Late Night Snacks: Baylor beats Kentucky, UC Santa Barbara proves they are legit

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Baylor 67, Kentucky 62

It didn’t have the atmosphere of a game that was one of the season’s biggest to date since it was played at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, but Baylor announced themselves to the country as a top team. They did it with Kenny Chery, a Junior College transfer in his first season with the program — leading the way. As good as Baylor looked as a team, Kentucky revealed more flaws that need correcting. John Calipari knows this and sees this. It is why he continues to make mention of the work that needs to be done with this Kentucky team. He has his hands full, especially with the tough stretch of games upcoming.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES:

1) On the surface, many will think UC Santa Barbara beating California is an upset. When a team from the Big West knocks off a Pac-12 program, it almost always is one. But, make no mistake about it, this was an upset in name only. The Gauchos are really good, and they have one of the best forwards in the country you may have never heard of — read more here.

2) Pittsburgh continues their dominant ways by handily beating Loyola Marymount, 85-68. The Panthers stay perfect on the season, moving to 9-0. Pittsburgh is good, but when will Jamie Dixon put together a competitive non-conference schedule? Until they face an opponent that truly challenges them — either Stanford or Penn State has been their best opponent — it’s hard to know just how good Pittsburgh is.

3) In an underrated good game of what was otherwise a quiet night, Stephen F. Austin beat Towson, 79-69. The Lumberjacks are now 7-2 on the season; they and Oral Roberts are looking like the two top teams in the Southland Conference.

STARRED

1) If not for Kenny Chery, Baylor loses to Kentucky. He tallied 18 points and five assists, along with hitting a critical shot in the final minute to make it a two-possession game.

2) Alan Williams for UC Santa Barbara missed consecutive games earlier this season due to back spasms. Tonight, against Cal, he was in his usual form beasting opposing frontcourts as he went off for 24 points and 12 rebounds in the win.

3) Conference play in the MAAC has officially begun, and Canisius’ center Jordan Heath had a big night against St. Peter’s totaling 28 point and 10 rebounds in an 82-67 victory.

4) Oklahoma State and Connecticut barely broke a sweat tonight as each cruised to wins over their opponents. The Huskies handled Maine, 95-68, and the Cowboys beat South Carolina, 79-52.

STRUGGLED

1) Jeff Bower hasn’t exactly gotten off to the best start in his second stint as a coach at Marist — nine games and nine losses. The latest one tonight came against Manhattan as the Red Foxes lost 70-59.

2) Fresh off of their 93-81 win over Oregon State, DePaul came out and laid an egg against visiting Arizona State, losing 78-56. As a team, they shot worse than 30% from the field with Cleveland Melvin — hands down their best player — going 2-12.

3) Alex Poythress is an enigma. The 6-foot-8 sophomore received a lot of hype, but hasn’t lived up to it. Once projected to be a surefire lottery pick in the NBA Draft who would most likely leave Kentucky after a year or two, Poythress is no longer going down that road. In the loss to Baylor, he played just six minutes and committed three fouls, while going 0-1 from the field and 0-2 from the line.

Pinson scores career-high 23, UNC holds off Syracuse 78-74

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Theo Pinson scored a career-high 23 points, Joel Berry II added 18, including the tiebreaking layup with 1:36 left, and No. 10 North Carolina held off Syracuse 78-74 on Wednesday night.

North Carolina (22-7, 11-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) has won six straight, but this was the most difficult against a team fighting for its postseason life. Syracuse (18-10, 7-8) was coming off an important road victory over Miami and was teetering on the NCAA Tournament bubble entering the game.

Sterling Manley had 12 points and top scorer Luke Maye had nine points and just three rebounds

Tyus Battle scored 26 points, Frank Howard had 23, and Oshae Brissett had 17 points and 10 rebounds for Syracuse, the 10th double-double of his freshman year.

UNC built a double-digit lead early and every time Syracuse threatened the Tar Heels had an answer. Berry hit a 3 after Battle’s drive had made it a one-possession game, 51-48 with 14:33 left. When Paschal Chukwu lost an offensive rebound seconds later, Pinson roared in for a slam at the other end.

Pinson’s three-point play midway through the half gave UNC a 61-51 lead, but the Orange weren’t through.

Battle’s driving layup moved Syracuse back within 68-64 with 6:32 to go as the season-high crowd of 27,165, largest in the nation this season, shook the Carrier Dome walls.

Another 3 by Berry gave UNC an eight-point edge before the Orange made a final push with an eight-point run to knot the score. Battle scored six of the points, his jumper with 3:05 to go tying it at 74.

After Berry put the Tar Heels ahead, he missed a 3-point attempt from the top of the key, giving the Orange the ball with 32.6 seconds left.

Howard missed a 3-pointer with 17.2 seconds left and Berry’s two free throws iced it.

Carolina had scored 90 or more points 10 times, three times in previous five games.

BIG PICTURE

UNC: With just two games left in the regular season, the Tar Heels are in the hunt for second place in the ACC. They entered the game a half-game behind second-place Duke, which played Louisville later Wednesday. An upcoming five-day break will give UNC a nice respite heading to the postseason. Carolina has 10 wins over current Quadrant I opponents, most in the country.

Syracuse: The Orange still have games against Boston College and two ranked teams — Duke and Clemson — as well as the ACC Tournament to bolster their resume for the postseason.

TOO MANY MEN

UNC used 10 players in the first half and seven scored as its bench held a 13-2 edge over the Orange’s reserves. High scorers were Maye and Manley with 8 apiece, Pinson with 7, and Berry 6. As usual, Battle, Howard and Brissett played every minute of the period for the Orange.

UP NEXT

UNC: The Tar Heels have five days off before they host Miami next Tuesday night.

Syracuse: The Orange travel to play No. 5 Duke on Saturday night.

Hokies continue winning ways, beat No. 15 Clemson 65-58

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BLACKSBURG, Va. — Justin Robinson and Kerry Blackshear Jr. scored 14 points each to lift Virginia Tech to a 65-58 victory over No. 15 Clemson on Wednesday night.

Robinson continued his stellar play of late, scoring in double figures for the 14th time in the past 15 games for the Hokies (20-8, 9-6 ACC), who have won six of their last eight games and moved into a tie for fifth place in the conference standings. Blackshear struggled from the floor, but was 3 for 4 on free throws in the final 33 seconds to preserve the win.

Virginia Tech, which won its third straight over the Tigers (20-7, 9-6), broke open a close game midway through the second half. The Hokies trailed 38-34 after Clemson’s Marcquise Reed hit a 3-pointer with 13:43 remaining, but they went on a 10-0 run punctuated by Ahmed Hill’s layup to take the lead for good.

The Hokies led by as many as 14 with 2:33 left before the Tigers put on a furious rally. They used an 11-2 run to cut the lead to 61-56 on a 3-pointer by Gabe DeVoe with 41 seconds remaining.

Virginia Tech scored the next four points — all from the free-throw line — with Blackshear making 3 of 4 and Chris Clarke 1 of 2, which was just enough as the Tigers missed three 3-pointers in the final 30 seconds.

Reed paced the cold-shooting Tigers, who now have lost three straight games, with 23 points, while Elijah Thomas had his eighth double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Clemson shot just 38.6 percent from the floor (22 of 57).

BIG PICTURE

Clemson: The Tigers are struggling at the worst possible time, and much of their troubles can be blamed on injuries. Donte Grantham (14.2 ppg, 6.9 rpg) is out for the season with a torn ACL and Shelton Mitchell (11.8 ppg, team-best 96 assists) missed his second straight game with a concussion. Clemson plays great defense, but with those two guys out, it needs a scorer to emerge.

Virginia Tech: The Hokies are peaking at just the right time and have put themselves in great position to make the NCAA Tournament for a second straight year. Their win over the Tigers marked their third over a team in the top 10 of the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) and their fourth top-50 win.

UP NEXT

Clemson: The Tigers host Georgia Tech on Saturday.

Virginia Tech: The Hokies host Louisville on Saturday.

Jerome leads No. 1 Virginia past Georgia Tech, 65-54

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Ty Jerome scored 18 points and top-ranked Virginia held off depleted Georgia Tech 65-54 on Wednesday night, clinching the regular season title and top seed next month in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.

The Cavaliers (25-2, 14-1), who also got nine points each from De’Andre Hunter and Mamadi Diakite, led just 31-30 at halftime and didn’t open a double-digit lead until just 5:14 remained.

Ben Lammers scored 22 points to lead the Yellow Jackets (11-17, 4-11), who lost their sixth in a row and 10th in the last 11 games. Tadric Jackson added 15.

Virginia led just 49-45 before Devon Hall hit a pair of free throws and Jerome followed with a 3-pointer, making it 54-45 with 8:46 to play. The Cavaliers finally got it to double figures on a dunk by Diakite that made it 60-49. Their largest lead all night was 12.

The regular-season title is the eighth in Virginia’s history and third in five years.

The ACC Tournament is March 8-10 at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn.

BIG PICTURE

Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets are up against it, having lost their top two freshmen for the rest of the year with injuries, including No. 2 scorer Jose Alvarado (12.1 ppg), but Lammers and Jackson kept them in the game. Sophomore Josh Okogie started the game 50 shy of 1,000 for his career, but missed 7 of 10 shots and scored just seven points. Reinforcements will be appreciated.

Virginia: The Cavaliers were not sharp at either end in their first game in eight days. It could be that their flatness was in part because, after facing the struggling Yellow Jackets, they are to face a team in even worse shape, Pittsburgh.

UP NEXT

The Yellow Jackets face another ranked team on the road, playing at No. 15 Clemson on Saturday.

Virginia goes on the road to face Pittsburgh, which entered the night winless in league play.

Hobbled Keenan Evans can’t help as No. 6 Texas Tech upset by Oklahoma State

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Oklahoma State used a hot-shooting second half to race past No. 6 Texas Tech for a 79-71 Big 12 home win on Wednesday night.

The Cowboys knocked down five consecutive three-pointers and seven straight shots to jump out to a double-digit lead in the second half as they earned the upset win over the Red Raiders. Kendall Smith (21 points), Lindy Waters III (18 points) and Jeffrey Carroll (14 points) supplied most of the offense for Oklahoma State as the team was a blistering 11-for-22 from three-point range.

Although this win gives first-year head coach Mike Boynton another quality effort, the biggest takeaway is how Kansas has regained complete control of the Big 12 thanks to Texas Tech losing its second straight game.

Even though the Jayhawks have lost four games in conference play, while looking beatable at home, they find themselves one game ahead of the Red Raiders ahead of Saturday’s huge Big 12 clash in Lubbock. And it’s all because of a toe injury to Texas Tech All-American senior guard Keenan Evans.

Injured against Baylor over the weekend, Evans hasn’t been able to complete his last two games — both Red Raider losses. Evans only played in 18 minutes of Texas Tech’s loss to Baylor over the weekend as he was 1-for-6 from the field. In the loss to Oklahoma State on Wednesday, Evans attempted to gut it out. It proved to be a mistake as Evans didn’t look ready to play. Evans deserves credit for showing toughness by playing 25 minutes, but he was only 1-for-7 from the field and 0-for-5 from three-point range as he sat out a Texas Tech rally from the bench. As noted in the broadcast, Evans was short on four of his five three-point attempts — which makes you wonder if the toe was hampering him there.

Even with the back-to-back losses, Texas Tech remains a top-10 team and the second best team in the toughest top-to-bottom league in the country. Unfortunately, the Red Raiders have likely lost their chance to win the Big 12 title because of this two-game slide and the injury to Evans. This recent stretch showed just how important Evans has been to Texas Tech this season.

Without its All-American contender in the lineup, Texas Tech dropped two straight games to lower-level Big 12 teams. They haven’t had the same flow on offense. Evans has been brilliant at times this season and he’s perhaps the nation’s most underrated Player of the Year candidate.

The timing of the injury also makes you wonder how Evans might look over the next week of play when the Red Raiders have two more difficult games. Texas Tech has to follow up these two losses with games against Kansas and on the road at West Virginia. The end of the regular season doesn’t get any easier. If Evans shows any more lingering issues then Texas Tech could continue a slide that sees them finish behind West Virginia in the standings heading into the Big 12 tournament.

It’s unfortunate that such a promising conference season could be derailed by a toe, but that is what Texas Tech is currently dealing with heading into the final stretch of the regular season. The Red Raiders might have potentially lost the Big 12 regular-season race, but they can still close out the season in strong fashion in the postseason if Evans can regain his health and his prior form.

Marshall helps No. 4 Xavier beat Georgetown 89-77

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WASHINGTON — Naji Marshall scored a career-high 21 points and No. 4 Xavier beat Georgetown 89-77 on Wednesday night, bouncing back from its loss to No. 3 Villanova.

J.P. Macura added 20 points, including four 3-pointers, while Quentin Goodin had 19 points as the Musketeers (25-4, 13-3 Big East) swept the season series with Georgetown for the second straight season.

Xavier’s leading scorer Trevon Bluiett scored a season low two points on 1 for 10 shooting in 23 minutes. Xavier has now won five straight road games.

Jamorko Pickett tied a career high with 21 points to lead Georgetown (15-11, 5-10) while Jessie Govan added 15 points and 11 rebounds. Pickett made a career high six 3-pointers.

Xavier trailed 40-38 at the half but used a 12-0 run to take a 59-50 lead with 12 minutes remaining. Georgetown closed to 63-58 on a Jahvon Blair 3-pointer but the Hoyas never drew closer.

Blair finished with 12 points for Georgetown while Kaleb Johnson added 11.

Xavier outrebounded Georgetown 38-29 including an 11-6 edged on the offensive glass.

BIG PICTURE

Xavier: The Musketeers kept pace with Villanova for the top seed in the conference as well as kept alive their shot at being a top seed in the NCAA Tournament with the victory.

Georgetown: The Hoyas fell to 0-4 against Top 25 teams this season and have lost seven straight against ranked opposition going back to last season.

UP NEXT

Xavier: Musketeers have a week off before hosting Providence on Feb. 28 in their final home game of the season.

Georgetown: Hosts Providence on Saturday and then Marquette on Monday to close out their home slate of games.