Tyler Ennis

Tyler Ennis, C.J. Fair help No. 2 Syracuse survive an upset bid from St. John’s

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St. John’s trailed by a dozen at halftime  to No. 2 Syracuse. But in the second half, the Red Storm were able to attack the Orange defense, while containing freshman point guard Tyler Ennis (21 points) on the other end.

The Red Storm played a spirited second half, erasing a what was a 13-point deficit to take the lead on several occasions. However, the undefeated Orange took the Johnnies best shot and countered with some late-game play-making by Ennis and clutch shot-making from senior forward C.J. Fair (21 points) to hold on and avoid the upset, leaving Madison Square Garden with a 68-63 win.

St. John’s took a 60-58 lead with under six to play, but Ennis proved that he is a point guard beyond his years in the final five minutes.

The Cuse point guard had 13 points in the first, which helped the Orange take a double-digit lead. The majority of the second half was a different story. The freshmen was held in check, along with back court mate Trevor Cooney (0 points, 0-for-3 from three). The St. John’s defense clawed back into the game by limiting Ennis’ production on offense by keeping him out of the lane.

If you watched Ennis this season, you can tell, he as poised a point guard as they come, and despite struggling for much of the second half he was able to regroup and make the plays to keep his team unbeaten.

He tie the score with a pair of free throws, and after being kept of the lane, Ennis found himself in the paint once again, this time for the scoop and the 62-60 lead. And if it wasn’t Ennis making the plays, it was Fair coming up with the big shots. After Fair hit a turnaround jumper to make it a two-possession game, Fair popped out towards the baseline and received a perfectly-placed pass from Ennis for the shot and the 66-61 lead. Ennis added two more free throws with under a minute to play.

While Ennis and Fair executed down the stretch for Cuse, St. John’s came away empty-handed more times than not. The Red Storm went 0-for-5 from the field, and missed three free throws, while Cuse took a seven-point edge.

It wasn’t his best game, and he certainly looked like a freshman at points during the second half. But Ennis shook off the second half struggles and bounced back. Coupled with the leadership and experience of Fair and the duo made big plays, in big moments to improve to 10-0.

Ennis may not have the pro potential as other highly-touted freshmen, but his impact rivals any first-year player’s this season.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.