Live Blogging ESPN’s 24 Hours of College Basketball: Morning

We’re in the midst of our 22 straight hours live blogging ESPN’s College Basketball Marathon, although you probably should have inferred that from the title. If you want to catch up and take a stroll down Timmy Chang Memory Lane with John S, check out the Overnight Post. Tim will handle the 6 a.m. game between two of his favorite Jersey schools, Monmouth and St. Peter’s, and the 8 a.m. contest matching Drexel and Niagara. John S will be back at 10 for No. 24 Clemson and Liberty.

11:55: Well, Liberty screwed that up too. They’ll end up with 39 points, as Clemson wins the game by 40 points. Get ready for Northeastern and Siena, today’s noon game. We’ll be starting a new post at NPI, and Tim will be taking the reins back for the start of that game.

11:48: At this point, I’m basically just rooting for the teams to put up identical halves. Clemson needs to close the game on a 12-2 run, and they would have won each half 42-19. That would be pretty cool, right?

11:43: It’s a little hard to know how much to take away from a game like this, but Clemson looks like a pretty deep team. They’ve had eleven players score and are getting some nice contributions from Devin Booker, Andre Young, Milton Jennings, and Noel Johnson. If some of those guys can contribute in ACC play and tougher nonconference games, then the Tigers could be a pretty dangerous team.

11:35: The game’s getting pretty sloppy as we head into the final 8 minutes. Both teams are turning the ball over (Liberty’s got 18 on the game) and taking, and missing, bad shots. Clemson hasn’t been much better than the Flames over the last few minutes, but I think their 34 point lead is still safe. I know it’s not over till it’s over and all, but…..this one’s over.

11:25: By the way, Adrian Branch. Was that whole “willingness to compete” thing a veiled shot at Coach Taylor of East Dillon?

11: 24 Adrian Branch’s take on what Liberty can take away from this game: The negatives: They are getting outplayed in every aspect of the game. The positives: They still have “their willingness to compete.” Congratulations Liberty! You guys haven’t forfeited yet!

11:18: Booker comes out strong in the second half, scoring seven of the team’s 11 points before the first TV timeout. He’s also added a couple rebounds to give himself 11 total, along with his 12 points. Liberty got a three from Tyler Baker and not much else offensively. They kind of remind me of the Duke offense from three years ago: They’re very good at working it around the perimeter, and not much else.

11:08: I finally got one of ESPN’s Encyclopedia Trivia Questions right. Clemson has lost 54 straight times at UNC. Great, the one thing I get right is another reminder of the Tar Heels’ dominance. And this less than a week after the Harrison Barnes debacle.

11:05: The new ESPN halftime crew of Jason Williams and Doug Gottlieb is discussing the almost-upset of Kentucky last night. Apparently, John Calipari was “ecstatic” that Kentucky fell behind by 18 last night. He got to see what the team was made of. I mean, God forbid the Wildcats cruise to an easy win against an inferior team. How on Earth would we know what they are made of in that case?? Man, I still really don’t like Calipari.

10:52 AM: I don’t claim to be Bobby Knight or anything, but it seems to me that if you’re going to get outrebounded 24-11, then you ought to win the turnover battle, or shoot better than 30% from the field. Liberty doesn’t agree with me, though. I’m going to go ahead and question that strategy, since they’re down 42-19.

10:47: You know what makes a college basketball program great? The ability to replace talent. Right now, Clemson sophomore Tanner Smith seems determined to fill the gap left in Clemson’s “blindingly pale white guy with a reddish face who has a deceptively good jump shot” spot since Oglesby’s departure. He’s got five points, as the Tigers lead 39-15 at the under-four minute TV timeout.

10:40: Adrian Branch just went over the keys to playing a game this early, which apparently include “loving the game,” “shooting the ball” and “dribbling.” A bit reductive, but I can’t really say he’s wrong. I predict shooting the ball will play an integral role in this game.

10:37: Eric Collins is really enjoying this whole “no books, but a lot of Booker” thing. Apparently, Liberty cancelled classes in honor of this game. Get it? No books.

10:35: In case you wondering if Liberty replaced their departed “younger brother of a college basketball star” with another, well they did! They’ve got Eric Gordon’s younger brother Evan, who’s pulled down two rebounds, but missed three free throws already. Meanwhile, Adrian Branch is calling David Potter a “Allan Houston-type,” which makes me very excited. I, as basically anyone who ever even kind of rooted for the Knicks in the late ’90s did, loved Allan Houston.

10:28: David Potter has been Clemson’s best player for the first half of the first half (or, as the pros call it, the first quarter). He’s 4-4 behind the three-point line (shades of Mickey McConnell from Saint Mary’s). Apparently he’s a senior. But I don’t remember him at all. Either he’s made the leap, or Liberty isn’t very good.

10:22: We join the game already in progress and Clemson is already in control. They take a commanding 17-1 lead with 13:00 minutes left in the first half.

10:19: John S here again, bringing you Game #5 of ESPN’s Season Tip-Off. If you’ve been completely ignoring the ESPN announcers, we’re on Hour Eleven of the 24 Hour Marathon. Tim did a great job of bringing you the Battle of New Jersey and the Niagara-Drexel game. But now he has to prepare himself for Bill Raftery and Sean McDonough, who are calling noon game.

The 10 AM game brings us our first ranked team of the marathon, in #22 Clemson. ESPN might have Clemson at #23, but the AP has them at #22. And nobody cares about ESPN’s ranking except ESPN. Clemson lost K.C. Rivers and Terrence Oglesby from last year, but returns their leading scorer, forward Trevor Booker. He’ll be joined by his younger brother Devin this year.

Liberty, meanwhile, lost its leading scorer Seth Curry, brother of the great Stephen, to transfer (to Duke!). The Flames are pretty small, so it’ll be hard for them to be physical with the traditionally physical Tigers.

10:15: Dragons miss a three (Colds penetrated and kicked), and Benn atones for his mistake with two free throws on the other end. Niagara adds two more from the charity stripe for the final margin, 76-69.

10:10: After another Colds-activated three, Benn turns it over, deciding that, instead of calling a timeout, it would be easier to jump in the air, turn 180 degrees, and throw it off a Drexel defender. Clearly, you need those two timeout for the stretch run. Dragons have the ball down three with 20 ticks to go.

10:06: The Dragons’ actual plan: fadeaway three! And LaPhonso just referred to the “Duke Blue Demons.” He now compares favorably to Adrian Branch and simply compares to Stephen Bardo.

10:04: Drexel played defense for 20 of the 35 seconds of the shot clock, then fouled. I can’t stand teams that do this. Are players really that dumb? Niagara hits one of two and leads by five with 57 ticks left. Dragons’ plan should be for a quickish two, a defensive stop, another quick two, then you can start fouling with 20 or so left on the clock.

10:02: Looks like I spoke too soon: NU missed both freebies and Colds buried a trifecta on the other end. Between that and the free throws, you could say he’s Colds-blooded. Yeah, I went there.

10:01: Niagara just had about the best possession possible, running the shot clock down, missing a shot, getting the rebound, running the shot clock down, drawing a foul, making the first free throw and missing the second, getting the rebound, and then fouling out Leon Spencer. They’ve had the ball for over a minute, scored a point, and are going back to the line with a seven-point lead.

9:55: Austin Cooley swishes a backbreaking three at the shot clock buzzer to give the PEs a double-digit lead again. Niagara has turned the switch back on, it seems, and looks about ready to put Drexel away. It’s 67-59 at the under-4 timeout. Benn leads the way with 17 and 12 for NU.

Surprise of this game? LaPhonso Ellis. He’s done a nice job. I’d even go so far as to say he compares favorably to other swingmen-turned-analysts such as Stephen Bardo and Adrian Branch.

9:42: The Niagara fans chanted “You won’t make this!” at Gerald Colds, who proceeded to nail two free throws. Boy, do they have egg on their faces. Spencer, meanwhile, missed another chippy in the lane–the second time this half he’s missed something Sciambi described as “point-blank.” Each time, NU has scored the next possession. Those are killer changes of momentum. Spencer’s layup could have made it a two-point game; instead, it’s 60-51 Niagara with 7:50 to go.

9:37: Drexel has missed a few open looks that could have really tightened the score. On the other end, Niagara’s interior passing–which was very impressive in the first half–has not been crisp in the second half. More turnovers (four) than assists (one) this half for the PEs.

9:32: We’ve got ourselves a basketball game. A Shannon Givens three pulls the Dragons within five at 51-46, taking advantage of an extended Niagara drought. (Ha, you see the irony there? How could Niagara have a drought? There’s literally tons of water there!)

9:24: After closing the first half with a buzzer-beating layup, Bilal Benn opened the second period with a three to put NU up 15. The Purple Eagles have looked a little sluggish since that opening possession of the half, but the same could be said for Drexel. The Dragons have pulled it back to 47-36, although they can’t keep missing free throws. Look for them to try to go through Leon Spencer on the block, now that Bruiser decided he didn’t need to keep him on the bench with two fouls anymore. (I’m not a fan of coaches who automatically sit guys with two fouls for the entire half.)

9:20: The best thing I’ve seen today is easily that blocks are being called a lot more often than charges. I’m not lying or being sarcastic when I say the 1:1 ratio at which those calls have been made the last few seasons is my least favorite thing about college basketball. They instituted a new rule this year where you can’t slide under the basket for a charge, which is basically like having the semi-circle they have in the NBA without actually going to the effort of painting it on the court. While I haven’t seen any calls made because of the new rule, maybe making that call correctly (it’s not a charge unless the guy has some semblance of position) is a point of emphasis this year. Correctness should always be emphasized, in my opinion.

9:05: How dare you, ESPN? You just ran the exact same halftime show you ran two hours ago. Rece, Hubert, Digger, and Jay aren’t actually awake right now! I am outraged!

In the meantime, since you can’t get their first-half thoughts, you’ll have to settle for mine:*

  • Even when it was behind early, Niagara established the pace it wanted. It got Drexel in foul trouble, wore down the shorter bench, and started pulling away later in the half.
  • Bilal Benn was held down for much of the half but really came to life toward the end. You can see why he’s a first-team guy in the MAAC.
  • The Purple Eagles look good enough to hang with a team for about 25-30 minutes come March, or until their lack of size is exploited. Of course, that’s if they can top Siena in the MAAC.
  • Drexel doesn’t exactly look bad, but when you can’t hang athletically with a team from the MAAC, it probably doesn’t bode well for its chances in the CAA.

*Or go searching for some other blog commenting on the 8 a.m. Niagara-Drexel game. Yeah, good luck.

8:56: Now, I was blocked a lot of times in my career. Like I said, I was no “Bruiser” in the paint. But I was NEVER blocked by two people simultaneously, let alone THREE as Jamie Harris just did. Seriously, he went up for a layup, and no fewer than three Purple Eagles made contact with the ball. Jamie Harris shouldn’t drive the rest of the game.

A Benn layup at the buzzer gives Niagara their largest lead of the game at a dozen. It’s 42-30 at the break, and the Purple Eagles outscored the Dragons 34-13 after falling behind by nine early.

8:52: NU has stretched it to 10, as Bruiser Flint calls a timeout. What are the physical prerequisites to earn the moniker of “Bruiser”? I’m pretty sure 5-foot-8, 160 pounds, and white probably doesn’t cut it for me.

8:46: Preseason MAAC first-teamer Bilal Benn scores his first points from the line before getting his first field goal a possession later to put the Purple Eags up six. LaPhonso Ellis explains that Drexel is “doing what we would do” in denying Benn the ball. Who is the “we” in that sentence? Him and Sciambi? Him and the 1994 Nuggets? It can’t be the latter: You don’t need to deny the ball when you have Dikembe Mutombo. You funnel to the middle.

8:40: NU by two with just over five to play in an entertaining first half. Drexel has managed to stay close despite some foul trouble and multiple missed dunks.

8:32: Rob Garrison just went cookie jar on Chris Fouch before assisting on a Demetrius Williamson to give the Purple Eagles a 23-18 lead. Garrison already has 10 points, which is two shy of Travis Taylor’s game-high in the last contest. I’ll stop harping on how bad that game was now and move on to the issue of nicknames. Has anyone ever seen a purple eagle? And what’s going on with Niagara’s logo?

I think Bilal Benn pulled off a rare triple-dribble a few possessions ago.

8:27: After a 9-0 run pushed Drexel out to the lead, Niagara has responded with a 9-2 spurt of its own to cut the deficit to a bucket at 17-15.Already, this game is being played at a much higher level than its predecessor in Jersey City (due mainly to Monmouth, btw). Niagara scored off a nice inbounds play; I don’t think Monmouth ran an inbounds play in their game. The pace is fast, players are finishing in traffic… you might even say this is a more “organized” basketball game.

P.S. If I’m a minor college basketball player and my name were Derrick Thomas, I’d definitely wear No. 58.

8:14: It’s 9-6 Drexel early, but the game is being played more at Niagara’s pace. This is the first of two matchups between the MAAC and Colonial today, with Siena and Northeastern coming up at noon. It’s a big day for the two conferences. The Colonial has more respect nationally, but the MAAC has been on an underreported rise (checking if you read the Monmouth-St. Peter’s portion of the live blog) and is favored in both games. Niagara is picked No. 2 in the MAAC while the Dragons are picked to finish seventh in the CAA.

My favorite part about Niagara basketball coach Joe Mihalich is that he isn’t afraid to sport a hairstyle hair not seen since Edward R. Murrow took down Sen. Joseph McCarthy. The Purple Eagles are wearing gray this morning, which doesn’t look terrible, but doesn’t look good either. Drexel’s navy unis, meanwhile, look like a Nike S.o.D., which I oppose, although I’ll admit they have some pretty cool font on the last names.

Niagara is playing without its leading returning scorer, Tyrone Lewis. Talking about Lewis’ defensive prowess, Ellis says, “At 5’10”, he had eight blocked shots…” (ME: WHAT? THAT’S INSANE! AGAINST WHO?) “…last season.” (ME: oh).

8:04: Game 2 of our Morning Session (and No. 4 of our marathon) pits Drexel and Niagara against each other at the Gallagher Center in upstate New York. Jon Sciambi–ESPN’s Atlantic-10 guy and the Atlanta Braves’ play-by-play guy not named Chip Caray–and LaPhonso Ellis–who hasn’t been heard from since the 1994 NBA Playoffs–are manning the mikes this morning.

7:55: SPC ekes it out, 58-34. Welsh credits the Peacocks’ defense, but I think the list of reasons Monmouth only scored 34 points looks like this: THE GAME WAS AT 6 A.M.!

Waite missed four more field goals and a free throw before the end of the morning, meaning he attempted 21 shots today to score his four points. He’s comically bad right now; you know, like Manos: The Hands of Fate. Welsh still credits him for “making things happen.” He neglects to define those “things” as “missed shots” and “changes of possession.”

I’m looking forward to Drexel and Niagara.

7:45: Peacocks are on a 20-7 run; more problematic for Monmouth, SPC has been on a 53-30 run since the start of the game.

Ed Waite is 1-for-11 from the field. If you add in his (I think) 1-for-4 from the foul line, I think it becomes safe to say that Ed Waite has a had a poor game this morning. More like Ed “Dead” Waite, am I right?

Oh, Bobby Wischusen called out the guy behind him dancing to “Seven-Nation Army.” He’s getting fussy about being up so early.

7:36: I haven’t seen this many airballs since I attended a JV girls’ basketball game at my grade school when I was in sixth grade. That game ended in a 19-0 shutout. Monmouth has almost twice as many turnovers as field goals, and we’re 30+ minutes into this game! That’s a weird stat when a team has four turnovers and two FGs. But it’s still a one-score game, so long as we use Abraham Lincoln’s definition of “score.”

By the way. the Star-Ledger‘s Steve Politi really beat me to the punch on Ryan Bacon jokes this morning on his Twitter. Clearly a cornucopia of material I missed.

Welsh mentioned that Kentucky-Miami (Ohio) thriller and talked about how the RedHawks are pretty good, and what a tough opener that was for UK. But nobody talks about how tough an opener it was for Miami (Ohio). They had to play at Kentucky!

7:28: It’s 38-23, SPC, and I have nothing to say about what’s happening on the court. So let’s discuss commercials!

Hockey player Fernando Pisani now does ads for ulcerative colitis? The fact that Fernando Pisani is doing their ads just tells me: Cool. Not that many athletes have ulcerative colitis.

ESPN also advertised for the MLS Cup between the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake, the latter of whom became the second “crossover” team in as many years to make the finals. You know why “crossover” teams are never respected? Because leagues like MLS use them. I expect Pierre to take this up shortly.

7:19: St. Peter’s ran its patented “aborted alley-oop in which the leaper tips it back to the guy cutting to the basket” play. Nobody does that better than the Peacocks. They follow it up with a transition dunk from Ryan Bacon to build their largest lead of the game at 37-23.

Waite’s last post pass to Taylor looked like a throw from JaMarcus Russell; a 10-foot pass was about four feet off-target.

7:15: It’s 31-18 SPC after four minutes of play in the second half. Let’s say the halftime “adjustments” haven’t been readily apparent yet. Here’s some more criticism of Travis Taylor: In his three touches this half, he’s missed a layup, had a shot blocked, and missed a dunk. He has almost no presence on the defensive end. He is still Monmouth’s best player.

The Hawks have a tall, lumbering white guy wearing No. 2 who was just called for an over-the-back foul; I didn’t realize Josh McRoberts had fallen this far! His real name is Dutch Gaitley, and if he spelled his last name differently, I’d call him Don for the rest of the game.

7:07: Since, unlike John S, I’ve got no qualms with the halftime performance of Rece and Co., here’s a list things I couldn’t believe John S didn’t mention in the overnight:

  • That Northern Colorado punting scandal. I would have led with that!
  • Hawaii’s on-again, off-again relationship with the “Rainbow” qualification of its Warriors.
  • That apostrophe in Hawai’i. How do we feel about that?
  • Steve Fisher is STILL coaching San Diego State???
  • The potential for June Jones’ SMU team to return to Hawaii for the Aloha Bowl.
  • St. Mary’s Australian connection.

6:59: My analysis of the first half: St. Peter’s is a lot better than Monmouth. The Peacocks have moved the ball crisply on offense for much of the half, and their aggressive man-to-man defense has really taken MU out of anything it wants to do offensively.

The biggest (viz. long-term) problem for the Hawks is that what they want to do offensively is work the ball through Travis Taylor, who is good enough to draw a double-team at this level but not good enough to exploit it. Taylor’s passes out of the double are rarely prompt or delivered with accuracy. Of course, it doesn’t help when the guys you’re kicking to are regularly airballing trifectas.

I was serious when I said St. Pete’s looks about as good as I’ve ever seen them (take that with a grain of salt), but the MAAC is really in the midst of an underrated rise–it’s probably one of the top 15 most underreported stories in college basketball. Siena, who we’ll see at noon, has won a Tourney game two straight years; Niagara is a strong No. 2 in the conference; and Rider, who boasts the conference’s preseason POY in Ryan Thompson (younger brother of Rider alum and current Sacramento King, Jason), already beat Mississippi State.

6:52: Nice sequence at the end of the half, as an airballed three from Monmouth is answered on the other end by an airballed three from St. Peter’s. Maybe they should do these marathons in January, when the teams are actually playing well?

Peacocks, 27-16, at the break.

6:50: The Hawks are 4-for-20 from the field, including Taylor’s 3-for-5. But they’ve been getting to the line, where they’re a in-relative-terms-just-as-bad 8-for-14. Even the Jersey City crowd recognized this, chanting “We make free throws” since the Peacocks are 3-for-4. I’m gonna call small sample size. Not coincidentallly, MU is down 11.

Speaking of free throws, after badly one, Waite launches a corner three the next time down. Yeah, because if you can’t make a shorter shot with no one guarding you, you should probably move back and try a harder one.

6:38: The Peacocks’ 16-2 run over nine minutes comes to a merciful end, but St. Pete’s is still up, 24-14. The key for Monmouth since the last TV timeout has been that it’s taken a shot on a majority of its possessions. That’s really an underrated aspect of basketball games. Can’t win if you’re not taking shots.

The Hawks’ Ed Waite was a standout high school football player at Pinecrest High in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which is where my college roommate went. I have nothing to add.

St. Peter’s’* coach is John Dunne. If that were an “o” instead of a “u,” I would have had a better joke here. MU’s Dave Colloway could be on the hot seat, having finished in the bottom half of the NEC the last three seasons after giving Villanova a run in the NCAA Tourney as a 16-seed in 2006.

*Lost on the proper punctuation here.

Wischusen kicks it to Marysol Castro from Good Morning America for a weather report: Nice cross-promotion, ESPN/ABC! Welsh talks about how “New Jersey people want it all.” I’m sensing an unfair generalization. I only want some of it.

6:29: St. Peter’s is really working MU’s matchup zone right now. I’m probably not qualified to make this argument, but I’d say this is the best Peacocks’ team since Keydren Clark graduated. Remember Keekee?

The Hawks, meanwhile, are doing things like committing offensive fouls and dribbling off their feet. I wouldn’t really call it “organized basketball,” if you know what I mean.

Welsh mistakenly calls Monmouth’s new stadium the “Multipurpose Athletic Center.” This is a forgivable mistake given that it’s actually the “Multipurpose Activity Center,” which sounds like a special corner of a kindergarden classroom. Yeah, we’ve got an easel with some crayons right next to some fingerpaint and a few sleeping bags for nap time.

6:23: The Peacocks have an early 12-7 lead, getting some easy looks on their end of the floor on the inside while Monmouth has been running its offense through Travis Taylor, who, though he may be the Hawks’ best player, isn’t very good. If it looks like Taylor doesn’t really understand “organized basketball,” it’s probably because this is his fourth year of playing it.*

*I don’t really understand the phrase “organized basketball.” Am I more experienced in “organized basketball” than Travis Taylor because my intramural league had refs?

Wischusen and Welsh are well-stocked on coffee, which I imagine Bob needs to help recover from that Jets’ loss on Sunday. Plus, he’s sneaking this in before calling the MAC Football Game of the Week tomorrow night on ESPN, matching Central Michigan and Ball State. Welsh mentions that he saw both teams play Seton Hall, which is his coy way of hinting to the Seton Hall administration that if Bobby Gonzalez doesn’t work out, Timmy Welsh has a lot of time on his hands.

This is probably where I should mention that I’ve actually attended a Monmouth-St. Peter’s game in person: Back in November 2004, the hometown Hawks prevailed on a Marques Alston buzzer-beater by one. Good times.

6:14: This is the second game of an apparent NJ Round Robin, with both teams having lost to Seton Hall. Monmouth lost by 15 while the Peacocks had the Pirates down late, only to lose on a buzzer-beating running three by Eugene Harvey. In the controversial NJBCS, St. Pete’s is third and Monmouth fourth, behind the Hall and Rider, who knocked off Mississippi State.

Early highlight from Bob Wischusen and Tim Welsh* calling the game:

WISCHUSEN: Here’s Monmouth’s starting lineup, but this is a team that could bring its two best players off the bench.

WELSH: Well, Travis Taylor is certainly Monmouth’s best player, but (some guys whose names I didn’t catch do come off the bench and are pretty good).

*The killer W’s. Can we call the them the Quads?

6:05: Top of the mornin’ to you on this, well, I can’t tell what the weather is: It’s 6 a.m. and dark. There’s not a whole lot that gets me awake this early on a Tuesday, but a battle of Jersey powerhouses Monmouth and St. Peter’s is clearly near the top of that list.

It’s really a contrast in styles: Sprinsteen vs. Sinatra, the Parkway vs. the Turnpike, the Suburbs vs. the Urbs. Needless to say, it’s one of the biggest rivalries in Jersey college basketball, largely because these are two of only eightteams that play Jersey college basketball–and that’s including NJIT.

Of course, we hard-core Garden Staters are stuck having to watch this crappy NoCo-Hawaii game. Can’t college basketball institute that NFL rule; you know, the one where they take you away from the end of an exciting game to show you the start of a local one? We need more of that rule.

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