Aaron Bowen

Kansas’ second-half surge against Georgetown shows how good they can be

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Later in the season we’ll all surely have a laugh about how Kansas was once the No. 18 team in the country. This Jayhawks team is far too talented for that ranking and showed how good they can be during a monster second-half surge in its 86-64 win over Georgetown on Saturday afternoon.

The Jayhawks played well in the first half and showed how great their defense can be, as they held Georgetown to without a field goal for over 10 minutes, but in the second half, the Jayhawks completely dominated every facet of the game on their way to the easy home victory.

Although Andrew Wiggins (12 points, 3-10 from the field) didn’t have a great game on the offensive end, others stepped up in his place, led by freshman big man Joel Embiid and reserve big Tarik Black. Embiid went for 17 points and eight rebounds while Black, the senior Memphis transfer, hadn’t scored in four straight games before unleashing his best game as a Jayhawk on Saturday, going for 17 points, six rebounds and two blocks.

With Perry Ellis leaving the game in the first half after taking an elbow to the head, Embiid, Black and Jamari Traylor (eight points, seven rebounds) all stepped up and played very well on the interior for Kansas and the three combined to go 12-for-12 from the field on Saturday as they made life for Georgetown’s bigs miserable.

Georgetown big men Joshua Smith, Nate Lubick and Moses Ayegba all fouled out during the game and none of them were particularly productive, in-part because of the depth and athleticism that Kansas has on the interior. Even without Ellis in the second half, the Jayhawks had tremendous production from Embiid, Black and Traylor and even got some minutes for freshman Landen Lucas late in the first half, as he registered two points, two rebounds and a block in limited minutes. It just shows how deep Kansas is on the interior going forward and it should help them protect the rim and rebound against any opponent in the country.

Credit is also due to Kansas’ perimeter defense. Wiggins might not have had a stellar offensive afternoon, but he did a nice job on the defensive end making it tough for D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera (12 points, 4-9 shooting) while Naadir Tharpe (10 points, four assists) had a solid afternoon on both ends of the floor.

In the second half in particular, with Georgetown’s bigs struggling with foul trouble, Wiggins, Tharpe and company really buckled down on the defensive end by putting pressure on the ball and making it very difficult for Georgetown to feel any comfort running half-court sets.

The Hoyas are going to need to figure out how to play with Joshua Smith against a team as big and athletic as Kansas going forward, because Smith was a complete non-factor. The Jayhawk bigs did pretty much whatever they wanted on the interior when Smith was in the game, as Smith had only five points and zero rebounds during a tough afternoon in which he couldn’t defend anybody without fouling. Georgetown needed either Lubick or Smith to step up and ease the burden on Smith-Rivera, Jabril Trawick and Markel Starks (19 points) and they’ll need more production out of their frontcourt as Big East play nears.

Johnson, Paige help No. 9 Tar Heels roll past Panthers 85-64

North Carolina's Isaiah Hicks (4) dunks against Pittsburgh during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
AP Photo/Gerry Broome
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) Brice Johnson scored 19 points to lead a dominating offensive performance that helped No. 9 North Carolina beat Pittsburgh 85-64 on Sunday.

Marcus Paige added 15 points for the Tar Heels (21-4, 10-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who shot 59 percent to stay atop the league ahead of the next renewal of their fierce rivalry with Duke.

UNC had plenty of balance, shared the ball and got out in transition in arguably their best performance in weeks, using a 13-0 second-half burst to blow the game open. UNC finished with 26 assists on 32 baskets, 24 points off turnovers and scored 16 fast-break points after managing a combined five in the past two games.

Michael Young and James Robinson each scored 15 points to lead Pitt (17-7, 6-6). But the Panthers shot 37 percent and committed 19 turnovers, and a strong effort on the glass did little to offset their troubles.

The Tar Heels were playing their first home game in two weeks after a difficult three-game road trip that started with losses at Louisville and Notre Dame. Then came Tuesday’s game at Boston College, where the Tar Heels struggled against a winless league team then had a scare when Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams briefly collapsed in a second-half huddle after an attack of vertigo and had to leave the sideline for the rest of the game.

Williams was back in the office on Wednesday’s off day, returned to practice Thursday and told reporters Friday he was fine and even cracked jokes about a two-decade history with vertigo dating to his Kansas years.

Getting back home certainly helped everyone feel better. After wrestling with shooting struggles for much of the past month, UNC’s offense kicked back into an efficient and balanced gear, while Paige – the player the Tar Heels are practically begging to jolt free from a prolonged shooting slump – looked more like his old self against the Panthers.

That included one second-half play in which he caught a crosscourt pass from Theo Pinson in transition and made sure to step back behind the arc before burying a 3-pointer.

The Panthers had lost three of four since a 5-2 league start coming in, including 65-63 on a late tip-in at No. 12 Miami on Tuesday. And Pitt again had trouble getting their offense going, failing to crack 70 points for the third straight game.

TIP-INS

Pittsburgh: Second-leading scorer Jamel Artis scored five points on 2-for-8 shooting. … Pitt finished with a 41-29 rebounding advantage. … Pitt made 9 of 21 3-point attempts.

UNC: Justin Jackson scored 14 points. … UNC made 8 of 15 shots from 3-point range and 13 of 15 free throws. … Jackson and Pinson had six assists each. … UNC managed just one offensive rebound.

UP NEXT

Pittsburgh hosts Wake Forest on Tuesday.

UNC hosts Duke on Wednesday.

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Denzel Valentine dominant as No. 8 Michigan State whips Indiana

Michigan State's Denzel Valentine (45) shoots over Indiana's Kevin Yogi Ferrell during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
AP Photo/Al Goldis
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Trailing by one point at the half, Indiana appeared to be in good shape at No. 8 Michigan State. However the fact that they were unable to slow down Denzel Valentine, who scored 15 first-half points, was a major concern for Tom Crean’s Hoosiers. Sure enough the national Player of the Year candidate continued on his tour de force in the second half, scoring another 15 points and dishing out seven assists as the Spartans rolled to an 88-69 victory.

For the game Valentine finished with 30 points, five rebounds, 13 assists and just one turnover. Of Michigan State’s 48 second half points, Valentine had a hand in 29 of them with all seven of his assists resulting in Michigan State layups. It was a dominant performance from one of the nation’s best players, a versatile guard whose four games missed due to injury may have led to some overlooking him when it comes to those national Player of the Year conversations.

When Valentine’s on everything else flows smoothly for Tom Izzo’s team, as his ability to both score and create results in quality looks for teammates who would struggle if they had to get that part of the job done themselves.

The biggest beneficiary Sunday afternoon was forward Matt Costello, who finished the game with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Of Costello’s ten made field goals (10-for-12 FG) five were assisted by Valentine, and he accounted for 13 points and seven rebounds in the second half. As a team Michigan State shot 63.3 percent from the field and assisted on 16 of their 19 made field goals in the second half, turning a tight contest into a blowout.

Tum Tum Nairn returned the court for the first time in seven games, but he played just two minutes and his time on the court will be managed carefully by Izzo moving forward. For many teams not having your point guard at full strength would represent a crippling blow, but that hasn’t been the case for Michigan State thanks in large part to Valentine. Michigan State went 4-3 in those seven games without Nairn, but the three losses were by a total of three points.

Valentine’s ability to make his teammates better will be a key factor down the stretch for Michigan State, and that skill was what led to the Spartans blowing out Indiana on Sunday.