Consistency has been an issue for the Oklahoma State Cowboys this season, and it's been an issue for highly-touted freshman Le'Bryan Nash as well. After scoring 21 points in the Cowboys' 71-68 loss to Iowa State (which ended at the buzzer on a Scott Christopherson three) Nash scored just four points in a 66-58 home loss to Kansas State. But the Dallas native brought his "A-game" to Gallagher-Iba Arena on Wednesday night, making 12 of 18 shots from the field to score 27 points while also grabbing four rebounds in Oklahoma State's 79-72 win over #2 Missouri.
"Le'Bryan Nash played at a very high level. All his moves were a little bit more explosive," remarked Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford. "Everyone is going to look at his 27 points, but his defense was better than his offense. It's not a coincidence that he told me yesterday he was going to be ready today and he had a good practice."
Brian Williams added 22 points and Keiton Page 12 on a night that saw the Pokes shoot 59.6% from the field, a stunning development given the fact that Oklahoma State entered the game dead last in the Big 12 in field goal percentage. But as with Nash personally it was Oklahoma State's improved defensive effort down the stretch that allowed them to put the game away. Phil Pressey, who leads the conference in assists per game, could only muster two assists and as a team Missouri finished with just eight assists (they average nearly 16 per game). Missouri assists on 56.4% of their baskets on the season but the number on Wednesday was 30.8%, which played right into the hands of the Cowboys.
Nash's performance became even more important when Markel Brown was given his second technical foul after an emphatic dunk with 6:57 remaining. Following two Marcus Denmon free throws the Cowboys were down 58-53 and two more free throws from Ricardo Ratliffe put the Tigers up seven. Nash scored 13 points in the final 6:31 to lead the Cowboys to a win that the young players really needed given their two games prior to Wednesday. Ratliffe led the Tigers with 25 points and 12 rebounds but they were unable to take advantage of 20 points off of 16 OSU turnovers and a 16-6 edge in second-chance points. The key for both Nash and Oklahoma State now is to play a consistent brand of basketball.
"It's a huge win for us, it's a big win, but it just shows us what we're capable of," said Page. "It shows us that we can play with anybody. We still have a long ways to go...We've gotta get more wins, get some wins on the road."
Other Notable Happenings
1. Saint Louis wins at Xavier, and after Wednesday 11 of the 14 teams in the A-10 have either two or three league losses.
Despite entering their game with a 15-4 record Rick Majerus' Billikens needed a solid road victory due in large part to a strength of schedule that left something to be desired. Brian Conklin scored 19 points and Rob Loe led three other SLU players in double figures with 14 points on their way to the 73-68 win over the Musketeers at the Cintas Center. Conklin was a big reason for Saint Louis' 28-18 edge in points in the paint, and the Billikens received more contributions across the board than a Xavier team that didn't receive much help outside of Mark Lyons (career-high 27 points) and Tu Holloway (22 points).
Jeff Robinson scored ten points and grabbed six rebounds for Xavier but the other big men didn't do much of consequence. Xavier has been the gold standard in the Atlantic 10 for quite some time, and while there's more competition atop the conference it's important to not think that their run is suddenly over. Saint Joseph's win over Dayton pulled the Flyers back to the pack, as now 11 teams sit anywhere from 4-2 to 3-3. To say the least the race for the A-10 crown will be wildly entertaining over the next month.
2. Pittsburgh finally gets their first Big East win as they took their frustrations out on Providence.
The struggles of the Panthers, who entered Wednesday with an eight-game losing streak, were well-doucmented and hadn't been seen in the Steel City for quite some time. That made the game against Providence that much more important, and thanks to a hot Ashton Gibbs the Panthers picked up their first Big East win. Gibbs scored 14 straight points late in the first half as Pittsburgh took control of the game, finishing with 22 points while Tray Woodall (17 points, nine assists) and Nasir Robinson (14 points, six rebounds) also reached double figures in the 86-74 win.
Pittsburgh, who assists on 61.2% of their baskets this season, finished Wednesday's game with an assist percentage of 68.8% and Woodall (who didn't have the rust that was evident in Saturday's loss to Louisville) is a big reason why. The shame for Providence is that their defensive performance overshadowed an outstanding night from point guard Vincent Council (26 points, ten rebounds and nine assists), but there isn't a whole lot you can do when a team makes 11 of 20 shots from beyond the arc. Whether or not this win serves as a major catalyst for Pitt remains to be seen, but they simply needed to get something going and they did that.
3. BYU beats Virginia Tech by two in Blacksburg, but was this a game that would have had a bigger impact in defeat?
Dave Rose's Cougars entered this week with an RPI of 55 and a strength of schedule of 97, and while games against Saint Mary's and Gonzaga are bigger in the grand scheme of things their final non-conference game of the season was also important. But thanks in large part to Virginia Tech's struggles the Cougars' game in Blacksburg took on the appearance of one that could do more harm in defeat than good in victory. BYU took care of business, winning 70-68, with Noah Hartsock (22 points, seven rebounds) and Brandon Davies (17 points, five rebounds) leading the way.
The Cougars won despite a poor shooting night from Charles Abouo and Matt Carlino, who combined to make just six of twenty-eight shots on the night. While many may expect this group to attempt to fire away from deep as they did last season with Jimmer Fredette and (to a lesser extent) Jackson Emery, that isn't realistic at this point. Relying on Davies and Hartsock in the frontcourt could be BYU's best bet when it comes to getting back into the WCC race, and it could be what they need to do to make sure they've got staying power in March as well.
1. Congratulations to Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo on his 400th victory, as the Spartans beat Minnesota 68-52 to move into a tie for first place in the Big Ten. Draymond Green led the way with 22 points, 14 rebounds and six assists and Branden Dawson added 16, four rebounds and four blocks.
2. Maryland honored former head coach Gary Williams, naming the Comcast Center court in his honor, but the emotion of the night wasn't enough to lead the Terrapins past #6 Duke. Mason Plumlee scored 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds (four assists as well) in the Blue Devils' 74-61 win that was closer than the final score would indicate. Maryland shot 40.4% from the field but the bigger issue was the foul line, where they made 11 of 21 on the night.
3. With Creighton and Wichita State both winning while their closest competition in the Missouri Valley lost, the Bluejays and Shockers are four games up on the pack with eight to go. Unless one of those other teams can make something happen in "Arch Madness" it's very likely that the Valley is just a two-bid league. Garrett Stutz led the Shockers to an 86-74 win over Evansville with 23 points and eight rebounds, and Doug McDermott led Creighton past Drake with 30 points and nine rebounds.
4. Of the top four teams leading Conference USA it's anyone's guess as to who ends up reaching the NCAA Tournament, meaning that avoiding bad losses will be key in the final month-plus of the season. No such luck for Marshall, who lost 56-49 to UAB at home, or UCF as the Knights lost 66-61 at Tulsa. Memphis and Southern Miss both avoided this fate by taking care of business.
5. Just two weeks ago Seton Hall looked to be in good shape when it came to getting back to the Big Dance for the first time since 2006. But with three straight losses it may be wise to avoid that discussion, with the Pirates falling 55-42 to Notre Dame in Newark. Senior leaders Jordan Theodore and Herb Pope combined to shoot 6-for-28 from the field, and Seton Hall struggled with Notre Dame's deliberate offense. Next up for Kevin Willard's team is Louisville, followed by road games at Marquette, UConn and rival Rutgers.
6. That could also apply to Alabama, who lost 56-54 at South Carolina on a Bruce Ellington basket with 1.4 seconds remaining. Ellington and Damontre Harris scored 12 points apiece and Malik Cooke led the Gamecocks with 18 points. Levi Randolph scored 12 points off the bench to lead the Crimson Tide, who are now 2-4 in the SEC, and JaMychal Green's ankle injury didn't help matters either.
7. Chris Fouch scored 15 points off the bench as Drexel whipped Georgia State 68-46 in Philadelphia to not only avenge their loss in Atlanta but establish some distance between the top four and the rest of the CAA. George Mason remains in first place with a 9-1 record after beating Hofstra while VCU and Old Dominion are tied with Drexel with 8-2 marks. The top four teams get first round byes in the CAA Tournament.
8. Things didn't go too well for West Virginia in their trip to Madison Square Garden as St. John's jumped them early on their way to the 78-62 victory. The favorite for Big East Rookie of the Year, Moe Harkless, led the Red Storm with 23 points and 13 rebounds while D'Angelo Harrison led three other Johnnies in double figures with 19 points. Kevin Jones led the Mountaineers with 26 points and 14 boards, but they never seemed to figure out the matchup zone St. John's threw their way.
Four Notable Performances
1. F Jackie Carmichael (Illinois State)
26 points, 16 rebounds and two assists in the Redbirds' 76-69 win over Missouri State.
2. F Draymond Green (Michigan State)
22 points, 14 rebounds and six assists in the Spartans' 68-52 win over Minnesota.
3. F Mike Moser (UNLV)
18 points, 21 rebounds, two assists, two blocked shots and two steals in UNLV's 77-72 overtime win at Boise State.