The matchup between #10 Florida and Rutgers on Thursday night was hyped up due to the return of Mike Rosario, who transferred from the New Jersey school following two seasons in New Brunswick. But his return was a subplot in what turned out to be one of the best games of the calendar year, with the focus by the end being Mike Rice's young guards. Eli Carter led the way with 31 points, seven rebounds and seven assists while Myles Mack knocked down some big shots late in regulation and during the overtime periods to lead Rutgers to the 85-83 double overtime victory.
Jerome Seagears added 13 points and junior forward Dane Miller was his usual versatile self with 16 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two steals. Kenny Boynton led four Florida players in double figures with 26 points, but the Gators seemed to bog down offensively down the stretch, once again not getting the ball inside enough to Patric Young. Young finished with 11 points but took just eight shots in 41 minutes of play, and there was even a possession where Florida failed to get him the ball despite being guarded by the 6'3" Carter. Florida's guards had the experience advantage, but it was Rutgers that made that one extra big play to win the game.
"Would I have liked them to get into our sets a little quicker? Sure," said Rice after the game. "But there was such a poise, such a confidence. They responded at the end. I always take it back because they practice like that ...hopefully this is [what's] to come."
For all their youth Rutgers turned the ball over just 11 times compared to 18 Florida turnovers, and their assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.64 was nearly double their season average (0.86). Also critical for the Scarlet Knights was their play on the boards, as they were out-rebounded by just one (37-36) on the night with Derrick Randall supplying eight rebounds in 17 minutes of play. The Rutgers reserves, led by Mack (14 points), outscored Florida's bench 22-8 with Rosario scoring five points for the Gators. The Scarlet Knights are young and there will be bumps in the road in Big East play, but as Coach Rice said after the game the future is bright.
"This is what happens when you don't think impossible is impossible," said Rice. "This is what happens when young men are determined to follow the formula and play for one another."
Other Notable Happenings
1. Vanderbilt jumps Marquette from the start and picks up a much-needed resume builder.
Much of the country didn't get to see the beginning of Vanderbilt/Marquette due to the length of Rutgers' win over Florida, and by the time ESPN2 switched over the game was essentially finished. Kevin Stallings' Commodores jumped out to a 19-4 lead and didn't look back, leading by as many as 25 points in the first half (31-6) on their way to a 74-57 victory. Marquette couldn't hit the broad side of a barn in the first half as they shot 21.2% from the field and finished the game making 32.2% of their shots.
Jeffery Taylor led four Commodores in double figures with 19 points while Lance Goulbourne added 13 to go along with 16 rebounds, and Marquette's inability to make shots allowed the visitors to get away with 17 turnovers. Jae Crowder (16 points) and Darius Johnson-Odom (12 points) reached double figures but with fellow starters Junior Cadougan and Vander Blue combining to make two of ten shots from the field the Golden Eagles weren't able to get back into the game. Vanderbilt needed a win like this to re-establish some national credibility after an 8-4 start, and this will help as they go into SEC play.
2. Saint Mary's welcomes BYU to the WCC with 98 points in Moraga.
BYU and Saint Mary's went into Thursday's game familiar with each other since they met last season, even with some of the key figures in that meeting no longer in school. But confernce play can be an entirely different animal, as the Cougars found out in the second half of the Gaels' 98-82 victory. Randy Bennett's team made 55.4% of their shots and assisted on 23 of 31 made baskets, and individually both Matthew Dellavedova and Rob Jones posted double-doubles. Dellavedova ran the show for Saint Mary's, finishing with 18 points and 12 assists, while Jones was a matchup nightmare for BYU with 24 points and 15 rebounds.
Brandon Davies was outstanding for BYU in scoring 28 points and grabbing seven rebounds, but there wasn't enough offensive help for Davies when considering the fact that four SMC starters finished in double figures. Stephen Holt made eight of his ten shots in scoring 21 points and Jorden Page added 13 and five assists. On a night filled with offense, BYU simply could not get stops when they needed them the most. Of the three contenders for the WCC title (Gonzaga) the Gaels have the weakest non-conference resume, so that regular season crown may be most important for them when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. Thursday night was a good first step in that direction.
3. Cashmere Wright takes matters into his own hands late to lead Cincinnati past Oklahoma.
One question regarding Cincinnati's smaller lineup in light of the suspensions of Yancy Gates and Cheikh Mbodj was how the Bearcats would deal with bigger teams, something that wasn't an issue in wins over lesser competition. Oklahoma provided that challenge, and while it wasn't pretty Cincinnati found a way to win 56-55. That way: give Cashmere Wright the chance to make plays late. The junior point guard scored just eight points on the night (3-14 FG), but he made two huge baskets in the final minute including the game-winner with 8.8 seconds to go. Cincinnati turned the ball over just eight times on the night compared to 17 for the Sooners (UC: 16 points off turnovers), and while they were a minus-9 in rebounding margin the Bearcats grabbed 13 offensive boards and scored ten second-chance points (OU finished with 11). Cincinnati's taken full advantage of what could have been a crippling turn of events, becoming a better basketball team as a result.
1. It was a bad night for ACC bottom-feeders on Thursday, with Boston College losing to #24 Harvard for the fourth consecutive time (67-46) and Georgia Tech losing at Fordham (72-66). To say the least these results don't do much to maintain the league's computer numbers, and it could be a long conference season for both the Eagles and Yellow Jackets. And it should also be noted that Wake Forest nearly lost to Yale after leading by 19, ultimately hanging on to beat the Bulldogs 72-71.
2. Freshman guard Jamal Branch has left the Texas A&M program and will transfer according to multiple media outlets. Branch averaged just 4.2 points and 2.5 assists per game, but his departure leaves the Aggies one option short on a perimeter that hasn't played at a championship level this season.
3. Two teams that took hits to their chances of an at-large bid on Thursday are Marshall and Iona, with both falling on the road. Iona couldn't recover from 19 first half turnovers in an 83-75 loss at Hofstra while the Thundering Herd lost 79-74 to a Belmont team they beat just ten days ago. The Herd may have a better shot at earning an at-large given their conference affiliation (Conference USA), but the climb for both teams became a lot tougher.
4. Shaka Smart's VCU Rams won their seventh straight game on Thursday, winning 76-75 in overtime at Akron. Bradford Burgess led four Rams in double figures with 19 points (and seven rebounds) and VCU forced 20 Akron turnovers on the night.
5. Getting to conference play wasn't the catalyst for Austin Peay that some thought it would be as the Governors lost 67-65 at Eastern Kentucky. Dave Loos' team dropped to 3-11 on the season (0-1 OVC) while the Colonels are now 2-0 in league play.
6. In the "inexplicable loss" category are the defeats suffered by American and James Madison, who in losing to Mount St. Mary's and Rhode Island respectively lost to teams that entered Thursday with a combined 2-21 record.
7. Even though they were the home team it's likely that few people expected Illinois State to beat Northern Illinois in the MVC opener for both teams. But that's exactly what happened as the Redbirds, led by Jackie Carmichael (19 points, 10 rebounds, four blocks), beat the Panthers 65-61.
8. The opening night of Pac-12 play didn't lack excitement either, with Stanford hanging on to beat UCLA 60-59. UCLA took 13 shots in the second half that would have given them the lead if converted...and missed them all. And in Seattle, Tony Wroten led Washington to a 95-80 win over Oregon State with 26 points, nine rebounds and four assists. If the freshman continues to learn how to use his talents to make his teammates better, look out.
Three Notable Performances
1. G Eli Carter (Rutgers)
31 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in the Scarlet Knights' 85-83 double overtime win over #10 Florida.
2. F Will Barton (Memphis)
27 points, 13 rebounds and three assists in the Tigers' 64-47 win over Robert Morris.