Recapping some of Saturday's top college basketball action...
Temple 83, No. 3 Syracuse 79: Khalif Wyatt scored a career-high 33 points, including a sterling 15-for-15 performance from the charity stripe, as the Owls notched a win over a top ten team for the fifth consecutive season by beating the Orange in Madison Square Garden. Temple head coach Fran Dunphy has a penchant for pulling off upsets like this, which is why the Owls' victory isn't a surprise in and of itself. What's surprising is that Temple knocked off the No. 3 team in the country at MSG -- which is more or less a home game for Syracuse -- three days after they lost by ten at home to Canisius.
The Owls dissected the patented Syracuse 2-3 zone, utilizing Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson's ability to pass the ball out of the high post to create space around the rim for Anthony Lee (21 points, nine boards) and open jumpers for the Temple guards. The fact he was only credited with three assists borders on criminal.
Looking at the big picture, this win not only was huge for Temple -- who looked like a legitimate contender to Butler and VCU in the Atlantic 10 -- it was big for the league as a whole. Saturday also saw Charlotte lose to Florida State, St. Joe's lose to Fairfield and Xavier lose to Wofford. The A-10, for as balanced and hectic as conference play is bound to be, doesn't have the kind of power at the top of the league that many expected. Temple's win is a nice statement.
As far as Syracuse is concerned, this loss isn't a huge deal, but it did expose some issues. Their defense appeared lethargic at times, they were crushed on the offensive glass down the stretch, and Michael Carter-Williams, for all the assists he hands out, had some serious issues scoring the ball. He can't shoot and he doesn't finish well in traffic. That's not a good combination.
No. 12 Missouri 82, No. 10 Illinois 73: For the fourth consecutive season, the Braggin' Rights will remain in the Show Me State, as the Tigers pulled away from the Illini down the stretch. Laurence Bowers had 23 points, 10 boards and four assists while Alex Oriakhi chipped in with another double-double, but the player of the game for Missouri was Phil Pressey. Pressey finished with 12 points and 11 assists, but perhaps what's most impressive about his performance is that he was the best player on the floor for the Tigers despite shooting 1-for-17 from the field and missing his first 15 shots. That's hard to do. Pressey completely controlled the tempo of the game and routinely got his teammates open looks from three. He probably could have had another six or seven assists had those threes dropped.
In his first significant action of the season for the Tigers, newly-eligible Jabari Brown had 18 points and seven boards. More importantly, he went 3-for-7 from three. Frank Haith's club desperately needs his shooting prowess.
Kansas State 67, No. 8 Florida 61: Bruce Weber notched the biggest win of his short tenure at Kansas State by knocking off the Gators in Kansas City. Will Spradling led the way for the Wildcats, finishing with 17 points, six boards and five assists as he was forced to play many of his 39 minutes at the point guard spot as Angel Rodriguez battled foul trouble. Also impressive was Jordan Henriquez, who finished with nine points, six boards and five blocks and went 5-for-9 from the free throw line. He entered the game 2-for-19 from the stripe on the season.
The bigger question coming out of the Sprint Center on Saturday night was whether this result had more to do with Kansas State finally playing up to their potential or Florida, who lost last Saturday night at Arizona, coming back to earth. For as good as the Gators are defensively, they are not an elite team when they are getting production from their backcourt. Kenny Boynton entered the game 3-for-27 from three in his last four games. On Saturday, he had 11 points but finished 4-for-11 from the floor and 1-for-5 from three.
South Dakota State 70, No. 16 New Mexico 65: Nate Wolters led four players in double figures for the Jackrabbits with 28 points, while also adding seven assists, as he outdueled Kendall Williams and led SDSU to a win over the previously undefeated Lobos in Albuquerque. SDSU loaded up their non-conference schedule this season, but Saturday was the first time they were able to come through with a marquee victory. It probably won't be enough to keep them off the bubble if they happen to lose in the Summit League tournament come March, but this was a statement that the Jackrabbits are for real. Coming off of a 27-point loss to Belmont, that statement was needed.
What makes the win all that much more impressive is SDSU was forced to take a bus all the way to New Mexico because Winter Storm Draco closed down airports. That's a long bus ride home that got a lot more enjoyable.
No. 20 Michigan State 67, Texas 56:Keith Appling had 14 points and Adreian Payne chipped in with 13, but Saturday was the Derrick Nix show in East Lansing. He finished with 25 points and 11 boards to lead the Spartans to a win over the Longhorns, who were coming off of an 18-point victory against North Carolina.
Kentucky 82, Marshall 54:Ryan Harrow had the best game of his college career on Saturday, scoring a career-high 23 points as Kentucky used a 21-5 run in the second half to put away the Thundering Herd. The importance of that performance by Harrow cannot be understated. Kentucky needs him to be a steadying influence at the point guard spot, and one of the biggest hindrances has been shaky confidence from the sophomore. This should help solve that problem.
Dayton 77, Murray State 68: Kevin Dillard shook off back spasms that had been bothering him late in the week and took over down the stretch against the Racers, finishing with 18 points and 10 assists in the win. Dillard, who out-dueled Murray State All-American Isaiah Canaan, sparked a 17-5 run in the second half and scored 13 of Dayton's last 20 points.
Marquette 84, LSU 80: The Golden Eagles blew a 21-point first half lead, allowing LSU to tie the game in the second half on a number of occasions. But Marquette was able to put together a late run to regain control of the game to avoid their second consecutive ugly loss. Davante Garnder led the way with 19 points off the bench.
Mercer 66, Alabama 59: Mercer erased a 12-point deficit in the first half and held Alabama scoreless over the final 1:37 of the game as the Bears picked up their second win of the season against a BCS conference opponent. (They also won at Florida State.) Daniel Coursey led the way with 20 points.
Florida State 79, Charlotte 76: After being held out of a game during the week due to a disciplinary issue, Michael Snaer responded by scoring 30 points as the Seminoles knocked off a better-than-you-think Charlotte team. FSU trailed at the half but used a 10-0 run early in the second half to take the lead.
Wofford 56, Xavier 55: Dumbest play of the day goes to Jeff Robinson from Xavier. After two Brad Redford threes in the final 14 seconds tied the game at 55 with 6.5 seconds left, Robinson didn't realize the score was tied and fouled Lee Skinner, who hit 1-of-2 from the line. Semaj Christon committed a charge on the ensuing possession.