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Conference USA Notebook

February 10, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments



Conference USA Notebook

by Zach Van Hart

Breakthrough of the week

While this score line – East Carolina 59, USF 57 – is not going to make it anywhere on SportsCenter, it was a historic win for the Pirates. After two and a half years in C-USA, East Carolina has its first conference road win. Not only did it break a streak of 20-straight conference road losses, but it stopped a current eight-game losing streak and gave ECU its first conference win of the season.

Frank Robinson was the unsung hero for the Pirates, scoring a season-high nineteen points and hitting the game-winning free throws with 11.5 seconds remaining, breaking a 57-57 tie. Averaging less than thirteen minutes and four points per game, Robinson went 7-of-10 from the field and 2-of-3 from the free throw line, which were the difference.

Fresh off their first road win, the Pirates were less than a second away from pulling off the biggest upset in C-USA this season, (including TCU’s 85-79 win at Marquette last week). East Carolina traveled to Charlotte Saturday and had a dramatic win in their grasps, but allowed an Eddie Basden tip-in with 0.5 seconds remaining to force overtime and eventually lost, 96-90.

The Pirates led, 80-78, and had Derrick Wiley going to the free-throw line to shoot with ten seconds remaining. Wiley, a 63.5 percent free-throw shooter, missed both shots. The Niners came down and Brendan Plavich missed a three-pointer and Demon Brown’s shot from the free-throw line was short. But the Pirates did not block out and Basden was able to beat the buzzer. The loss dropped East Carolina to 9-10 overall and 1-8 in conference play. They return to the court Wednesday at home against Memphis.

Breakdown of the week

While the Pirates only suffered one heartbreaking loss last week, the Houston Cougars suffered two. Even more upsetting was that both losses came at home. Their record now stands at 8-12 overall and 2-7 in C-USA and is 11th in the conference standings.

Heartbreak No. 1 came when Houston lost to Southern Miss Wednesday, 75-72, in triple overtime. Andre Owens and Lanny Smith both attempted three-pointers during the final four seconds, but both potential tying shots were off the mark. Smith scored a career-high 31 points during the 55-minute marathon game, three of which came with 8.6 seconds to go in regulation to force the first overtime.

Heartbreak No. 2 came when Houston hosted No. 11 Cincinnati Saturday and led for a majority of the game, before losing again by three, 54-51. Lanny Smith again missed a game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer. The Cougars took the lead, 51-50, with 90 seconds to go before Jason Maxiell scored on a putback with one minute to go. Andre Owens missed a fifteen-foot jumper on the next possession and two Maxiell free throws were the difference maker.

Big wins galore

The Pirates win was not the only big news in C-USA last week. As mentioned earlier, TCU went on the road and defeated Marquette, 85-79. The win was easily the biggest one by the Horned Frogs during their two-plus years in the conference. Memphis forced a three-way tie atop C-USA by defeating Louisville, 62-58. Add in DePaul’s win against Marquette and Louisville’s against UAB and there are five teams in C-USA with only two losses. It’s getting crowded at the top.

Player of the Week

Andre Brown, DePaul

The senior center averaged nineteen points and eleven rebounds during the Blue Demons’ two wins last week, including its first win in four seasons against Marquette. Brown totaled 24 points and twelve rebounds against Tulane earlier in the week, only his second game back from his knee injury.

Around the rest of C-USA

Charlotte (14-5, 6-2) Last week: 1-0

After beating then No. 8 Cincinnati on the road, the Niners suffered a letdown during their lone game of the week. Lucky for Charlotte, it still managed to win the game, 96-90 in overtime against East Carolina. Eddie Basden scored a career-high 27 points, went 4-of-4 from the three-point line and hit the game-tying field goal with 0.5 seconds remaining in regulation. Up next – against No. 6 Louisville, Feb. 12.

Cincinnati (16-3, 7-2) Last week: 1-1

The Bearcats played two barn burners, coming out on top of the conference game and losing their non-conference battle. During the annual Crosstown Shootout, Cincinnati led by one point late before Lionel Chalmers hit an eighteen-footer with 27 seconds to win it for Xavier, 71-69. The Bearcats went the final 6:31 without a field goal and lost their chance at a win when Nick Williams threw the ball away with 4.9 seconds to go.

Cincinnati then played sluggish Saturday but still pulled off a 54-51 win at Houston. Robert Whaley scored a season-high seventeen points and kept the Bearcats afloat during a sluggish first half. During the second half, Jason Maxiell came back from foul trouble to score the final four points of the game. Up next – against USF, Feb. 11.

DePaul (13-7, 6-3) Last week: 2-0

The Blue Demons continued their hot streak, which is now 6-1 during their last seven games, with two wins last week. Early in the week against Tulane, Andre Brown dominated inside. Honored above, Brown finished with 24 points and twelve rebounds. He was joined by three others in double digits, led by Drake Diener’s eighteen. DePaul took care of the Green Wave, 72-58.

The Demons next took care of Marquette, a team they had failed to beat since February 2000, 84-78. Delonte Holland broke out of a scoring slump with 21 points, while Diener, Brown and Quemont Greer again added double digits. Diener defeated his cousin Travis for the first time in six tries, although Travis did his best to prevent the loss, scoring 31 points. Up next – at Saint Louis, Feb. 11.

Louisville (17-3, 7-2) Last week: 1-1

The Cardinals suffered a tough defeat at the hands of Memphis early in the week, their second straight, before recovering for a big home win against UAB. Louisville led late against the Tigers before John Carney hit back-to-back three-pointers to give Memphis the lead. Francisco Garcia and Taquan Dean both sat out again to nurse their injuries. In their absence, Larry O’Bannon scored a career-high 26 points. It was not enough though, as no other players scored in double figures.

Louisville responded by beating UAB, who entered the game in sole possession of first place in C-USA. Dean and Garcia both contributed off the bench and Luke Whitehead finished with thirteen points and eighteen rebounds, as the Cards won 73-55. Louisville’s defense was the key, forcing the Blazers to 31.5 percent shooting and Morris Finley to eleven points on 3-of-14 shooting, including 1-of-8 from deep. Up next – at Charlotte, Feb. 12.

Marquette (13-7, 4-5) Last week: 0-2

Just a week ago, it appeared the Golden Eagles hit a turning point in their season with a road victory against then No. 4 Louisville. Now, Marquette’s season and NCAA Tournament hopes are fading fast. First, the Golden Eagles suffered a shocking loss, 85-79 at home to TCU. While the starting five did all it could, the Eagles’ bench could not hang with the depth and speed of the Horned Frogs. Desmond Mason and Travis Diener combined for 35 points, nine rebounds and ten assists in the losing effort.

Next Marquette went on the road to DePaul and promptly lost to the Blue Demons for the first time in four years, 84-78. Diener, who lost to his cousin Drake for the first time in six tries, did his best to will his team to victory with 31 points. Suddenly the defending conference champions are in tenth place and in serious jeopardy of missing the big dance. Up next – against Memphis, Feb. 14.

Memphis (16-4, 7-2) Last week: 2-0

The Tigers just keep on rollin’. Going up against No. 6 Louisville, no big deal. Welcoming the Billikens, piece of cake. Suddenly the Tigers have won seven straight and are in a three-way tie for first place in C-USA, with the Cardinals and Cincinnati. Against Louisville, Memphis was aided by a huge game from Rodney Carney. The forward scored a team-high nineteen points and hit two crucial back-to-back three-pointers during the final minutes to give Memphis the lead for good.

Saturday it was another hero for the Tigers, senior point guard Antonio Burks, who finished with 22 points. Along with the team’s fourteen block shots and 11-of-14 free throws made during the final 1:47, Memphis held on for the 63-54 win. This week holds in store the first of three very tough road games, starting with Marquette. Up next – at East Carolina, Feb. 11.

USF (6-12, 0-7) Last week: 0-2

If the Bulls were going to get a conference win this season, last week would have been the week. Now, it looks like the next time USF tastes victory could be during the 2004-05 exhibition season. The Bulls played East Carolina at home last week, a team that had never won a road game in C-USA. They have now, after the Pirates came into Tampa and won, 59-57, on two free throws with 11.5 seconds remaining.

Next the Bulls went on the road to play Tulane, another team without a win in conference this year. Again USF fell just a little short, 54-51, as Terrance Leather’s three-point attempt at the buzzer was off the rim. Leather did lead the Bulls with 24 points. Up next – at TCU, Feb. 9.

Southern Miss (11-8, 4-4) Last week: 1-0

The Golden Eagles only played one game last week, but it was almost long enough to equal two. Southern Miss won its second-straight road game, going to triple overtime to defeat Houston, 75-72. The usual suspects of Charles Gaines and Greg and Jasper Johnson did the majority of the damage for the Eagles, scoring 20, eleven and fourteen points respectively. Gaines also haled in eighteen rebounds before fouling out during the second half. The win climbed Southern Miss back to .500 in conference play. Up next – against UAB, Feb. 11.

Saint Louis (11-8, 4-4) Last week: 0-1

Two weeks ago the Billikens were 4-1 in conference and preparing for a three-game road trip to see if they were for real or not. It appears they know the answer now after dropping all three games. Saint Louis fought hard at Memphis but lost, 63-54. Reggie Bryant, the leading scorer in C-USA, led the Billikens with 21 points. Saint Louis, thanks to its quirky scheduling, will now come home for three-straight games. Up next – against DePaul, Feb. 11.

TCU (8-11, 4-4) Last week: 1-0

The Horned Frogs only played one game too last week, but it probably felt like they won the conference tournament. TCU went on the road to Marquette and came away with easily its biggest win during its two-plus year tenure in C-USA, thanks to an 85-79 upset. Marcus Shropshire led five players in double digits with 20 points, while backcourt mate Corey Santee finished with sixteen points and six assists, the same statistics for senior guard Nucleus Smith. Up next – at USF, Feb. 9.

Tulane (8-11, 1-7) Last week: 1-1

The Green Wave finally cracked the win column last week, first losing to DePaul before handling lowly USF at home. Against the Blue Demons, Tulane had no answer for Andre Brown. The big man went wild as mentioned earlier, as DePaul won handedly, 72-58. Quentin Davis did his best to respond as he finished with nineteen points and eight rebounds. His teammates did not back him up though as the rest of the Wave only shot 13-of-51 from the field.

Saturday was a different story. Four players, led by sophomore Vytas Tatarunas’ fourteen points, hit double figures as the team withstood a late Bulls’ run to win by five, 70-65. The Green Wave hit 8-of-10 free throws down the stretch to seal the win. Up next – against Houston, Feb. 11.

UAB (13-6, 6-2) Last week: 0-1

The Blazers brief stint atop the conference standings lasted less than a week as they were no match for the No. 6 Cardinals at Freedom Hall, 73-55. It was the team’s worst game of the season offensively, as they hit only 31.5 percent of their shots, while their 55 points was a season-low. Morris Finley, who had come on strong lately, only shot 3-of-14 from the field. Up next – at Southern Miss, Feb. 11.

Games to watch

DePaul at Saint Louis, Wednesday at 8 p.m.
The Blue Demons are hot, the Billikens are not. Reggie Bryant continues to go strong, while Andre Brown is becoming stronger each game back. A loss in this game would be a big blow to Saint Louis’ season.

Louisville at Charlotte, Thursday at 9 p.m.
You never know who is going to show up for the 49ers; the team who beat Cincinnati and Syracuse on the road or the team that barely defeated East Carolina at home. Garcia and Dean are still not 100 percent. If the Niners make their outside shots, they are hard to beat.

Memphis at Marquette, Saturday at 9 p.m.
Did the Golden Eagles really lose at home to TCU? Antonio Burks versus Travis Diener should be a great matchup. Scott Merritt will have a tough time against Sean Banks. Whoever gets the better of the play from Rodney Carney and Steve Novack will win.

     

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