Tuesday's night matchup between #9 Michigan State and Illinois wasn't a pretty affair, as neither team could establish much of a rhythm on the offensive end of the floor. Whether it was due to good defense or just an inability to make shots on a consistent basis, neither the Spartans nor the Fighting Illini had much succes on that end of the floor. But when it's all said and done what matters is the result, which was a 42-41 Illinois victory as Brandon Paul made two free throws with 45 seconds remaining.
Paul finished with a game-high 18 points, and while he didn't shoot well from the field (6-for-17) the junior guard would be the closest thing to "scalding hot" that this contest would deliver. Freshman forward Branden Dawson led the way for Michigan State with 12 points and 13 rebounds, but their biggest loss came late in the second half as senior forward (and team leader) Draymond Green went down with a knee injury. There's been no word on the severity of the injury (that will likely come sometime on Wednesday), but a loss that simply prevented the Spartans from moving into a first-place tie in the Big Ten could become a lot more painful if he's ruled out for an extended period.
Before the injury Green's night was a microcosm of the contest as a whole, as frustration led to a poor performance highlighted by a technical foul that was also his third personal in the first half. Green finished with five points (1-6 FG), eight rebounds and five turnovers while Keith Appling wasn't much better with four points (1-11 FG), two assists and five turnovers. Even with Illinois struggling as they were offensively and Michigan State grabbing 23 offensive rebounds, it's extremely difficult to win anywhere (much less on the road) when your two best players have poor nights.
"I didn't think we handled adversity very well at all," remarked Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo after the game. "My two best players had their worst games." (quote credit: Associated Press)
Illinois now has two wins over teams ranked in the Top 10 this season as they beat Ohio State in Champaign on January 10th, but while that's a good stat to claim it also has to make one wonder why the Illini can't carry their play over. Following that win the Illini dropped three straight, including road losses at Penn State and Minnesota. Bruce Weber's team is clearly talented enough to beat many teams both within the Big Ten and nationally, yet for some reason this group doesn't seem to deal well with prosperity.
Next up is Northwestern at home before trips to Indiana and Michigan, and while Tuesday's win showed that Illinois can gut out a victory on a night where things aren't going their way more will be learned about this group based on how they navigate this stretch of games.
Other Notable Happenings
1. Jae Crowder leads Marquette past Seton Hall, handing the Pirates their fifth straight loss.
Remember when Seton Hall was one of the country's biggest turnaround stories and looked poised to earn their first NCAA tournament berth since 2006? Well, the Pirates dropped their fifth straight game on Tuesday night and look more likely to end up in the NIT at this point. With Davante Gardner sidelined due to a sprained knee #18 Marquette did what they've tended to do during Buzz Williams' tenure in Milwaukee, and that's find a way to win tough ball games. Jae Crowder led the Golden Eagles to the 66-59 win with 20 points and 12 rebounds while Vander Blue (16 points, eight rebounds) and Darius Johnson-Odom (14 points, seven assists, five rebounds) also scored in double figures.
One of the major issues for Kevin Willard's team during this skid has been the productivity of senior point guard Jordan Theodore. Theodore shot 3-for-14 from the field last night, scoring seven points while dishing out seven assists. On a team that lacks consistent scoring punch behind he, Herb Pope (16 points, seven rebounds) and Fuquan Edwin (13 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals), Theodore can ill-afford to have nights like that. Theodore's shot 26.7% from the field in Seton Hall's last five games and while it would be unfair to place the losing streak on his shoulders alone, Seton Hall needs their senior leader to step up and soon. Their NCAA hopes may very well depend on how quickly he can get going.
2. Royce White's jumper with less than two seconds remaining caps Iowa State's comeback win.
With 14:27 remaining Kansas State led 53-39 and had the look of a team that was well on its way to a good win at Iowa State. But whether it was "Hilton Magic" or the fact that the Wildcats simply failed to execute down the stretch, it was the Cyclones who emerged victorious as Royce White scored the winning points in the 72-70 result. White (22 points, eight rebounds) was able to use a ball screen to work his way to the right side of the lane, and an up fake gave the Minnesota transfer enough room to get off a clean look that fell with 1.8 seconds remaining. Thomas Gipson led four K-State players in double figures with 13 points but that wasn't enough as the Wildcats fell despite shooting 58.3% from beyond the arc and grabbing 12 offensive rebounds.
Offensive rebounding was essentially the difference in the first half as Kansas State grabbed seven, converting them into nine second-chance points. Iowa State did a better job of keeping the Wildcats off the glass in the second half, limiting the Wildcats to five offensive boards while grabbing eight of their own. There were questions as to how Fred Hoiberg's team would bond given the fact that so many were transfers but these last two games are evidence that the Cyclones have established good chemistry, and they'll be a factor in the Big 12 the rest of the way.
3. Arkansas moves to 16-0 at home with an 82-74 win over Vanderbilt.
Mike Anderson's Razorbacks didn't shoot the ball well in the first half, making just 37.5% of their shots from the field. But the fact that they trailed #25 Vanderbilt by just two points (34-32) at the break had to have been an encouraging sign for the Hogs, whose problem was making shots as opposed to finding the looks they wanted. That changed in the second half as Arkansas scored 50 points, shooting 55.2% from the field, on their way to the 82-74 win. Rickey Scott led five Arkansas players in double figures with 18 points and Julysses Nobles added 17 for a team that's now 16-0 at Bud Walton Arena. John Jenkins (19 points, five rebounds) and Jeffery Taylor (18 and six rebounds) led the way for the Commodores, who did themselves no favors by shooting 6-for-21 from three.
So the question regarding Arkansas at this point has to be what are their chances of getting to the Big Dance. But with an overall record of 16-6 it's pretty clear that the focus at this point has to be winning some key games away from Fayetteville. NCAA tournament games are played on neutral floors but a team's success away from home is usually one of the factors that the selection committee values when filling out the field. That's what makes their games at LSU and Georgia that much more important despite the caliber of those teams (Arkansas doesn't have a quality road win opportunity left on their schedule outside of a trip to Mississippi State). If Mike Anderson's young team can take care of business away from home they can exceed the preseason expectations, but at the least their win on Tuesday is a good result to take to Baton Rouge.
1. Wisconsin didn't get off to the best of starts at Penn State, shooting 26.9% from the field and trailing 23-17 at the half. But Jordan Taylor (18 points, five assists) and company were able to rebound in the final 20 minutes, winning 52-46. The Badgers, who host Ohio State on Saturday, have won six straight games after starting Big Ten play 1-3.
2. Clemson fought hard despite the absence of forward Milton Jennings (academic suspension) but they fell just short in losing 65-61 at Virginia. The Cavaliers shot 63.2% from the field in the second half (efficiency: 140.3) and Mike Scott led the way with 23 points and ten rebounds.
3. Top-ranked Kentucky did allow 13 offensive rebounds in their 69-44 win over Tennessee, but that shouldn't overshadow how good the Wildcats were defensively. Tennessee shot just 28.1% from the field and 9-for-39 on two-point shots (23%). Having the likes of Anthony Davis (18 points, eight rebounds and seven blocks), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (16 points, eight rebounds) and Terrence Jones (11 points, six rebounds) up front will have that kind of effect on teams.
4. North Carolina didn't play particularly well in Winston-Salem but they still beat Wake Forest 68-53. Is that a sign of how talented the Tar Heels are, or is it a sign of just how far Jeff Bzdelik's program has to go before they can be a consistently competitive team in the ACC? It's unfortunate for the Demon Deacons because in guard C.J. Harris they've got one of the better players in the league (Travis McKie can also play but he was kept in check by UNC), but due to their struggles he doesn't always receive the credit that he should.
5. New Mexico had no trouble with Air Force as they jumped out to a 40-19 halftime lead on their way to an 81-42 win in Colorado Springs. The Falcons, who took UNLV to overtime on Saturday night, had no such fortune against the Lobos as they shot 25.9% in the first half and 29.4% for the game. Drew Gordon and Kendall Williams scored 13 apiece to lead UNM, and two other Lobos finished with 11.
6. Washington State received the news many feared when guard Faisal Aden went down late in the first half of their loss at Arizona on Thursday night, with his season coming to an end due to a torn ACL. Aden averaged 14.5 points and 3.1 rebounds per game for the Cougars, who will now likely give even more opportunities on the offensive end to freshman DaVonte Lacy.
Three Notable Performances
1. G Markel Brown (Oklahoma State)
Brown led the Cowboys to an 80-63 win over Texas Tech by scoring 30 points and grabbing seven rebounds.
2. G Kendrick Perry (Youngstown State)
Scored 30 points and dished out four assists in the Penguins' 73-65 win at Milwaukee.
3. F Tyler Zeller (North Carolina)
18 points, 18 rebounds and three blocked shots in North Carolina's 68-53 win at Wake Forest.