Syracuse proved it should have no trouble competing for an ACC title in its Maui Invitational semifinal win over Cal. (Eugene Tanner/AP Photo)
Tuesday's action was highlighted by the Maui Invitational Semifinals and championship games in the CBE and Legends Classics.
(8) Syracuse 92, Cal 81
Golden Bears junior forward Richard Solomon missed Tuesday’s game after suffering an eye injury during the second half of Monday’s 8-point victory over Arkansas. Cal hung with the Orange deep into the second half without their karate-trained big man, but Syracuse put the Bears away with a game-turning 9-0 run midway through the second half en route to a 92-81 win in Tuesday’s first Maui Invitational semifinal. The Orange, who had yet to face an NCAA Tournament-caliber opponent before Tuesday, will take on No. 18 Baylor Wednesday in the championship game. Sophomore forward Jerami Grant played the best game of his career to date, scoring 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting, snatching eight rebounds and delivering a vicious, two-handed putback slam in the second half.
Grant’s jam put ‘Cuse up five, a margin doubled less than a minute later after Trevor Cooney buried a corner three and Tyler Ennis stole the ball before converting a lay-up. Freshman Ennis, tasked with replacing first-round NBA draft pick Michael Carter-Williams at point guard, outplayed Cal’s formidable backcourt. The former five-star recruit finished with 28 points on 9-of-12 shooting and four assists. It’s hard to take away too much from one nonconference game, but Jim Boeheim’s team provided a glimpse of why – provided young players like Ennis and Grant can be consistent – it should have little trouble competing for an ACC title in its first year in the league.
(12) Wichita State 75, BYU 62
This game was billed as a clash of styles: the run-and-gun Cougars against the slow-paced, deliberate Shockers. The latter style won out in Tuesday night’s CBE Classic championship game, as Wichita State took control of a back-and-fourth game late in the second half to top the Cougars and solidify its status as a top-15 team. Guard Ron Baker poured in 23 points, snared eight rebounds and went 11-for-11 on free throws, while guard Fred VanVleet and forward Cleanthony Early both added 12 points. Baker sank six free throws in the final minute to ice the game.
Few nonconference matchups between non-Power Six conference teams this season will be as intriguing as this one. Wichita State is the favorite to win the Missouri Valley Conference, while BYU could well push Gonzaga for the West Coast Conference title. The Cougars must have felt like they were playing a true road game (the game was held at the Sprint Center in Kansas City), which only makes their performance – hanging tight with a top-15 team deep into the second half – that much more notable. The Cougars should leave this game with plenty of confidence. They may not play a more difficult game the rest of the season.
(10) Wisconsin 63, Saint Louis 57
Would Saint Louis’ top-five efficiency defense be able to limit Wisconsin’s top-10 efficiency offense? That was the important question surrounding this game, a matchup between likely NCAA Tournament-bound teams. After Wisconsin’s 63-57 victory over the Billikens, we still may not know the answer. The Badgers opened up a 15-point lead less than 10 minutes into the second half, only to watch Saint Louis, on the strength of 12 second-half points from forward Dwayne Evans, narrow the lead to just five with under a minute to go. Wisconsin point guard Traevon Jackson, who led the Badgers with 16 points, sealed the game at the free-throw line, hitting all four of his attempts from the stripe (and blocking a shot) in the final minute of regulation.
The Badgers scored just 63 points at a 1.03 points-per-possession clip, well below their season average (1.15) coming in. This wasn’t their best offensive performance of the season by any means. Still, Wisconsin – having compiled one of the most impressive collections of nonconference victories in the country, with wins over Saint John’s, then-No. 11 Florida, Green Bay and the Billikens – should walk away content with Tuesday’s result. Saint Louis’s defense will give its opponents fits all season long. That the Badgers, who will take on West Virginia Wednesday in the Cancun Classic championship game, were able to overcome it and maintain their undefeated record (7-0) is impressive.
Pittsburgh 88, Stanford 67
There was no evidence on Pittsburgh’s body of work through five games of the season to suggest the Panthers were 21 points better than Stanford. The Cardinal is talented, deep and athletic, a fringe Pac-12 contender expected to compete for an NCAA Tournament berth. Stanford might qualify for the Big Dance, but it barely looked competitive in Tuesday night’s Legends Classic final at the Barclays Center.
The Panthers laid a beatdown on coach Johnny Dawkins’ team, opening up a 43-28 halftime lead and pushing the margin to 21 by the end of regulation. Tournament MVP Lamar Patterson led the barrage with 24 points, and forwards Durand Johnson and Talib Zanna added 14 apiece. Pittsburgh shot 45 percent from the floor, 47 percent from three and 88 percent from the line. The Panthers entered Tuesday with one of the 10 best defenses, and one of the 20 best offenses, in the country on a points-per-possession scale. But they had yet to beat even a decent opponent. Tuesday’s win served notice that Jamie Dixon’s team, despite receiving little-to-no ACC championship hype in the preseason, might be better than most people think.
(18) Baylor 67, Dayton 66
The first semifinal of the Maui Invitational was interesting. The second was thrilling.
Down one point with 12 seconds remaining, Dayton – who upended No. 11 Gonzaga on Monday – stood on the cusp of its second big upset win in as many days. Guard Vee Sanford’s shot missed, and Devin Oliver’s tip-in rimmed out, sealing the Bears’ win and sending them to Wednesday’s championship game for a matchup with Syracuse.
The Flyers led by five points at halftime and stretched their advantage to 10 midway through the second half. The Bears stormed back down the stretch, with Isaiah Austin scoring 10 points over the final 12 minutes, 30 seconds, before taking the lead on a lay-up from Cory Jefferson with under 20 seconds remaining. Jefferson, who has emerged as an offensive focal point for Baylor (he entered Tuesday having used a higher percentage of possessions than any other teammate through five games this season), keyed the Bears’ victory with 10 points, four rebounds and three blocks. Denver transfer Royce O’Neale had 13 points.
With the win, Baylor moves to 6-0, but the Bears may need to bank a few more W’s before sophomore forward Ricardo Gathers learns how to properly celebrate a hard-earned victory.
-- The future of Oklahoma State point guard Stevie Clark remains uncertain after coach Travis Ford confirmed Tuesday to The Oklahoman that the freshman has been suspended from the team. “Stevie Clark is not currently with the Cowboys due to personal matters. He continues to be a valued member of the Cowboy Basketball family. The timetable for his return will be evaluated in the near future.” Clark, who has averaged 9.8 points and 5.0 assists to help the Cowboys to a 5-0 start to the season, did not play in Oklahoma State’s 93-67 win over South Florida on Monday. A series of Tweets sent out from Clark’s account on Monday fueled rumors that Clark has been dismissed from the team. Clark’s mother, however, reiterated Tuesday to the The Oklahoman that her son is not leaving the Cowboys.
-- Powered by 12 points and seven rebounds from freshman forward Bobby Portis, Arkansas pulled away from Minnesota in the second half to win, 87-73, and earn a date with No. 11 Gonzaga on Wednesday in the Maui Invitational fifth-place game. The Zags throttled Chaminade, 113-81, one day after suffering a tough five-point loss to Dayton. Potential wins over a mediocre SEC team and a Division II foe probably wasn’t what coach Mark Few had hoped to gain out of this year’s trip to Maui, as Gonzaga missed out on potential resumé-boosting opportunities against Cal, Syracuse or Baylor.
-- Illinois pulled out an impressive 61-59 road win at the Thomas and Mack Center, toppling UNLV on a late lay-up from Drake transfer Rayvonte Rice, who finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds. After opening last season 12-0 and cracking the top-10 of the AP Poll, the Illini are off to another hot start (6-0). We’ll probably need to reassess John Groce’s team once it enters Big Ten play, but in the meantime, the Illini should do everything they can to notch as many quality nonconference wins as possible. Upcoming matchups include Georgia Tech (Dec. 3), at No. 14 Oregon (Dec. 14) and Missouri (Dec. 21)
-- DeAndre Daniels scored 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead No. 13 UConn to a 76-66 win over Loyola Maryland. The 7-0 Huskies welcome Florida to Gampel Pavilion on Monday.
-- Four days removed from a one-point loss to UConn in the 2K Sports Classic Championship game, Indiana routed previously undefeated Evansville, 77-46. Sophomore forward Jeremy Hollowell shot 8-of-9 from the free throw line and scored a career-high 18 points, while freshman forward Noah Vonleh chipped in 13 points and 12 rebounds. The Hoosiers will face Syracuse at the Carrier Dome on Dec. 3 in the Big Big Ten/ACC challenge.
-- Rutgers handed New Jersey cohabitant Fairleigh Dickinson its first win over a Division I opponent this season, falling, 73 -72, to the Knights in an NIT Season Tip-Off consolation game. Coach Eddie Jordan’s team has dropped three of four games since picking up consecutive wins over Yale and Canisius on Nov. 14 and 18, respectively.
-- After beating Southern Conference contender Elon on Monday, Metro State – the No. 1-ranked team in Division II – upset Canisius, 75-74. The Roadrunners, who also took down Fairleigh Dickinson last week, are the first D-II team to notch multiple victories at the NIT Season Tip-Off.
-- Texas thumped DePaul, 77-59, in the consolation game of the CBE Classic to move to 5-1 on the season. The Longhorns were pegged to finish near the bottom of the Big 12, but they’ve looked better than expected early in the season, having picked up wins over the Blue Demons and Atlantic Sun favorite Mercer.
-- Boston College avoided a potentially disastrous home loss to Sacred Heart (1-5) when guard Joe Rahon scored nine points in overtime to help the Eagles to an eight-point win (75-67). Forward Ryan Anderson had 28 points on 8-of-13 shooting and 11 rebounds.
-- Sophomore guard Eron Harris scored 19 points to pace West Virginia in an 18-point win over Old Dominion. The Mountaineers will face Wisconsin in the championship game of the Cancun Classic on Wednesday.
-- NC State bounced back from a 10-point loss to North Carolina Central last week by dominating Florida Gulf Coast, 82-62. Wolfpack Sophomore forward T.J. Warren had 30 points on 13-of-18 shooting. The Eagles, last year’s NCAA Tournament darlings, shot 35 percent from the field and 25 percent from three but hit 20-of-23 free throw attempts.
Statistical help for this post was provided by Kenpom.com.