Defense-first affair expected at Alumni tonight

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Tsuj’s Ten: College basketball, 2/3

Photo by Don Nieman from the Eastern Michigan game

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

1) East beats West: The University at Buffalo Bulls played their best half of basketball of the season Wednesday night at Alumni Arena. In the game’s final 20 minutes, UB struck for 44 points on 16-25 shooting (7-10 from three) to put away the Ball State Cardinals 73-57, pushing the Bulls’ win streak to five games.

2) Bullish stretches: There were two extended stretches of excellence in the second half where the Bulls looked—unquestionably—like the MAC’s best team. Nursing only a four point advantage early in the second half, the Bulls went on a 7-0 spurt in 58 seconds.  First, Javon McCrea showed off his absurdly quick reflexes to put back a Zach Filzen miss. After collecting an defensive rebound, Jarod Oldham sped down the floor and snapped a pass through traffic into McCrea’s waiting arms for an easy finish. I hate how I make basketball sound uncomfortably romantic.

Perhaps the best play of the run, however, happened next: Oldham dove to the floor to snag a loose ball near mid-court, whipped a blind pass over his head that McCrea grabbed with his over-sized mitts (still creepy verbiage)—Filzen, well aware that UB had a two-on-one break, slipped over to McCrea’s left for a spot-up three. Suddenly, a four point lead exploded to 11, and a perplexed Billy Taylor, Ball State’s head coach, called for a 30-second timeout. I don’t think I’ve witnessed a better stretch of Bulls’ basketball this year.

3) Oh wait, there’s another!: Buffalo’s 10-2 run to push the lead from 43-32 to 53-34 was almost equally as impressive because it featured two bench players who are surging right now: Tony Watson II and Titus Robinson. After Mitchell Watt connected on an eight-foot hook shot—a regular feature of the evening—a well-executed three-on-one break by Oldham led to a violent slam by Robinson plus a foul. Then, Ball State’s Jawaun Scaife banked in the luckiest of 20-footers before Watson II curled around a screen and stroked a three-pointer. Watson II then added two more free throws, and the run was complete.

4) Cardinals’ issues: Ball State forward Jarrod Jones is a fantastic player—very deserved of his First Team All-MAC selection last year—but he’s can’t shoulder the offense himself. The projected second round pick wound up with a solid line of 21 points and eight rebounds, and he was able to cleanly beat one of the MAC’s most fierce interior defenders, Mitchell Watt, with sound hands and array of moves around the basket. Still, aside from the occasional Tyrae Robinson slash to the hoop, the complementary pieces in Ball State’s offense failed to make any impact—most of Randy Davis’ shots barely hit the backboard, and Chris Bond was invisible.

5) Ball-screen defense: The Cardinals could not handle the Bulls’ ball-screens, for whatever reason. Tony Watson II and Zach Filzen made Ball State pay for lazy defense, and credit Mitchell Watt and Titus Robinson for setting solid screens on the perimeter. For a team as highly-regarded defensively as Ball State, I was surprised to see them beaten by fundamental offense for much of the evening. UB’s torrid shooting certainly made Ball State force the issue offensively—that’s the nature of trading threes for twos—the defensive breakdowns were pretty inexcusable.

6) Mud Hens…err, Rockets: The Bulls roll along Lake Erie to visit Toledo (10-12 overall, 2-6 in the MAC) Saturday. A weak team in the weaker MAC division, this is lining up as an easy Buffalo win. Still, the Bulls cannot afford to look past this one, as Toledo beat Miami (OH) by a bucket in Miami, a feat that Reggie Witherspoon’s club failed to achieve, and thrashed Northern Illinois by 30. Sophomore guard Rian Pearson, named MAC Scholar-Athlete of the Week, averages 17 points and eight rebounds for the season and is coming off a 29-point, 14-rebound, five-steal effort against Akron. Impressed by the rebounds? You should know that Pearson’s a 6’4 guard.

7) The positive?: Canisius hung with Iona into the second half, and the offensively-challenged Griffs posted 86 points. Good enough to win, right? Nope—Iona, led by Arizona transfer Lamont “MoMo” Jones’ 43 points, pulled away late for a 105-86 win. Gaby Belardo exploded for 27 points in 32 minutes off the Griffs’ bench, rattling in six treys in his finest performance of the season. Alshwan Hymes added 23 points on an efficient 8-16 shooting night.

8) Runnin’ out of gas: Canisius had the game tied at 69 with 13:22 left in the game—then everything fell apart. Jones scored eight points in a 10-0 Iona run that spanned fewer than two minutes, and then Scott Machado, the nation’s assist leader, mercilessly carved up the Griffin defense the rest of the game. Because Canisius focuses on high-pressure defense—out of the need to create high-percentage transition buckets—the Griffin guards are more apt to tire late in games. The Gaels’ high-major-level offense is tough enough to corral at full health—but it’s impossible with weary legs. On a brighter note, Iona’s beastly forward Mike Glover continued his struggles against the Griffs, closing with only 12 points and 11 rebounds—and a woeful 2-8 from the charity stripe.

9) #11 Florida in action: Three years ago, my first impression of Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton as a backcourt duo was terrible. These were two gunners who were out for themselves, slinging low-percentage shots and living up to the endearing “shoot first, shoot second, turnover third” mantra. Now that they’re both upperclassmen, Walker and Boynton have bought into what Billy Donovan is selling. They’re not the first wild Gator guards to do that—remember Brett Nelson, Anthony Roberson and Mike Miller (OK, more of a forward)? All settled down as they matured in their college careers; Donovan’s patience in molding them—forcing them to slow down a bit—played a big role in their maturation. Anyhow, Boynton dropped 24 points last night in an eight-point win over South Carolina, and even though his shooting-stroke is straight from a horror movie, he’s taking smarter shots.

10) On a mission for more Brigham Young: That was not meant to be insensitive! Sometimes I wonder—usually on week days after midnight—whether BYU’s senior forward Noah Hartsock is even recognized on campus as a basketball player. He doesn’t really look like an elite athlete (even though he is 6’8), and he certainly doesn’t have top-notch athleticism. Still, after posting 24 points and 14 rebounds against Gonzaga last night, Hartsock is shedding the finesse label. First-year point guard Matt Carlino continues to play with supreme confidence—he reminds me a little of former Duke guard Daniel Ewing, but I am rather weird.

BONUS: My alma mater, Houghton College, hosts the most charitable double-headers ever tonight and Saturday night in Allegany County. It’s really not that far from Buffalo, folks! For more information on the Coaches vs. Cancer and Pink Zone support, visit the Facebook event page. Not only is it a good cause—and Allegany County is beautiful in the fall (wait, it’s not the fall still?)—but since Roswell’s cancer vaccine trials show that there’s real progress being made in the battle against cancer, there’s big-time momentum toward finding a cure.

TAGGED: ball state cardinals, byu cougars, canisius griffins, college hoops, jarrod jones, javon mccrea, momo jones, tsuj's ten, ub bulls basketball, university at buffalo

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  1. Timothy Neil Riordan February 03, 2012 @ 1:29pm


    The pass you’re talking about

    Timothy Neil Riordan's avatar