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


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.

As good as they’ve been, No. 3 Michigan State has yet to play their best

Bryn Forbes, Ryan Fazekas
Associated Press
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Sunday night’s Wooden Legacy title game matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence was billed as a matchup of the nation’s two best players, and rightfully so. Michigan State senior Denzel Valentine (17 points, six rebounds, five assists), who already has two triple-doubles to his credit this season, and Providence redshirt junior Kris Dunn (21 points, five rebounds, seven assists) have more than lived up to the preseason expectations and more of the same was expected in Anaheim.

And while both had their moments, it was Michigan State’s supporting cast that made the difference in their 77-64 victory. The scary thing for future opponents on Michigan State’s schedule is that Tom Izzo’s team is nowhere near being a finished product.

With Valentine dealing with first-half foul trouble Bryn Forbes stepped up, scoring 13 of his 18 points to help the Spartans take a two-point lead into the half. As for the 11-0 run that Michigan State produced to take control of the game late, a host of players stepped forward in regards to scoring, rebounding and defending.

Freshmen Deyonta Davis and Matt McQuaid combined to score nine points over the final 5:32, with transfer guard Eron Harris adding six of his 12 points during that stretch. The Spartans outscored the Friars, who aren’t as deep, 22-7 during that stretch to close out the game, hunting for quality shots and hitting the offensive glass while making things difficult for Providence on the other end of the floor.

The end result was a final margin that does not indicate just how close the game was. While Providence seemed to run out of steam Michigan State received contributions from multiple players, which is undoubtedly a good sign for this group moving forward.

The Spartans will return the currently injured Gavin Schilling later this season, giving them another big man alongside Davis, Matt Costello and Colby Wollenman. He was a player they missed Sunday night, as he can defend opposing big men both in the post and on the perimeter. His absence was a main reason Michigan State didn’t have an answer for Providence’s Ben Bentil (20 points, seven rebounds) defensively.

The key for this group is going to end up being role definition, which is especially true in the case of Harris. A transfer from West Virginia, Harris came to East Lansing with the reputation of being a big time scorer. He’s struggled through the first two weeks of the season, but he got on a roll on Sunday night, finishing with 12 points, three boards and three assists. He showed he’s capable of doing a variety of things on the perimeter, and fitting into a “Swiss army knife” kind of role would make Michigan State that much more dangerous.

There’s no denying that Michigan State has been one of the nation’s best teams thus far.

But there’s also no denying that the Spartans have yet to hit their ceiling, which is definitely a positive moving forward.

Wichita State’s Anton Grady returns home with team

AP Photo/Willie J. Allen Jr.
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Wichita State forward Anton Grady was released from a hospital in Orlando on Sunday afternoon in time to return home with his Shocker teammates.

Grady suffered a spinal corn concussion on Friday when he collided head-first with an Alabama defender, snapping his head sharply to the side. He lay on the court motionless for 10 minutes after the injury and was taken off the floor on a stretcher.

[RELATED: Can WSU still make tourney?]

“I want to send out a big thank you to Shocker Nation and all of my friends and family for of the love and encouragement that I have received the past few days,” Grady said in a statement on Sunday morning. “I’ve been reading your tweets and posts and appreciate every last one of them. I have a lot of work to do to get back on the court, but with the help of such a great support system, I’m ready for the challenge.”

By Friday night, Grady had feeling in all of his extremities, but he has a long road of rehab ahead of him.