Four Takeaways from No. 21 Xavier’s win over No. 16 Baylor

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Xavier didn’t have the strongest night from senior All-American candidate Trevon Bluiett but the No. 21 Musketeers still had more than enough to race past No. 16 Baylor with a 76-63 win. Here are four takeaways from a very good win for Xavier (6-1) as they handed the Bears (5-1) their first loss of the season.

1. Xavier doesn’t need an A-game from Trevon Bluiett to beat a ranked opponent

Trevon Bluiett is one of the best players in college basketball. This has been documented by three seasons worth of evidence and numerous preseason All-American accolades.

But the most important takeaway from Xavier’s win over Baylor on Tuesday night was that they can still beat ranked opponents when Bluiett isn’t rolling as a scorer. Averaging 21 points per game entering the Baylor game, Bluiett only finished with 10 points on 3-for-9 shooting on Tuesday as he never seemed to get comfortable dealing with Baylor’s length and athleticism on the defensive end.

And for Xavier on this particular night? That turned out to be okay. J.P. Macura was red-hot in the first half (more on him in a minute) and others like Kaiser Gates and freshman Naji Marshall also stepped up in the scoring column to make up for the off-scoring night from Bluiett.

Gates, in particular, made some huge three-pointers, making it tough for Baylor to stick with its gameplan on the defensive end.

That’s a great sign for Xavier since they also feature a number of other role players who can step up on any given night. We’ve seen senior Sean O’Mara step up his post scoring at times and Tyrique Jones has also been a double-figure scorer plenty of times early this season.

Xavier doesn’t need all of its big guns to get going in order to win if their offense continues to be this balanced.

2. Baylor needs more offensive help for Manu Lecomte

While Baylor deserves credit for never giving up and sticking within striking distance for a good chunk of the game, their offense just didn’t have much help for senior guard Manu Lecomte.

Lecomte struggled to a 4-for-13 shooting night and finished with only 11 points as he had a difficult time adjusting to Xavier’s length and activity on the defensive end. Playing against long-armed opposing guards like Quentin Goodin, Lecomte struggled to hunt his own offense and passing over the top of the Musketeer defense also proved to be a difficult task.

And Baylor didn’t have many other answers to get points since Lecomte was struggling. Terry Maston had 15 first-half points for the Bears but he appeared to go down with an injury as he didn’t play for long stretches of the final frame. Xavier also had a solid plan to change looks against Baylor’s post offense, at times collapsing with doubles from unique angles and playing straight-up single coverage during other moments.

If Baylor wants to be one of the Big 12’s elite teams, they’ll need to address some of its offensive issues if Lecomte can’t get going. This won’t be the only game that Lecomte has to face long and athletic guards this season.

3. Xavier’s J.P. Macura seems to be playing to the level of his opponents.

It’s been a bizarre start to the season for Xavier senior guard J.P. Macura. One of the most intense players in the country, Macura has been really good against the Musketeers’ quality early-season opponents (Arizona State and Wisconsin) and really mediocre against lesser competition.

The Baylor game continued this early trend. Macura was clearly feeling it on the offensive end against the Bears, attacking the 2-3 zone from the free-throw line and also pulling up for some NBA-range three-pointers. Macura finished with 19 points and six rebounds.

Macura’s offensive outburst slowed down in the second half but his defensive intensity was still solid. He was a key on post doubles while getting deflections on the perimeter.

The major question becomes if Macura can sustain really good production every single game? Playing with such a fiery intensity can burn out some players within the ebb-and-flow of a long season or even, at times, within the same game. Macura is a senior, so he should have a good grasp on how to deal with his at-times boundless energy. But if Xavier wants to achieve its highest ceiling this season, they need Macura to play like this nearly every night.

If Macura plays like this and Bluiett is at his normal scoring pace then Xavier could be scary.

4. Xavier freshman Naji Marshall looked like he belonged

Xavier brought in another really solid freshman class this season and 6-foot-7 wing Naji Marshall looks like he could a key to the Musketeers’ season. Another long and active player on the defensive end and aggressive attacking the rack on the offensive end, Marshall struggled against Wisconsin two weeks ago. The freshman looked a lot more comfortable playing against Baylor.

Even facing unique defensive matchups like Bears center and rim protector Jo Lual-Acuil, Marshall was assertive, finishing with 10 points and four rebounds off the bench. Getting to the free-throw line six times, Marshall showed why he was a consensus top-75 recruit in his class.

While Marshall is at his best playing in the open floor when he can get a head of steam going to the rim, his versatility also gives Xavier some unique options when he’s in the lineup. Marshall still has to prove he can be consistent but he’s another versatile piece for Xavier. On a night when Xavier needed a little extra, Marshall stepped up as a much-needed additional scorer when Blueitt got off to a sluggish offensive start.

No. 7 Tennessee beats Eastern Kentucky, win streak hits 7

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tyreke Key scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second half and finished with 17, and No. 7 Tennessee overcame a sluggish first half and beat Eastern Kentucky 84-49 on Wednesday night.

“Tyreke is handling the ball now,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “That’s all new to him. He keeps getting better.”

The Volunteers (8-1) struggled in the first half but still built an 11-point lead over Eastern Kentucky (4-5) on the way to their seventh straight victory.

Key led Tennessee in scoring before leaving with a cramp in his right leg with 6:15 left in the game. Julian Phillips had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Zakai Zeigler and Uros Plavsic added 13 points apiece. Olivier Nkamhoua scored 10.

“I’m still settling in,” said Key, a transfer from Indiana State who didn’t play last year while recovering from an injury. “This is a new role. I’m taking steps every day and keep learning.”

Eastern Kentucky, which came into the game averaging 83.5 points, was held well below that total due to 17% (6 for 35) shooting from long range and 22% (15 for 68) overall. Leland Walker led the Colonels with 13 points.

It was the seventh time this season Tennessee has held its opponent to 50 or fewer points.

“(Tennessee) is the best defensive team in the country,” Eastern Kentucky coach A.W. Hamilton said. “I think they’re the best team in the country.”

At one point in the first half, Tennessee was shooting 20% and still leading by 10 points. The teams combined to shoot 4 of 32 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes. The Vols, who shot 24% (8 of 34), led 32-21 at the break.

“If we can’t make shots, can you find a way to win the game?” Barnes said. “When the shot’s not going in, find a way to play. The first thing we talk about is our defense.”

Tennessee shot 41 free throws. Phillips, a true freshman, was 7 of 10.

“(Phillips) has learned the pace of the game,” Barnes said. “I’m not sure there’s been a more effective freshman in the country (this season).”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Since its early season slip against Colorado, Tennessee has had a steady ascent in the rankings. The Vols’ next two games – neutral site (Brooklyn) against No, 13 Maryland (Dec. 11) and at No. 10 Arizona (Dec. 17) – will go a long way toward justifying the No. 7 ranking.

BIG PICTURE

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels’ run-and-gun style of offense had them averaging 83.5 points through their first eight games. They ran into a defensive buzz saw in Tennessee, which was yielding just over 51 points.

Tennessee: Santiago Vescovi sat out his second straight game with a shoulder problem. He is expected to be ready to play Sunday against Maryland. . The Vols have won seven in a row since their loss to Colorado.

UP NEXT

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels host Boyce College on Saturday.

Tennessee: Take on No. 13 Maryland on Sunday at the Hall of Fame Invitational in New York.

Hoggard scores career-high 23, Michigan St snaps 2-game skid

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A.J. Hoggard scored a career-high 23 points, Joey Hauser had 12 points and 15 rebounds and Michigan State beat Penn State 67-58 on Wednesday night to snap a two-game losing streak.

Michigan State (6-4, 1-1 Big Ten) avoided going .500 or worse after 10 games for the first time in 18 seasons.

Hoggard blocked an open layup with less than a minute to play and Hauser grabbed the rebound before being fouled and making two free throws at the other end for a 66-58 lead.

Hoggard, Hauser and Tyson Walker combined for 31 of Michigan State’s 32 second-half points.

The Michigan State defense allowed only one made field goal in the final five minutes. Penn State was just 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the second half after 7 of 18 before halftime.

Walker scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half for Michigan State. Hoggard, who entered third in the conference in assists at 6.3, had six rebounds, two assists and one key block.

Hoggard gave Michigan State 35-33 lead – its first since 4-2 – after back-to-back three-point plays with 59.3 seconds left in the first half. It was tied at 35-all at the break.

Seth Lundy scored 16 points and Jalen Pickett had 13 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists for Penn State (6-3, 0-1)

Michigan State hosts Brown on Saturday. Penn State, which hadn’t played since a double-overtime loss to Clemson on Nov. 29, plays at No. 17 Illinois on Saturday.

No. 7 Virginia Tech posts 9th straight win, beats BC 73-58

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BOSTON — Reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Elizabeth Kitley had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Cayla King scored 16 on Wednesday night to lead No. 7 Virginia Tech to a 73-58 victory over Boston College, the Hokies’ ninth straight win.

Taylor Soule, one of two BC transfers on the roster for Virginia Tech (9-0, 1-0 ACC), added nine points and five rebounds. Soule scored more than 1,500 points and grabbed almost 700 rebounds in four seasons at BC, earning All-ACC honors three times.

Andrea Daley scored 15 points and Maria Gakdeng scored 14 for BC (7-4, 0-1). They each grabbed six rebounds.

Virginia Tech scored 17 of the game’s first 21 points and led by as many as 19 in the third quarter before BC cut the deficit to 10 in the fourth. Leading 64-54 with under three minutes left and the shot clock expiring, Kayana Traylor hit a 3-pointer for the Hokies.

Gakdeng missed two free throws for BC, and then Kitley scored from inside to make it a 15-point game.

Clara Ford, who also played four years in Chestnut Hill, pitched in 2 points in 2 minutes against her former team.

BIG PICTURE

At No. 7, the Hokies have the highest ranking in the program’s history. With the victory over BC, a 10th straight win against North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday would leave Virginia Tech in position to move up even higher should a top five team falter.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech: Hosts North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday.

Boston College: Hosts Albany on Saturday.

Michigan’s Jaelin Llewellyn out for season with knee injury

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan point guard Jaelin Llewellyn is out for the rest of the season with an injured left knee and is expected to have surgery next month.

Wolverines coach Juwan Howard made the announcement three days after Llewellyn was hurt in a loss to Kentucky in London.

Llewellyn transferred to Michigan from Princeton last spring and that seemed to lead to Frankie Collins transferring to Arizona State after a solid freshman season for the Wolverines.

Llewellyn averaged seven points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in eight games at Michigan. He was an All-Ivy League player last season and averaged nearly 16 points over three seasons at Princeton.

Miles Kelly leads Georgia Tech to 79-77 win over rival Georgia

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 02 Northeastern at Georgia Tech
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ATLANTA – Georgia Tech’s Miles Kelly hit another winning shot against a state rival.

Terry Roberts endured a nightmarish final minute for Georgia.

Kelly hit a long 3-pointer and then a drove for the game-winning floater with 23 seconds remaining as the Yellow Jackets rallied to beat Georgia 79-77 on Tuesday night.

Kelly hit the winning shot in similar fashion against Georgia State on Nov. 12. He did it again to beat the Bulldogs, finishing with a team-high 17 points after failing to score in the first half.

“I’m going to continue to keep shooting, no matter how many times I miss,” Kelly said.

Roberts missed a 3-pointer, turned the ball over twice with bad passes, and was called for an offensive foul as he was trying to drive for the basket that would’ve sent the game to overtime.

“A tough finish for us,” Georgia first-year coach Mike White said. “We were in position to steal one on the road.”

A pair of second-chance buckets seemingly put Georgia (7-3) in control with a 77-73 lead.

The Bulldogs wouldn’t score again as Kelly led the comeback for the Yellow Jackets (6-3) – with a big assist from Roberts.

He had a chance to essentially seal it for the Bulldogs, but his jumper beyond the arc clanked off the rim.

Georgia Tech grabbed the rebound and raced down the court, where Kelly swished a 3 from well behind the stripe that brought Georgia Tech within a point with about a minute left.

Trying to work the ball inside, Roberts made an ill-advised entry pass that was deflected and stolen by Deivon Smith, setting up Kelly’s drive for the basket that put the Yellow Jackets back ahead,

Roberts tried a drive of his own, only to have it blocked by Jalon Moore. Georgia retained possession, but Roberts’ inbounds pass was stolen by Moore, who was fouled and made one of two free throws.

Roberts took the ball again and hurriedly dribbled toward the basket, only to be called for an offensive foul when he sent Smith flying.

“Just sacrificing my body for the team,” Smith said.

Georgia stole an inbounds pass around midcourt, giving Karlo Oquendo one last shot to launch a 3 that still would’ve won it for the Bulldogs. It bounced off the rim.

The game was tight throughout. Neither team led by more than eight, and a sequence in the second half showed just how tightly these rivals were matched.

With both squads playing at a frenetic pace and showing little regard for defense, the lead changed hands on eight straight possessions as the teams traded baskets.

Stunningly, they combined to score on 19 straight possessions before Georgia’s Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe missed a pair of free throws with 5:17 remaining.

FIRING UP THE CROWD

Perhaps the biggest cheer of the night came when Georgia Tech football coach Brent Key addressed the crowd at halftime.

Key, who served as interim coach for the last eight games of the season, was introduced Monday as the full-time choice for job.

He fired up the fans by getting them to chant “To hell with Georgia” over and over again. When a smattering of Bulldogs fans responded with barks, Key smiled and egged on the Yellow Jackets crowd to drown them out.

He also declared Georgia Tech to be the “greatest school in the entire state, the entire country,” following up his vow the previous day to not back down from the defending national champion and top-ranked Bulldogs.

BIG PICTURE

Georgia: This will be a tough one to swallow for Roberts, who led his team with 16 points and seven assists. The Bulldogs lost despite shooting 53.4% from the field.

Georgia Tech: Four players scored in double figures, and two others players finished with eight points. But it was Kelly, as usual, who had the ball in his hands at the end of a tight game.

UP NEXT

Georgia: After a nearly two-week break, the Bulldogs return to Atlanta on Dec. 18 to face Notre Dame at State Farm Arena in the Holiday Hoopsgiving event.

Georgia Tech: Head to North Carolina on Saturday for the Atlantic Coast Conference opener against the struggling Tar Heels.