Mason Peatling's return from injury has helped power Eastern Washington to a positive start in 2019, while Cameron Healy and Adam Lulka continued their impressive freshman seasons for Albany as the Australian men in US College basketball entered the New Year in positive fashion.
Eastern Washington closed out 2018 by splitting their final two games of the year. However it was the return from injury of 6'8 forward Mason Peatling that is sure to have buoyed the Eagles faithful as they opened Big Sky Conference play. While the Eagles went down to Weber State 72-84, Peatling reminded everyone as to what Eastern Washington had been missing across their first ten games. In just his second game back in the line-up, Peatling exploded for a game and new career-high 25 points on 9-17 shooting including 3-4 from beyond the arc. He also added 6 rebounds and 2 assist to round out an impressive outing. Jesse Hunt also played well, with the senior chiming in with 7 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals, but neither could prevent the 8 point loss as the Eagles shot just 38% from the field.
Thankfully, the Eagles rediscovered their shooting touch as they rebounded to defeat Idaho State 65-55. Peatling was again dominant, shooting an efficient 7-9 from the field on his way to stuffing the stats sheet with 16 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocked shots. Hunt teamed well with his fellow compatriot to torment the Bengals, compiling 12 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists in a terrific all-round display by the senior. With both Aussie big men firing, Eastern Washington will like their chances of contending pushing for a high seed in the Big Sky.
Hartford has won their past two games, with senior forward George Blagojevic making valuable contributions. In the fourth straight home win against Marist (65-56), the big man from Geelong collected his third double-double of the season, making 8-12 from the free throw line on his way to 14 points and 10 rebounds with 3 assists and 2 steals in another complete performance. He backed up that outing with another solid showing in a thrilling overtime victory against Boston College (79-78). The Hawks made all three free throws at the end of regulation to force extra time, before sealing it with a three. Blagojevic added 10 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and an incredible 6 steals to help his side force the upset, giving his side momentum ahead of entering conference play.
TCU took out the Diamond Head Classic on Christmas Day, taking down Indiana State 83-69 to go through the tournament unbeaten to improve to 11-1 on the season. Kouat Noi came off the bench to provide 12 points on 3-4 shooting, including 2-3 from long-range and a perfect 4-4 from the line with 3 steals. With the Horned Frogs cruising to victory, little-used freshman forward Lat Mayen was given an opportunity and he grabbed it with both hands, adding 6 points without missing in just 6 minutes. For Noi however, it was his eight straight game in which he had scored in double figures, now averaging 13.7 points and 4.8 rebounds per game in coming off the bench. TCU opens Big 10 conference play with a battle against Baylor on Sunday (Australian time).
Sophomore guard Kyle Zunic and Winthrop bookended the New Year with contrasting results. The Eagles made it four wins in a row when they accounted for Prairie View A&M 76-62. They rode a 44-28 second half to finish all over the top of the Panthers, with Zunic firing in 12 points on a tidy 4-6 shooting alongside 9 rebounds and 3 assists. He would back up to register 13 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists in a hard-fought 76-87 loss to #13 Florida State. The Eagles battled bravely against the Seminoles, but their excellent three-point shooting deserted them, especially in the first half when they needed it most. Zunic scored in double figures for the sixth straight game and eleventh in 12 outings, boosting his average to 10.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.
Albany experienced similar fortunes to that of Winthrop across the New Year period, falling agonisingly short to Kent State 68-70 before bouncing back to defeat Niagara 79-74 on New Year's Eve. The Golden Flashes earned the win against the Great Danes via two made free throws with just 3 seconds left in the game. Cameron Healy continued his outstanding freshman season by gathering 13 points and 5 rebounds, while fellow first year player Adam Lulka chipped in 12 points with 8 rebounds. Despite Brent Hank also adding 4 points and 8 rebounds, the Aussie trio were unable to prevent the heart-breaking loss.
Desperate to get back on the winners list, Albany rode a big 20 point game from Healy to eke out a 5 point win against the Purple Eagles. The New South Welshman drained 6 triples and went 7-14 from the field in compiling his big haul that also included 2 rebounds and 2 assists. The 6'8 Lulka was again rock solid too, this time adding 13 points and 6 rebounds to ensure a happy ending to 2018.
Senior forward Matt McCarthy closed out 2018 with fourth double-double of the season for San Francisco, yet the Dons has their five game winning streak snapped by UC Santa Barbara 71-73 in tight contest. Despite shooting a lowly 36% from the field, the Dons were right in the game and had their chances, only for the Gaucho's to snatch the win. Unlike most of his team, McCarthy was efficient in contributing 13 points (4-6 FG), 10 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks in 26 minutes off the bench. The 6'9 Melburnian has been a consistent performer so far this season for the 12-2 Dons, averaging 10.9 points on 68% shooting with 7.4 rebounds per game, and will next tackle Saint Mary's in opening West Coast Conference play.
The Gaels will enter that game coming off a 75-45 demolition of San Jose State, sparked by the hot shooting of Tasmanian Tanner Krebs. Tying his career-high with 6 three-pointers, Krebs amassed a season-best 20 points with 5 rebounds off the bench in a sublime performance. Saint Mary's closed the first half out with a 25-0 run to all but extinguish any thought of victory by the Spartans. Freshman guard Alex Mudronja and sophomore centre Jock Perry combined for 9 points off the bench for the Gaels who came up with 14 steals and forced 19 turnovers en route to victory.
Miami entered the New Year on a three-game winning streak courtesy of a 73-62 win against Campbell. The Hurricane's contained college basketball's leading scorer Chris Clemons (30.5ppg), restricting him to a season low 19 points on just 7-21 shooting that ultimately helped their cause. Junior guard Dejan Vasiljevic chalked up his ninth game with double-digit scoring, posting 10 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists. Miami rounded out non-conference play with an amazing five players averaging double-figures, the only ACC team to do so, with Vasiljevic one of those in averaging 12.5 points with 4.5 rebounds per game