Conference play is in full swing, but that does not mean upsets still are not occurring. Non-conference play prepares teams for the grind of their conference schedule. However, the conference schedule tests just how consistent a team can be. For mid-major programs, it is the beginning of the battle for the automatic bid. This past week saw some early statements from teams that were not the preseason conference favorites.
Mid-Major Week Ten Takeaways
Vermont received all of the preseason hype out of the America East. They were the preseason favorites, and rightly so, led by star Anthony Lamb. However, that can fuel other teams in their quest to dethrone the perceived favorite. Stony Brook put their hat into the ring, defeating Vermont on the road 81-77 on Wednesday.
Stony Brook and Vermont are the two winningest programs in the conference over the last nine years, though Vermont usually had the upper hand in head-to-head matchups. This was the Seawolves’ first victory over the Catamounts in their last eight tries. Elijah Olaniyi led Stony Brook with 28 points and 11 rebounds. Makale Foreman added 23 points. Lamb had 23 points in the loss for Vermont.
These two teams will meet again on February 20th, this time in New York. This was a big early win, with Olaniyi saying “it feels good because I feel like we earned a little bit of respect.” Stony Brook has put the rest of the America East on notice.
— Stony Brook Men’s Basketball (@StonyBrookMBB) January 9, 2020
Stephen F. Austin rocked the mid-major world when they upset Duke in Cameron Indoor earlier this year. That win had stirred talks of a potential at-large bid if the Lumberjacks could reel off a long win streak during Southland play. That notion took a hit when they fell to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Thursday.
The Islanders put on a shooting clinic in Nacogdoches, Texas as they upset the Lumberjacks 73-72. The Islanders shot 58.1 percent from the field, including going 58.8 percent (10-17) from behind the arc. They also went 13-14 from the free-throw line. Peyton Smith led all Corpus Christi scorers with 12 points, while Tony Lewis and Javae Lumpkins each added 11. Kevon Harris led the Lumberjacks with 24 points.
A home conference loss to a perceived inferior team does not look good. However, it’s obvious that Corpus Christi played a near-perfect game and still only came out with a one-point victory. If Stephen F. Austin had a mulligan in conference play, they used it this week. They can’t afford any more slip-ups if they want any chance at an at-large berth.
The Santa Clara Broncos have gotten lost in the WCC shuffle with most of the focus on Gonzaga, St. Mary’s and BYU. They mostly played fellow mid-major teams in the non-conference, which led many to believe they had a bloated record. However, the Broncos marched into St. Mary’s and beat the Gaels 67-66 on Saturday.
This was the 227th meeting between the two schools, but Santa Clara’s first win over the Gaels since 2015. The Broncos held St. Mary’s to just 36.4 percent shooting and held a 42-26 advantage in points in the paint. That included Josip Vrankic’s game-winning layup with 9.4 seconds remaining. Vrankic led all Bronco scorers with 22 points while bringing down 10 rebounds.
For St. Mary’s, it’s another tough conference loss after already suffering one to Pacific earlier this year. All of the sudden, the Gaels don’t seem so safe for tournament inclusion. Meanwhile, Santa Clara may be announcing themselves as a force in conference play. They can make an even bigger statement if they went on the road and beat Gonzaga this Thursday.
— Santa Clara Men's Basketball (@SantaClaraHoops) January 12, 2020
Wild Winthrop Win
Winthrop defeated Gardner-Webb 99-95 on Saturday to move to 4-0 in Big South play. However, the Eagles needed three overtimes to do it, and the sequence of events to play that much basketball was insane.
To reach the first overtime, Gardner-Webb needed their heroics first. Jose Perez hit a layup at the buzzer to tie the game at 69 at the end of regulation. Then, it was Winthrop’s turn to play hero ball a few times. Gardner-Webb was up six with 18 seconds left, seemingly with the game in hand. However, Chandler Vaudrin made a three-point basket while getting fouled. He missed the free-throw, but it was tipped out to Hunter Hale who drained the game-tying three with two seconds remaining. Vaudrin then drilled the game-tying three that sent the game to a third overtime, with 2.2 seconds left in the second overtime.
The Eagles finally asserted themselves in the final overtime period, pulling out the victory. Hale had 25 points and Vaudrin had 24 points for Winthrop, while Gardner-Webb’s Perez led all scorers with 35 points. Winthrop may now be the Big South favorites, with 4-0 being their best start since 2006-07.
— Winthrop Basketball (@Winthrop_MBB) January 12, 2020
Mid-Major Top Performers
There were a few notable mid-major shooting performances that almost eclipsed 40 points this week. A.J. Lawson of McNeese State scored 37 points against Abilene Christian on Wednesday. That was a career-high for Lawson, leading a Cowboy team that shot 63 percent for the game, including 71.4 percent in the second half. He shot 11-17 from the floor and 13-14 from the free-throw line.
Jhivvan Jackson of UTSA finds himself back on this list again, scoring 37 points against Louisiana Tech on Thursday. He shot 8-15 from behind the arc, helping the Roadrunners set a new program record for made threes in a game with 18. It also helped them upset the conference favorites, handing Louisiana Tech their first conference loss. This was Jackson’s sixth game scoring 30 or more points, helping him keep pace with Markus Howard in the NCAA scoring title race.
Marcus Hammond of Niagara scored 36 points in a loss to Quinnipiac on Friday. It was a career-high for Hammond, as he scored 36 of the Purple Eagles’ 56 points. He went 14-22 shooting, including 5-9 from the three-point line. The 14 made field goals were the most by a Niagara player since 2008.
Finally, San Antonio Brinson of NJIT scored 37 points in a victory over North Florida on Saturday. That was a new program record for points in a game for the Highlanders. Brinson scored 19 points in the first half on 9-12 shooting. He went 16-23 for the game while rounding out his stats by securing eight rebounds and dishing out five assists.