Belmont’s struggling, but it can win a tourney game

0 Comments

NASHVILLE, Tenn – Belmont’s chances of getting an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament died a long time ago. If it wasn’t when the Bruins came up short in their upset bids at Duke and at Memphis, then it was when they had a stretch of three losses in four games against the likes of Marshall, Miami OH and Middle Tennessee State.

When you play in a conference like the Atlantic Sun, you can’t lose three games to teams that have no shot of getting an at-large bid and still expect the committee to call your name come Selection Sunday without your league’s auto-bid. You just can’t.

But that doesn’t mean that the Bruins are incapable of winning a game in the NCAA Tournament. It doesn’t mean that they have no shot of making it to the second weekend, something that a lot of folks had speculated was possible back in October. And while losing to Lipscomb at the Curb Center after blowing a 12 point lead in the final 12 minutes is going to sting, it certainly doesn’t alter the talent level on this team.

As the saying goes, in a rivalry game, you can throw the records out.

“I felt that the team that wanted to win, and played the hardest, won the game tonight,” Belmont head coach Rick Byrd said after the game. “Their kids deserve a great deal of credit. They made hustle plays. They got loose balls, offensive rebounds, and long rebounds. I told our team that the team that plays hard, the breaks seem to fall their way.”

“This was an upset, based on where the teams were at the time, and how they’ve played to this point, but they outplayed us and deserved to win.”

Frankly, Byrd is probably right when he calls this game an upset.

Coming in, Lipscomb was 6-9 on the season and 2-2 in conference play. They had lost five of their last six games, including a 21 point drubbing at North Florida on Wednesday, and while this was technically a road game for the Bison, it was the first time they had played a game in Nashville in exactly one month to the day.

It was also the best game that Lipscomb has played all season long. The Bison put six players in double figures, led by 17 points from Jacob Arnett, 16 points from Jordan Burgason and the best all-around performance of Justin Glenn’s career — 14 points on 5-6 shooting, 10 boards, six assists, five blocks and four steals.

It was Arnett and freshman Deonte Alexander who sparked a 28-6 Lipscomb run to close the game. Alexander, in particular, had a big finish to the game, scoring eight points in a four minute span that included a banked-in 28 footer that gave Lipscomb their first lead of the second half with 3:53 left in the game.

“He told me he called it,” Lipscomb coach Scott Sanderson said after the game, which Alexander, who gave the rowdy Belmont student section the double three-goggles as he hopped back down court, immediately confirmed: “I did.”

As well as Lipscomb played, this was a bit of a fluky loss for the Bruins. Outside of Ian Clark — who was simply outstanding, finishing with 28 points (including seven threes), six boards and five assists — no one on Belmont played well. Their front line of Scott Saunders and Mick Hedgepeth got out-muscled by the burly Justin Glenn, finishing with a combined 11 points and nine points. They came in averaging 19.3 ppg and 12.0 rpg combined.

“They were collapsing on them as soon as they caught it, so we had to hope to get some in and out scoring,” Byrd said. “When we’ve got Mick out there, his man would double, and we didn’t take advantage of that with him cutting to the basket like we could have.”

And while I’m sure Glenn would love for me to give all of the credit for those struggles to his play defensively, the fact of the matter is that Lipscomb’s game-plan had just as much to do with that performance as anything. Every single time that Hedgepeth and Saunders touched the ball on the block, they got double-teamed. Neither of them would get put in the same sentence as, say, Chris Webber for their ability to find open teammates out of the post, but both Hedgepeth and Saunders are certainly capable of recognizing and finding the open man.

They did a solid job of that on Friday night as well.

The problem?

No one on Belmont’s perimeter was able to finish the open opportunities they got as a result of that ball-movement. JJ Mann was 4-14 from the floor and 2-11 from three. Kerron Johnson, who is one of the more exciting point guards in the country to watch, was 4-15 from the floor and 0-5 from three. In fact, if you take away the 8-15 that Clark shot and the 7-11 that he made from beyond the arc, the Bruins made just 6-25 from deep and shot a frigid 35.3% from the floor.

For Johnson, the struggles were more than just his ability to shoot the ball. Byrd gives him a long leash when it comes to attacking the basket, and deservedly so. Johnson is quick as lightening, left-handed and capable of finishing over bigger defenders in the paint. That’s a good combination for a point guard to be. But on Friday, he overpenetrated, he threw the ball away and he missed far too many open looks from the perimeter. More importantly, he played poorly defensively. After Alexander banked in the three to take the lead, Johnson missed shots on the next two possessions while getting beat on the same play — a UCLA cut for a layup — twice.

You simply are not going to see Johnson play that way too often.

And you are not going to see Belmont get the kind of performance they got out of Hedgepeth, Saunders, Johnson and Mann too often.

But there was more to this loss than simply an off-night. In fact, there are a couple of issues with this Belmont team that seem to be chronically plaguing them this year.

The biggest issue may actually be the loss of Jon House. House wasn’t a big scorer (just 5.3 ppg in 19.0 mpg), but he was Belmont’s glue-guy. He was the guy that guarded their best wing player and the guy that dove on the floor and got that key loose ball and the guy that set a screen to free a shooter. He did the things that don’t show up in the box score that help a team win, and Belmont hasn’t found someone to effectively fill that role yet.

The other issue is that sophomore JJ Mann hasn’t been able to fill Jordan Campbell’s shoes. Campbell shot 46.8% from three as a senior. He didn’t miss. Neither does Clark, and when you have Johnson penetrating with two shooters on the wings that defenders absolutely cannot leave, well, that’s a good thing. Mann has improved on the 32.7% he shot as a freshman, but he’s far too streaky with his jump shot. When he gets it going, he can make four or five in a row. But when he’s off, you see games like Friday. And he’s had too many games like Friday of late.

The Bruins have not been playing the same level of defense that they did last season, either. Their pressure forced a ton of turnovers that led to easy layups and open threes last season, and Belmont isn’t getting those same opportunities this season.

Belmont still has the pieces to win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament. They have a front line that is big enough to hang with a high-major team. They have a talented, play-making point guard and a big-time scorer on the wing. They have depth. They are very well-coached and, for the most part, they usually understand how to run their offense and execute defensively.

But they simply cannot have the defensive lapses and lose their composure they way they did on Friday.

Because every loss right now affects where Belmont will be seeded should they win the Atlantic Sun’s automatic bid.

Belmont as a 12 seed will be a trendy pick to pull off an upset.

Belmont as a 15 seed is simply first round chum for a UConn or a Baylor.

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

Duke edges North Carolina 63-57 behind Roach, Lively

Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

DURHAM, N.C. — Jeremy Roach scored 20 points, Dereck Lively II had career highs of eight blocks and 14 rebounds and Duke defeated North Carolina 63-57 on Saturday night.

Kyle Filipowski added 14 points and Tyrese Proctor 11 for the Blue Devils (17-6, 8-4 ACC), who won their third straight and beat the Tar Heels (15-8, 7-5) for the first time in three meetings, including in last year’s Final Four in the NCAA Tournament.

North Carolina’s Armando Bacot had 14 points and 10 rebounds for his 63rd career double-double, extending his own program record, Leaky Black had 13 points and 10 rebounds, Caleb Love added 12 points and RJ Davis 11.

Roach scored eight of Duke’s final 10 points, including the last four after Lively’s tiebreaking dunk with 1:35 to go. North Carolina missed its last five shots, including a trio of 3-point tries in the final minute.

The Blue Devils’ six-point winning margin matched their largest lead.

Neither team reached 40% shooting but Duke outscored North Carolina 20-2 off fast breaks and was 11 of 15 at the free-throw line to only 2 of 3 for the Tar Heels.

The stat sheet was fairly even at halftime when Duke led 33-32 except for one telling stat, a 16-0 advantage for the Blue Devils on fast-break points as they scored repeatedly off transition.

A 14-5 run erased a seven-point North Carolina lead — the Tar Heels’ largest — and put Duke in front 26-24 with just under four minutes left in the half. A Proctor 3-pointer broke the fourth tie before Bacot cut it to the one-point margin at the break. Bacot had 12 points in the first half. Roach had 10.

The game matched two men who played in this rivalry and are now leading the programs they played for: first-year Duke coach Jon Scheyer and Hubert Davis, in his second year for North Carolina.

The teams will meet again in their regular-season finale at Chapel Hill on March 4. Duke plays at No. 23 Miami on Monday. North Carolina is at Wake Forest on Tuesday.

No. 13 Iowa State rolls past eighth-ranked Kansas 68-53

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

AMES, Iowa – Jaren Holmes scored all 15 of his points in the second half as No. 13 Iowa State rolled past No. 8 Kansas 68-53 on Saturday.

Osun Osunniyi added 13 for the Cyclones (16-6, 7-3 Big 12), who stayed within at least a game of front-running Texas in the conference standings. Tamin Lipsey added eight rebounds and 10 assists.

“Today, we came out and played desperate,” Holmes said.

Jalen Wilson led the Jayhawks (18-5, 6-4) with 26 points for his sixth straight game with at least 20. No other Kansas player had more than 8 points.

“It’s not a formula for success for us,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “We need balance from our starting five. If one guy feels like he’s got to go do it all on his own, it crashes the offense.”

The Cyclones led for all but 1:14 of the game, building a 34-16 scoring edge in the paint. Kansas struggled early, making just two of their first 10 shots and committing 11 turnovers in the first 20 minutes.

Iowa State shot 46% for the game.

“From the beginning, we gave them some easy buckets,” Wilson said. “That’s something we’ve struggled with (defensively) … the easiest way to get comfortable is easy buckets, layups, stuff like that.”

Iowa State was up 33-21 at the break.

Holmes missed all four shots in the first half, but after getting sick at halftime, he helped the Cyclones stretched the lead to 42-31 early in the second half with a 3-pointer and layup.

“I felt a little nauseous the whole day,” he said. “I’ve been dealing with some sickness over the past week and a half.”

BIG PICTURE

Kansas: The Jayhawks dropped to 3-4 during a stretch in which six of its seven opponents were ranked. The lone unranked foe was Kentucky. … Kansas committed a season-high 20 turnovers Saturday. … The loss to Iowa State was Self’s first in five meetings with second-year Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger.

Iowa State: Improved to 12-0 at home this season and 5-0 in the Big 12. It was also the Cyclones’ fifth win over a top-10 opponent in the past two seasons.

UP NEXT

Kansas: Hosts No. 10 Texas on Monday.

Iowa State: Travels to West Virginia on Wednesday.

Bishop helps No. 10 Texas rally past No. 7 K-State, 69-66

Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Christian Bishop was as frustrated as anyone in a Texas jersey in the first half Saturday. He’d been held without a point by Kansas State and, not surprisingly, the No. 10 Longhorns were facing a double-digit deficit on the road.

Maybe that’s why he punctuated every bucket in the second half with a fist pump.

Bishop poured in 14 points after the break to lead the Longhorns’ comeback, including the go-ahead lay-in with 37 seconds to go, and the new Big 12 leaders held on for a 69-66 victory over the No. 7 Wildcats on Saturday.

“Christian’s been working really hard over the last couple of games to get him back to the level he was playing four or five games ago,” interim Texas coach Rodney Terry said. “He really came out and rebounded and gave our team an incredible lift the way he played the second half.”

Red-hot guard Sir’Jabari Rice also had 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Longhorns, and it was his two free throws with nine seconds left that forced the Wildcats into needing a 3-pointer to send the game to overtime.

After a quick timeout, the Wildcats’ Ismael Massoud got an open look from the wing but came up well short of the basket, allowing the Longhorns to hold on for their fifth win over a Top 25 team this season.

Tyrese Hunter and Marcus Carr added 10 points apiece for Texas (19-4, 8-2), which took over sole possession of first place in the rough-and-tumble Big 12 by avenging its overtime loss to the Wildcats (18-5, 6-4) early last month.

“Our league, we don’t have any bad teams,” Terry said. “To come in on a home court against a top-10 team and have this kind of performance, I’ll stack it up with one of the best wins I’ve been part of in 30 years of coaching.”

Keyontae Johnson struggled through foul trouble but still had 16 points to lead the Wildcats, who have lost back-to-back games for the first time this season. Desi Sills scored 11 points and Markquis Nowell had 10, but he also had six turnovers, including one with less than a minute to go and Kansas State down by one.

“I don’t want to wash this one. I want to live with this one for 36 hours,” Wildcats coach Jerome Tang said. “Everybody in our arena did our job except the coaches and players on the floor.”

Kansas State and Texas played one of the most entertaining games of the season in Austin, when they went bucket-for-bucket through regulation and into overtime. The Wildcats eventually escaped with a 116-103 victory.

Early on Saturday, Texas looked as if it would struggle to score half as much.

With the Wildcats clamping down on the perimeter, the Longhorns kept throwing the ball away, and at one point had seven turnovers against just five made shots. They also went a stretch of more than 7 minutes with just one field goal.

Kansas State took advantage of their offensive malaise.

Despite the sure-handed Nowell’s turnover trouble, and leading scorer Johnson picking up his third foul with 5 1/2 minutes left in the half, the Wildcats steadily built a lead. It reached as many as 14 before Texas made three free throws in the final second to get within 36-25 heading to the locker room.

It was the spark the Longhorns needed: They made their first six shots of the second half, and their run spanning the break eventually reached 17-4 while getting them within 40-39 with 15 minutes left in the game.

“There were points in the second half we did get rushed,” Nowell said, “and it led to turnovers and fast-break points.”

Rice’s 3-pointer a few minutes later gave Texas its first lead since the opening minutes. And when the Wildcats went on a nearly 5-minute scoring drought, Bishop began to assert control, the Creighton transfer scoring 11 points over a 6-minute stretch and punctuating each of them with a roar and a fist pump.

Just like their first meeting Jan. 3, though, the rematch Saturday was destined to go down to the wire.

“There’s no blowouts in our league,” Tang said.

BIG PICTURE

Texas could do nothing right in the first half and nothing wrong in the second, shooting 57% from the floor over the final 20 minutes. Most of the success came in the paint; the Longhorns were just 4 of 16 from the 3-point arc.

Kansas State couldn’t overcome 19 turnovers, including six by Nowell, who had 36 points, nine assists and eight rebounds when the teams met in Austin. He had just six rebounds and three assists on Saturday.

UP NEXT

Texas heads down Interstate 70 to face eighth-ranked Kansas on Monday night.

Kansas State wraps its homestand against No. 15 TCU on Tuesday night.

James leads No. 2 Tennessee over No. 25 Auburn, 46-43

Caitie McMekin/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK
0 Comments

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Josiah-Jordan James scored 15 points and 14 rebounds to lead No. 2 Tennessee to a 46-43 victory over No. 25 Auburn on Saturday in a game in which every point was difficult and nothing flowed.

“Both teams played as hard as they could,” said Tennessee coach Rick Barnes. “Every possession was a grind.”

The Volunteers (19-4, 8-2 Southeastern Conference) shot just 27% from the field and 9.5% from the 3-point line. They were recovering from a Wednesday loss to Florida in which they shot 28%.

Tennessee had a 47-42 edge on the boards and 15-8 on the offensive glass.

“A game like this shows a lot of character,” said James. “I knew coming in (rebounding) was what I’d be called to do. I had to use the body God’s given me.”

“Both teams did a fantastic job,” said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl. “To hold Tennessee to 27% … It doesn’t get any better than that.”

“I don’t think there’s a more physical league in the country,” said Barnes.

The Tigers (17-6, 7-3) were led by Johni Broome with 11 points and nine rebounds and K.D. Johnson off the bench with 10 points. Auburn managed only 24% from the field and 11% from the 3-point line.

Jaylin Williams made two free throws with 2:47 to play cut Tennessee’s lead to 40-38. Santiago Vescovi hit his first 3-pointer of the game and got a four-point play out of it for a 44-38 lead. A 3-pointer by Wendell Green Jr. cut the advantage to 44-41 with 30 seconds left.

A turnover on the inbounds play gave Auburn the ball with 23 seconds to play. Broome got a tip-in to make it a one-point game, and Zakai Zeigler made two free throws.

Green’s last-second 3-point to tie clanked out.

“At the end, Wendell Green got the shot off and got fouled,” said Pearl. “Nothing got called.”

Auburn scored eight straight points to start the game. Tennessee followed with a six-point run and an eight-point spurt early in the second half. Those were the longest runs of the game.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Tennessee was in the No. 2 spot in the poll for two days before falling at Florida. Under Barnes, the Vols now have 25 wins over teams ranked in the Top 25. . Auburn had been clinging to the elite at No. 25 this week. The Tigers have been ranked as high as No. 11, coming in the fifth week of the season.

STAT SNACKS

Since statistics started being kept in 1999-2000, Tennessee is on pace to be the all-time leader in field-goal percentage defense (.348; Stanford, 1999-2000, is second .352) and 3-point defense (.225; Norfolk State, 2004-05, is second .253). . Through 22 games, the similarities between last year’s Vols point guard Kennedy Chandler (now with the Memphis Grizzlies) and this year’s Ziegler are striking (points per game: Chandler 13.5, Ziegler 11.4; rebounds: 3.0, 3.0; assists: 4.95, 5.05).

UP NEXT

Auburn: The Tigers will host Texas A&M on Tuesday night.

Tennessee: The Vols will tackle in-state rival Vanderbilt in Nashville on Wednesday.

Pedulla’s 22 points lift Virginia Tech past No. 6 Virginia

Lee Luther Jr.-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

BLACKSBURG, Va. – Sean Pedulla scored 22 points and Virginia Tech beat No. 6 Virginia 74-68 on Saturday, snapping the Cavaliers’ seven-game winning streak.

Pedulla made 6 of 13 from the floor as the Hokies (14-10, 4-8 Atlantic Coast Conference) posted their biggest win of the season. He added 8 of 9 from the free-throw line. Justin Mutts added 17 points.

Virginia Tech never trailed and shot 50% from the floor for the fourth straight game.

“There was no pouting (after the Miami loss). Just back to practice the next day,” Virginia Tech coach Mike Young said of his team, which lost 92-83 to No. 23 Miami on Tuesday. “Yeah, we’ve got Virginia coming in. Yes, in-state and all of that stuff. We’ve got another opportunity to play another really good opponent. We’ve got a chance to play Virginia Tech basketball and fight and compete and adhere to the things that are important to us – and we did that by and large on both ends of the floor.”

Jayden Gardner’s 20 points led Virginia (17-4, 9-3), which saw its usually stingy defense struggle. Kihei Clark finished with 17 points for the Cavaliers, while Reece Beekman had 15. Armaan Franklin, who had scored in double figures in 10 straight games, had six.

The Cavaliers tied the game at 38 on Gardner’s basket with 15:09 remaining, but the Hokies outscored Virginia 17-7 over the next seven minutes and never looked back.

Mutts hit 7 of 11 from the floor and added eight assists and four rebounds. Grant Basile had 14 points and Hunter Cattoor scored all 10 of his points in the second half for the Hokies.

“The heart was there, but to win in this setting against a team that’s playing good basketball, and Tech is, and they’ve got the players, you’ve got to be hard and smart,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “You can’t just be all hard. We were (hard and smart) for stretches, and they made us make some adjustments that helped a little bit, but they made the big shots.”

TIP-INS

Virginia: The Cavaliers suffered a rare poor outing on the defensive end, and it cost them. They led the ACC in scoring defense (60.2 ppg) going in, but allowed the Hokies to score 74 points and shoot 50.9% (27 of 53) from the floor. The Hokies became just the third team this season to shoot better than 50% against Virginia and scored 40 points in the paint.

“They run a lot of action, whether it’s dribble handoffs, fakes, they keep you on your toes, and it takes an incredible, and I think disciplined (effort) to keep them in front and keep them out of the paint,” Bennett said.

Virginia Tech: After losing eight of their previous 10 games, the Hokies needed a big win to help their thin NCAA Tournament resume. Registering 19 assists and turning the ball over just eight times were keys.

“Obviously, we keep up with stuff throughout the year, like `Oh, this would be a huge win on our resume,”‘ Pedulla said. “We do think about (the NCAA Tournament), and we obviously want to get there again. We know our team’s capable of it. We’re focused on it and we’re just trying to stack those wins on top of each other. I think this win definitely helps us.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Cavaliers were one-point underdogs going into the game, so they shouldn’t drop more than a few spots in Monday’s poll.

UP NEXT

Virginia: Hosts N.C. State on Tuesday.

Virginia Tech: Takes on Boston College in Blacksburg on Wednesday.