Rivalry games bring more to the table when it comes to intensity, and that was definitely the case in the battle between #4 Missouri and #8 Kansas in Columbia on Saturday night. In a game that featured many momentum swings and neither team leading by more than eight points, it was Frank Haith's Tigers who landed the final blow. Kansas led 71-63 with 3:25 remaining but they would not score again, as Missouri finished the game on an 11-0 run to win 74-71. Marcus Denmon, who entered the game having made just 34.9% of his shots in Big 12 play, shot 10-for-16 from the field and scored a game-high 29 points to lead the way.
"He made some tough shots," said Haith. "He got into a rhythm and when Marcus gets into a rhythm he can rattle off a few shots in a row. And I think at that point in time he just got in a rhythm."
But Denmon wasn't the only star for the Tigers, with Kim English scoring 18 points and Michael Dixon Jr. adding 15 off the bench. English received a lot of attention from the Kansas defense due to his three-point shooting ability but the senior from Baltimore made things happen in other ways. The foul line was huge for the Tigers, as their shot 14-for-20 from the charity stripe with Kansas making five of nine and being called for ten more fouls (20-10). Thomas Robinson led the Jayhawks with 25 points and 13 rebounds, and Tyshawn Taylor added 21, but the Missouri comeback was aided by player control fouls called on both down the stretch.
Robinson's fourth foul with 1:45 remaining ultimately led to a Denmon three to make the score 71-69, and Taylor's foul with ten seconds remaining led to a pair of Dixon Jr. free throws to give Missouri a 74-71 lead. Elijah Johnson ended up with the ball in his hands in the final seconds but he hesitated, eventually having to put up a highly-contested shot as time expired. Kansas played with a great deal of poise for just over 36 minutes, but when the Jayhawks needed sound execution to close out the contest the Tigers proved to be too much.
"We definitely did it to ourselves," remarked Jeff Withey when asked about the decisive stretch. "We had the lead and if we would have just held onto the ball, I think it would have been a way different outcome."
The end result: a three-way tie atop the Big 12 with Missouri boasting a 2-0 record vs. Kansas and Baylor. Ricardo Ratliffe was quiet due to his being in foul trouble for much of the night but others stepped up to help the Tigers hold their own on the glass. Denmon grabbed nine rebounds and five other players grabbed at least two as Missouri was out-rebounded by just three (29-26) on the night. Continue to point out Missouri's lack of size if you wish, but it should be pretty clear by now that they've got more than enough to compete for a national title.
Other Notable Happenings
1. Memphis comes back from ten down in the second half to beat Xavier, picking up a needed non-conference victory.
There was no mistaking how important the contest between Xavier and Memphis was for both teams with regards to their NCAA resumes, and the Musketeers looked to be well on their way to the key win. A Dezmine Wells three-point play with 6:16 remaining gave Xavier a 62-51 lead, but Josh Pastner's team refused to lie down. A Wesley Witherspoon three started a 17-1 run over the next six minutes, and Memphis would put away the 72-68 win from the foul line (Joe Jackson hit all four of his free throws to seal the deal). The question is which team needed the win more, and while it was vital for both teams a look at their remaining schedules will reveal the answer. Memphis won't have another shot at an RPI Top 50 win the remainder of the regular season while Xavier still has matchups with Temple and Saint Louis (both on the road) to deal with.
2. Florida State holds off Virginia at home to remain tied atop the ACC.
Low-scoring games tend to amp up those who feel that basketball has to be high-scoring in order to entertain, and those who took this route missed a very good battle in Tallahassee. Okaro White scored 13 points off the bench and Xavier Gibson added ten as Florida State won their seventh straight game to move to 7-1 in the ACC as they beat Virginia 58-55. Joe Harris and Mike Scott scored 16 apiece to lead the Cavaliers and Malcolm Brogdon added ten off the bench, but the struggles of Sammy Zeglinski (2-for-7, five points) down the stretch were just one reason why the Hoos were unable to pick up what would have been a very good road victory. In a game that finished with 63 possessions it was Florida State's work on the offensive glass (OR% of 34.3%) that made the difference (12-7 edge in second-chance points). Work of art? No, especially with the two teams combining for 39 turnovers. But it definitely was an entertaining show that the ACC's two best defensive teams put forth in Tallahassee.
3. Notre Dame puts it to Marquette in the second half to move to 7-3 in the Big East.
Once again Mike Brey is one of the favorites in the race for Big East Coach of the Year, as a team that looked to be well on its way to the NIT (or worse) in December finds itself in the thick of the race for second place. The Irish shot 57.7% from the field in the second half as they ran away from #15 Marquette to win 76-59, moving to within a half-game of second place as a result. Freshman Pat Connaughton led four Notre Dame players in double figures with 23 points, and the growth of he, Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant has played a huge role in Notre Dame not only surviving but thriving in dealing with life without the injured Tim Abromaitis. Grant's versatility was on display against Marquette, as he not only scored 11 points but dished out a team-high eight assists while Atkins scored 18. The play of Syracuse has turned the Big East into a league that will offer more suspense in the race for second, and at this point Notre Dame is just as capable as anyone else to grab that spot.
4. Iona's second half execution on both ends of the floor too much for Manhattan.
At the under-8 media timeout in the first meeting between the rivals separated by just nine miles, Iona held a 67-49 lead in a game that would eventually end on an Emmy Andujar three as time expired (75-72 Manhattan win). No such heroics this time around as the Gaels made sure to not allow the Jaspers to storm back, winning 85-73 thanks to improved play on the defensive end of the floor in the second half. Iona limited the quality looks for George Beamon, who finished with 26 points after scoring 19 in the first half, and as a team Manhattan shot just 38.2% from the field. Mike Glover led a balanced attack with 19 points and seven rebounds while Scott Machado (nine assists) and Momo Jones scored 18 apiece for the Gaels, who remain in first place with the win. Next up for Iona is a trip to Loyola (MD) on Friday night, which could also be a battle for first is the Greyhounds take care of business against Saint Peter's.
5. George Mason hangs on at home to beat ODU, resulting in a three-way tie atop the CAA.
Paul Hewitt's Patriots have now won seven of their last eight games, rebounding from a loss to Delaware to beat ODU 54-50 in a matchup of two of the four teams that entered Saturday tied for first in the CAA. George Mason got the job done by doing something simple in the second half: they made shots. GMU shot just 20% from the field in the first half, trailing 26-20 at the break and their 12 turnovers didn't help matters either. The second half was a different story as the Patriots shot 41.2% from the field while also refusing to settle for threes as they did in the first. George Mason's parade to the foul line (19-for-23 in the second half, 27-for-35 for the game) would prove to be the difference as the Patriots outscored the Monarchs by 17 from the charity stripe. VCU and Drexel are a part of the tie at this point, and while Mason doesn't play Drexel again (the Dragos won the first meeting) they do get two shots at VCU. Can someone in this group earn an at-large berth? The possibility is definitely there at this point.
1. No Kevin Parrom to start the trip and no Jordin Mayes on Saturday as well, but that didn't stop Arizona from beating Stanford 56-43 in Palo Alto. That completes the Wildcats' road sweep of the Bay Area schools and keeps them two games back the Pac-12 behind Washington. Kyle Fogg led four players in double figures with 14 points and the Wildcats limited Stanford to 25.4% shooting from the field.
2. Victor Oladipo scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead Indiana past Purdue 78-61, snapping their five-game losing streak to the Boilermakers and moving the Hoosiers to 6-6 in the Big Ten. Robbie Hummel led the Boilers with 16 points and ten rebounds, but Purdue shot just 29.6% from the field in the loss.
3. One team that picked up a much-needed win for their resume was Wyoming, who knocked off #13 UNLV 68-66 in Laramie. Leonard Washington and Paco Cruz scored 16 points apiece and Luke Martinez 15 as the Cowboys made up for a disappointing loss to TCU earlier in the week. Larry Shyatt deserves a little more pub nationally than he's received for the Pokes' 18-5 start.
4. How the Atlantic 10 will shake out from an NCAA tournament bid standpoint has been one of the major points of conversation recently, but there may not be much doubt as to who the best team is. Temple sits alone in first place due to their 73-56 win over Rhode Island and La Salle's 70-66 loss to Saint Joseph's. The Owls' perimeter trio of Juan Fernandez, Ramone Moore and Khalif Wyatt may be the best in the A-10, something that seemed preposterous to suggest before the season started due to the presence of Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons at Xavier.
5. There's now a tie for first in the Missouri Valley as Northern Iowa knocked off #12 Creighton 65-62 on an Anthony James three as time expired. Wichita State took advantage of this, beating Indiana State 71-66 behind Garrett Stutz' 24 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks. The February 11th rematch in Omaha (Creighton won the first meeting) will likely determine the top seed in Arch Madness.
6. Nevada took their first loss in WAC play as they fell 72-68 to Idaho in Reno. Kyle Barone scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds for the Vandals, who were able to take advantage of Dario Hunt and Malik Story combining to shoot 3-for-12 from the field. While the Wolf Pack are 19-4 overall (8-1 WAC) this is a tough loss to take in regards to a possible at-large bid should they need it (entered the week with an RPI of 59 and an SOS of 182 per the NCAA's numbers). That Sears BracketBusters game at Iona became a lot more important for the visitors.
7. While much of the country focused on the Kansas/Missouri battle there was a big matchup in the Big West, with the winner likely emerging as the biggest threat to Long Beach State in the conference tournament. Bob Burton's Cal State Fullerton squad made quite the statement, beating UCSB 99-86 thanks in large part to 37 points from Kwame Vaughn and 25 from Isiah Umipig. Fullerton shot 52.6% from the field and a ridiculous 17-for-26 from three to move into a tie for second with UCSB.
8. The majority of the talk surrounding the Conference USA race has centered around the four teams that looked to have the best shot at earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. But don't forget about Tulsa, who beat Marshall 79-70 at home to move to 7-2 in league play. Doug Wojcik's Golden Hurricane have won seven straight and while they do have to visit Southern Miss, Tulsa gets Memphis at home in the regular season finale.
9. Yes Fab Melo returned to the lineup for #2 Syracuse, but while the big man is definitely a major part of their plans to say his return was the only reason for the Orange's 95-70 win over St. John's would be short-sighted. Dion Waiters and C.J. Fair each scored 14 points and Michael Carter-Williams 13 off the bench and five Syracuse players finished in double figures.
10. Jared Sullinger scored 24 points and corralled ten rebounds as #3 Ohio State avenged last season's loss in Madison with a 58-52 win over Wisconsin. Deshaun Thomas added 16 for the Buckeyes while Wisconsin was done in by their 5-for-27 shooting from beyond the arc.
11. There have, and will be, matchups in which it looks unfair to have teams play #1 Kentucky. That's what happened to South Carolina, who was in over their heads in the 86-52 pasting that wasn't that close. Anthony Davis missed out on that elusive triple-double but 22 points, eight rebounds and eight blocks is nothing to scoff at. It will be fun to see how #11 Florida matches up with the Wildcats on Tuesday night, as the Gators may be the "last stand" for the rest of the SEC.
12. Florida took care of business at home with a 73-65 win over Vanderbilt in Gainesville with Kenny Boynton (18 points) and Bradley Beal (16 points, seven rebounds) leading four players in double figures. Jeffery Taylor led the Commodores with 25 points and John Jenkins added 15 but it's tough to win anywhere much less in the O-Dome when you shoot 8-for-25 from beyond the arc.
13. Without Jim Calhoun on the sidelines it was time for the Connecticut
Huskies to step up both their play and their leadership. That happened,
as UConn beat a Seton Hall team without the services of Herb Pope 69-46
in what would turn out to be a bad afternoon for Big East coaches from
the Garden State. Kevin Willard would get ejected in the loss (Rutgers'
Mike Rice was run at Louisville), the sixth in a row for the Pirates.
Ryan Boatright led the Huskies with 19 points and Jeremy Lamb added 17
Five Notable Performances
1. G Kwame Vaughn and G Isiah Umipig (Cal State Fullerton)
Vaughn put up 37 points, six rebounds and six assists in the Titans' 99-86 win over UCSB while Umipig added 25 points, five assists and four rebounds.
2. F Josten Thomas (Hawai'i)
29 points, 12 rebounds and four assists in the Warriors' 83-81 overtime win at San Jose State.
3. G Reggie Hamilton (Oakland)
40 points (9-14 3PT), four rebounds and four assists in the Golden Grizzlies' 74-70 double overtime win at Western Illinois.
4. G Damian Lillard (Weber State)
34 points (12-18 FG), five assists, three rebounds and two steals in the Wildcats' 93-81 win over Northern Colorado. It's beyond time that Lillard receive some National Player of the Year pub.