By Sean Kennedy
UCF 94, Temple 90 (2OT)
Both regular season games this season between Temple and Central Florida were impossibly close, so to no one’s surprise, their meeting in the AAC tournament went right down to the wire as well. All game long, UCF star Isaiah Sykes terrorized the Owls, as he went off for a career-high 36 points. After Temple had earned what looked like a comfortable lead, up by 5 with just outside of 2 minutes remaining, Sykes went on a personal 5-0 run to tie the game and set up the potential for some last-minute fireworks. However, with the game tied once again on the final possession, what originally looked like a game-winner from Sykes was ruled to have left his hand a split second after the buzzer sounded, forcing overtime.
After regulation was over and really throughout the game, Temple hurt themselves by continually missing opportunities at the free throw line (13-26 on foul shots for the game). It looked like UCF had the game in hand, until the last 30 seconds of overtime, when Sykes made his one glaring mistake of the game, turning the ball over to Will Cummings, who took the ball the other way for a tying lay-in. However, the efforts of Cummings (25 points) and Quenton DeCosey (28 points, 6-8 3PT) were still not enough in the second overtime. A 7-0 run by the Knights gave them enough of a comfortable margin to hang on, advancing to the next round and a meeting with Cincinnati. For the Owls, an inability to stop Sykes all game long pretty well summed up their defensive ineptitude throughout the season. With Dalton Pepper the only senior and a host of transfers eligible next year, Fran Dunphy should have things turned around in a hurry.
12:00 PM: Villanova (28-3, 16-2 Big East) vs. Seton Hall (16-16, 6-12 Big East) – Fox Sports 1 [Big East tournament]
Now at their highest ranking of the season at #3 in the country, the Wildcats begin their quest for their second-ever Big East tournament title as they take on the Pirates at Madison Square Garden. Seton Hall advanced through the first round by way of a 1-point victory against Butler, and will find the going much tougher against the Wildcats. Villanova easily dispatched of the Pirates twice already this season, having no difficulty in winning both games by double digits.
Although the Wildcats have best known for their deep roster, they did receive some individual accolades with James Bell receiving All-Big East first team honors and JayVaughn Pinkston earning second team. Joining Pinkston on the second team was Seton Hall leading scorer Fuquan Edwin; Edwin missed the first game against the Wildcats but was shut down by Villanova in the second meeting, scoring just 8 points on 3-10 shooting. Given Villanova’s success against the Pirates this season and what are sure to be tired legs for Seton Hall, expect the Wildcats to move on and keep their dream alive of not only winning the Big East tournament, but earning a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament in the process.
12:00 PM: La Salle (15-15, 7-9 A-10) vs. St. Bonaventure (16-14, 6-10 A-10) – NBC Sports Network or CSN [A-10 tournament]
La Salle had a magical run last March and after a disappointing season this year, they’ll need to replicate such a streak beginning this afternoon at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The Explorers will face a St. Bonaventure squad against whom they used a late run just weeks ago to earn a home victory. A-10 All-2nd team player Tyreek Duren had some big buckets down the stretch in that contest for the Explorers, finishing with 18 points on the game. Bonnies’ leading scorer Matthew Wright also had 18 points, hitting 5 threes on the night, although La Salle did force him into 6 turnovers.
Wright has been hot lately for St. Bonaventure as that 18-point performance was his only game below 20 points in his last 6 contests. The La Salle defense will have to focus on containing him as well as boxing out defensively, as St. Bonaventure is among the better teams nationally on the offensive glass, with sophomore Dion Wright leading the way in that department. Much of the burden of slowing down the opposition on that end for La Salle will fall on the shoulders of newly minted A-10 all-defensive team member Steve Zack. Much of La Salle’s struggles this season have been a result of terrible shooting, as their 40.9% mark this season is among the worst teams in the nation. If the trio of senior guards in Duren, Tyrone Garland, and Sam Mills can find the range, the Explorers should advance; but if their form holds true from most of this season, La Salle will enter the offseason earlier than expected.