Marshawn Powell

Arkansas’ Marshawn Powell scores 33 in a win over Oklahoma

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The big question mark for Arkansas coming into the season was Marshawn Powell.

After turning heads with a dominating freshman season in 2009-2010, Powell’s career took a turn for the worse. He struggled during his sophomore season, seeing his output drop across the board, and after averaging 19.5 points through two games as a junior, Powell blew out his ACL.

Early on this year, Powell didn’t quite look like himself. He was averaging 17.0 points through the first three games — against powerhouse programs like Longwood and Florida A&M — but managed all of 10 points in 37 minutes in the two losses that Arkansas suffered in the Las Vegas Invitational.

Last Friday, however, Powell looked better. He 19 points on 5-10 shooting to go along with seven boards in a loss to Syracuse at Bud Walton Arena, but it wasn’t until Tuesday night that Powell really came alive.

In an 81-78 win over Oklahoma, Powell finished with 33 points on 11-17 shooting — including 4-6 on threes — while adding six boards and five assists. The Razorbacks needed every single one of those points, as well; BJ Young struggled throughout much of the game, finishing with just 10 points on 4-12 shooting.

A healthy Powell is a difference maker for Arkansas. Everyone knows how good Young is. He’s a lottery pick perfectly suited for Mike Anderson’s run-and-gun system, and even when Young is struggling like he did tonight, he’s capable of scoring in the clutch. Young scored on two tough drives in the final minute, the latter giving Arkansas the lead after a Steven Pledger three gave Arkansas their first lead of the second half at 78-77.

With Powell proving that he’s capable of putting up numbers like he did tonight, the Razorbacks have two go-to guys. And while he’s never been known for his ability to shoot, those four threes are meaningful. Powell is a power forward in a league with some big power forwards. If he’s a threat from the perimeter, that creates just that much more space for Young and the rest of the Arkansas wings in the paint.

In a league that looks more wide-open by the day, Powell’s presence makes Arkansas a team that could sneak up on people in the SEC.

Oklahoma, on the other hand, looked better than they did in their last two games. They have a trio of talented big men — Romero Osby and Amath M’Baye combined for 36 points in this one — and a talented back court, headlined by scorer Steven Pledger and setup man Sam Grooms. They hung with Arkansas in one of the tougher home-court environments, putting a run on the Razorbacks in a game they trailed for much of the second half.

I’m not sure Lon Kruger is in the business of moral victories, but after beating Northwestern State and Oral Roberts by a combined five points in the last two games, this is a promising performance.

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

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Some conference matchups play out before football

Oregon forward Dillon Brooks, left, reacts after scoring a basket against Utah during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. Oregon defeated Utah 77-59. (AP Photo/George Frey)
(AP Photo/George Frey)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Utah at No. 16 Oregon, 4:00 p.m.

From Rob Dauster’s Weekend Preview:

Utah suffered one of the worst losses I’ve seen in a while on Thursday night, when Brandon Taylor, for some unknown reason, decided to foul an Oregon State player firing up a half court prayer at the buzzer. The Utes, who are arguably the second-best team in the Pac-12, will look to bounce-back on Sunday against the best team in the Pac-12, No. 16 Oregon at 4:00 p.m.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. No. 12 SMU will attempt to stay atop the American standings as they travel to South Florida. While the Mustangs won the first matchup between these two teams at home by 14, they’ve dropped their last two games on the road.

2. A few more American contests are going down as East Carolina travels to UConn and Houston heads to Tulsa. The game between the Cougars and Golden Hurricane is especially interesting because both teams are sitting two games back of SMU and trying to make a move on the postseason.

3. No. 5 Iowa continues the soft part of the schedule as they face Illinois on the road. The Hawkeyes posted recent easy victories over Northwestern and Penn State and will be heavily favored again on Sunday.

4. Could be an intriguing game as No. 17 Miami travels to Georgia Tech. Although the Yellow Jackets aren’t a major contender in the ACC, they’ve been tough this season, especially at home. The Hurricanes fell victim to Georgia Tech last season while they were ranked by Marcus Georges-Hunt has to get back on track after a recent slump for that to happen.

5. There is an Atlantic 10 game that will be featured on NBCSN on Sunday: Saint Louis at St. Bonaventure (2:00 p.m.).

CLICK HERE to watch these games on NBC Sports Live Extra Sunday afternoon.

Illinois State ends No. 21 Wichita State’s 12-game win streak

Fred VanVleet
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.

In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.

And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.

Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.

And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.

This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.