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No. 3 Kentucky survives Alex Len and Maryland, 72-69

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NEW YORK – Kyle Wiltjer finished with 19 points and six boards as No. 3 Kentucky was able to hold off a scrappy Maryland team 72-69 in the inaugural Barclays Center Classic.

Maryland was down by 13 at halftime and as much as 15 in the second half, but the Terps used a 21-4 run to take a 59-57 lead with eight minutes left. Freshman Seth Allen hit the big shots, drilling a pair of threes on back-to-back possessions to give Maryland the lead.

Wiltjer was the star for Kentucky and looks like he may end up being the guy that takes the big shot as the Wildcats look to defend their national title. When Maryland first tied the game at 53, it was Wiltjer that buried a three to give them the lead back. Kentucky also isolated him on the block on a couple of different possessions down the stretch.

Alex Len paced the Terps with 23 points, 12 boards and four blocks, outplaying UK’s vaunted front line of Willie Cauley-Stein and Nerlens Noel by a wide margin. UK’s twin towers finished with a combined 12 points and 15 boards, and while they did blocks seven shots, they also had a front row seat to the 28 — seriously, 28 — offensive rebounds that the Terps were able to collect. That’s not going to fly.

There really aren’t any bottom-lines to be taken out of this game, especially when it comes to Kentucky. That is a team that is going to develop and grow and work out their kinks. Alex Poythress is going to end up playing a much larger role than he did tonight. Noel and Cauley-Stein will get better on the glass. Ryan Harrow will likely bounce back from a bad opening performance; he’s battling the flu. This is a group of freshmen joining forces with upperclassmen that have never played a role this large for a program this scrutinized before. There is no way you can judge them based off of their first college games.

For Maryland, however, it is a bit of a different story.

Remember how we all said that the Terps were now relevant? How the addition of Dez Wells would be a game-changer and make the Terps a player in the ACC race? Well, it did. And based on the way that Maryland played tonight, they might have been better than we thought without Wells. Len is the real deal, that much was proven tonight. The reason Maryland lost was the horrific shooting performances they got from Pe’Shon Howard, Nick Faust, Dez Wells and Seth Allen. Those four combined to go 9-43 from the floor and 2-14 from three. They won’t shoot that poorly every night.

“Hopefully, some guys will understand that we don’t have to shoot in six seconds every time.

But hopefully, those same guys will understand that the 17:4 assist-to-turnover ratio they combined is the reason they were able to come back.

That’s the more important statistic to look at, and it will be how Maryland competes in the ACC.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown:

Niang, Morris lead No. 14 Iowa State past No. 24 Texas

Iowa State forward Georges Niang drives past Texas guard Tevin Mack, left, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
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After falling at Texas Tech for the second straight season midweek, No. 14 Iowa State needed to bounce back with No. 24 Texas visiting Hilton Coliseum. The return of Jameel McKay, who was suspended for two games, certainly helped the Cyclones and the play of Georges Niang and Monte Morris was key as well. But the biggest difference on this night was the fact that Iowa State was able to limit the effectiveness of Texas point guard Isaiah Taylor.

 

Taylor scored just nine points on 3-for-14 shooting from the field, and with Morris and Niang scoring 24 points apiece the Cyclones won by the final score of 85-75.

Taylor had multiple opportunities to make plays around the basket thanks to his ability to beat defenders off the bounce, but he struggled to finish. Add in a 0-for-4 night from three, and Texas’ most dangerous offensive option was unable to duplicate his performance in the first meeting between the two teams. In Texas’ 94-91 overtime win over the Cyclones January 12, Taylor scored 28 points and dished out six assists with just one turnover, shooting 11-for-17 from the field.

Four Longhorns finished in double figures, with Tevin Mack and Javan Felix scoring 18 apiece, but with Morris decisively winning the point guard matchup Texas was unable to pick up the win on the road.

For Iowa State the aforementioned tandem of Morris and Niang performed as they did in the first meeting, which should come as no surprise. What helped them, especially when it came to Texas attacking the basket, was the presence of McKay. McKay finished the game with eight points, seven rebounds and four blocks in 22 minutes of action, and to have their best interior defender back on the floor certainly helped the Cyclones on this night.

With their lack of depth Iowa State’s margin for error is small, especially when it comes to foul trouble, injuries and disciplinary reasons. Even with Texas’ size advantage Iowa State outscored them in the paint 48-34, and McKay’s defensive ability factored into that. The Cyclones can put points on the board with the best of them, but at some point they’ll need to string together stops as the games get even bigger.

Iowa State managed to do that down the stretch, with Morris and Niang running the show offensively. And that’s a good formula to be able to rely upon as the season approaches its most important month.