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Fair, Jardine ensure No. 2 Syracuse closes in on Big East title

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C.J. Fair turned in a career game. Scoop Jardine showed off some clutch shots.

Turns out that was the winning combination Sunday for No. 2 Syracuse against Rutgers.

Syracuse’s sophomore wing dropped career-best 21 points on Rutgers, including 14 in the first half when he was one of the few Orange players who didn’t struggle. Jardine, the senior point guard, took over late, hitting a contested jump shot and a clutch 3 to seal the 74-64 win.

“Scoop is the kind of guy who, all game, he’ll let the game come to him,” Rutgers junior Dane Miller told the Newark Star-Ledger. “Then at the end of the game, he’ll hit a 3. That’s what Scoop does. I knew he was going to take that. That’s what Scoop does.”

Jardine finished with 17 points, seven assists.

Syracuse (27-1, 14-1 in the Big East) is now one win from clinching the Big East for the second time in three seasons. It leads Marquette and Notre Dame by 2.5 games with three left to play. That’s a credit to its overall dominance of the league this season – no one’s close in wins or efficiency – but the Orange have had a few issues lately.

In their seven-game win streak, only wins against St. John’s (95-70) and UConn (85-67) showcased the Orange at their best. Rebounding continues to be an issue and sophomore guard Dion Waiters has been hot and cold. Even Sunday’s win was much closer than the 10-point margin indicated.

That’s a tribute to Syracuse’s poise and continued interior defense – seriously, why ever take it into the lane when you can shoot a mid-range jumper and just crash the boards? – not to mention Jardine’s moxie.

Yes, maybe Syracuse could lose in the second-round of the NCAA tournament. But that applies to almost any team. It’s also a team capable of cutting the nets.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Duke knocks off No. 13 Louisville in first game of critical four-game stretch

Duke's Grayson Allen (3) and Marshall Plumlee (40) react during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Louisville in Durham, N.C., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Duke won 72-65. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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Grayson Allen scored 16 of his 19 points in the first half and Brandon Ingram added 18 points, 10 boards and four assists as Duke picked up a critical win over No. 13 Louisville in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday night, 72-65.

A call this a critical win for the Blue Devils because it kicks off what may be the most important two-week stretch of Duke’s schedule This weekend, the Blue Devils square off with No. 9 Virginia. Next Wednesday, they’re at the Dean Dome to take on No. 7 North Carolina. Four days after that, they head to the Bluegrass State to pay a visit to Louisville.

 

With the way that Duke has been struggling on the defensive end of the floor without Amile Jefferson, that’s a stretch that could derail Duke’s season; entering Monday, all four of those games were losable. But a four-game winning streak — or even going 3-1 in that stretch — could completely change the tenor of what has been a fairly disappointing year for the defending champs, and that’s before they get Jefferson back to 100 percent.

And the difference was defensively, at least in the first half.

I’ve written in this space a number of times about how opponents know what they’re going to get from Duke defensively. Coach K, traditionally, plays half court man-to-man defense, switching every exchange — ball-screen, off-ball pick or simply when two players run by one another — that doesn’t involve the center. In recent years, he’s played some zone in situations where he defense has struggled or, like this season, when he doesn’t have the depth to risk foul trouble. We’ve even seen some 2-2-1 pressure from him of late.

But on Monday night, Duke played straight man-to-man for much of the game, and in the first half, it seemed to fluster the Cardinals. They scored just 24 points in the first 20 minutes, and while Louisville did find a way to break Duke down defensively in the second half — they shot better than 55 percent from the floor after the break — but part of the reason Duke was able to win this game was the lead they built. After a three from Allen opened scoring in the second half, the Blue Devils were up by 14, and while Louisville made a run down the stretch, they could never get control of the game.

Duke is becoming appointment viewing for basketball nerds like me that pay too much attention to X’s-and-O’s to see what kind of wrinkle Coach K is going to put in to try and compensate defensively, so I’m not sure that this performance sticks. But it is worth noting that this was the first time in eight games the Blue Devils gave up less than 1.0 PPP, and the first time since Dec. 19th they did so against an NCAA tournament-caliber team.

As far as Louisville is concerned, you have to tip your hat to those kids. They played their hearts out and fought back from a big deficit in one of the toughest places in the country to play. They did all that three days after their school ripped their hearts out with an NCAA tournament ban for this season.

So good for them. You never know how a team is going to react to something like that, but the Cardinal players showed that they have some serious fight in them.

Iowa State’s starting center Jameel McKay remains suspended

Iowa State forward Jameel McKay celebrates on the court at the end of an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in Ames, Iowa. Iowa State won 82-77. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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Steve Prohm announced on Monday that starting center Jameel McKay will not be in the lineup on Wednesday when the Cyclones take on Texas Tech.

“He’ll practice today because I want him in practice,” Prohm said, “but game-wise, he’s suspended.”

McKay did not make the trip to Stillwater with the team on Saturday, where Iowa State beat Oklahoma State, 64-59. Prohm has not gotten into specifics regarding the cause of McKay’s suspension, but it’s reportedly an issue with the way he has been practicing. McKay is dealing with a nagging knee injury, which may play a role in the situation as well.

“My hope is he’ll be with us on Saturday,” Prohm said.