WEEKLY AWARDS: Jaron Blossomgame’s big week, and Iowa’s hot start

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson

How about this for a four-game winning streak: at Syracuse, No. 16 Louisville, No. 9 Duke, No. 8 Miami. That’s what Clemson has done over the course of the last two weeks, and this week alone the Tigers picked off a pair of top ten teams.

Blossomgame was the star. In the wins over Duke and Miami, Blossomgame averaged 21.o points, 6.5 boards, 2.5 assists and 2.0 blocks. In total, during this four-game winning streak, the 6-foot-7 forward is averaging 19.8 points, numbers that are impressive enough that he currently has a strong argument to be the ACC Player of the Year.

Now think about this: Clemson is 5-1 in the ACC as of today, all alone in second-place and just a half-game behind North Carolina for the league lead. Think about that. The Tigers were an afterthought entering the season, coming in with expectations so low that Brad Brownell made just about every hot seat list you could find.

It doesn’t get any easier for the Tigers now, as they play at Virginia and host Pitt this week before heading on the road for three consecutive games. The ACC is a meat grinder, but if Clemson has proven anything this week, it’s that they are up for a challenge.

THE ‘ALL THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM

  • Isaiah Taylor, Texas: Taylor went for 28 points, six boards and six assists on Tuesday as the Longhorns knocked off Iowa State in overtime, following that up with 18 points in a win over Oklahoma State.
  • Josh Scott, Colorado: The Buffaloes swept the Oregon schools in a critical week for their tournament chances. Scott averaged 21.0 points, 11.5 boards and 2.5 blocks in the two wins.
  • Ricky Tarrant Jr., Memphis: Tarrant’s numbers weren’t all that great in a 2-0 week for Memphis, but he legit swallowed his own blood just so he could hit game-winning free throws. How tough is this dude?
  • Zach LeDay, Virginia Tech: Don’t look now, but the Hokies are sitting at 4-1 in the ACC right now. In a 2-0 week last week, LeDay averaging 20.5 points.
  • Jack Gibbs, Davidson: Gibbs is putting up Curry-esque numbers for the Wildcats. On Saturday, he had 43 points, eight boards and eight assists, which followed up a 31-point effort in a loss.
Iowa forward Jarrod Uthoff (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Iowa forward Jarrod Uthoff (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Iowa Hawkeyes

There isn’t a team in college basketball that has had a more impressive start to conference play that the Hawkeyes. Entering this week, they were 3-0 in the Big Ten with a home win over the Denzel Valentine-less Spartans and a win at Purdue that including a comeback from 19 points down.

Solid, yes, but nothing compared to what Iowa did on Thursday, when they went into East Lansing and beat Sparty like they were owed money. Michigan State was down by 22 points at the half and never made it interesting in the second half. Iowa was the better team, yes, but they were also the tougher team, which is not exactly something we’ve come to expect from the Hawkeyes. Fair or not, the reputation that this Iowa program has is that they are a team that starts great — games, seasons, etc. — and collapses down the stretch.

They’ve started Big Ten play great. Can they continue this run for the rest of the year? I’d bet that they will.

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • USC: If you know the history between Andy Enfield and Steve Alford, you know why Wednesday’s 14-point win in Pauley Pavilion felt so good for these Trojans.
  • Notre Dame: The Irish bounced back from a slow start to ACC play with a 2-0 week that was capped off by former Duke assistant Mike Brey going into Cameron Indoor Stadium and knocking off Duke.
  • Seton Hall: The Pirates landed a key win in their only game this week, going into the Dunkin’ Donuts Center and knocking off Providence, 81-72.
  • Indiana: Don’t look now, but the Hoosiers are currently sitting first in defensive efficiency through five Big Ten games. They haven’t played anyone yet, but this is certainly a development to keep an eye on.
  • UNLV: The Rebels had a nice response to their coach getting fired last Sunday: they went out and knocked off then-first place New Mexico and followed it up by pounding Air Force into oblivion. Can the run last?
  • Florida State: The Seminoles put together a solid 2-0 week, going into Raleigh and knocking off N.C. State before picking off Virginia at home on Sunday afternoon.

SET YOUR DVR

No. 2 Oklahoma at No. 17 Iowa State, Mon. 9:00 p.m.
No. 23 Butler at No. 12 Providence, Tue. 6:30 p.m.
No. 25 Gonzaga at Saint Mary’s, Thu. 11:00 p.m.
No. 2 Oklahoma at No. 22 Baylor, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
No. 12 Providence at No. 6 Villanova, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
No. 3 Maryland at No. 4 Michigan State, Sat. 6:30 p.m.
No. 24 Purdue at No. 16 Iowa, Sun. 1:00 p.m.

Jackson-Davis leads No. 18 Indiana past No. 24 Rutgers 66-60

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – The milestone moments keep piling up for Trayce Jackson-Davis.

Only one really mattered Tuesday night.

While he scored 20 points to become the sixth player in Hoosiers’ history with 2,000 and the first among that group with 1,000 career rebounds, the most satisfying celebration came after No. 18 Indiana beat No. 24 Rutgers 66-60 – Jackson-Davis’ first win in the series.

“I think that’s the last team in the Big Ten I hadn’t beaten,” Jackson-Davis said after finishing with 18 rebounds and six assists.

From the moment Jackson-Davis announced he would attend Indiana, the expectations were great even as critics contended the results were underwhelming.

Nobody’s complaining now. Jackson-Davis now has 2,004 points, 1,035 rebounds, a school-record 242 blocks and ranks fourth all-time with 44 double-doubles after breaking a tie with Steve Downing.

After helping the Hoosiers snap a five-year NCAA Tournament drought last season and falling out of the rankings after three straight January losses, Jackson-Davis has almost single-handedly led the Hoosiers (17-7, 8-5 Big Ten) into a second-place tie by winning seven of eight.

And his dominance is starting to open things up for his teammate. Or perhaps it’s the other way around.

“I think we’ve gotten a lot better playing around Trayce, giving him space,” Miller Kopp said after scoring 18 points. “It comes down to getting better at what the coaches are asking us to do and we’re all feeling more comfortable with where our looks are coming from.”

It certainly showed against the Scarlet Knights (16-8, 8-5), who had won six straight over Indiana including a 15-point blowout in December.

This time, though, they spent most of the game playing catchup. Clifford Omoruyi had 15 points, Cam Spencer had 14 and nobody else made more than three baskets.

“It’s a one-possession game with three minutes left, but I look at the (free throw) disparity and you can’t defend the foul line,” coach Steve Pikiell said. “Give Indiana credit, they got there. Tracye Jackson-Davis was a problem.”

The Hoosiers started fast and then scored 12 straight points to take a 30-14 lead midway through the first half but even without injured starting forward Mawot Mag, Rutgers charged back. It closed the first half on an 11-2 run, then tied it at 38 when Spencer opened the second half with a 3-pointer.

Kopp broke the tie with his third 3 of the game to start an 11-0 run and Jackson-Davis’ monumental basket, a putback dunk off his own miss, made it 54-44 with 11:13 to go.

The Scarlet Knights could have tied it on Caleb McConnell’s 3 with 3:02 left, but it bounced off the back of the rim and the Hoosiers closed Jackson-Davis’ big win with a 7-2 spurt.

“He’s a man who’s done a lot since he’s been here,” said coach Mike Woodson, who is 57 points ahead of Jackson-Davis on the Hoosiers’ scoring list. “He’s a phenomenal player who does a lot of beautiful things on the court. To get 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds says a lot.”

BIG PICTURE

Rutgers: Mag missed his first game with a torn ACL in his right knee and Rutgers struggled against Indiana’s size and speed. There could be similar challenges over the final eight regular-season games.

Indiana: Woodson’s team is playing, at times, like the conference’s preseason pick to win the league title. When the Hoosiers make perimeter shots and defend well, they’re a difficult matchup for anyone. They just need fewer lulls.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The victory should help solidify Indiana’s top-20 status – at least until it hits the road for their next two games. Losing Mag and Tuesday’s game may make Rutgers’ return to the rankings short-lived regardless of what happens later this week.

UP NEXT

Rutgers: Visits Illinois on Saturday

Indiana: Heads to Michigan on Saturday.

Pitt moves into 1st-place ACC tie destroying Louisville

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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PITTSBURGH – Nike Sibande scored 15 points off the bench, nine Pittsburgh players entered the scoring column and the Panthers demolished Louisville 91-57 on Tuesday night and moved into a first-place tie with Clemson in the ACC.

Entering play Tuesday, the top five teams in the ACC were separated by just a game in the standings. A win by No. 8 Virginia against No. 22 North Carolina State Tuesday would create a three-way tie for first between Clemson, Pitt and the Cavaliers.

Against Louisville, the Panthers (17-7, 10-3) distributed 23 assists on 28-made baskets. Defensively, Pitt held Louisville (3-21, 1-12) to 27.6% (16 for 58) shooting and outrebounded the Cardinals 37-30. Mike James scored 11 points for Louisville.

El Ellis made a pair of foul shots to bring Louisville into a 14-all tie with 13:36 before halftime. Pitt then went on a 16-2 run over nearly the next five minutes. Six-different Panthers scored during the run. Nate Santos’ 3-pointer with 9:38 before the break made it 27-16 and Pitt led by double digits the rest of the way. A 47-27 halftime lead turned into a 58-28 margin just 1:59 into the second half.

With the win, the Panthers reached double digits in conference wins for just the second time in 10 ACC seasons. Pitt went 11-7 in its first year in the ACC following its 12-6 campaign in its final year in the Big East in 2012-13.

Louisville will continue its road trip when it takes on No. 19 Miami on Saturday. Pitt travels to face Florida State on Saturday.

Appleby scores 35 as Wake Forest holds off Tar Heels 92-85

William Howard-USA TODAY Sports
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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Tyree Appleby scored a season-high 35 points, 23 coming at the free-throw line, and Wake Forest built a big lead early then held on for a 92-85 victory over North Carolina on Tuesday night.

Appleby was just two points short of his career high while tying his best of 11 assists and sharing the team lead with seven rebounds. Though only 6 of 20 from the floor, he made a career-best 23 of 28 free throws including 13 straight in the final two minutes when the Tar Heels got as close as seven after trailing by 26 early in the second half.

Damari Monsanto had three 3-pointers and 16 points with seven rebounds and Matthew Marsh came off the bench to score 10 points for the Demon Deacons (16-9, 8-6 ACC), who won their second straight after losing four in a row.

Caleb Love made all four of North Carolina’s 3-pointers, including three in the final minute, and finished with 24 points for the Tar Heels (15-9, 7-6), who have lost three straight. Armando Bacot, who played only eight minutes of the second half before fouling out, had 17 points and 11 rebounds. RJ Davis added 16 points and Pete Nance had 11 points and 10 rebounds.

When these teams met on Jan. 4, an 88-79 win for North Carolina, there were 20 lead changes. Tuesday night, there was a lone lead change two minutes into the game as Wake Forest quickly took control and led 47-25 at halftime.

The Tar Heels trailed by 10 with 3 1/2 minutes left in the game not long after Bacot fouled out. They got as close as seven in the final minute thanks to Love but no closer because of Appleby.

Still, it took two from the line by Daivien Williamson with 12 seconds left for a 10-point lead that finally ensured the win before Love hit his final 3-pointer.

In their Jan. 4 game, North Carolina scored 32 points off 15 turnovers. Tuesday, the Deacons committed just five. They finished 33 of 42 at the line to 21 of 26 for the Heels.

North Carolina is home against Clemson and Wake Forest is host to Georgia Tech, both games on Saturday.

Texas A&M beats Auburn 83-78, completes season sweep

Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Wade Taylor IV had 22 points and seven assists, Julius Marble scored a career-high 20 points and Texas A&M beat Auburn 83-78 on Tuesday night to complete a regular-season sweep.

The last of 11 lead changes in the final eight minutes came after Texas A&M made 7 of 9 shots, with three straight makes from Marble, to build a 78-74 lead with 2:09 left.

Auburn guard Wendell Green Jr. was short on a long 3-pointer and Tyrece Radford secured the defensive rebound before being fouled with 24.9 seconds left. Radford made two free throws to extend Texas A&M’s lead to 80-76. Green had a layup roll off the rim and Andersson Garcia went 1 of 2 from the line for a five-point lead before Auburn was short on another 3-pointer with 10.8 left.

Texas A&M was 31 of 39 from the free-throw line compared to 9 of 14 for Auburn.

Garcia added 11 points and Radford scored 10 for Texas A&M (17-7, 9-2 SEC), which also beat then-No. 15 Auburn 79-63 on Jan. 25. The Aggies are off to their best conference start since joining the SEC in 2012.

Green finished with 20 points and six assists for Auburn (17-7, 7-4). Johni Broome had 18 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out late and Jaylin Williams and Allen Flanigan each scored 12 points.

Texas A&M plays at LSU on Saturday. Auburn, which has lost four of its last five games, hosts No. 3 Alabama on Saturday.

South Carolina’s Staley defends team after Auriemma comments

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina coach Dawn Staley strongly defended her top-ranked Gamecocks on Tuesday following critical comments by UConn coach Geno Auriemma two days earlier.

Auriemma said after the top-ranked Gamecocks’ 81-77 victory that Huskies guard/forward Lou Lopez Senechal had bruises on her body from the game.

“It’s just appalling what teams do her now,” he said. “It’s not basketball anymore. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not basketball.”

Staley fired back Tuesday on her radio call-in show, saying when her team has success, “we’re called something other than players that are locked in.”

“They play the right way,” she continued, “and approach it the right way whether they win or lose. We don’t denounce anybody’s play. They are always uplifting the game of women’s basketball and when we were getting our heads beat in by UConn for all those years, I said nothing.”

South Carolina’s victory Sunday was its fourth in the past five meetings between the schools, including the national championship game last April.

Staley’s South Carolina teams had been 0-7 against UConn before their recent run of success.

“We’ve been called so many things and I’m sick of it,” Staley said. “I’m sick of it because I coach some of the best human beings the game has ever had.”

South Carolina (23-0, 10-0) visits Auburn on Thursday night.