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St. John’s continues late charge towards NCAA tournament berth

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At 0-5 in the Big East the St. John’s Red Storm looked like a team unsure of its individual roles and how they fit within the team concept, and despite their individual talent Steve Lavin’s team didn’t look like a group capable of turning things around. But a switch was flipped, and the Red Storm have now won eight of their last nine games after beating Georgetown 82-60 at Madison Square Garden.

D’Angelo Harrison and Rysheed Jordan scored 24 points apiece to lead the way, with Harrison’s three-pointer with 10:29 remaining ending a 17-4 Georgetown run and pushing the Red Storm advantage back out to ten points. Clearly Harrison’s shot was a big moment in the game, and without it maybe the Hoyas continue their charge.

In regards to the St. John’s rotation becoming more comfortable in its individual roles, Jordan’s the player who has made the most progress. Sunday’s scoring effort represents a season-high for the freshman, and during this current run his decision-making has improved substantially. Jordan committed just one turnover, and over the last four games he has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.75.

The understanding of roles has been critical for St. John’s but so has their improved effort on the defensive end of the floor. During this nine-game stretch just four opponents have averaged at least one point per possession, with Georgetown (1.00) barely reaching the mark. Having a shot blocker like Chris Obekpa protecting the rim certainly helps matters, but the improved defense has been a team effort. The Red Storm are playing harder and applying more pressure to the basketball, which has resulted in fewer quality looks for the opposition.

With their best non-conference win coming at the expense of San Francisco, the Red Storm do have work to do in regards to playing their way into the NCAA tournament. But they’ll have opportunities, with games against Villanova, Xavier and Marquette remaining on the schedule. And given their improved play and understanding of what needs to be done, St. John’s has hope, something that couldn’t be said a month ago.

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:

VIDEO: Buddy Hield is ‘all money’ on game-winning three vs. No. 24 Texas

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) takes a shot over Oklahoma State forward Chris Oliver during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.

At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes

“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:

“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”

“It’s all money.”

Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.

Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .

Want to talk about coaching luxuries?

Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.