Rhode Island and Saint Mary’s are two teams who were on nearly everybody’s hot sleeper lists entering this season, and both had significant early-season chances yesterday to show they are worthy of the relative buzz that has built around them.
Both teams passed their tests on Saturday with flying colors. The Rams rallied from a 12-point deficit at one point to top Cincinnati 76-71 in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off, while the Gaels built a big second-half lead and then held on to defeat Dayton 61-57 at always-tough UD Arena.
Both squads earned wins over likely NCAA Tournament participants, and both did so in impressive fashion. URI rallied after a first half injury to point guard Jarvis Garrett, who fell to the floor hard and was taken off on a stretcher and to the hospital for evaluation.
The Rams’ other four starters all scored at least 14 points, with E.C. Matthews leading with 18 and Kuran Iverson coming up with a double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds). The Bearcats’ toughness is well-known, so this is a quality win for a program looking to establish itself as the Atlantic 10 favorite and to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 18 years (has it been that long??).
Saint Mary’s faced a wounded Dayton team, but one also that was at home and is accustomed to playing shorthanded. The Gaels ran up a 20-point lead and never trailed but made their task harder with a soft finish. Nevertheless, SMC finished the job and picked up a win in one of the toughest places to play in the country.
The Gaels have been much-maligned for their non-conference schedules of the past, specifically for not leaving cozy McKeon Pavilion more often. Some of that has been valid, some not (undoubtedly SMC could make some adjustment to its scheduling philosophy, though it must be noted the school has been ineligible for exempted events in recent years, and it’s not as if big boys are knocking down the doors asking the Gaels to come visit them). This one likely won’t satisfy those who are more impressed by name brands (read: BCS football) than quality of teams, but those in the know understand how tough of a place Dayton is to play and what a program Archie Miller has put together there. A road win like this is what many have been looking for from Saint Mary’s, and is also valuable for a team looking to not just make the NCAA tourney this year, but also make some noise when it gets there.
- On another football Saturday, it was a quiet day. No. 1 Duke was in action and had a tougher-than-expected time with Penn State before winning 78-68. The Blue Devils now face Rhode Island on Sunday in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off final.
- Texas Southern scored its second straight impressive win and third road win of the week. The Tigers followed up a win at Rice on Wednesday with a 77-76 win at La Salle as Dulani Robinson hit a three-pointer at the buzzer.
- South Alabama-which opened its season with a win at UNLV-is a surprising 4-0 after an 84-75 win over Youngstown State. Also from the Sun Belt, Arkansas State won again on its East Coast swing, edging Army 60-57.
- Another 4-0 team, and a very impressive one-Tennessee State. The Tigers won at Middle Tennessee State 74-63. Can’t say enough about the job Dana Ford has done at TSU.
- It was former Big West rival reunion night out west, as UC Irvine beat Pacific 72-65 and UNLV defeated Cal State-Fullerton 77-68 despite 21 points and 10 rebounds from the wonderfully named Lionheart Leslie.
- After a football-imposed day off Saturday, the Tires Pro Invitational and Charleston Classic wrap up on Sunday. The final in Orlando should be a dandy, with Northern Iowa taking on Xavier (7 p.m., ESPN2), the first of two meetings between these two this week (the Panthers also have a scheduled trip to X on Saturday). Villanova will take on upstart Central Florida in the title game in Charleston, with the Wildcats heavy favorites but UCF intriguing with the way Tacko Fall has been playing.
- Yale has been one of the most impressive teams of the young season with a pair of nice wins, but the Bulldogs have a chance for an even bigger win when they travel to Virginia.
- Arkansas State and Tennessee-Chattanooga meet at Army’s Christl Arena
- Princeton is at Lehigh in another good test for both teams early in the year.
- East Tennessee State goes to UNC Wilmington in a game that oozes entertainment value.
- The Paradise Jam semifinals also take place, with Saint Joseph’s meeting Mississippi (6 p.m., CBSSN) and Creighton against North Carolina State (8:30 p.m., CBSSN).
Have a wonderful Sunday.