Florida's Dorian Finney-Smith (10) reacts after sinking a 3-pointer during the Gators' 77-75 win over Memphis. (Seth Wenig/AP)
No. 16 Florida 77, No. 15 Memphis 75
After four years of talk about how Josh Pastner's squad had never beaten a ranked team, his Tigers nearly knocked off their second this month. Ball in hand and down by two with just over 10 seconds to play, Memphis certainly had its shot. But Joe Jackson's driving layup attempt, shot as he was sandwiched between 6-foot-8 defenders Dorian Finney-Smith and Will Yeguete, came up short and was tipped out beyond the arc as time expired, leaving the Gators as the team with its second resume-boosting win of December.
For those who had sit through the sludge of the first game of the Jimmy V Classic (see the Cincy-Pitt recap below), Florida and Memphis provided a welcome reward. a flowing, athletic, well-executed battle between two talented teams capable of deep runs in three months' time. It was the kind of quality basketball that should boost the perceptions of both teams. The Gators, who had knocked Kansas on its heels a week ago with a series of first-half jabs, again came out swinging, holding a 21-11 lead just over eight minutes into the game. But beginning with a pair of jumpers by Michael Dixon, Jr., Memphis made its next eight field goal attempts to cut Florida's lead to one before the Gators took a three-point advantage into halftime.
From there, the game was played close, with both teams seemingly rising to respond to the other's every move, until a small run at an opportune time put Florida in the driver's seat: Over a three-minute span, four Gator field goals and a pair of free throws by the Tigers' Shaq Goodwin added up to a 66-60 Florida lead with 7:54 to play.
The game entered its final minute with the Gators up five, which is when things got tight. Up four with 40 seconds left, Finney-Smith missed the front end of a one-and-one, leading to a Memphis possession after a jump ball. Jackson drove past Scottie Wilbekin and changed hands to maneuver around Patric Young to bang a runner off the glass, cutting the deficit to two. After Casey Prather and Shaq Goodwin exchanged free throws, Wilbekin missed the front end of his one-and-one, which Geron Johnson corralled for the Tigers. But after Pastner called timeout, all Memphis could muster was Jackson's last-chance miss in traffic, perhaps as much an attempt to get to the free-throw line as to tie the game then and there.
Freed from the can't-beat-a-ranked-team-baggage by their win over Oklahoma State on Dec. 1, Memphis's loss can be judged on its own terms, which are pretty good as far as losses go: On a neutral floor and in front of a national audience, the Tigers dug out of an early hole against a talented SEC team and nearly sent the game to overtime.
Concerns remain on the interior - forwards accounted for just 11 of their 75 points, while the Gators had nearly as many offensive rebounds (13) as Memphis had defensive (17) - but the Tigers' quartet of senior guards (Jackson, Dixon, Johnson and Chris Crawford) proved capable of carrying them even against a team with the size and strength of Florida. If Goodwin, who played well in both meetings with Oklahoma State, continues to improve as he has already this year, this team could have the balance to make real noise.
And of course Florida, the team that actually won the game, has to be feeling much better about its prospects now than it was just over a week ago. The Gators endured their struggles to start the season, with Wilbekin (five-game suspension, ankle sprain against UConn), Finney-Smith (two-game suspension), Kasey Hill (sprained ankle), freshman Chris Walker (NCAA eligibility limbo), and South Carolina transfer Damontre Harris (suspension) all missing various amounts of time. While Harris is unlikely to ever join the team, the Gators - who may be joined by Walker soon - are now hitting their stride after consecutive wins over the Tigers and Jayhawks. (And the loss to UConn, coming as it did on a crazy, scrambling buzzer-beater against a top-15 in Storrs, was certainly not too damning in the first place.) Between the continued breakout of Prather, who had a game-high 22 points against Memphis, the interior presence of Young, the return of a healthy Wilbekin and the likely debut of Walker, there is a lot to like as Florida gets ready to duke it out with Kentucky atop the SEC.
No. 11 Wichita State 72, Alabama 67
It won't catch many eyes given the Crimson Tide's 5-5 record and fairly low national profile (for basketball, at least), but the Shockers' win Tuesday night is further confirmation that they are as legitimate as their program-best 11-0 start suggests. At the risk of sounding cliche, this was a resilient, gritty win on the court of a power-conference team that would not go away, the latest in a string of impressive victories - including at Saint Louis, against BYU in Kansas City, and at home against Tennessee - in Wichita State's encore to last season's Final Four run.
The Shockers opened a double-digit lead early, but when Cleanthony Early, Fred Van Vleet, and Ron Baker (a game-time decision after spraining his ankle last week) hit the bench with two fouls apiece midway through the first half, Alabama made it a one-point game by halftime. It was no coincidence that the Tide's, ahem, rise coincided with the awakening of Trevor Releford, the gutsy six-foot guard that drives the team on both ends.
Scoreless until hitting two free throws just under the first half's six-minute mark, Releford either scored or assisted on 14 of Alabama's next 17 points, including following a three to tie the game at 29-29 with an assist on a Rodney Cooper trey that gave the Crimson Tide its first lead on the next possession. In the second half, Releford hit consecutive threes of his own over the Shockers' zone to tie the game and then take the lead. He finished with 22 points and six assists, a performance made more impressive by the fact that he was still working through the hip injury that caused him to miss this weekend's win over Charleston Southern.
But Releford's heroics were ultimately not enough. Wichita State withstood the rally thanks in large part to its three foul-plagued starters; there was one particularly nice sequence with about three minutes left in which Van Vleet grabbed a defensive rebound then fired off an outlet to Baker, who found Early in transition for a quick bucket that put the Shockers up three. When Releford found Cooper for a layup on the other end, Early responded by contorting himself amid contact to hit a jumper in the lane that became a three-point play. Van Vleet and Tekele Cotton sealed the games with free throws, followed by Releford missing a rushed three to close out the game, but for the Shockers, it was hardly ever in doubt. "We think that we're going to win," Marshall said of his team's mindset afterward. It's hard to disagree.
Cincinnati 44, Pittsburgh 43
A trio of clock malfunctions delayed the Jimmy V Classic's first game from getting fully underway, prompting ESPN analyst Jay Bilas to joke on the telecast that "not since the peach basket was nailed up as a first possession been this long." Unfortunately, as one might expect in a meeting between these former Big East rivals, things only picked up slightly from there.
This was Pittsburgh's first true challenge after 10 straight easy wins to open their season, and the results were less than encouraging. Both teams brought strong defenses into the Garden; the Panthers' advantage was supposed to be on offense, where they entered the game 12th in adjusted efficiency (per KenPom.com) and Cincinnati, which often struggles to supplement senior Sean Kilpatrick's scoring, ranked 125th. But over one prolonged, stagnant possession after another, Pittsburgh struggled to get anything going, enduring a field-goal drought of 8:55 in the first half and one of 13:45 in the second. And while the Panthers' defense deserves credit for its blanketing of Kilpatrick, the Bearcats' continued inconsistency on that end certainly played a role in their posting a score nearly as unsightly as Pitt's.
One bright spot for the Bearcats, particularly in the first half, was the play of senior forward Justin Jackson, who scored 10 of Cincinnati's first 18 points after scoring just one in a 64-47 loss to Xavier on Saturday. Jackson finished with a team-high 12 points, yet it was the tone he set on the offensive boards that may have been most crucial. He finished with five offensive rebounds, only one of which did not extend a possession that led to points. All told, Cincinnati had 14 offensive rebounds compared to Pittsburgh's 19 defensive. None were more important than that which resulted in the game's final basket: With the Panthers up by one and less than 10 seconds to play, Titus Rubles put back a missed Kilpatrick layup to give the Bearcats a one-point lead.
The Panthers - who had missed a chance to go up by as much as three when Lamar Patterson clanked two free throws on the previous possession - inbounded to Cameron Wright, who could only manage a desperate half-court heave that died in the paint at the buzzer. With that, Pitt too fell short, and will now have home dates with Cal Poly and Albany to sort itself out before ACC play. And Cincinnati, losers of two straight heading into the game, took a step in the right direction, however ugly it may have been.
South Florida 68, Florida Gulf Coast 66 (2 OT): The finish of the night was really a tease: With 0.3 seconds left and USF up by two, those Dunk City miracle-workers lobbed a full-court pass to Chase Fieler, who caught and shot the ball while leaping in the air for an apparent game-tying basket. But by NCAA rules, the only way a shot can take place within three-tenths of a second is if it is tipped in; a catch-and-shoot, even when it is seemingly executed in that time like Fieler's, is by definition not a basket. With the shot waved off, South Florida won. Watch for yourself below:
Murray State 73, Southern Illinois 65: The night's most viral-ready multimedia moment, however, belonged to Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson. In his post-game press conference, Hinson called his team "mama's boys" and said in regards to their rebounding, "I've been telling my wife this for years: size doesn't matter." Watch below:
New Mexico State 67, New Mexico 61: It's never easy to go into The Pit and win; it's probably even harder when you feel the mounting pressure of blowing an 18-point first-half lead. But the Aggies held on thanks to Renaldo Dixon's block of Cullen Neal's would-be game-tying layup on a fast break with 34 seconds to play and six free throws from K.C. Ross-Miller.
No. 6 Louisville 90, Missouri State 60: The Cardinals cruised in their final home game of 2013, led by Montrezl Harrell's 17 points and eight rebounds, plus an eight-assist effort from Russ Smith, eight boards from freshman guard Terry Rozier and a near double-double from freshman Mangok Mathiang (eight points, nine rebounds). Rick Pitino was impressed, telling reporters, "I don't know what was better: the defense, the offense or the offensive rebounding. It was just awesome in the first half."
No. 5 Michigan State 78, North Florida 48: Even with forward Matt Costello out with mononucleosis and Travis Trice sitting due to a foot blister, the Spartans had no trouble with the visiting Ospreys. Branden Dawson had 19 points and seven rebounds in the kind of win Michigan State needed after narrowly escaping with a 67-63 over Oakland this weekend. "Right now, we're scrambling," said Tom Izzo.
No. 7 Oklahoma State 75, Delaware State 43: It wasn't the kind of game that has Marcus Smart near the top of Wooden Award and NBA Draft lists, but the Cowboys didn't need it to be. Smart, who had eight points, four rebounds, three assists, and three steals, took a bit of a backseat to Le'Bryan Nash (14 points, eight boards) and Markel Brown (14 points), in the offense, which ramped up after halftime for a 45-point second period.
No. 13 Oregon 91, UC-Irvine 63: