With the announcement that starting center Fab Melo would miss Saturday's game due to an unresolved academic issue, the chances that top-ranked Syracuse would remain undefeated took a hit. But few would have thought that the Orange would have few (if any) answers in the paint as a result of his absence, and that's exactly what happened at Purcell Pavilion. Jack Cooley scored 17 points and grabbed ten rebounds and Notre Dame led by as many as 18 points on their way to the 67-58 win, the eighth in school history over a top-ranked opponent.
The biggest problem for Syracuse was their lack of rebounding, as Notre Dame out-rebounded the Orange 38-25 on the night. Syracuse on the season has allowed opponents to rebound 38% of their misses and while Notre Dame didn't reach that number, finishing with an offensive rebound percentage of 34.6%, it was enough to punish the Melo-less Orange. C.J. Fair moved into the starting lineup and was largely ineffective for the Orange, finishing with six points and four rebounds as the Irish took advantage of Syracuse's lack of interior muscle.
"The problem was that when they did that we did not get the rebounds," said Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim. "Probably six times we had a good defensive possession and Notre Dame put a shot up at the end of the shot clock and we did not get the rebound. If you give them a long possession and then they miss and they get the rebound, it is just not a good thing."
Notre Dame established their biggest lead of the game late in the first half on an Alex Dragevich three-pointer with 1:28 remaining, and the bonus shot was one of the themes of the half. The Irish made six of their ten shots from behind the arc and Syracuse received underwhelming performances from their starters (reserves scored 15 of their 23 first half points), establishing a distance the Orange were unable to overcome. The second half was where the rebounding came into play as Notre Dame made just two of six from deep, and three other players finished with at least six rebounds to go along with Cooley's ten.
Notre Dame finished the night with just seven second-chance points but it was those extra possessions that proved costly for the visitors in what turned out to be just a 61-possession game. The focus for the Orange now is how they go about fixing the rebounding issue without Melo heading into their game at Cincinnati, but it's been an issue well before his absence. Whatever happens with Melo, if the Orange can't do a better job of taking care of the defensive glass they'll be asking for more trouble down the road.
Other Notable Happenings
1. Michael Snaer's shot at the buzzer pushes Florida State past Duke at Cameron.
It's been an excellent week for Leonard Hamilton's Seminoles, who at this stage are not only a contender to win the ACC but also a logical choice in the "best team in the ACC" discussion. Simply put, Florida State has come a long way since opening conference play with a 20-point loss at Clemson. Florida State went toe-to-toe with Duke on Saturday at Cameron, ultimately winning 76-73 on a three-pointer from Michael Snaer as time expired. But Snaer shouldn't be the only one who receives credit for the final play. Luke Loucks remained under control in that final sequence, having the presence to find the open Snear as Andre Dawkins was too hasty in his help defense. Most players would have forced up a challenged shot but Loucks' composure made the shot possible.
FSU ultimately won the game from inside of the three-point arc despite Duke making ten of their twenty-three attempts from deep, shooting 55.5% from two while Duke made 37.5% of their shots from two. Bernard James (12 points, eight rebounds) and Xavier Gibson (16 points (7-8 FT), five rebounds and three blocks) outplayed the Plumlee brothers inside (combined 13 points and 14 rebounds) for a decent portion of the contest, and Seth Curry socred 12 points but shot 4-for-16 from the field for the Blue Devils. Florida State's offensive efficiency, which has been much improved over the last three games, made up for allowing Duke to grab 14 offensive rebounds and should be seen as a sign that they're figuring things out. ACC title contender? Definitely.
2. Missouri more than holds their own on the glass and wins at Baylor as a result.
Despite the final margin (89-88) it would be safe to say that Frank Haith's Tigers were more impressive than the final margin would indicate. The undersized Tigers out-rebounded Baylor 32-26 and finished the game with an offensive rebounding percentage of 48.3%, further highlighting Baylor's problems on the boards. Toughness could be cited as a reason why, but it shouldn't be at the expense of attention to detail. With the number of tall athletes that Scott Drew's team has the players on the floor seem to be more of the "outjump opponents for the ball" mindset when it comes to rebounding instead of boxing out, and Missouri made them pay on many occasions on Saturday afternoon.
Six of Ricardo Ratliffe's eight rebounds were of the offensive variety, and the national leader in field goal percentage finished the game with 27 points on 11-for-14 shooting. Baylor improved on the glass some in the second half as they allowed just four second-chance points and out-rebounded the Tigers 15-11 but the damage was done. Quincy Miller scored a game-high 29 points and Pierre Jackson added 20 to go along with 15 assists, but the last two games have shown that the Bears have a lot of work to do on the glass if they're to not only contend for the Big 12 crown but also have a shot at getting to the Final Four. As for the Tigers, Saturday's win should be taken as a sign that it's time to stop focusing on what they don't have but rather on what they do.
3. Arkansas and Tennessee pick up some solid non-conference wins for the SEC.
Not a big fan of the "best conference" but with the majority of the discussion centering on the Big Ten and Big 12 to this point in the season, the SEC may have been ignored some. That was before Saturday, as home wins for both Arkansas and Tennessee show that the league is deeper than many believe. The Razorbacks led by as many as 20 points at Bud Walton Arena before holding on to beat #20 Michigan 66-64. B.J. Young and Hunter Mickelson combined to score 26 points off the bench for the Hogs, who benefitted from the Wolverines shooting just 8-for-28 from beyond the arc. Arkansas is now 14-5 (2-2 SEC) on the season, and it may be time to wonder if Mike Anderson's young team has enough to reach the NCAA Tournament. This win will help their resume.
As for Tennessee, the Volunteers are beginning to play with the same toughness that their head coach displayed as a player at Purdue. Cuonzo Martin's team was the tougher of the two on the floor at Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday afternoon and freshman forward Jarnell Stokes outplayed both Alex Oriakhi and Andre Drummond in the 60-57 win over #13 Connecticut. Stokes, playing in just his third collegiate game, finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds in his first start and Cameron Tatum added 15 points. UConn was without the services of Ryan Boatright but that's no excuse for zero bench points or the three starters outside of Shabazz Napier and Jeremy Lamb (combined 41 points) scoring just 16. When shots aren't falling for either team toughness more times than not reigns supreme, and that's why Tennessee ended up with the win.
4. UNLV's depth the difference in their impressive win over New Mexico.
Dave Rice pledged to put the running back in the Runnin' Rebels program when he was hired in the offseason, and while that's happened what makes UNLV even tougher for opponents to defend is their depth. In their 80-63 win over preseason Mountain West favorite New Mexico, UNLV outscored the Lobos 26-0 in fast break points and 28-9 in bench points in what was an outstanding performance in front of the frenzied crowd at Thomas and Mack Center. Carlos Lopez (14 points) and Justin Hawkins (ten points) scored 24 of those bench points and three starter finished in double figures as well for UNLV, who remain a game behind first-place San Diego State with the win.
A couple of notable stat lines for New Mexico underline the difference on Saturday night. Point guard Hugh Greenwood, who has been dealing with a sprained ankle, finished without a point and key reserve Phillip McDonald shot 2-for-7 from the field (five points) one game after scoring 20 in their loss to SDSU. New Mexico also didn't do themselves any favors with 21 turnovers, which led to 32 UNLV points. So after the first "rotation" of the three contenders in the Mountain West it's safe to say that the pecking order is San Diego State, UNLV and then a decent gap between the Runnin' Rebels and New Mexico. But if UNLV can play the way they did on Saturday night, it wouldn't be a surprise if they finished the season on top.
5. LIU Brooklyn wins at Wagner, further establishing themselves as the team to beat in the NEC.
In what may have been the most anticipated game of the season in the Northeast Conference to date it was three-point accuracy that lifted Jim Ferry's Blackbirds past Wagner on Staten Island. LIU Brooklyn, who many believe to have the best frontcourt in the NEC, made up for allowing 17 offensive rebounds by making six of ten shots from beyond the arc with Jason Brickman making all three of his attempts and scoring 17 points. Julian Boyd led the way for LIU Brooklyn with 19 points and 15 rebounds on the night and Jamal Olasewere added 18 for the visitors, who are now two games ahead of the competition with an 8-0 league record.
Latif Rivers led four Seahawks in double figures with 17 points but as a team Wagner made just four of nineteen shots from beyond the arc. In a 69-possession game that proved to be the difference in spite of 17 second-chance points. The win also earned LIU Brooklyn a sweep of the season series (78-73 win on December 1st being the first), which could prove vital in the case of a tiebreaker. LIU Brooklyn is a middle of the pack rebounding team when looking at percentages so that will need to improve if they're to get back to the NCAA Tournament, but if they can continue to shoot as they have (2nd in the NEC in three-point percentage) it's going to be tough to dethrone the NEC's best offense.
1. Mississippi State picked up a good road victory, beating Vanderbilt 78-77 in overtime in Nashville. Arnett Moultrie scored 21 points and grabbed 14 rebounds and Dee Bost scored 24 for the Bulldogs, who moved to within a game of the second-place Commodores with the win.
2. The presence of "College Gameday" provided a spark for Pittsburgh and their fans but it didn't bring a win as Louisville won 73-62 to drop the Panthers to 0-7 in the Big East. Tray Woodall wasn't as effective as Pitt would have hoped but the bigger issue was their defense. Louisville shot 55.3% from the field and received a boost in the form of Kyle Kuric's return.
3. As a result of their 87-72 win over rival Xavier, Dayton moved to 4-1 in the Atlantic 10. Kevin Dillard (16 points, eight assists) and Matt Kavanaugh (20 points) led the way for the Flyers, who are now in sole possession of first place in the A-10.
4. Torrey Craig's putback just before time expired gave USC Upstate a 79-78 win over Belmont and made the Atlantic Sun race a lot more interesting than many outsiders expected it to be. Craig finished with 22 points and six rebounds for the Spartans, who are now one of three teams that sit a game behind the Bruins and Mercer atop the A-Sun.
5. Cincinnati had a chance to pull into a tie for first place in the loss column in the Big East ahead of their game against Syracuse on Monday night, but it wasn't meant to be as West Virginia won 77-74 in Morgantown. Kevin Jones posted another double-double with 26 points and 13 rebounds and Gary Browne's three late in regulation sent the game into overtime.
6. E.J. Singler went 16-for-17 from the foul line and scored a career-high 26 points (and seven rebounds) as Oregon came back from a 13-point halftime deficit to beat UCLA 75-68 in Eugene to move to 6-2 in the Pac-12. The Ducks are one of four teams tied in the loss column atop the league standings, with Cal being the other team sitting at 6-2 (Colorado and Washington are 5-2).
7. Tony Mitchell's putback as time expired in overtime gave North Texas a 75-74 win over Denver, moving the Mean Green into a tie for first place in the West Division of the Sun Belt with both the Pioneers and UALR. Mitchell, a transfer from Missouri, scored 30 points and grabbed 17 rebounds while Roger Williams added 18 and ten boards.
8. The Big West showdown between Long Beach State and UCSB proved to be anything but as Dan Monson's 49ers took over at the Thunderdome, leaving with a 71-48 victory. The Beach, who is now 7-0 in league play, had four starters in double figures with Larry Anderson (19 points) and T.J. Robinson (11 points, 11 rebounds) being two of the leaders.
Five Notable Performances
1. F Leonard Washington (Wyoming)
32 points and 14 rebounds in the Cowboys' 70-51 win over Colorado State.
2. F Tony Mitchell (North Texas)
30 points and 17 rebounds in the Mean Green's 75-74 overtime win over Denver.
3. G Darren White (Campbell)
22 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists in the Camels' 80-73 win over VMI.
4. G Velton Jones (Robert Morris)
35 points, six assists and three steals in the Colonials' 81-73 win at Monmouth.
5. G Langston Galloway (Saint Joseph's)
32 points, six rebounds, two assists and two blocks in the Hawks' 84-80 loss to Pennsylvania.