College Basketball Nation: 2012 Tip-Off Marathon

Seth Curry takes ownership for Blue Devils

November, 14, 2012
ATLANTA -- Seth Curry was the last Duke player to come onto the court for a shootaround Tuesday afternoon.

He had a cameo or two on the court. But he didn't do much. Who knows how long he'll have to be a part-time practice player.

But the Blue Devils will deal. They have no choice. And if Curry continues to play the way he did Tuesday night against Kentucky, he can take as many practice possessions off as needed.

Curry was the Duke savior with 23 points -- a number of them coming during a key stretch in the second half when Mason Plumlee was saddled with four fouls -- in the Blue Devils' 75-68 victory over the Wildcats inside the Georgia Dome, which will also host April's Final Four.

Curry's injury is being diagnosed as some sort of leg fatigue, or shin splints; it clearly is affecting him.

"Coach did a good job of getting me out of the game to be fresh at the end of the ballgame," Curry said. "I'm trying to stay sharp with limited practice time, and my teammates did a good job of finding me since I haven't been around them as much as I usually am in practice. They did a good job of finding me and got me going with open shots, and that was key."

[+] EnlargeSeth Curry
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIDespite a leg injury that's limited him in practice, Seth Curry led Duke with 23 points Tuesday.
Curry played 34 minutes. He made all six free throws and converted 50 percent of his shots.

He isn't ever going to be his brother, Stephen Curry. Nor should he be. But Seth has finally broken free of Stephen's shadow in college basketball. If Tuesday night is any indication, then Seth Curry took control of this Duke team for the foreseeable future. Plumlee was sensational at times, spinning around the highly touted Kentucky big men for quality production in the post. But his foul problems were an issue. And Plumlee isn't going to lead this team from the post.

Curry can direct Duke from the perimeter. In the past two decades under Mike Krzyzewski, Duke has always had a lead guard who can get a bucket when needed, or at least make a play.

The Blue Devils still have a high ceiling. There is no reason to believe that, of the four teams in the Champions Classic on Tuesday, they couldn't return to Atlanta in April.

The potential is certainly greater for Kentucky with the freshman front line of Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein (assuming the Wildcats can settle on a point guard). Michigan State showed it has Final Four possibilities with the leadership of Keith Appling and the quick maturation between Germany and Georgia by Gary Harris. Kansas hasn't even scratched the surface of the potential of Perry Ellis and Ben McLemore -- certainly the Jayhawks’ possibilities are endless.

Duke is still the most intriguing of the four. Marshall Plumlee, whom assistant coaches are raving about, is still out with a stress fracture. Alex Murphy and Amile Jefferson haven't figured out how to make significant contributions yet. Josh Hairston has found his purpose by getting to the offensive backboard. And Rasheed Sulaimon is playing like a freshman still, unable to find a consistent stroke.

But Ryan Kelly, Mason Plumlee and Curry possess enough senior leadership to direct Duke once again toward competing for an ACC regular-season title -- and after that everything is in play.

"Seth was terrific," Krzyzewski said. "He was the difference-maker. The fact that he's a fifth-year senior has to help. I'm so proud of him. He really hasn't practiced much. Since the start of practice he's had four practices. I'm shocked by the level of condition."

Curry started off at Liberty because he wasn't recruited at a high level. He averaged 20 points a game. After he transferred, he hardly made his mark at Duke during his year off. He was a role player in his first season. His role increased dramatically last season, but he had Austin Rivers to play off of on the perimeter.

Now it's about him. Of course, he won't take all of the responsibility.

"I think this is our three seniors’ team," Curry said. "That's what we've worked on in the preseason and having this be our team. It came to me and I came through.

"We're composed and been in games like that before," he added. "We had good composure at the end of the game when they made that run. We stayed real calm."
Before handing out my superlatives, let's dive right into what I think would be the 2012 All-Marathon Team:

G Michigan State’s Keith Appling: 19 points in Michigan State's 67-64 win over Kansas
G Gonzaga’s Gary Bell Jr.: 15 points in Gonzaga’s 84-50 victory over West Virginia
G/F New Mexico’s Tony Snell: 25 points in the Lobos’ 86-81 victory over Davidson
G/F Temple’s Scootie Randall: 31 points in Temple’s 80-66 road win over Kent State
C Duke’s Mason Plumlee: 18 points in Duke’s 75-68 victory over Kentucky

Honorable mention: Ray McCallum Jr. (Detroit), Siyani Chambers (Harvard), Ryan Broekhoff (Valparaiso), Vander Joaquim (Hawaii), Jesse Morgan (UMass), Chris Obekpa (St. John’s), Jeff Robinson (Xavier), Carl Hall (Wichita State), Juvonte Reddic (VCU), Tim Hardaway Jr. (Michigan), Tray Woodall (Pitt), C.J. McCollum (Lehigh), Alex Poythress (Kentucky), Seth Curry (Duke), Gary Harris (Michigan State), Elijah Johnson (Kansas), Nerlens Noel (Kentucky)

Best game: Kansas versus Michigan State lived up to the hype. The finish was fabulous. But this game featured the best competition and skill of the Marathon. Both teams were coming off subpar efforts in their first games of the season. Both played like they had something to prove. KU had control of the game late until Michigan State launched a comeback. Appling’s drive in the final seconds sealed it. Great game.

[+] EnlargeMason Plumlee, Nerlens Noel
Paul Abell/US PresswireMason Plumlee's output against Nerlens Noel, center, was key in Duke's win over Kentucky.
Best matchup: Plumlee versus Noel (16 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks). The two battled inside throughout the Marathon’s most anticipated matchup. Noel’s defense kept the Wildcats alive. Plumlee attacked the rim, production that was crucial in Duke’s win.

Best comeback: New Mexico was down by 16 points in the second half of its 86-81 victory over Davidson. But Snell fueled the Lobos' charge at the Pit in the second half. Coach Steve Alford made a series of defensive adjustments that limited Davidson’s offense in the second half.

Best move: Appling’s up-and-under move in the closing seconds of Michigan State's defeat of Kansas extended the Spartans’ lead. Appling drove hard to the left, split a pair of defenders and scored. It was pretty. Travis Releford missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Most clutch: Massachusetts broke a 64-64 tie with Sampson Carter’s game-winning 3-pointer in the corner. Chaz Williams set up the clutch play by driving to the paint and drawing multiple Harvard defenders, which left Carter open for the 3-pointer near the buzzer. Thrilling stuff.

Biggest missed opportunity: Davidson had a chance to start the season with a road win over a Mountain West team that will likely make the NCAA tournament and will compete for its league’s title. The Wildcats led by 16 and squandered that advantage. Bob McKillop’s group might kick itself for this one on Selection Sunday.

Most impressive: Gonzaga did everything right in its victory over West Virginia. The Bulldogs defended well. They executed on offense. And they showcased their depth in the Marathon’s best performance. We knew the Zags were dangerous. They proved it with this victory.

Biggest upset: VCU lost 53-51 at home to a Wichita State team that replaced most of the key members from last season’s NCAA tournament team. The Rams are -- were? -- expected to compete for the Atlantic 10 title during their first year in the league. But they didn’t look the part of a contender during this Marathon upset.

Most confusing: I know West Virginia is adjusting to life without All-American Kevin Jones and the additions of three transfers who commanded heavy minutes. But Tuesday’s loss to Gonzaga was embarrassing. The Mountaineers were 15-for-55 from the field and committed 18 turnovers. Yes, they have a bunch of new faces and, yes, the Kennel isn’t an easy place to win. But that deplorable effort was still baffling.

Best hair: Hawaii’s Isaac Fotu wins this one. Easily. The 6-foot-8 New Zealander’s curly Afro should be trademarked. It was the highlight of the Warriors’ victory over Houston Baptist.

Most noticeable fan: After a nice win over Drexel in the opener, Kent State blew many chances in its loss to Temple. But one superfan never lost hope. You could hear her screaming after every bucket the Golden Flashes made. She’s passionate, that’s for sure.

Greatest discovery: Harvard freshman Chambers could lead the Crimson back to the top of the Ivy League. Tommy Amaker’s program lost two standouts when Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry left the program following an academic scandal. But Harvard held its own against UMass because of Chambers, who scored 14 points, recorded 7 assists and committed just 1 turnover without leaving the floor the entire 40 minutes.

Biggest snoozer: Stony Brook and Rider didn’t help anyone keep their eyes open. With 4 minutes, 16 seconds to play, the two teams were tied at 41-41. Stony Brook secured the 54-46 win in the end, but it wasn’t a pretty effort for either squad. Although I guess we could give them a pass -- you ever tried to play basketball at 6 a.m.?

Most dominant: St. John’s center Obekpa finished with an impressive stat line: 7 points, 2 steals, 11 rebounds and 8 blocks -- that last setting a school record for blocked shots. Nice effort for a freshman. Or anyone, really.

Best defensive strategy: Xavier harassed Butler’s top offensive threats, Khyle Marshall and Rotnei Clarke, in the Musketeers’ 62-47 victory over the Bulldogs. Marshall and Clarke went 6-for-21 from the field combined. The X-Men limited the duo’s clean looks and subsequently stalled Butler’s entire offensive attack.

Best coach: Alford tried to go small early at the Pit. That wasn’t working. So he added some size to his lineup after Davidson built up a double-digit lead against his New Mexico team. The Wildcats had a lot of open looks in the first half, so the Lobos smothered them in the second half. Alford’s in-game tweaks were crucial in UNM’s comeback.

Video: Pittsburgh 78, Lehigh 53

November, 14, 2012
Tray Woodall scored 23 and Talib Zanna as Pittsburgh smothered Lehigh 78-53 to advance to a semifinal meeting with Michigan in the NIT Season Tip-Off.

Rapid Reaction: Duke 75, Kentucky 68

November, 14, 2012

ATLANTA -- Quick thoughts on No. 9 Duke’s 75-68 win over No. 3 Kentucky in the Champions Classic ...

Overview: Like death and taxes, Duke-Kentucky is something you can count on. It’s always good -- even when Christian Laettner’s lone involvement is at a charity function. Following on the heels of Michigan State’s high-energy win against Kansas, the Blue Devils and Wildcats put up a pretty sweet nightcap. Duke looked like it had the game in hand, up 14 points midway through the second half. Of course it didn’t. This is Duke-Kentucky and the game, along with a raucous atmosphere -- the players might not dislike one another, but the fans aren’t necessarily chummy -- went back to barn burner in an instant.

It’s always dangerous to draw too many conclusions from a game in November. There’s just too much time left in the season. But the Wildcats' ability to come back -- on the heels of their ability to survive against Maryland -- shows that this group might be uniquely special like last year’s team. No, Kentucky didn’t win. But sometimes there’s just as much to be gleaned in a loss. Freshmen aren’t supposed to have this sort of poise.

Meanwhile, a Duke team with more than a few question marks dogging it this season answered a few questions, too. The Blue Devils have a potential breakout scorer in Rasheed Sulaimon, and Mason Plumlee's maturity -- he played with four fouls for much of the second half -- bodes well for Duke this season. Most obvious, the Devils simply are a better team with Seth Curry on the floor.

Turning point: With Mason Plumlee on the bench, the Blue Devils defied logic, going on an 11-5 run, spearheaded by Sulaimon’s huge 3-pointer and the surprise contribution of Josh Hairston. Duke eventually built its lead to as many as 14, making it 58-44. The Blue Devils would need all of that room and then some, as UK came roaring back. The dagger shot came from Curry. With the lead at just three, Curry drove the right side of the lane, stopped and scooped in a layup in traffic, making it 68-63.

Key player: With Plumlee dogged by foul trouble, it was up to Curry -- just back from injury -- to do the work. He did. Curry scored 19 points, including a pivotal scoop layup, to give Duke a five-point cushion with just more than a minute to play.

Key stat: 6. That’s how many 3-pointers Sulaimon and Curry combined for (in 12 attempts). Let’s face it: Duke isn’t a mystery novel. The Blue Devils like to shoot 3s, and they win when they make 3s. Duke hit 8 of 18 in this game, with those two guys responsible for the bulk of them.

Miscellaneous: Atlanta has to be happy with the turnout here. The lower levels were packed, the crowds were loud. Truth be told, if it’s this good in April for the Final Four, that would be impressive.

What's next: In its lead-up to the Battle 4 Atlantis tourney, Duke hosts Florida Gulf Coast before departing for the Bahamas on Nov. 22. Lest anyone thinks FGCU is a cakewalk, take note: The Eagles already have one ACC victim, upsetting Miami on Tuesday. Meanwhile, after two tough games, Kentucky downshifts a little bit, hosting Lafayette on Friday.
ATLANTA -- It is not exactly how you’d imagine Tom Izzo would draw it up, at least not if the Michigan State coach had access to statistics and information. Tight game, up one, under two minutes left and Keith Appling, who hit 25 percent of the 3-pointers he tried a year ago, pulling up beyond the arc. It sounds more cringe worthy than game winner.

Except Izzo, of course, has access and knowledge to the backstory. He knows how Appling spent his summer vacation, if you will. He knows about the hours the guard spent locked in the gym.

And Izzo knows about the gun. That’s the funnel-like apparatus that masochistic coaches set up over the hoop, trying to force their players to improve the arc on their shot.

For Appling, the gun was, according to Michigan State assistant coach Dane Fife, set to just about the top of the ceiling.

And so when Appling pulled up, with 7-foot Jeff Withey within an arms length no less, Izzo didn’t even blink.

[+] EnlargeMichigan State's Keith Appling
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesKeith Appling, left, celebrates with Denzel Valentine after sinking a 3-pointer to put the Spartans up by four points.
More important, neither did Appling. The junior rose with a confidence that Reggie Miller would admire, sinking the trey and sealing a hard-fought 67-64 victory over Kansas in the Champions Classic.

“Keith is a phenomenal athlete but I think this summer he fell in love with the game again," Izzo said. “I’m proud of him. When you see a kid put in the work like that, it’s nice to see them get the reward in a game like this."

Should Appling’s growth continue, the reward could very well be for the Spartans. Sans Draymond Green, Michigan State is in need of a leader, and while senior Derrick Nix is the natural to fill the position, Appling -- as the point guard -- is almost more critical. But Appling has been frustratingly inconsistent in his MSU career, sometimes great, sometimes less so.

The Appling that showed up against Kansas was leaning toward the great version.

He scored 16 of his 19 points in the second half, following up the blood-in-the-veins 3 with a sweet reverse layup to seal the victory.

More impressive, the 25 percent perimeter shooter drained three of three 3-pointers. He’s now 5-of-8 in two games.

“Coach has the confidence in me to put the ball in my hands," Appling said. “I give all the credit to him. In the years past, we had other guys who could do that. Now it’s my turn."

In a lot of ways, Appling is a prototypical player on a prototypical Izzo team. Guys under Izzo tend to get better as they get older and the Spartans tend to get better as the season goes along.

Two games in and that path appears to be on the fast track.

In the span of one weekend, Michigan State already looks better, going from a lackluster loss to Connecticut on Friday in Germany to this gritty win on Tuesday.

“Even though it was a long flight we had energy because we sure didn’t waste any against Connecticut," Izzo quipped.

It wasn’t just Appling that looked better. It was everybody. The big guys -- Adreian Payne, Nix and Branden Dawson -- were more active, matching up more than adequately against the size of Kansas. Withey had just eight points, Perry Ellis four and Jamari Traylor six, forcing the Jayhawks’ backcourt to do much of the work.

Maybe the most important factor for Michigan State aside from Appling was the quick overnight progress of his backcourt mate. Gary Harris looked like Gary Harris. The ballyhooed freshman admitted first-game jitters got the better of him against Connecticut and that he tried to heed his teammates’ advice in this game and just play.

He scored 18, virtually trading buckets with Appling during the second half.

“Keith Appling was terrific tonight," Kansas coach Bill Self said. “And Harris played very well. They just took over the game there for a while."

Self, though, is hardly going home wringing his hands over his Kansas team. His Jayhawks tend to follow the same sort of trajectory as Izzo’s teams, getting better as the season progresses. And the product as it’s currently construed isn’t terrible.

Some things need to get better. Freshman Ben McLemore has to take control more. Ellis, a terrific finesse player, has to learn how to play in grind-it-out ugly games. But it’s November, hardly a time to fret.

“We still have a long way to go to understand how to compete and be tougher mentally," Self said. “This is new to them. These freshmen are pretty green. They’ve been pretty sheltered in terms of their experiences."

Sheltered is not exactly a word anyone would use to describe Appling. When you’re a highly-sought-after McDonald’s All-American out of Detroit and you opt to go to East Lansing, there isn’t much in the way of hiding.

He has been a content role player for much of his career and a somewhat less contented point guard, forced into the role and out of his scoring comfort zone.

But if the early results are any indicator, he’s starting to find his niche. Perhaps the biggest question for Izzo this year was who would be the guy, the one to take the critical shot, the one to make the big play? That was Green’s job for so long.

With 1:33 left, Appling made a helluva audition for the role. Self had told Elijah Johnson to go under the ballscreen, which he did, but Withey didn’t hedge -- never budged really -- allowing Appling to take a dribble, back up to create space and launch.

“I just wanted to make enough room so I could get the shot off," Appling said.

He did, arcing the ball high and into the net, just like he did into the gun so many times this summer.

Video: Michigan 77, Cleveland State 47

November, 13, 2012

Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 17 points, leading No. 5 Michigan to a 77-47 win over Cleveland State in the 2012 NIT Season Tip-Off. The Wolverines advance to the semifinals of the tournament at New York's Madison Square Garden next week.

Video: Wichita State 53, VCU 51

November, 13, 2012
Carl Hall scored 12 points and grabbed 11 boards as Wichita State beat Virginia Commonwealth 53-51 in a rematch of last season's NCAA tournament meeting, won by the Rams.

ATLANTA -- Quick thoughts from Michigan State’s 67-64 win over Kansas in the first game of the Champions Classic.

Overview: If this is what November looks like, we could be in for a heckuva basketball season. The Spartans and Jayhawks, two teams that match up almost equally strength to strength, put on a highly entertaining, high-intensity game to open the Champions Classic.

In fact, if we can restage this sort of game -- insert whatever participants you’d like -- in the last weekend of the season, that would be just fine. Seriously. This was March Madness good.

In the first half, it was all up-tempo offense, with Kansas shooting 52 percent and Michigan State 50. Not surprisingly, that changed a bit in the second. You probably can imagine the halftime conversations.

The second half, while slightly more plodding, was no less entertaining, a grudge muscle match, with neither team able to build anything close to a sustainable lead.

Both Kansas and Michigan State have a habit of getting better as the season progresses. If that’s true, watch out.

Turning point: With Michigan State clinging to a one-point lead, Keith Appling drained a 3 from the top of the key, using Jeff Withey to screen his own player. Withey blocked Elijah Johnson from the play, and when Johnson tried to come around Withey to get back to Appling, Appling just stepped back.

Nothing but net. In a game like this, a four-point lead was huge.

Key player: Keith Appling is like the girl with the curl. When he’s good, he’s very very good, and against Kansas, he was spectacular. Appling scored 16 of his 19 points in the second half, including the clinchers in the final minute. He followed his 3-point dagger with a sweet drive to the hoop for a reverse layup that all but sealed the win for Michigan State.

Key stat: 13-of-21. That’s what Michigan State’s backcourt of Appling and Gary Harris shot, combining for 37 points and all but owning the second half for the Spartans.

Miscellaneous: Gary Harris is as good as advertised. That’s all I have to say about that. ... The ocean-crossing Spartans hopped a direct flight from Frankfurt, Germany, to Detroit following their Armed Forces Classic loss to Connecticut on Friday. MSU landed around 1:30 p.m. Detroit time Saturday, practiced twice Sunday and then flew to Atlanta on Monday. Good thing they’re young. ... In a solidly played game, Kansas freshman Jamari Traylor got the oh-my-goodness moment, throwing down a monster jam that elicited a collective "Oh!" from the Georgia Dome crowd.

Next game: The road-weary Spartans actually get a run of home games with the Spartan Showcase, which begins Sunday. Michigan State hosts Texas Southern in the opener. Kansas, meanwhile, will play in the CBE Classic in Kansas City, facing Chattanooga on Thursday.

It’s too soon to glean any substantial benefits from Xavier’s 62-47 victory over Atlantic 10 foe Butler -- the game did not count toward their mark in conference -- with the exception of one. Given the Musketeers’ turbulent offseason, one that followed a frenetic regular season in 2011-12, Tuesday’s win will boost the morale of a team with a new, albeit forced, persona.

“We took a good step forward today,” coach Chris Mack told “It gave our guys a shot of confidence. But we know there’s work to do.”

Mack’s program lost nearly 80 percent of its offensive production from last season. Some of those reductions were natural.

Both Tu Holloway and Kenny Frease exhausted their eligibility. Other departures, however, were less seamless. Mark Lyons abruptly transferred to Arizona. Dezmine Wells was dismissed following sexual assault allegations. A grand jury decided against pursuing charges, but he ultimately joined Mark Turgeon at Maryland.

Plus, two former assistant coaches left Mack’s staff.

So the team’s circumstances demanded a fresh start.

And a dominating win over Butler in the Cintas Center in Cincinnati offered the Musketeers that chance to move forward from the last calendar year’s mess.

There’s no way of knowing how much the Musketeers will progress -- or regress -- over time, but they’ve clearly ignored the early projections that placed them at the bottom of the Atlantic 10.

“We have a group of guys in the locker room that we go to war with every day,” Xavier forward Jeff Robinson told “We know what we’re capable of. Everybody that’s doubting us hasn’t been in the locker room. … It’s all guessing.”

Butler did all of the guessing on Tuesday. The perennially stubborn Bulldogs (28th in defensive efficiency in 2011-12) allowed the Musketeers to shoot a 50 percent clip from the field.

Brad Stevens’ program couldn’t establish any pattern that led to consistent production on offense, either. The Bulldogs made just four of their 18 3-point attempts.

Robinson and his teammates took credit for those mishaps. On film, Robinson said, Xavier noticed that Rotnei Clarke (3-for-11, seven points) and Khyle Marshall (3-for-10, seven points) had a lot of freedom in Butler’s season-opening win over Elon Saturday.

“We emphasized just chasing those guys to make sure they didn’t get open looks,” Robinson said. “Our guards did a great job of doing that.”

It was a refreshing moment for a squad that didn’t have many following last season’s run in the NCAA tournament.

The program’s problems started with a December brawl in a rivalry game against Cincinnati. Multiple suspensions and a fall from the national rankings followed that melee. Xavier eventually picked itself up and reached the Sweet 16 but any sense of satisfaction didn’t last long. Mack had lost key members and staffers from that team within months.

The new Musketeers don’t feature any household names or national player of the year candidates. They’re mostly anonymous, a rare trait for a program that’s advanced to the Sweet 16 four of the past five seasons and sent Jordan Crawford and David West to the NBA.

By the end of 2012-13, Travis Taylor and Robinson, two seniors who combined to score 32 points, could land on the national radar. They were two of five Musketeers who scored nine or more points on Tuesday. A team that appeared to be fractured this offseason was united against Butler.

“We went to work,” Mack said. “We had a lot of guys that spent the entire summer here. They lifted, they played together. They really worked hard to get to this point and I think there’s a belief in one another.”

Steve Lavin wins in St. John's return

November, 13, 2012
NEW YORK -- Steve Lavin is back, and his young team is off to a promising start.

After missing almost all of last season while recovering from prostate cancer, Lavin officially made his return to the sideline Tuesday afternoon. And the St. John's Red Storm won its regular-season opener against Detroit, 77-74 at Carnesecca Arena.

In his postgame news conference, Lavin was asked how he felt about his comeback. "I think so much of the way I feel is a result of your team and their energy, and feeding off of that synergy," Lavin said. "Similar to a parent -- if your children are lined in the right way and they seem well adjusted and they're contributing in a meaningful way, then you feel better as a parent. And as a coach, I feel good because this team found a way to get a gritty W."

It didn't look like that was going to happen in the first half after Detroit broke open a tie game with a 9-0 run and led 37-29 at intermission. St. John's still trailed 60-53 with under nine minutes remaining, when the Red Storm took over with a 14-2 run of their own to wrest control of the game.

Somewhat surprisingly, a St. John's team with three sophomores and two freshmen in the starting lineup was the poised group down the stretch. Detroit -- a team that made the NCAA tournament last season, with two seniors, two juniors and a sophomore in its starting five -- looked rattled, taking bad shots and turning the ball over.

"I think we showed a good, resilient spirit," Lavin said. "They could have easily gone quietly into the night -- when a veteran team like that gets a lead, you're curious how your team is gonna handle discouragement in the timeouts and on the floor and in their approach. And they found a way to stay together as a group and kind of solve some problems."

For the full story at, click here.

Harvard freshman Chambers impresses

November, 13, 2012
AMHERST, Mass. -- The Harvard men’s basketball team, coming off its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1946, was dealt a serious blow before the season even started when a pair of would-be seniors, forward Kyle Casey and point guard Brandyn Curry, left the school in the wake of a cheating scandal.

That left the keys to the Crimson offense to freshman Siyani Chambers, and while there surely will be some growing pains, Chambers impressed with his poise in Harvard’s near-upset of UMass, 67-64, Tuesday morning at the Mullins Center.

The Minutemen like to press on defense as much as any team in the country, normally a recipe for disaster with such an inexperienced point guard, but Chambers more than held his own, committing just one turnover, to go with seven assists and 14 points, while playing all 40 minutes.

“For him to play as well as he did the whole game and go against an outstanding guard and the kind of pressure that UMass brings to have just one turnover, I thought that was a magnificent performance,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said, referencing Chambers.

“In his first road game as a college player, to play the way he did with his energy and his spirit, I think he’s shown he’s going to be an outstanding player. It’s just too bad we couldn’t cap it off with a victory to make it that much sweeter for him.

“We knew for us to have a chance against their pressure and how they would normally play, we knew how critical our ball-handling would be. Siyani and Wesley [Saunders] were going to do the bulk of the ball-handling and I thought they did as well as you could possibly ask.”

UMass guard Chaz Williams said of Chambers: “He played really good, he was solid. The kid has a lot of heart.”

Although Amaker cited UMass’ 29 points off turnovers as the difference in the game, particularly two critical miscues in the last minute and a half, UMass coach Derek Kellogg thought the Crimson did a good job dealing with the Minutemen’s pressure and backed off somewhat in the second half.

“We talked a lot about maintaining composure,” Amaker said. “The keys for us were concentration, composure and confidence coming in here. I thought we did that as best as we possibly could. That’s what makes it tough, when you do those things and come up on the short end.”

LALANNE BACK IN THE LANE: UMass got a significant boost with the return of sophomore forward/center Cady Lalanne, who was limited to just 14 games last season because of a foot injury. Lalanne’s presence was felt from the get-go, as he was active on the boards (eight of his 13 rebounds came in his first half) and under the hoop (four blocks).

Lalanne slowed down some in the second half, but showed enough to get his coach excited and not worry about easing him back.

“He’ll play as many minutes as he can,” Kellogg said. “If he’s still playing hard and competing, I think he gives us a weapon that you just saw a little bit of. I think he’s got a chance to be a really, really good player. If you see him get in little bit better shape, I think he’s going to become a big-time player.

WILD START TO THE SEASON: The Minutemen as a team certainly aren’t easing in. After a 10 a.m. start Tuesday, the team was scheduled to catch a 2:30 p.m. bus for a 5:10 flight for the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament. UMass opens against Providence on Thursday night.

Kellogg said he doesn’t mind the whirlwind start.

“I’m not one for sitting around much, so I think it’s pretty good for the kids. There’s no more easing into the season. Everybody’s playing, teams are ready to play. With the summer and the longer preseason, I think you see teams that are a little further along. Harvard looked like they were in midseason form. I thought they played really well.”

Carter an unlikely hero? Not to UMass

November, 13, 2012
AMHERST, Mass. -- With the bulk of its key contributors back from an NIT Final Four season, the University of Massachusetts men’s basketball team enters this season with more anticipation and greater expectations than it has in more than a decade.

Yet with 1:21 remaining in its season opener against a Harvard team that lost two of its mainstays during an offseason cheating scandal, the Minutemen trailed by five, their fans bracing for a letdown they’ve felt before in the 14 years since their last NCAA tournament appearance.

So with the game on the line in the closing seconds, UMass turned to -- who else? -- a kid who missed the bulk of last season with a hip injury and hadn’t scored a point all game.

But to hear the Minutemen and coach Derek Kellogg tell it, having Sampson Carter hit a winning 3-pointer with one second to play -- giving UMass a 67-64 victory -- was just how they drew it up.

With game tied at 64 with 28 seconds to play, the Minutemen took possession after Chaz Williams and the UMass pressure defense forced a Harvard turnover along the sideline. Williams let the clock run down before making his move, driving the lane. As Crimson defenders converged, Williams dished the ball to an open Carter in front of the UMass bench, and Carter calmly drained the shot with 1.5 seconds to go.

“Once I saw Chaz go baseline and my man came off, I knew I was getting it because it’s something we work on,” Carter said. “I knew to slide to the corner.”

With time winding down, Carter said he didn’t have to think about whether or not to shoot.

“I heard the bench behind me saying, ‘Knockdown’ so I knew it was a knockdown and I was totally confident.”

Williams, UMass’ slippery point guard, also said he saw it all coming.

“As the play was setting up, I was already looking at the secondary defenders,” Williams said. “I saw Sampson creeping in early, real early. I just knew once I get to the rim if he (the defender on Carter) comes all the way to commit, I was going to pass it out to Sampson and I knew it was going in.”

Kellogg pledged his confidence as the play unfolded as well.

“When Chaz drove, I thought he was going to shoot it,” Kellogg said, “but they converged, they did what they were supposed to do with a point guard who can score like him. They ran five guys to the paint.

“It was funny. When I saw Sampson open, I instantly knew he was going to make that shot. He’s made that shot the last three days in practice every time. So if he didn’t make it, I was going to be thoroughly disappointed.”

At least Harvard coach Tommy Amaker admitted to being surprised by the hero who was unexpected to the rest of us.

“Chaz is an outstanding player. He’s quick, he’s crafty, it’s hard to keep in front of him,” Amaker said. “I was kind of excited honestly when he threw it out because he’s a great finisher at the rim and he’s also crafty enough to get fouled. So I thought it played into our hands.

“But as it turned out, obviously the kid made a big shot. He was in the right spot and Williams can find people.”

Kellogg admitted he had “kind of a weird lineup out there” at the end in response to how Harvard had been matching up, with Carter, Williams, Jesse Morgan, Freddie Riley and Raphiael Putney on the floor, a unit that has seen very little practice time together.

Harvard’s Wesley Saunders hit a pair of free throws to give the Crimson a 64-59 lead, but Jesse Morgan (a game-high 19 points) answered with a jumper in the lane to make it a 3-point game.

UMass, showing defensive intensity that had been lacking much of the second half, forced a five-second violation with 44.9 seconds left, and Morgan tied it with a three-ball with 37 seconds to go.

The Minutemen cranked up their full-court pressure again, and after Williams forced a turnover, hitting the ball off Webster’s foot, saying the ball “went the right way,” Kellogg declined to call timeout, letting the game play out.

“I put it in the players’ hands,” Kellogg said. “I learned that many years ago from the guy I played for, (John Calipari). In those situations, let’s have our stuff already in and we’re going to go and let the guys play.”

He was confident the result would be a good one.

“I think I have one of the best floor generals in the country and the other guys feed off him,” Kellogg said. “If we have the ball in his hands with some semblance of a set or a play, I’m usually confident that he’s going to make a good basketball decision.”

Even if it’s a decision that takes everyone else by surprise.
What it means: Steve Lavin is back, and his team is off to a promising start.

After missing almost all of last season while recovering from prostate cancer, Lavin officially made his return to the sideline Tuesday afternoon. And St. John’s won its regular-season opener against Detroit, 77-74, at Carnesecca Arena.

Three highly touted freshmen made their St. John’s debuts -- forwards Jakarr Sampson and Christian Jones, and center Chris Obekpa. All three made positive contributions -- particularly Obekpa. But the key to the victory was the play of three returning sophomores -- D’Angelo Harrison, Phil Greene and Amir Garrett (see below).

The skinny: This game was very tight for most of the first half. The score was tied at 25 when Detroit first took control, reeling off nine straight to make it 34-25. The Titans led 37-29 at intermission.

Trailing 60-53 in the second half, St. John’s went on a 14-2 run, retaking the lead for the first time since the opening half with just under five minutes remaining. Down the stretch, a more experienced Detroit team unraveled, while the younger St. John’s squad showed poise and resilience.

St. John’s did get a scare in the game’s final sequence. Detroit scored a bucket, St. John’s gave the ball away, and Detroit’s Juwan Howard Jr. suddenly had a 3-point shot that would have tied the game. But the shot was off.

Star watch: Harrison, St. John’s leading returning scorer, came off the bench -- he was benched entirely for the team’s second exhibition game last week because the coaching staff felt he was having trouble controlling his emotions. Harrison looked lethargic when he first entered the game, but ratcheted up the intensity after halftime, when he scored 15 of his team-high 22 points.

Greene finished with a career-high 20, displaying an improved perimeter shot. Garrett had a double-double, with 15 points and 11 rebounds. And Obekpa had 7 points, 11 rebounds and 8 blocked shots. (That's a St. John's single-game record, breaking the previous mark of seven, set by Robert Werdann in 1989.)

Number crunch: St. John’s struggled on the glass, giving up 19 offensive rebounds and 20 second-chance points. But the Red Storm had 12 blocked shots as a team. Obekpa is going to be a game-changer on defense.

What's next: St. John’s heads to South Carolina to participate in the Charleston Classic. The Red Storm will play the host team, College of Charleston, on Thursday at 5 p.m. ET. They’ll play two more games there as well, on Friday and Sunday.

Randall sparks Temple in return

November, 13, 2012
When Scootie Randall injured his knee prior to last season, there were people who said the Temple standout would never be the same.

They were right.

Playing in his first game in more than a year, Randall hardly looked like his old self in the Owls’ 80-66 victory at Kent State.

Instead, he even was better.

Randall scored a career-high 31 points on 10-of-19 shooting to propel Temple to a hard-fought road win in its first game of the season. Randall, who hadn’t played in a game since March of 2011, also made four steals against a Kent State squad that was high on momentum after upsetting Drexel in overtime four days earlier.

Temple coach Fran Dunphy was asked after the game if he was surprised by Randall’s breakout performance after such a long layoff.

“Not really,” Dunphy told “He has no fear. He’s not afraid to make a mistake. He’s worked really hard for this moment.”

Randall, who redshirted last season after tearing the meniscus in his left knee, connected on 5 of 12 attempts from 3-point range. His biggest moment came when he swished back-to-back 3s to turn a 46-46 tie into a 52-46 Temple lead.

The Owls would never trail again.

“Coach Dunphy always says, ‘To take shots, you’ve got to get shots,’” Randall told “I was working extra hard out there to create opportunities for myself.

“The last year has been tough, but my teammates kept pushing me. They kept me involved. It felt good to be back.”

The 6-foot-6 Randall -- a preseason third-team all-conference pick -- said he was “extremely proud” with Temple’s overall performance Tuesday. Dunphy echoed that sentiment.

“We knew they’d be fired up and ready to go,” Dunphy said of Kent State. “When you’re on the road for your first game, you’re going to make some mistakes. But we handled it about as well as we could.”

Dunphy expressed mild frustration about Temple’s 19 turnovers -- about a half-dozen of which were traveling calls, Dunphy said. And the Owls were outrebounded 39-28. But Temple shot 52.9 percent from the floor and forced 21 Kent State turnovers.

Those are good signs for a squad that hopes to contend with VCU, Butler and Saint Louis for the Atlantic 10 title. The Owls will move to the Big East after this season.

“Anytime someone makes a run at you and you respond, you have to be encouraged,” Dunphy said. “There were some things I like and some thing I didn’t like. But to play like this in our first game, and to do it on the road ... I’ll take it.”

Anthony Lee added 16 points and eight rebounds for Temple. Kris Brewer (19 points) and Chris Evans (17) scored in double figures for Kent State.

Video: Temple 80, Kent State 66

November, 13, 2012

Scootie Randall scored 31 points to lead Temple to an 80-66 win over Kent State.