Thursday’s Shootaround: Akron lands year’s first upset

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No. 16 Arizona 67, Duquesne 59: Josiah Turner showed up late for a shootaround Wednesday afternoon, and that gave Jordin Mayes the start over him. That decision would end up being a blessing in disguise for Arizona, as Mayes scored 16 of his 19 points in the second half and sparked a late 12-0 run that gave Arizona a 61-48 lead. The Wildcats would go on to win 67-59, but the lead certainly wasn’t safe; Arizona had one stretch where they turned the ball over on four straight possessions while trying to put the game away.

In fact, Arizona finished the game with 21 turnovers, the most they’ve had in a game since February of 2010. And that’s where there conundrum of Jordin Mayes comes into play. For the second straight game, Mayes provided Arizona with the spark they needed to blow the game open; on Monday, he scored eight straight points to give the Wildcats control against Valparaiso. The problem? Mayes isn’t a pure point guard. After Wednesday’s game, Mayes now has one assist and three turnovers in Arizona’s first two games. Last season, he averaged just 1.2 apg despite playing 14.3 mpg.

He may be the best option at the point right now. Josiah Turner has loads of talent, but he has even more learning — and maturing — to do before he gets to the point that he can maximize that talent. Decision-making is not Turner’s strong suit. (Seriously, how do you show up late to the shootaround for the second game of the season?) Nick Johnson is talented and can be a playmaker, but he’s not a point guard. Kyle Fogg is the leader for this team, but he, too, is not a point guard. Mayes is the best option, but if Turner is able to put it all together this year, it will be interesting to see what, exactly, Sean Miller does with his back court rotation.

St. John’s 78, Lehigh 73: You would have thought that the surprising return of Steve Lavin, who is still recovering from treatment for prostate cancer, would be enough of an emotional boost to get St. John’s to come out on all cylinders on Wednesday night. Instead, it was Lehigh that had the hot hand early, knocking down their first five three pointers and eventually surging to a 32-16 lead. But like they did on Monday night, the Johnnies used a pressuring defense to create turnovers and get opportunities in the full court, where their athleticism took over. A 12-0 run cut the lead to 60-58 with five minutes left before God’sgift Achiuwa gave the Johnnies the lead for good with a running hook with under two minutes remaining.

Achiuwa finished with 21 points and eight boards — going 6-6 from the field and 9-9 from the free throw line — and Nurideen Lindsay and Moe Harkless both chipped in with 15 points.

This win was a good sign for St. John’s. Lehigh is not a bad basketball team. They have one of the best mid-major players in the country in CJ McCollum and came out completely unphased by St. John’s pressure. The Johnnies were able to regroup, made a comeback and then made enough plays in crunch time to win the game. No one — not even the most die hard St. John’s fan — should truly expect this team to contest for an NCAA Tournament bid this season. I don’t care is this game was at home and against an over-matched opponent, seeing such a young team rally from 14 points down and win a game when they didn’t play well for 30 minutes is a good sign.

Akron 68, Mississippi State 58: I touched on Renardo Sidney here, but there is more to this loss than just The Big Enigma.

Arnett Moultrie grabbed 15 rebounds (seven offensive), which was nice, but he shot 2-13 from the floor, many of which were shots around the rim. Granted, a lot of that can be attributed to the defensive presence of Akron’s Zeke Marshall, but that shooting percentage is still a problem. Dee Bost also had a tough game. He finished with 13 points, he was just 2-9 from the floor and 1-6 from three, he had four of Mississippi State’s 19 turnovers and he played far too quickly for a guy that is a point guard on a team with a terrific front line. And all you have to do is search Rick Stansbury on twitter to get a feel for his coaching job.

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But the biggest thing you should take away from this game? Akron’s pretty good, bro! They played very well defensively, forcing Mississippi State into some ugly offensive possessions. They not only forced turnovers, they created ‘pick six’ turnovers — jumping passing lanes and making open court steals that led directly to easy buckets at the other end. Zeke Marshall made things very difficult in the lane before he fouled out, Alex Abreu was a terror defensively (six steals), Quincy Diggs scored 19 points and made a lot of plays in transition and Nikola Cvetinovic made a lot of little plays that don’t show up in the score book.

Akron is a well-coached, experienced team coming off of a trip to the NCAA Tournament. This loss is not a good sign for Mississippi State, but its also not as bad as it looks on paper.

No. 19 Texas A&M 81, Liberty 59: This game was over early. Despite playing without head coach Billy Kennedy, who was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s, the Aggies were stifling defensively early on, holding the Flames to just 14 first half points. They shot 65.4% from the floor for the game and cruised to the win. Ray Turner was great, scoring 20 points on 9-11 shooting while Elston Turner and David Loubeau chipped in with 16 and 14, respectively. The best news? The Aggies were this impressive despite getting only 10 minutes from Khris Middleton, who left the game with a hamstring injury and is currently day-to-day.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.