A broken foot failed to derail C.J. McCollum’s trek to the lottery

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Through 12 games in the 2012-13 season, Lehigh senior guard C.J. McCollum had done nothing to dispel the notion that he was one of the nation’s best players. With averages of 23.9 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game to that point in the season, McCollum was leading the country in scoring and well on his way to earning All-America honors for the second consecutive season (AP Honorable Mention as a junior).

That all came to a halt in a January 5 game at VCU, with McCollum suffering a broken bone in his left foot. While there was some hope that the Canton, Ohio native could possibly return to the floor in March, as Patriot League play progressed it became apparent that McCollum would not be ready to rejoin his teammates on the floor.

“Once we started getting towards the end of the regular season when we were losing time of competitive basketball our focus shifted,” Lehigh head coach Dr. Brett Reed said in a phone interview with NBC Sports.

“When it became apparent that it would not be in his best interest to come back for the Patriot League tournament, then immediately we transitioned to the idea of ‘let’s utilize the additional time and allow him to be healthy for the wonderful things he has in store career-wise beyond Lehigh basketball.'”

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The recovery process isn’t solely about a player getting his body back to full strength. It’s also about taking full advantage of the newly-found time to evaluate his game from a different perspective. McCollum did this through the use of both “mental reps” and spending even more time evaluating himself on tape, and he learned some valuable lessons.

“I broke down a lot of film while I was injured. I always broke down a lot of film when I was playing, but now I had more free time to analyze things with my coaching staff and become a player-coach,” McCollum said in a phone interview with NBC Sports.

In addition to being able to break down defensive schemes and also work to perfect his shooting form, McCollum also made strides to be an even better leader than he was before the injury. McCollum credited Dr. Reed for his continued progression as a leader both on and off the court.

“Coach Reed’s so mature beyond his years in terms of knowing the game and really breaking down the important parts of not only being a successful basketball player, but being a good person off the court as well,” said McCollum.  “That’s what he’s really done with me, just making sure I’m doing the right things off the court and continuing to develop my leadership skills.”

The idea of McCollum playing the point may be something that concerns those unfamiliar with his game and what he was asked to do at Lehigh. But to attempt to place McCollum into a particular “box” would be a mistake, as he certainly needed to be a playmaker for the Mountain Hawks.

“He’s been very involved with our program as a creator, both for his own scoring opportunities and for others with the way we would utilize him in ‘pick and roll’ basketball,” noted Dr. Reed. “Often he was our leading rebounder, which allowed him to start our fast break as well. So he was in a number of those positions [which allowed him] to utilize those skill sets.”

How did McCollum reach the point of being able to take on such responsibilities from a skill standpoint?

Hard work first and foremost, and some credit should also be given to a coaching staff that has experienced professional basketball in both the NBA and overseas.

“That was huge,” said McCollum when asked how this impacted his development. “Coach [Ryan] Krueger is one of the guys who came from the NBA (former video coordinator for the Nets), and he’s able to break down film on another level; he’s kind of perfected it and just knows the ins and outs of ‘pick and roll’ basketball.

“And coach [Antoni] Wyche, he actually played overseas and was a four-year starter at Notre Dame. He’s gone through it, so I can touch base with him and pick his brain about what it’s like to become a professional and what it takes to get there.”

For some players, suffering an injury that ended their collegiate career would be enough to send their draft stock in the wrong direction. That hasn’t been the case for McCollum, and while some may point towards his showings in pre-draft workouts the fact of the matter is that this process has been ongoing for quite some time.

And when his name is called on June 27, the moment will be one that’s been four years in the making for both McCollum and Lehigh.

Raphielle can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

No. 2 Duke goes inside to defeat No. 11 Syracuse

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OMAHA, Neb. — Second-seeded Duke made just 5 of its 26 3-point attempts against No. 11 Syracuse on Friday in the two ACC programs’ Sweet 16 matchup.

So the Blue Devils just went inside.

Marvin Bagley III and Wendel Carter, Jr. both had big games to help the Blue Devils outlast the Orange, 69-65, to put themselves in the Elite Eight on Sunday against top-seeded Kansas.

While Duke couldn’t beat the zone that took Syracuse from the First Four to the second weekend with its outside shooting, its two big underclassmen provided plenty of production. Bagley had 22 points and eight rebounds while Carter added 14 points and 12 boards.

Tyus Battle had 19 points to lead the Orange.

Syracuse shot 53.8 percent from the floor in the second half while Duke shot 36.4 percent, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Orange’s 16 turnovers or Duke’s 17 second-chance points.

Grayson Allen had 15 points and eight assists for Duke. The Blue Devils had 32 points in the paint.


VIDEO: Allen-to-Bagley oop beats the Syracuse zone

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Usually, you’ve got to shoot a team out of a zone.

Duke might be able to dunk Syracuse out of it.

Grayson Allen and Marvin Bagley connected for a beautiful alley-oop Friday in the second half of the Blue Devils’ Sweet 16 contest against the Orange.

That will work as a zone-buster.

VIDEO: Duke slaps the floor on defense…while playing zone

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Slapping the floor on defense has its advocates and its detractors.

Some applaud the old-school, hard-nosed nature of putting hand to floor. For others, its a bit corny.

What everyone agrees on is that you don’t drop a floor slap if you’re playing zone.

Unless you’re Duke, apparently.

Presumably, the whole point of slapping the floor is to psyche yourself and intimidate your opponent with aggressive man-to-man defense. Not sit-back-and-guard-this-spot-whether-there’s-a-guy-there-or-not defense.

C’mon, Duke. You’re making it too easy for your haters.


Late run sparks Villanova past West Virginia, into Elite Eight

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BOSTON — It is always just a matter of time before the avalanche comes.

And when it does, you better hope that lead you have is big enough to withstand what’s coming.

For No. 5-seed West Virginia, it was not. With 11 minutes left on Friday night in Boston’s TD Garden, the Mountaineers led 60-54 and had seemingly wrestled control of the game from the No. 1-seed in the East Region. Less than five minutes later, after the Wildcats hit four of their next five threes, Villanova had taken a 76-66 lead by going on a 22-6 run, and West Virginia was never able to recover.

Jalen Brunson led the way for the top-seeded Wildcats with 27 points and four assists while Omari Spellman finished with 18 points, eight boards and three blocks and Mikal Bridges chipped in with 16 points despite playing relatively poorly — by his standards — on Friday.

With a 90-78 win, Villanova advanced to the Elite Eight and a date with the winner of tonight’s game No. 2 Purdue-No. 3 Texas Tech.

That’s the way that it works with this Villanova team. Armed with the most potent, high-volume three-point shooting attack in college basketball — maybe in the history of college basketball — fans of their opponents are just waiting for the inevitable.

On Friday night, Villanova shot 13-for-24 from three, which is damned-impressive and exactly what we expect at the same time.

But what changed the game was that 22-6 run that eventually turned into a 29-11 surge.

And it all started with a free throw.

Brunson drew a foul on Lamont West — a common theme for the Wildcats in the second half — and got to the foul line with 10:58 left on the clock. After he missed the second free throw, Spellman knocked the rebound out of bounds off of Esa Ahmad. Brunson against drew a foul, this time earning an and-one. A missed jumper from Beetle Bolden led to two Eric Paschall free throws before Jalen Brunson someone managed to find Mikal Bridges for a three that gave the Wildcats the lead and led to what might have been the most important sequence of the game.

Spellman spiked a Bolden shot straight down into the floor and then corralled the loose ball. He found Phil Booth with an outlet, and after a missed layup, Spellman beat everyone else down the floor for a massive tip-dunk that set off the Villanova-favored crowd:

“We expect that of him,” Brunson said of Spellman. “He’s supposed to play at a high level every game.”

After that stretch, Villanova threw it into cruise control. That West Virginia defense that had bothered them so much for the first 30 minutes of the game seemed to be nothing more than a mild annoyance, a little brother batting at the ball as the Wildcats pulled away. First it was Donte Divincenzo — who was flat-out bad, the player that was most-victimized by West Virginia’s pressure — hitting a three to push the lead to six. Then after two West Virginia free throws, Brunson dribbled Jevon Carter into the post before kicking the ball out to Spellman for a three. Paschall would dunk on Sagaba Konate the next time the Wildcats had the ball before Brunson capped the run by drilling a step-back three in the face of Carter.

Once that happened, everyone knew the end result was inevitable.

“We got used to the physicality, we got used to the aggressiveness, and we were executing better,” head coach Jay Wright said. “We thought that was going to be the case. You just can’t simulate that, you know. You got to just get in that game and feel it.”

“I have so much respect for the way West Virginia plays, how physical, how relentless they play, how mentally tough they are. Really, you’ve got guys, they don’t talk any junk. A little with Konate and Omari got into it a little bit, no biggie, but the whole game, they don’t say anything. They just come at you physically, aggressively, and mentally tough. So if you’re not better in those areas, they’re going to get you. And to see our guys come out, more to be able to compete with them physically and mentally, it was really impressive to me.”

Me, too.

VIDEO: Omari Spellman, Eric Paschall with mammoth dunks for Villanova

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Villanova took the lead on West Virginia and turned the tide of momentum with a pair of emphatic dunks in transition.

It started with Omari Spellman, who had an unbelievable sequence, spiking a shot into the floor before throwing down a put-back dunk all over a defender:

A couple of possessions later, Eric Paschall finally did the impossible.

He dunked on Sagaba Konate:

I am having way too much fun at this game.