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March 1, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

The Morning Dish – Monday, March 1st

Gamecock Down: South Carolina senior forward Rolando Howell will not play again this season after breaking his wrist against Georgia Saturday night. Howell broke his fall in a scuffle under the hoop then broke his wrist. Howell has missed 12 games already this season – two because of a foot injury and 10 because of a suspension. Howell averaged nine points and 5.4 rebounds in the games in which he did play.

Orangemen End Pitt’s Streak: Syracuse picked up a much-needed road victory at No. 3 Pittsburgh, 49-46 in overtime. The loss ended Pitt’s 40-game home winning streak. The game was a blue-collar battle between Big East teams destined to torture unsuspecting opponents with suffocating defense. Both teams shot under 40 percent in the game. Neither team made more than three three-point shots. The most effective shots were earned in the paint. For Syracuse, junior forward Hakim Warrick led a second-half rally and finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and two blocks. The game sneaked into overtime when Pitt’s junior forward Chevon Troutman made 1-of-2 free throws with three seconds remaining, leaving the score tied at 42 at the end of regulation. Sophomore guard Gerry McNamara hit his only field goal of the game in overtime – a go-ahead three pointer that led Syracuse to the victory.

Big East Elite Becomes a Party of Three: No. 14 Providence decided to crash the party at the top of the Big East standings, previously held by Pittsburgh and No. 8 Connecticut. The Friars used a 62-point first half to cruise to a 103-78 win at St. John’s, clinching a first-round bye in the Big East conference tournament. The loss also clinched St. John’s a spot in Madison Square Garden seats to watch the tournament, as the Red Storm failed to qualify for the conference tournament. Junior forward Ryan Gomes led the Friars, who had all five starters reach double figures in scoring, with 19 points, 11 rebounds and three steals. Gomes is a human highlight reel and would likely earn conference player of the year if it weren’t for that shot-blocking, rebound-hawking monster named Emeka Okafor at Connecticut. Perhaps a future Big East player of the year candidate, St. John’s sophomore guard Darryll Hill lived up to his nickname, Showtime, by scoring 24 points, grabbing five rebounds, dishing nine assists and breaking at least four opponents’ ankles.

Same Old SEC Story: The SEC has been one of the nation’s best conferences this season from top to bottom. Yet the teams at the top remain the same as last year. No. 9 Kentucky wrapped up the SEC East division title with a 70-64 win against LSU. The Tigers played without superstar Jaime Lloreda, and Kentucky senior guard Gerald Fitch stole the show with 23 points, including 5-of-8 three pointers. One of the younger teams in the SEC, LSU was led by sophomore guard Darrel Mitchell, who scored 15 points. If all of LSU’s youngsters stay for next season, the Tigers could easily become Kentucky’s greatest challenger in the conference.

Tar Heels Find the Road to Success: No. 16 North Carolina is a tough team to figure out. The Tar Heels went to Virginia earlier in the week and lost a game they should have won. Last night, the Tar Heels visited No. 12 NC State, which should have handled North Carolina, and won 71-64. Sophomore guard Rashad McCants saved the Tar Heels from blowing another double-digit first-half lead by nailing back-to-back three pointers late in the game. He finished with 22 points, five rebounds and three assists. For NC State, senior forward Marcus Melvin led the failed rally attempt with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Melvin drained one three pointer to tie the game another one to take the lead before McCants delivered his heroics.

Duke Takes Advantage of Wolfpack’s Loss: With NC State’s loss, No. 4 Duke clinched at least a share of the ACC regular season title by beating Florida State 70-65. Duke had lost its previous two road trips to Tallahassee, Fla., but freshman forward Luol Deng made sure that Duke finished with better results this time around. Deng finished with 20 points and nine rebounds as Duke beat a determined Florida State squad. Senior guard Tim Pickett led the Seminoles with 24 points and five rebounds, but an apparent injury limited his effectiveness when the Seminoles needed him most at the end of the game. The loss damages, but not destroys, Florida State’s chances of earning an NCAA Tournament at-large bid.

Sinking Sooners: No. 21 Kansas handed Oklahoma its fourth consecutive loss when the Sooners desperately need to prove they are worthy of an NCAA Tournament bid. Junior forward Wayne Simien and junior guard Keith Langford led the way for Kansas, killing the Sooners in the second half. Kansas outscored Oklahoma 43-27 en route to a 79-58 win. Simien finished with 26 points and eight rebounds while Langford finished with 22 points, four rebounds and three assists. Freshman guard Lawrence McKenzie led Oklahoma with 15 points off the bench. Only one other Sooner reached double figures in scoring.

Badgers Beat Down Purdue: No. 17 Wisconsin exploded in the second half, scoring more than twice as many points as Purdue and going on to win 82-46. Junior forward Mike Wilkinson scored 23 points and added 12 rebounds to help Wisconsin pound Purdue. The Badgers erased Purdue’s best weapon, senior guard Kenneth Lowe, holding him to six points. The Badgers played trademark Wisconsin basketball, committing only seven turnovers, shooting better than 50 percent and outworking opponents for loose balls. The Badgers outrebounded Purdue 37-18.

Big Ten Bubble Work: Michigan kept hopes alive for an at-large bid by beating Ohio State 75-64. Sophomore guard Lester Abram led Michigan with 20 points. Junior guard Tony Stockman, a transfer from Clemson, led Ohio State with 22 points. Michigan sealed the victory by making 17-of-19 free throws. Michigan needs to shoot the ball well from everywhere to finish this season and in the conference tournament to have a better chance of earning an invitation to the Big Dance.

Kent State Busts Bubble: Teams like Michigan and Oklahoma love to see the top mid-major teams stumble. A day after Western Michigan lost to Toledo, the MAC’s other candidate for an at-large bid, Kent State, lost to Akron 64-61. Senior guard Derrick Tarver had a fantastic game for Akron, scoring 33 points to single-handedly beat Kent State. The Golden Flashes helped the cause by shooting under 37 percent in the game and heaving 35 three-point attempts. Senior guard Eric Haut led Kent State with 17 points.

Atlantic Sun Champion Crowned: Troy State captured the Atlantic Sun conference’s regular season title with a 68-66 win over Stetson in the final game of the regular season. Junior forward Rob Lewin scored 20 points and grabbed 14 rebounds for one of the nation’s highest scoring teams – Troy State averages 87.3 points per game. The Trojans represented the conference in last season’s NCAA Tournament and will have the top seed in this year’s conference tournament.

Tonight’s Menu:

• No. 8 Connecticut will look to avoid slipping behind fellow Big East leaders Providence and Pittsburgh by beating Seton Hall. No. 18 Southern Illinois will seek its form of perfection with a win at Northern Iowa to wrap up a perfect conference season.

• The best game of the night, however, will determine Big XII bragging rights as No. 10 Texas pays a visit to No. 6 Oklahoma State. Meanwhile, Air Force can wrap up an improbable Mountain West regular season title with a win against San Diego State. Utah will travel to BYU in a game that will likely determine second place in the Mountain West.

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