NCAA Spotlight on the Aussie Men: Metro State win 25 straight on the way to title (9-Mar-14)

Damian Arsenis checks back in with all the latest on the Aussie men playing Division I college hoops over the past week.

Conference play has come to an end. For some it is a time to reflect on what went wrong and to start planning for next season. For others, it is the best time of the year. Post-season action brings opportunities to win a conference title, a tournament, and of course, an opportunity to earn a ticket to the big dance. Welcome to March and the madness that it brings!

Player of the Week

There were some outstanding performances this past week from a number of Aussies, including big outings by Chris Patton, Peter Hooley and Nathan Sobey; all of whom would be worthy recipients of player of the week honors. However with back-to-pack 20-point efforts in combining for 41 points on 15/21 shooting, Cameron Bairstow once again takes home the chocolates.

Bairstow on the attack vs Cincinnati - Courtesy New Mexico Athletics

In the most recent Associated Press poll, New Mexico was elevated to #21 in the national rankings. The Lobos then more than lived up to that status in dismantling Air Force 80-52 on senior night, with star power forward Bairstow leading the way at home for the last time. Bairstow said goodbye to his home crowd in another dominant performance, scoring a game-high 21 points (8/12 FG) including a rare three-pointer – only his second ever made attempt in college. In collecting 20 or more points for the 18th time this season, he also added 7 rebounds and 1 assist in just 25 minutes of action, leaving the game early to a standing ovation from the Lobo faithful. Following his final game at home, this is what Bairstow had to say;

“It was pretty emotional to walk down The Pit for the last time; walk down the ramp for the last time. It’s kind of a crazy thing that it’s my last game in The Pit; the last time I’ll be playing there.”

Right there in the thick of the action was junior guard Hugh Greenwood who was also very, very good once again. Greenwood had 6 points alongside 3 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks in only 24 minutes on court.

In the game of the Mountain West season that would determine the conference champion, the Lobos travelled to #10 San Diego State in a showdown for the crown. The Aztecs found themselves trailing 25-42 in the second half, however they launched a massive fight back to edge ahead late and eventually hold on to win 51-48. A battle within the battle was for Mountain West player of the year honours between Xavier Thames and Bairstow, and the Australian did his chances no harm. Despite the Aztecs throwing everything at him, he still managed a team-high 20 points on an efficient 7/9 shooting (6/8 FT) to go with 7 rebounds, 3 assist and 1 block. Thames in comparison registered 23 points on 8/16 shooting with 3 rebounds and 5 assists.

For the Lobos, Greenwood was only able to gather 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 1 blocked shot. The loss means that the Lobos will earn the #2 seed for the conference tournament with a 15-3 record (24-6 overall). Bairstow leads the Mountain West in scoring with 20.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.5 blocks per game and it would be a travesty if he was not duly recognized by being named Mountain West player of the year.

Team of the Week

Plenty of good team to choose from this week, but with some individual conference accolades and through winning a record 11th Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC) tournament, Division II school Metro State are The Pick and Roll team of the week. The Road Runners are such a quality team that they would account for many Division I schools as reported earlier in the season.

Currently the #1 team in the nation, Metro State became just the third team in RMAC history to go undefeated (22-0) in conference play and maintained that form throughout the tournament to win the title for the second straight year. The Road Runners earned an 83-74 win over Colorado Mesa University in the quarter finals, with Mitch McCarron and Nicholas Kay combining for 43 points on 16/23 shooting. McCarron led all scorers with 22 points on 8/11 shooting to go with 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal and 1 block. Just as effective was team-mate Kay who went 8/12 from the field to finish with 21 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assist, 1 steal and 3 blocks., and in doing so went past 1,000 career points for the Road Runners. In coming off the bench, Will Sinclair contributed 3 points, 4 rebounds and 1 assist.

Kay elevates for the bucket - Courtesy Metro State University

During the week, Kay was further recognized by being named winner of the RMAC Summit Award. The award goes to the student-athlete at the conference championship site that has the highest grade point average. Kay who is majoring in biology has a 3.91 GPA and took out the award for the second consecutive year.

Metro State then took on Fort Lewis in the semi-final and managed to eke out a 77-73 victory to progress to the final. Kay was again in outstanding touch, racking up 20 points (8/15 FG) alongside 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal and 2 blocks. While Kay piled on the points, McCarron went agonizingly close to the rare triple-double with 12 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists and 1 steal. Sinclair provided some good support with 2 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals and 2 blocked shots.

McCarron scores again Courtesy Metro State University

Taking on UC-Colorado Springs in the final and looking for the 25th straight win, the game was befitting of its status and proved to be a closely fought affair. The Road Runners managed to edge ahead and maintain a lead throughout the second half that they would hold onto to take home the title 77-71. With his 3rd straight 20-point game, Kay piled on 22 points with 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 steals and 1 block on his way to being named RMAC tournament Most Valuable Player. He once again had great support from McCarron, who collected 18 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 1 blocked shot. Together with RMAC Player of the Year in American Brandon Jefferson, the trio have terrorized their Division II opponents all season long. Sinclair managed 1 point, 3 rebounds and 2 blocked shots in the big win.

Metro State now gain automatic qualification to the NCAA tournament and carry the #1 ranking in the South Central Region and looking like they will host the regional tournament for the second year in a row. With their talent Australian connection, the Road Runners are primed for a deep post-season run.

Best of the Rest

Wroe has been increasingly effective at both ends of the floor - Courtesy University of Hartford

Wroe has been increasingly effective at both ends of the floor - Courtesy University of Hartford

Prior to the America East conference tournament getting under way, a trio of Australian’s earned all-conference honors. Both Peter Hooley and Sam Rowley were named to the All-Conference Second Team, while they were joined by compatriot Corban Wroe of Hartford in also being named to the All-Academic team. In addition to being recognised for his academic excellence, junior guard Wroe was also named to the America East All-Defensive team. An outstanding achievement to be able to combine books with hoops while living on the other side of the world.

In their only game of the week, Albany opened play in the America East tournament by thrashing UMBC 86-56. Sophomore guard Hooley put on a shooting display to remember. He shot a sizzling 12/16 from the fielding that included 5/6 from long-range as he piled on a game and new career-high 30 points with 1 rebound, 1 assist and 3 steals without recording a single turnover. While Hooley was clearly the standout, he had great support from Sam Rowley who was also efficient in scoring 15 points (6/7 FG) alongside 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals. Senior Luke Devlin came off the bench and got in on the action, and while only scoring 2 points, he pulled down 7 rebounds with 1 assist and 1 steal. Hooley is averaging 15.3 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game, while Sam Rowley has been providing 11.4 points and 6.7 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game. Albany now progresses to the conference semi-finals and take on #1 tournament seed Vermont.

Also progressing to the semi-finals of the America East tournament was Hartford as they cruised to a 69-42 victory over Binghamton. 6’4” sophomore guard Taylor Dyson delivered an inspired performance, nailing 4 treys on his way to an equal game-high 19 points alongside 3 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal. Wroe demonstrated his capabilities at both ends of the floor, scoring 9 points on 4/5 shooting to go with 8 rebounds and 1 assist. Hartford will next take on #2 seed Stony Brook in their semi-final.In the first round of the Northeast Conference tournament, Bryant was knocked out of contention by St. Francis (PA) in a 55-54 heart-breaker. The loss meant the end of the stellar collegiate career of Corey Maynard who also was named to the All-Conference Third Team this past week. The 6’3” point guard capped off his 4 years at Bryant with 7 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal in 39 minutes. Maynard’s senior year had been nothing short of outstanding; averaging a career-best 13.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game. However his legacy in helping rebuild the Bulldogs program is sure to be remembered for many years to come.

In the first round of the Patriot League tournament, Lafayette continued to display its late season form in accounting for Loyola (MD) 84-71. Forward Dan Trist contributed 8 points, 4 rebounds and 1 assist in a foul plagued 11 minutes. Compatriot and team-mate Nathaniel Musters saw 18 minutes on court and chimed in with 4 points, 3 rebounds and 1 assist. Their post-season run ended the very next game at the hands of #1 seed Boston University 54-91. In 27 minutes, Trist collected 8 points, 3 rebounds and 1 assist as the Leopards season came to a close. Trist ended his fruitful junior year with career-best figures of 13.1 points at 54% from the field and 5.4 rebounds per game.

With their star forward out with injury, Wyoming lost on the road to Utah State 54-65. Senior guard Nathan Sobey did his best to help fill the void however, piling on 14 points with 9 rebounds, 3 steals and 1 block. The Cowboys did however manage to finish conference play on a good note after recording a comfortable 83-75 win over Colorado State. They were sparked by a 33 point career-high explosion from their graduating Australian guard Sobey. With his parents in the stands, Sobey belied his 8.7 points per game average to put on a show. He went 11/22 from the field that included 4/8 from beyond the arc as he also gathered 4 rebounds and 3 assists in a scintillating display. Wyoming ended the season with a 9-9 conference and 18-13 overall record. Sobey had this to say after the game following the surprise arrival of his parents;

"It just got me so much more excited than I already was, playing with these guys in the Double-A for one last time. What better way to end it than with a team that's been through a lot this year and a team that's so close together?"

In a double-overtime thriller, Boise State ended up on the wrong end of the result, going down to Nevada 81-83 at home. Back on court following an ankle sprain, Anthony Drmic managed 15 points alongside 4 rebounds and 1 assist. Just as you thought the Broncos were going to edge ahead, Nevada came back with answers to steal the road win. Both Igor Hadziomerovic (1 rebound) and Nick Duncan (6 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal) went scoreless.

The overtime heartbreak continued for the Broncos as they limped to the finish of conference play with a 61-64 loss to Air Force. Drmic was struggled with shot but still managed 14 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist and 2 steals. He did however come up big at the end of regulation to score 9 of Boise State’s last 11 points to force an overtime, with Hadziomerovic (2 points, 2 rebounds and 2 steals) missing the potential game-winner at the buzzer. Drmic and Hadziomerovic were unable to maintain the Broncos momentum in the extra period as Boise State finished the regular season 9-9 and with a 19-12 overall record. The Broncos will need to regroup and get healthy quickly if there are to make a run at the conference tournament and an outside shot at the NCAA tournament.

Needing a win to secure the final berth in the Big West tournament, 6’10” senior power forward Chris Patton carried UC Riverside to a 78-75 win over UC Davis. Patton was at his efficient best, going 10/17 from the field on his way to a game-high 20 points to go with 9 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal in 32 minutes. The Highlanders then followed up with a loss in their last game of the season to Long Beach State (67-74), however with the last place in the Big West tournament already sewn up, Patton was put in cotton wool and did not suit up.

Venky Jois delivered an all-round performance as Eastern Washington kept their hopes of making the Big Sky tournament alive in accounting for Idaho State 77-69. The versatile Jois compiled an impressive line of 12 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and 6 blocked shots in playing 35 minutes and was at the heart of the Eagles success. Excellent support was provided off the bench from sharp-shooting forward Felix von Hofe who 3/6 from beyond the arc in contributing 11 points in 16 minutes. Coach Jim Hayford had this to say about von Hofe after the game;

“We recruited Felix to be a three-point-shooting specialist,” said Hayford. “He is a really good shooter. He has really come on, particularly in the second half of league. He may be a freshman, but he has a lot of international experience so being in a big game is something he looks forward to. Especially with Drew’s injury, we knew he was going to get looks.”

In a game they had to win to ensure they made the Big Sky tournament, Eastern Washington was unable to get on top of Weber State and eventually fell 77-82. Jois managed 8 points, 7 rebounds and 1 block but was unable to carry his team to victory and the Eagles missed out on making the Big Sky tournament to prematurely end their season. Jois was outstanding all season and finished with averages of 13.4 points, 8 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.6 blocks per game.

Brandt faces up - Courtesy Oregon State University

For a moment an upset loomed, yet while Oregon State challenged #3 Arizona they eventually fell short 69-74. Angus Brandt battled foul trouble and was therefore limited to just 6 points, 3 rebounds and 1 block in 21 minutes. The Beavers then closed out the Pac-12 regular season by holding off Arizona State 78-76 in overtime to finish with an 8-10 conference and 16-14 overall record. 6’10” senior Brandt went 6/10 from the field to compile 13 points, 2 rebounds and 4 assists despite foul trouble. It capped a great individual year from Brandt following his return from a knee reconstruction, ending with averages of 12.3 points and 3.9 rebounds per game while shooting 52% from the field.

Athletic senior power forward Majok Majok racked up his 10th double-double of the season but it was not enough to help avoid a 58-72 loss to Eastern Michigan. Majok poured in 23 points with 14 rebounds but he was essentially a lone hand and was in desperate need of help. Ball State’s long regular season ended with another loss, this time at the hands of Northern Illinois 56-70. The towering Majok was 2 rebounds shy of another double-double, collecting 12 points, 8 rebounds and 1 blocked shot. The Cardinals ended the season with a miserable 2-16 Mid-American conference and 5-24 overall record. Majok was the shining light, averaging an impressive double-double of 11.1 points and 10.1 rebounds per game.

Miami (OH) enjoyed a great 73-61 road win over Kent State. Both Jaryd Eustace and Joshua Oswald were both relatively quiet in the win this time around. However in their last game of conference play, the RedHawks lost to Ohio 76-82 in an overtime thriller. This time around, Eustace chipped in 6 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal, while Oswald contributed 8 points and 2 rebounds as Miami (OH) finished with an 8-10 conference slate and 12-17 overall record.

Reigning national champions and current #11 ranked Louisville accounted for #18 Southern Methodist 84-71 in a top 25 showdown. Freshman forward Mangok Mathiang only played 13 minutes and in that time recorded 2 rebounds and 2 blocked shots. The Cardinals then displayed why they are still considered a chance to go back-to-back as national champions as they ran through #19 Connecticut 81-48. Mathiang had little influence in this contest as he only recorded 2 points and 1 rebound. Louisville ensured a share of the American Athletic Conference title with #12 Cincinnati, both sporting a 15-3 conference and 26-5 record overall.

Has Damian left out any performance of note? Do you agree with his selections? Please share a comment!