The first legitimate upset of the 2011-2012 season has struck. Don't fight the November madness. There is method in't.
No. 16 Arizona 67, Duquesne 59
No. 20 Texas A&M 81, Liberty 59
St. John's 78, Lehigh 73
Akron 68, Mississippi State 58
GAME OF THE NIGHT: St. John's 78, Lehigh 73
The Johnnies established themselves as the comeback kids of the first week of the season (it's a desirable title) by erasing a 16-point first half deficit to better visiting Lehigh Wednesday night. St. John's trailed William & Mary by seven at the half on Monday.
The game was also significant in that it marked the return of Red Storm head coach Steve Lavin, who made a surprising return to the bench for the first time since undergoing prostate cancer surgery on Oct. 6.
"When you’ve been away for a period of time and come back home and join forces with your basketball family, it’s a special night," said Lavin.
For the better part of 40 minutes it looked like Lavin's special night was going to be ruined by the visitors from the Patriot League.
Lehigh responded to the Red Storm's matchup zone by connecting on its first five three-point attempts and opening up a lead that eventually ballooned to 16 and rested at 10 after the first 20 minutes. The Mountain Hawks maintained an 14-point advantage with 11:09 to play, but that's when they hit a wall and went the next 5 minutes, 43 seconds without a point. Still trailing by just one with 2:08 left, Lehigh turned the ball over or missed a field goal attempt on six straight possessions and allowed SJU to ice the game away at the free-throw line.
The game was perhaps best encapsulated by the performance of Lehigh's C.J. McCollum, the reigning Patriot League Player of the Year and college basketball's leading returning scorer. McCollum made his first five shots and had 14 points at halftime, but he missed 11 of his next 12 attempts. The fact that he was on the floor for all but one minute of the game was very apparent down the stretch.
The star of the evening for the Johnnies was oft-referenced big man God'sgift Achiuwa, a player the undersized Mountain Hawks had no answer for. Achiuwa made all six of his field goal attempts and was 9-for-9 from the free-throw line, finishing the evening with 21 points and eight rebounds.
"He created problems on his own to a degree because of his sheer strength," Lehigh coach Brett Reed said. "He was able to establish position that we couldn't root him out of. When he was able to establish that deep position, he was getting into his moves before we could send the help."
The win wrapped up regional play in the 2K Sports Classic for St. John's, which will face Arizona at Madison Square Garden next Thursday night in the tournament's championship round.
UPSET OF THE NIGHT: Akron 68, Mississippi State 58
Rick Stansbury's team (in standard Rick Stansbury's team fashion) gave its second uninspiring performance in as many games, this time falling to Akron by ten.
The Zips - ranked 21st in our preseason mid-major top 25 - shot 51.5% and led for nearly the entire game. Junior forward Quincy Diggs, a transfer from New Orleans, headlined the performance with 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting. NBA prospect Zeke Marshall added 10 points, six rebounds and five blocks before fouling out with a little over three minutes to play.
"I want to give Akron all the credit tonight, they were better than us in every area," Satnsbury said. "We tried to get our guys to understand how good Akron was. We were never able to get control of the game, and our guys were a step slower. Akron was faster, and quicker to every loose ball than our team. We expended a lot of energy Monday chasing around Eastern Kentucky, but that is never an excuse."
While jumping on a head coach for a November loss is almost always unfair, it's Stansbury's history of underachieving at State that has wrought the criticism that will continue until, uh, his teams stop underachieving.
I wouldn't trust him with the '96 Bulls.
PLAYER OF THE NIGHT: God'sgift Achiuwa
The man Steve Lavin refers to simply as "Gift" failed to miss a shot (6-of-6 from the field, 9-of-9 from the stripe) and was the biggest reason St. John's was able to avoid the dreaded November upset.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT:
"He had been around (the arena) all day. He was in the locker room. He looks good and gave us some great advice. And he spoke with the team after the game." --Texas A&M associate head coach Glynn Cyprien on head coach Billy Kennedy, who is on medical leave following his recent diagnosis of an early stage of Parkinson's disease. The Aggies trounced Liberty in their season-opener, 81-59.
VIDEO OF THE NIGHT:
Zeke Marshall will probably be in the league this time next year. Renardo Sidney probably will not. This is why.
NUMBER OF THE NIGHT: 31
The difference between the number of free-throws attempted by St. John's (44) and the number of free-throws attempted by Lehigh (13). The Johnnies outscored the Mountain Hawks by 19 from the stripe and won by five.
--Arizona freshman guard Josiah Turner was removed from the starting lineup on Wednesday night because he missed the team's shootaround earlier in the day. The move may have cost Turner his spot for good (or at least the time being) as sophomore Jordin Mayes took his place and promptly led the Wildcats in scoring with 19. Turner failed to register a point in 17 minutes of action.
--Steve Lavin's plan all along had been to return to the bench for Sunday's game against UMBC, but he shocked even his own team by making the move four days earlier.
"We actually didn’t have a clue he’d be coaching today," freshman forward Moe Harkless said. "We didn’t know he was coming until after the first part of our warmup. All of a sudden, in came Coach Lavin and everyone got excited."
--Guard Khris Middleton, universally considered to be Texas A&M's best player, left in the first half of Wednesday's game with a tweaked hamstring. The Aggies didn't need him against Liberty, but they will in a week when they face Mississippi State and then either St. John's or Arizona the night after that.
--Arizona handled a decent Duquesne team, but they still finished the evening with 21 turnovers. That's the most they've committed since February of 2010.
--Renardo Sidney is officially a more evolved Derrick Caracter. And by more involved I mean even more of a prima donna and even less interested in playing basketball. A true modern man.
--Kent State garnered much of the preseason love in the MAC, but they're going to have to be awfully good to be better than Akron. The Zips are talented, experienced, well-coached and have a future NBA center on their roster.
ON TAP FOR TONIGHT: Nothing
It's OK though because you get to multiply that by 130 on Friday. I mean, you'd have to add one to the nothing first, because any number times zero is zero, but there are 130 games on Friday. That's...what I'm driving at. It will be fun.