in 2013.  

2. C.J. McCollum and Gabe Knutson prove to be too much for Bucknell in the Patriot League final.
Patriot League Player of the Year McCollum did what he's done all season long in scoring 29 points to lead Lehigh offensively, but the fact that the Mountain Hawks had a second scorer while the Bison did not proved to be the difference. Gabe Knutson added 23 points and seven rebounds, five of them being offensive, in the Mountain Hawks' 82-77 win at Bucknell to take the automatic bid. Mike Muscala was outstanding for the Bison as he finished with 30 points and 14 rebounds, but the next scorer for Bucknell finished with just 11 points (Bryson Johnson, who made two of his three field goals in the final minute).

Lehigh did a better job of executing offensively as they found quality looks and shot 50% from the field, finishing with an efficiency of 113.9. According to a Bucknell opponent hadn't approached that number since Loyola (MD) posted a 116.1 back in December. Lehigh proved to be too much for Bucknell offensively, especially when factoring in the fact that Muscala didn't receive consistent scoring help on the other end. 

3. LIU Brooklyn takes care of Robert Morris to win their second consecutive NEC tournament crown.
For the second straight season the Colonials and Blackbirds met with a trip to the NCAA tournament on the line, and just like last season it was the home team that emerged victorious. All five starters reached double figures for the Blackbirds, who pulled away in the second half to win 90-73. C.J. Garner led the way with 21 points and backcourt partner Jason Brickman added 18 and 11 assists, while forward Julian Boyd finished with 18 and ten rebounds.

Andy Toole's Colonials suffered a pair of unfortunate blows during the game as both Velton Jones and Mike McFadden suffered injuries, but the game was more about what Brickman was able to do at the point in running the LIU attack. The Blackbirds also outscored the Colonials 31-14 from the foul line, and their sheer ability to score helped make up for Robert Morris grabbing 21 offensive rebounds. Rebounding's been an issue for much of the season for LIU, and if they want to improve their chances of winning a game Boyd, Jamal Olasewere and Kenny Onyechi will need to lead the way towards improvement. 

Quick Hitters

1. After winning the MEAC regular season crown in their first year as a full member of the league, Savannah State fell 59-46 to Hampton in a MEAC tournament quarterfinal. Horace Broadnax's team shot 27.1% from the field and 5-for-22 from beyond the arc, and their 20 turnovers didn't help matters either. The regular season title does guarantee the Tigers an NIT berth, but obviously they would rather not have to use that automatic bid. 

2. Two disciplinary actions taken on Wednesday did a better job of summing up what this season has been like for the Pac-12 than any stat that's been thrown out there. Arizona suspended starting point guard Josiah Turner indefinitely due to a violation of team rules, and he won't be playing at all this weekend. And UCLA head coach Ben Howland sat big man Joshua Smith for the first half of their 55-40 win over USC due to his being late for the team bus to the arena. 

3. Compared to how they were playing in for most of conference play, these last couple of weeks have been a bit of a struggle for Sean Woods' Mississippi Valley State team. The Delta Devils survived their SWAC quarterfinal on Wednesday, beating Jackson State 63-60 to advance to the semis. Cor-J Cox provided a spark off the bench with 12 points, six rebounds and five steals, but if MVSU is to back up their regular season title with a tournament crown they can't afford to shoot 3-for-17 from three as they did against Jackson State.

4. The top four seeds in the Southland all advanced to the semifinals, with the top seeds making short work of their respective opponents. Regular season champ UT Arlington beat Nicholls State 96-48 as Bo Ingram led four Mavericks in double figures with 21 points to go along with seven rebounds. Two-seed Stephen F. Austin beat Sam Houston State 68-46, shooting 55.6% from the field and 24-for-30 from the foul line. Also advancing were Lamar and McNeese State.  

5. On a day that saw three of the four higher-seeded teams advance at the Conference USA tournament the one winner that should stand out is Marshall, who beat SMU 74-56. DeAndre Kane led the way with 18 points and Dennis Tinnon grabbed 15 rebounds for the Thundering Heard, who have the talent necessary to make a run through the tournament. 

6. Chalk ruled the two matchups in the MAC on Wednesday as Western Michigan and Toledo advanced to the quarterfinals. The Rockets led Northern Illinois by 11 with just over four minutes remaining, only to see the Huskies nearly come back and grab the win. Rian Pearson led Toledo with 20 points and 15 rebounds. 

7. While the CBI has taken teams with losing records in the past, Oklahoma's season may be finished thanks to their 62-53 loss to Texas A&M in the first round of the Big 12 tournament. David Lobeau and Khris Middleton led the Aggies with 15 points apiece, combing for 30 points and 16 rebounds on the night. Also advancing was Oklahoma State, who beat Texas Tech 76-60.