No. 19 New Mexico escapes but will need to be better defending dribble penetration against UMass (VIDEO)

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Entering this weekend’s Charleston Classic as the lone ranked team in the event, the New Mexico Lobos are the team many expect to leave with the trophy on Sunday evening. But the Lobos ran into trouble in the form of the UAB Blazers, whose ability to attack the basket off the dribble in the second half had UNM squarely on the ropes in the game’s final seconds.

But a Kendall Williams runner from about 30 feet out forced overtime and an Alex Kirk three in the final seconds of the first overtime led to a second extra session, and the end result for the Lobos was a hard-fought 97-94 victory. Williams finished the game with 29 points, ten assists and six rebounds, leading four New Mexico players in double figures. Cameron Bairstow added 21 points before fouling out, and Cleveland Thomas knocked down a couple key shots in the extra sessions to keep the Lobos afloat.

Neither team shot all that well, with UNM making just 34.1% of its shots from the field and UAB slightly better at 37.5%, and on an afternoon that saw the Lobos shoot 8-for-38 from beyond the arc they still managed to outscore UAB by nine points in regards to points off of three-pointers. UAB was able to get some things done off the dribble, which may not be evident given their overall field goal percentage, but this wasn’t a conventional game from a statistical standpoint. And no individual stat line epitomizes this more than that of UAB’s Rod Rucker.

Rucker finished the game with 18 points, 20 rebounds and seven assists, which has the appearance of a Herculean effort at first glance. However Rucker did most of his damage (scoring-wise) from the foul line, as his 12-for-13 effort from the charity stripe offset a 3-for-22 afternoon from the field. UAB was well-positioned to pick up a quality non-conference victory on multiple occasions late, but poor defensive execution (and fouling in the act of shooting) left the door open for the Lobos to steal the game. And as a good team would, New Mexico took advantage of the opportunity.

Next up for New Mexico is UMass, whose guards are more than capable of exploiting the issues the Lobos had defending dribble penetration. It can be argued that this is part of the process in adjusting to the new guidelines regarding freedom of movement, but New Mexico will have to adjust quickly if they’re to beat a UMass team that has already knocked off Boston College and LSU and can certainly use another solid non-conference win for their resume thanks in part to BC’s lackluster start.

New Mexico led the Mountain West in defensive efficiency last season, and with four starters back the pieces are there for them to once again be formidable on that end of the floor. And even though a matchup with UMass could prove problematic, it will help them down the line as they look to win another conference title.

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.