NCAA Men: Jois soars in the Big Sky

Senior forward Venky Jois has returned to his devastating best for Eastern Washington, earning Big Sky Conference Player of the Week honours for the first time this season. Jois, along with fellow big men Ben Simmons and Majok Deng were the standout Aussie performers in NCAA Division I basketball this week.

Venky Jois was almost unstoppable in the Eagles 112-83 dismantling of Portland State, piling on 23 points on 9/15 shooting (5/7 FT) with 9 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocked shots. His Australian team-mate Felix Von Hofe also returned to form as he connected on 5/7 treys on his way to 16 points and 2 rebounds. Sacramento State then proved no match for Jois and Eastern Washington, with the team captain piling on a game-high 24 points on a hot 10/15 shooting with 12 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal and 1 block. He then made it three wins in a row with a solid 84-73 win over Northern Arizona. Jois was efficient yet again, going 6/8 from the field to finish with 14 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 blocked shots. He entered the game in 3rd across the NCAA for field goal shooting percentage (67.6%) and by the end had collected his third double-double in the past 4 games and his 7th of this season. Von Hofe chipped in 10 points and 5 rebounds as the Eagles improved to 6-4 in conference play and now find themselves in a logjam tied in third place as Jois closes in on a host of school and conference records for points, rebounding and blocked shots.

Ben Simmons continues to be Ben Simmons. In a narrow 89-85 win over Georgia, Simmons was in an aggressive mood as he powered his way to 22 points (6/12 FG) including 10/17 from the free throw line. He also added 14 rebounds and 2 steals yet surprisingly without an assist to his name. Against #1 ranked Oklahoma, LSU positioned themselves well to cause an upset in a match pitting what many believes are the two best players in the country - the Sooners' Buddy Hield and Simmons. It was Simmons and LSU who gained the early ascendancy, only to see the Tigers relinquish their advantage in the second half behind a barrage of triples by Hield. While Hield heated up, Simmons rarely saw the ball on offense down the stretch - something that happens all too often for the Tigers - as LSU lost 75-77. Simmons would finish with 14 points on 6/7 shooting alongside 9 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals.

Auburn felt the aftermath of the Tigers' frustrating loss to Oklahoma, with Simmons in devastating form in the opening half. Simmons would have 17 points and 9 rebounds up to the main break and would complete the win with yet another double-double of 21 points, 13 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals and 1 block in an outstanding all-round display. With the Tigers win improving their SEC record to 7-2, followed by Vanderbilt knocking off Texas A&M, LSU now find themselves tied in 1st place.

Playing in three games across the past week, Majok Deng continued to wreak havoc in the Sun Belt Conference. His best performance on the week was a 29 point explosion in Louisiana Monroe's 99-88 victory over UT Arlington. Deng connected on an impressive 7/12 on three-pointers to demonstrate his ability to stretch defenses - just the 16th time in school history that this shooting performance had been achieved. He would go on to add 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and a career-high 5 blocked shots to round out an impressive performance. The Warhawks would back up to account for Texas State 72-59 to collected their 5th straight win. Deng would maintain his great form by delivering 15 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 1 block for his 5th double-double of the season.

The Warhawks winning streak came to an end in an enthralling 65-72 overtime loss to Louisiana Lafayette. Making both free throws in the last 22 seconds of the game, Deng ensured the game would require an extra period. However despite playing the full 45 minutes, Deng contributed just 13 points as he struggled with his shot (4/15 FG), finishing with 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals and 2 blocks. With his 2 blocks, Deng moved into 7th place all-time in school history and just needs 8 more to move into 6th.

Boise State lost two games in a row, upset by UNLV (77-87) and then by New Mexico (83-88). In the loss to the Runnin' Rebels, Nick Duncan contributed 11 points (3/6 3PT) alongside 4 rebounds, 1 steal and 1 block, while Anthony Drmic was restricted to just 7 points in 22 minutes. Duncan lifted his output against the Lobos, delivering a team-best 19 points that included 3 triples and 8/9 from the charity stripe. While Duncan also had 4 rebounds and 1 block, Drmic managed 10 points (3/11 FG), 7 rebounds and 1 assist in another tough shooting night as he continues to battle lower leg nerve pain.

Looking to get back to their winning ways, the Broncos had to come from 13 points behind in the second half, taking the lead for the first time with 1:28 to play overcoming Utah State 70-67. This time it was Duncan whose stroke went missing, providing just 8 points (1/7 3PT) with 2 rebounds and 3 steals. However Drmic was ale to help make amends, making 5/7 shots from the field to add 12 points with 6 rebounds and 2 steals. Boise State are now 7-3 in conference play and in third place in the Mountain West.

Albany enjoyed a great week in recording three straight wins in America East play. In a 75-63 win over UMass Lowell, regular starters Peter Hooley and Mike Rowley were uncharacteristically quiet, combining for 9 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 6 steals. However in an 86-60 demolition of Hartford, Hooley would rack up an impressive game-high of 27 points (9/17 FG) with 13 rebounds to record just his second career double-double. Rowley was also solid, adding 10 points and 2 rebounds as the Great Danes ran riot. For the Hawks, George Blagojevic and Taylor Dyson both chimed in with 5 points and 2 rebounds each.

Hooley would also be prominent in the Great Danes' 79-73 victory over UMBC. This time the senior guard would gather 17 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists. Going close to a double-double was Rowley who chimed in with 7 points and 9 rebounds as Albany improved to 7-2 in the America East Conference and in outright second place.

Saint Mary's had to scrap their way to a 68-65 win over Pacific in the West Coast Conference. Jock Landale and Emmett Naar were the pick of the Aussies, with Landale coming off the bench to provide 10 points, 3 rebounds and 1 block, and Naar adding 8 points with 2 rebounds and 6 assists. They would travel to Brigham Young and came away with just their 2nd loss in conference play, going down 59-70. Naar was again solid with 9 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals while Landale 9 points, 3 rebounds but with 2 assists. Dane Pineau was restricted to 6 points in both of the Gael's past two games that now has them with a 9-2 record and tied for 1st with Gonzaga.

Winthrop's 7-game winning streak was halted as a result of a 77-88 loss to Liberty, however it was through no fault of dynamic forward Xavier Cooks. The 6'8 sophomore was outstanding in collected a new career-high 26 points on an impressive 10/17 shooting with 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal and 1 block. It as the 4th time Cooks has scored 20 or more this season, and the 16th time in double figures for scoring. The Eagles are now 8-4 in the Big South, just 1 game behind 1st place.

While he was not racking up his usual big scores, Matt Donlan continued to be consistent across three games for Youngstown State. In a 82-78 win over UIC, Donlan fired in 4/5 triples on his way to 18 points with 6 rebounds in a much-needed win. Against a red-hot Valparaiso, Donlan was able to contribute 12 points, however was unable to prevent his side being overrun 68-97. Oakland also had Youngstown State's measure, running away with a 107-85 victory. Donlan would add 11 points on 5/12 shooting as the Penguins slipped to 4-67 in the Horizon League.

While Nicholls State has been struggling this season, center Liam Thomas enjoyed one of his best outings for the Colonels in a 61-68 loss to Incarnate Word. The big man was able to gather 17 points (6/9 FG) with 9 rebounds, 2 assists and a career-best 6 blocked shots in what was an exceptional individual performance. The Colonels are now just 1-8 in Southland Conference play and in last place, with their Aussie big man posting 8.7 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game.