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Kyle Wiltjer helps Kentucky outlast Tennessee to get bounce-back win

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There were some warranted questions in Lexington after Elston Turner came into Rupp Arena and dropped 40 points on Kentucky in an 83-71 Texas A&M win Saturday.

Needing a bounce-back win it was the Kentucky backcourt, but not freshman Archie Goodwin, who gave the Wildcats a push late.

Transfer Julius Mays hit back-to-back three-pointers in the final five minutes of regulation to spark Kentucky late, on its way to a 75-65 win at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky.

After Mays’ threes extended the Kentucky lead to six points with 4:23 remaining, the Wildcats focused on the interior and sophomore Kyle Wiltjer. Wiltjer’s 10 first-half points buoyed Kentucky in the first half, but his five points in the final three minutes helped to seal it down the stretch.

Wiltjer finished with 17 points and five rebounds.

Nerlens Noel went without a point in the first half, but stepped up on both the offensive and defensive ends in the second half. His 12 second-half points on 5-of-7 overall shooting exploited a lack of size on the interior for Tennessee that struggled with Jarnell Stokes and Yemi Makanjuola in foul trouble.

Noel also blocked six shots and grabbed nine rebounds.

But, for the second game in a row, Kentucky showed that it has difficulties defensively slowing down an active wing scorer on the perimeter. It was Turner’s 40 on Saturday and, come Tuesday, Tennessee’s Jordan McRae.

McRae scored 23 points on 8-of-18 shooting and was Tennessee’s only go-to scoring option down the stretch when it needed points the most. His two free throws with 3:51 remaining pulled the Volunteers to within four points, 64-60, but that is as close as they would get in the final minutes.

Stokes, the Volunteers’ biggest asset on the interior against Kentucky freshmen Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein, struggled through foul trouble.

He picked up his third foul with 18:41 remaining in the second half, forcing him to the bench. Upon his return, he picked up his fourth with 12:25 remaining. With the foul trouble, Stokes struggled to just four points on 2-of-5 shooting.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Syracuse upsets No. 18 UConn as Tyler Lydon stars again

St Bonaventure Syracuse Basketball
AP Photo/Heather Ainsworth
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Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney combined for 34 points as Syracuse overcame an early 10-point deficit to knock off No. 18 UConn in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis, 79-76.

The talking point at the end of this game is probably going to end up being UConn’s decision not to foul Syracuse with 36 seconds left on the clock. Trevor Cooney dribbled out the clock and, with six seconds left, missed a 35-foot prayer, the offensive rebound getting corralled by Tyler Roberson, sealing the win.

But that’s not the real story here.

That would be Tyler Lydon, who suddenly looks like he may end up being the difference maker for this Syracuse team.

If you don’t know the name, I don’t blame you. Lydon was a low-end top 100 recruit that had been committed to the Orange for a long time. He’s not exactly a game-changing prospect, but he’s a perfect fit for Syracuse. At 6-foot-9, Lydon has the length to be a shot-blocker in the middle of the 2-3 zone — he entered Thursday averaging 3.3 blocks — but his biggest skill is his ability to shoot the ball from beyond the arc. When he plays the middle of that zone, when he is essentially the five for the Orange, they become incredibly difficult to matchup with defensively.

The question is whether or not he can consistently be that guy on the defensive end of the floor. Against UConn, Lydon had 16 points and 12 boards. Against Charlotte, he finished with 18 points, eight boards and six blocks. But neither the Huskies nor the 49ers have a big front line that crashes the offensive glass.

Lydon is great at using his length to make shots in the lane difficult, but at (a generous) 205 pounds, he may run into trouble against bigger, stronger front court players.

The perfect test?

Texas A&M, who the Orange will play in the title game on Friday.

USC holds on to beat No. 20 Wichita State

Andy Enfield
Associated Press
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With guards Fred VanVleet and Landry Shamet both sidelined due to injury, No. 20 Wichita State arrived at the Advocare Invitational shorthanded. But even with that being the case the highly successful Shockers represented quite the opportunity for USC, and Thursday afternoon the Trojans took advantage.

Despite turning the ball over 23 times Andy Enfield’s team found a way to win, hanging on to beat the Shockers by the final score of 72-69. Freshman forward Bennie Boatwright, a tough matchup for most teams as a 6-foot-10 stretch forward who can score from the perimeter, shot 5-for-9 from three and scored a team-high (and career-high) 22 points.

The tandem of he and junior Nikola Jovanovic, who added 14 points and 11 rebounds, outplayed the Wichita State front court on a day in which the Shockers needed greater contributions from those players. Add in 15 points and four assists from Jordan McLaughlin, ten points off the bench from Katin Reinhardt and a 12-for-23 afternoon from three, and the Trojans were able to do enough to make up for their high turnover count and Wichita State’s 24 points off of turnovers.

Given the absence of VanVleet and Shamet there’s no reason to panic regarding Wichita State. Ron Baker, who was exhausted by the end of the game due to the heavy load he was asked to shoulder, scored a game-high 25 points and the play of freshman Markis McDuffie was a positive to build on.

McDuffie, who entered Thursday’s game without a made field goal in his first two appearances as a Shocker, shot 5-for-9 from the field and contributed 14 points and three rebounds off the bench. With their current perimeter rotation being what it is McDuffie will have opportunities to contribute, and the Shockers will need him to take advantage as they await the returns of VanVleet and Shamet (and the addition of Conner Frankamp).

Doing so will not only help Wichita State in the short term but in the long-term as well, thus giving Gregg Marshall another option to call upon on his bench.

Thursday’s outcome, even with the desire to see more from Anton Grady (eight points, seven rebounds), says more about USC at this point in time than Wichita State. Enfield’s first two seasons at the helm were about amassing the talent needed to compete in the Pac-12 while also gaining valuable (and at times painful) experience. In year three the Trojans hope to take a step forward within the conference, and wins like this one provide evidence of the program’s growth.