By Sean Kennedy
Pennsylvania 90, Cornell 83
Against one of the worst defensive teams in the nation, Penn’s offense had the breakout performance they’ve been waiting for all season, shooting 61% from the field to notch their highest point total of the season. The victory moved the Quakers back to .500 in Ivy League play. Although Penn’s success had more to do with poor defense by the Big Red, hopefully it will be something they can build on and provide some confidence going forward.
Tony Hicks scored 27 points, his biggest output since his 28 points in the opening game of the season against Temple, shooting 9-13 from the floor and 8-9 at the foul line. Fran Dougherty bounced back from his 2-point dud against Harvard to record his fourth double-double of the season with 17 points and 10 rebounds. We’ll see if they can keep up the hot shooting when the team goes for its first 2-game winning streak of the season tonight against Columbia.
Villanova 70, Seton Hall 53
The Wildcats got off to an uncharacteristic slow start Friday night, but finally earned their first lead of the game with three minutes left in the first half. Six points by Daniel Ochefu sparked a 13-1 Villanova run to end the half, propelling them to a lead that would not look back from. The win marked the 400th career victory as a collegiate head coach for Jay Wright, as fans serenaded him with chants of ‘400’ as the game drew to a close.
Aside from Ochefu’s surge late in the first half, it was the two main scorers for the Wildcats, James Bell and JayVaughn Pinkston, who carried the team offensively. Bell led the team with 20 points, shooting 4-7 from three as the rest of the team combined to go just 1-14. Pinkston was a dominant force on the low blocks, going 9-11 from the field for 19 points. The Wildcats will next hit the road for three straight games, starting against DePaul Wednesday night.
2:00 PM: Drexel (12-10, 4-5 CAA) vs. James Madison (8-15, 3-6 CAA)
Hoping to earn their first two-game winning stretch since early December, the Dragons welcome James Madison to the DAC. Drexel split last year’s two meetings, with each team winning at home in low-scoring contests, but that wsa a much-different squad for James Madison. The Dukes have really struggled offensively this season as they had five new starters coming into this season from last year’s team that won one of the 16-seed contests in the NCAA tournament before losing to Indiana. They have gotten a boost over the last month from the return of sophomore swingman Andre Nation, who was suspended by the school for the first 15 games for violating athletic department policy. In the 8 games since his return, Nation has led James Madison at 17 ppg on 53% shooting and 5.5 rpg, although the Dukes are just 2-6 over that stretch of conference play.
However, Drexel received some awful news yesterday that starter and second-leading rebounder Kaz Abif will be out for the season with a hand injury. Just when it looked like the Dragons were back to full strength (excluding Lee), and ready to make some noise in the Colonial, this nightmare season of injuries suddenly struck again. This game is the second of five straight for Drexel against opponents under .500 in conference play, so it’s wasn’t at all far-fetched for them to rip off a big winning streak, but with Abif out, who knows how Drexel will react. We’ll see if the Dragons have any fire left in their bellies.
5:00 PM: La Salle (12-10, 4-4 A-10) vs. Saint Louis (21-2, 8-0 A-10) – ESPN2
With the Explorers playing their worst stretch of ball this season (having lost 4 of their past games), the scheduling gods do not smile about La Salle as they next take on a Saint Louis club with a school-record 15-game winning streak. The Billikens easily dispatched of St. Joe’s a few days ago and will be looking to complete the Philly sweep and keep that remarkable run going. The Explorers were destroyed by 24 during the teams’ meeting in St. Louis last season; Rob Loe had 20 points and Dwayne Evans dropped 16 points and 17 rebounds in that contest. That pair have formed a formidable frontline for the Billikens once again, and they, along with point guard Jordair Jett, comprise the top three scorers for Saint Louis.
As we discussed for their contest against St. Joes, the Billikens are an elite defensive team that held the Hawks to just 1-15 from three. That defense spells trouble for a La Salle squad already among the worst-shooting teams in the country at just 41% from the field. Tyreek Duren has picked up his play of late after recovering from a nagging foot injury, but fellow guards Tyrone Garland and Sam Mills are both shooting under 40% on the season. If the Explorers are going to hang around in this contest, they’ll need big games from Jerrell Wright and Steve Zack on the interior, not only to provide some efficient scoring, but also to keep Dwayne Evans off the offensive glass. However, Saint Louis is too disciplined a squad to allow the struggling Explorers to get many open looks against them. I’d expect both teams to keep heading in their divergent directions.
7:00 PM: Pennsylvania (5-13, 2-2 Ivy) vs. Columbia (14-8, 3-2 Ivy)
After dismantling the horrific defense of Cornell, Penn will take a huge step up and battle the stout defense of Columbia. The Lions squeaked out a 1-point victory last night against Princeton, holding the Tigers to just 19 points in the second half. Columbia is holding opponents to just 41% shooting from the field on the year, in stark contrast to the 48% Cornell allows; we’ll see if the Quakers can carry over any modicum of success from last night’s game.
The duo of Alex Rosenberg and Maodo Lo leads the scoring attack for the Lions at 14 points per game apiece. Lo, a sophomore guard from Germany, is shooting 50% from the field and 49% from three, while Rosenberg, a 6’7″ forward, doesn’t venture out as often to the perimeter, but also excels from out there at 47%. Penn will have to be on top of its game to tame the Lions tonight.
8:00 PM: Saint Joseph’s (15-7, 5-3 A-10) vs. VCU (19-4, 7-1 A-10) – CBS Sports Network
In the final game of a murderer’s row stretch of A-10 opponents, the Hawks will look to shear the Rams after splitting those first two games against Massachusetts and Saint Louis. VCU has won 6 straight, including a double-overtime battle against La Salle a couple weeks back. Last season, St. Joe’s also fell to VCU in overtime despite shooting 52% from the field, as the much-publicized havoc defense employed by coach Shaka Smart helped VCU win the turnover battle 19-5. Then, it was a similar story in the A-10 tournament as the Rams knocked the Hawks out of contention by forcing 17 St. Joe’s turnovers in that contest (again, the Hawks shot well at 51%). You may be noticing a trend and it’s no secret that if St. Joe’s is going to prevail in tonight’s game, they’ll need to do a better job taking care of the ball.
The flip side of that ultra-aggressive defense is that, unlike last game against Saint Louis, there will be plenty of open looks available. It will be up to guys like Langston Galloway and Chris Wilson to knock down those shots from the perimeter and make the Rams pay for gambling. When the Rams are on offense, they’ll get the ball to Treveon Graham, who leads the team in scoring at over 15 ppg. He dropped a career-high 34 points against La Salle in that double-overtime VCU win, so you would presume coach Phil Martelli had his boys watch that film for how not to defend Graham. Still, everything always comes back to the turnover battle with VCU and I just don’t think the Hawks have the kind of poised ball-handler needed to navigate that Rams pressure. Even in the Hawks’ nest, I think VCU comes out on top here.