Photo: USA Today Sports
As conference play gets into full swing, the last of the MTEs arrive in early December as the perfect holiday gift for us college ball junkies. This weekend's most recent event, the Hall of Fame Invitational, did NOT disappoint. In case you missed four of the best games of this year's non-conference slate, here's my recap.
Game 1: Miami 72, Fordham 66
If you didn't want to wake up at 11:30 in the morning to watch basketball, you missed a strong opening game at the Barclays center. After years of watching Fordham offenses that failed to break 50 points in A-10 play, the Rams led an ACC school 37-35 at halftime. While most Barclays spectators were expecting a Miami blowout, the Rams were able to halt the Hurricanes first half game plan with some stunning offense of their own.
At the center of Fordham's offense was their go-to veteran Chuba Ohams. A dynamic forward who has really improved his off-the-ball skills this year, Ohams went 5-for-5 in the first half. Hurricanes Head Coach Jim Larrañaga described Ohams as a handful, and explained that his team's defensive mindset for the second half was to lock down the Fordham forward. Aside from stopping Ohams, Miami excelled at forcing Fordham to hit several late, contested shots. On multiple occasions, Miami had Fordham focusing on not getting a shot clock violation more than getting a quality look. Fordham finished the day 8-for-38 from three point range.
Offensively for Miami, their star was no doubt Charlie Moore, who won the first MVP award of the day. With 18 points and 7 rebounds, Moore helped put several nails in Fordham's coffin, stopping several potential comeback runs with clutch inside buckets. On a team where the guard play is pretty evenly spread, Coach Larrañaga had no trouble agreeing with the MVP selection.
"I couldn’t take him out tonight. He was really running the team well," Larrañaga said. "Everyone knows we have three exceptional guards, and it was Charlie’s turn to step up tonight and play huge."
Game 2: #1 Purdue 82, NC State 72 in OT
To me, the second game in Brooklyn felt like three games. If you were at this event and really want to feel like you got some more bang for your buck, feel free to join me in thinking like this.
The first game lasted for the first 38 minutes of regulation, in which the Wolfpack put on a strong performance against the top team in the nation. Getting off to a quick 8-0 lead, NC State seemed to confuse Purdue. Offensively, State relied on sneaky drives inside and playing into mismatches to build a lead as high as 16 points. Terquavion Smith was crucial in this effort, and his four point play at the start of the second half was emblematic of how State was able to control this game for so long.
The second game began with just over two minutes left in regulation, which was an incredibly close matchup that felt like something you'd see in the later rounds of March Madness. After chipping away at the deficit State had built up, Purdue was suddenly down by just 4. When looking at how this happened, all answers point right to Trevion Williams. Just one assist short of a triple-double, Williams was all over the floor to make sure Purdue stayed alive in this one. His most crucial shot came right around the two minute mark, an and-one layup that would tie the game for the first time since 0-0.
The third game, overtime, was when fans remembered that they were watching the best team in the nation. Purdue completely took over in overtime by getting some crucial stops, including a crucial Eric Hunter steal. The boilermakers were also aided by some decent bench minutes late in the game, with Head Coach Matt Painter describing his team's depth as a major key to victory.
With this come from behind win, as well as their loss to Rutgers last week, Purdue remaining number one in the rankings is a complete toss up. Regardless, a win is a win, and Purdue's win against NC State on Sunday gives Painter plenty of things to improve upon with his team.
"You’re not pleased with the position that you’re in," Painter said of the comeback. "But you’re pleased about being able to dig yourself out of a hole."
Game 3: Maryland 70, Florida 68
Hands down the best game of the night, this one was a back and forth slugfest that saw Maryland prevail off of 61.5% shooting from three point range. Fatts Russell, who earned the MVP for Game 3, was involved in nearly every crucial late-game play. Unafraid to drive into the lane, Russell hammered into Florida's defense for the entire second half, finding himself in several and-one situations to pile on extra points against the Gators. Both teams found themselves in foul trouble throughout the game, but Maryland was able to draw whistles in crucial moments more effectively to get the win.
Aside from the general excitement surrounding any win, Sunday's game against Florida marks the first win for Maryland following the departure of Mark Turgeon. For interim Head Coach Danny Manning, this shows that his Terrapins team could make some waves in this year's Big 10 as a potential tournament spoiler.
Game 4: Iona 91, Yale 77
Sunday proved to me once again why Rick Pitino is one of the best coaches to ever do it. Even when up by 20 points, Pitino wouldn't let his Gaels give Yale any slack. In their blowout win over the Bulldogs, Iona relied on their offense to carry them through, something uncharacteristic of this team. Overall, Iona shot 51% from the field, including 10-for-22 from three point range. Tyson Jolly led the scoring effort from the Gaels with 21 points, and Nelly Junior Joseph recorded a double double with 15 points and 7 rebounds.
Defensively, this is a hard game to evaluate. On one hand, only one Yale player scored in double figures. As a whole, Iona was able to lock down the Bulldogs and limit them to shooting just 41% from the field. On the other hand, as Pitino described himself, Iona made Yale's Azar Swain look like Steph Curry, as he went off for 35 points, 20 in the first half alone. Despite the lapse, Pitino seemed very happy with how his team performed this season, and looked forward to how their resume so far will prepare them for an upcoming game with Seton Hall.
"We've played so many good teams, from Kansas, Alabama, to Liberty — you name it, we played so many great teams this year and this is another great team like Kansas," Pitino reflected. "Seton Hall went into Michigan and the other night they beat a Texas team, and Chris Beard said that Seton Hall is definitely in the mix to win a national championship. Watching them on film, I would agree with that, but I hope that's not against us."