Courtside with Cary

Men's Basketball Championship Central

March 10 | March 9 | March 8 | March 7 | March 6

March 10, 2012

1:32 p.m.
As we prepare to leave the FedEx Forum and say goodbye to another successful Conference USA Tournament, we'll give the final work to Memphis head coach Josh Pastner, whose team has won 20 of its past 23 games.

"This wasn't about any schemes or any Xs and Os," Pastner said. "This was about the players. They're the ones who got the job done, bottom line."


1:23 p.m.
Memphis head coach Josh Pastner said he believes the Tigers deserve at least a No. 5 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. And after watching the Tigers blitz his team by 26 points, Marshall head coach Tom Herrion certainly wouldn't argue with that assessment.

"We ran into a team that's playing as well as any team in America," Herrion said. "That team might be the most improved team in the country the last three or four weeks, and they played that way today."


12:57 p.m.
Memphis guard Joe Jackson was named the tournament Most Valuable Player, marking the first time in conference history that a player has won the award in consecutive years. Jackson capped his MVP performance with 19 points and six assists against Marshall.


12:52 p.m.
The Memphis Tigers did not make many mistakes in their 83-57 victory over Marshall, but Wesley Witherspoon did commit a slight error during the ensuing celebration. He was holding up a sign toward the cheering crowd that proudly declared, "Memphis Tigers, 2012 C-USA Champions." The only problem was the sign was upside-down. Witherspoon paraded around with the sign for several several before teammates got him to turn it around.


12:35 p.m.
After two sub-par games in the Conference USA Tournament, Will Barton once again looked like the league's Player of the Year (which he is). Barton has 18 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. Considering that the Tigers have made 60.5 percent of their shots, Barton's rebounding total of 13 is especially impressive.


12:32 p.m.
Memphis forward Tarik Black left the game in the second half holding his right forearm after taking a scary-looking spill into the Marshall bench. No word yet on the extent of the injury, but the good news for the Tigers is he is back on the bench and doesn't appear to be in any obvious pain.


12:29 p.m.
With the way Memphis has been playing, it probably wouldn't have matter what happened at the free-throw line in this game. But if the teams percentages were reversed, the game would at least be much closer. Memphis has made 21-of-23 foul shots (91.3 percent) while Marshall is only 8-for-18 (44.4 percent).


12:27 p.m.
It's showtime at the Forum. Memphis is putting on a clinic, dunking and draining treys on one end and blocking shots on the other. The Tigers have built a 75-53 lead with 3:23 to play. It's probably safe for Memphis fans on Beale Street to go ahead and start celebrating (if they ever stopped).


11:52 a.m.
As good as the Tigers have been from the field, they have been even more impressive from the free-throw line. Memphis has made 15-of-16 foul shots. Three players are a perfect 4-for-4 from the line, while Will Barton has messed up the Tigers' chance at perfection by going 3-for-4.

That single point has prevent Barton from already having a double-double in this game. He has nine points and 10 rebounds, and we're barely four minutes into the second half.


11:46 a.m.
This is how you deflate a team's comeback chances. Marshall opened the second half by sinking its first shot to make the score 45-29. Memphis answered immediately with a 3-pointer. The Tigers are now 16-of-27 from the field, which is 59.3 percent. There is no way they are going to lose at home shooting nearly 60 percent.


11:23 a.m.
Marshall started the game 7-of-11 from the field. Since then, the Herd has gone 3-of-15, and Memphis has built a commanding 45-27 halftime lead.


11:15 a.m.
The Tigers are starting to roar. Marshall has not made a shot from the field in nearly seven minutes, and Memphis has built a 35-19 lead. The Thundering Herd has shown amazing grit throughout the tournament, but battling back from a 16-point deficit on the Tigers' homecourt might be too much to ask of this team.


11:11 a.m.
Is fatigue finally becoming a factor for the Thundering Herd? After all, this is Marshall's fourth game in four days, and that includes a three-hour, triple-overtime marathon against Tulsa on Thursday. Marshall guard DeAndre Kane was on the court for 54 minutes in that game. It could be taking a toll, as Kane is 2-for-7 from the floor in the first half.


11:05 a.m.
The pace has been frenetic so far, with both teams making more than 50 percent of their shots. Marshall has been staying close, though Memphis is threatening to start pulling away. With seven minutes left in the first half, the Tigers lead 26-18.


10:46 a.m.
You can tell this is a big game for the Thundering Herd, who have not made it to the NCAA Tournament in 25 years. Marshall head coach Tom Herrion usually sheds his suit coat within a minute after tip-off. This time he waited until the first television timeout, more than four minutes into the game, before he removed it.


10:30 a.m.
An impressive number of Marshall fans have made the trip to Memphis for today's Conference USA Tournament championship game between the Tigers and the Thundering Herd. Some of them have been in town for several days, but quite a few apparently left home as soon as they got off work on Friday and basically drove all night to get here. At 8 a.m., there was a line of Marshall fans waiting for the FedEx Forum box office to open so they could buy tickets for the game.

If the Marshall players demonstrate similar tenacity and resolve, then we are in store for a great game. Let's play some championship basketball.


March 08, 2012

5:57 p.m.
It's the game that will never end. Tulsa and Marshall are heading to triple overtime tied 86-86. DeAndre Kane, who has scored a game-high 35 points, nearly hit a half-court shot at the buzzer that would have ended the game, but it bounced off the rim.

This game has lasted so long that Tulsa's Jordan Clarkson ran back to the locker room between the second and third OTs, apparently because nature was calling.


5:51 p.m.
Marshall has had an entire team foul out. The Thundering Herd currently has five players sitting on the bench with five fouls each. And yet Marshall still trails by only one point with 30 seconds left in the second overtime.


5:46 p.m.
If you enjoy close basketball games, then the Conference USA Tournament is the place to be today. We are closing in on 95 minutes of playing time, spread across two games and three overtime sessions, without any of the teams holding a double-digit lead. In fact, over the past 71 minutes the largest lead has been six points. Amazing.


5:35 p.m.
Memphis fans probably considered the afternoon session of the Conference USA Tournament quarterfinals to be merely an appetizer to tonight's main course of Memphis vs. UTEP. Well, the appetizer just turned into a full-blown meal. We are going into double overtime in the Tulsa vs. Marshall game. The score is tied 74-74. We are less than an hour away from the scheduled tip of the Memphis-UTEP game. At this rate, this game might not be over by then.


5:23 p.m.
If Marshall somehow pulls out a victory in this game it will be a minor miracle. With 1:25 left in overtime, the Thundering Herd has had four players foul out. Fortunately for the Herd, DeAndre Kane and Shaquille Johnson are still on the floor. Those two have combined to score 49 of Marshall's 71 points.


5:15 p.m.
Former Chicago Cubs player Ernie Banks famously said, "Let's play two." The motto in Conference USA today should be "Let's play five more." As in minutes. As in overtime.

For the second time in two games today, we have overtime. A Tulsa vs. Marshall contest that was close throughout is, appropriately enough, tied at the end of regulation. Marshall held Tulsa scoreless over the final 3:25 and scored six consecutive points to erase a 64-58 deficit. So we have five more minutes, at least, before a winner will be determined.


5:00 p.m.
We have finally broken the five-point barrier. For the first time all game, somebody has a lead larger than five. Tulsa has built a whopping six-point advantage, 62-56, with 3:23 remaining.

Of course, within seconds, Marshall hit a basket to cut the lead to 62-58. We're back within five points again.


4:40 p.m.
Even though there are still eight minutes left in regulation, it's probably safe to go ahead and declare that DeAndre Kane will be the MVP of the game for Marshall. Kane is 9-of-18 from the field, meaning he has accounted for exactly half of the Thundering Herd's baskets. The rest of the team is 9-of-26 from the field. Kane, who averaged 15.8 points per game this season, already has scored 20 in this game, to go along with five rebounds.

As for the game, it remains amazingly close. The largest lead still has been only five points.


3:53 p.m.
This is certainly shaping up to be an exciting day of basketball in the Conference USA Tournament. In the opener between Southern Miss and East Carolina, neither team ever led by more than eight points and the largest lead over the final 16 minutes of the second half and throughout overtime was five points. And now in the second game of the day between Tulsa and Marshall, the largest lead in the first half was also five points. So we have just had a total of 41 minutes of basketball over two games where the largest lead was five points.

And the games haven't just been close, they have constantly shifted back and forth. There were 14 lead changes and eight ties in the second half and overtime of the USM-ECU game, and 10 lead changes and eight ties in the first half of Tulsa vs. Marshall. That's a total of 24 lead changes and 16 ties over 45 minutes of basketball. It doesn't get much better than that.


3:23 p.m.
Tweetest Fan Winner: Tyler Devereux

Tyler Devereux from Tulsa tweeted his way to Memphis for the C-USA Basketball Championships by winning C-USA's Tweetest fan Contest (link . Following @ConferenceUSA1 and like us on Facebook to get all the lastest updates on your team in Conference USA! #CUSAchamp

3:14 p.m.
TEP's McCulley returns to Memphis

Gabriel McCulley talks about returning to his hometown of Memphis for the C-USA Championship #CUSAchamp

3:02 p.m.
Since he first became a Division I head coach in 1990, Southern Miss' Larry Eustachy has been involved in a total of 658 basketball games. And out of all of those, he said the one that took place Thursday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA Tournament has to rank among his all-time favorites.

Southern Miss held off a scrappy effort by East Carolina to win 81-78 in overtime. There were clutch shots, key defensive plays and record-setting performances by both teams.

"That was a great game, one of the best games I've ever been involved in," Eustachy said. "I've been in some good ones, but that one belongs right up at the top. It was a great win for us."

Of course, games are always more enjoyable when you win. But even though ECU head coach Jeff Lebo was on the losing side of the final score, even he had to admit, "That was a heck of a basketball game."

"We fought through a lot of adversity in a lot of different areas," Lebo said. "We battled, we fought, we clawed. And despite all the adversity, we had a chance to win the game. We just came up a little short."


2:23 p.m.
If the first game is any indication of what we can expect, then this is going to be one wild, exciting day of Conference USA basketball. Southern Miss prevailed over East Carolina 81-78 in overtime in a game that had a little bit of everything.

The Golden Eagles used the balance of six players scoring in double figures, all between 17 and 10 points each. Meanwhile, ECU tied a C-USA Tournament record by making 15 3-pointers, and Miguel Paul scored a career high 28 points and set a tournament record with 12 assists.

The best thing about this game was the clutch shooting. Robert Sampson sank a 3-pointer to force overtime, and USM's Darnell Dodson made a trey with a minute left in the extra session to give the Golden Eagles the lead for good.

How good was this game? There were 14 lead changes and eight ties in the second half / overtime. And we still have three more games to go today.


2:00 p.m.
Sampson comes alive. Robert Sampson, son of the legendary Ralph Sampson, just drained a 3-pointer with 15.8 seconds remaining to tie the game at 68 and force overtime. Win or lose, this has been an amazing, gutsy effort by East Carolina.


1:51 p.m.
If you had said before the game that East Carolina guard Miguel Paul was going to reach his career high of 25 points with still three minutes remaining and that the Pirates as a team would have made a dozen 3-pointers, you probably would have predicted an ECU victory. If you had said that Darrius Morrow was going to have no points and only two rebounds with three minutes left, you probably would have said the Pirates were sure to lose. Well, both those things have happened, and the outcome is still in doubt. Southern Miss leads 65-61.


1:23 p.m.
Give East Carolina credit. The Pirates refuse to go away. In fact, back-to-back 3-pointers have helped propel them on an 11-3 run and tie the game at 43. ECU is 9-for-17 from 3-point range, compared to 3-of-10 for Southern Miss.


1:18 p.m.
Stop me if you've heard this one. Foul on Darrius Morrow. That's the fourth on the big guy, and he is back on the bench with 16 minutes to play and Southern Miss leading 40-32. The odds are getting longer by the minute for ECU.


1:15 p.m.
Ouch. Barely one minute into the second half, Darrius Morrow has picked up his third foul, an offensive call that was made when he turned near the basket to go in for a layup attempt. Even though he now has three fouls, Morrow is remaining in the game in an attempt to end USM's run, which is up to 12-0.


12:57 p.m.
Southern Miss came to life at the end of the first half with a 7-0 run that has given the Golden Eagles a 32-30 halftime lead. Both teams are 11-for-23 from the field, but East Carolina has made more 3-pointers (6 to 3) while USM has made more free throws (7 to 2). It is easier to continue making free throw than it is 3-pointers, so a slight edge has to go to the Golden Eagles right now.

The Pirates must hope that they will receive a boost with the return of forward Darrius Morrow, who has no points or rebounds after sitting out much of the first half with two fouls. Morrow is averaging 14 points and 16 rebounds per game this season, so the fact that the Pirates are down by only two points without any contribution from their big senior is a reason for optimism for ECU fans.


12:39 p.m.
Nice job of adjusting by East Carolina. After the early flurry of six made 3-pointers in eight attempts, the Pirates missed three treys in a row. So sure enough, they began working the ball inside and it has paid off. ECU now has 10 points in the paint and holds a 30-25 lead three minutes before the half. If the Pirates can hold on until halftime and get Darrius Morros back into the game, they appear to have a decent chance of pulling off the upset.


12:23 p.m.
East Carolina is off to a hot start against Southern Miss, making six of their first eight 3-point attempts. In fact, all of ECU's points have come from 3-point range, as the Pirates hold an early 18-15 lead. But they are going to have to work the ball inside at some point, and the most likely candidate is 6-foot-8, 245-pound senior forward Darrius Morrow, who is averaging 14 points per game this season on 54.6 percent shooting. The problem is, Morrow has already picked up two quick fouls and is on the bench. Unless the 3-pointers keep falling, the Pirates could be in trouble the rest of this half.


12:15 p.m.
Walking in Memphis: A Tour of the City

While you're in Memphis for the C-USA Basketball Championships, be sure to check out these great places in between the games! The Trolley line is only $1 per person and everything is within walking distance of the Trolley. Enjoy some great attractions and great food.

11:44 a.m.
Thursday's quarterfinal action of the 2012 C-USA Men's Basketball Championship is almost underway at FedExForum. Southern Miss will be battling East Carolina in the first game, followed by Tulsa and Marshall at 2:30 p.m. Host Memphis faces UTEP at 6:30 and UAB and UCF square off at 9 p.m. If you can't be with us in person, all of Thursday's action can be seen on CBS Sports Network.


March 07, 2012

11:50 p.m.
So it's four games down, four more to go on Thursday. The second round will begin at noon Central Time with Southern Miss taking on East Carolina. That will be followed by Tulsa vs. Marshall at 2:30 p.m., top-seeded Memphis vs. UTEP at 6:30 p.m. and UCF vs. UAB at 9 p.m.

11:45 p.m.
As UAB head coach Mike Davis walked off the court following the Blazers' 72-64 victory over Tulane late Wednesday night, he spotted a couple of friends in the stands and gave them an exaggerated wipe of his brow, as if to say, "Let's take that one and get out of here."

It is an understandable feeling for Davis, who has not had much success at the FedEx Forum. Davis went into last night's game with a 1-9 career record at the arena: 0-6 in regular-season games against the Memphis Tigers and 1-3 in Conference USA Tournament games.

"To get a win at FedEx is a really good win for us," Davis said afterward with a smile.

The Blazers got 22 points and 14 rebounds from Cameron Moore, which was expected, and 20 points and 12 boards from Ovie Soko, which was a bit of a surprise. Soko averaged only 7.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game during the regular season.

"That was the type of game we've been hoping to get from him all year," Davis said. "If he hadn't played like that tonight, we wouldn't have had a chance of winning the game."

11:00 p.m.
The UAB vs. Tulane game is shaping up to have one of the stranger stats of the day. With seven minutes left to play, Tulane has taken 20 more shots from the field than the Blazers (51 to 31). Yet the Green Wave trail 56-48.

The discrepancy in shots from the field has occurred because the Blazers have committed seven more turnovers than Tulane and have taken 16 more free throws (25 to 9). And the Green Wave trail because even though they have taken all those shots, they haven't made many of them. Tulane has made 38.5 percent of its shots from the field and has gone 1-for-12 from 3-point range.


10:15 p.m.
We're at halftime of the final game of the opening round, and it's a good one. Tulane leads UAB 28-27. There have been nine lead changes and seven ties, and neither team has led by more than six points.

Tulane has taken 11 more shots than UAB, partly because the Blazers have committed 10 turnovers (to only three by the Green Wave). But Tulane has made only two more shots than the Blazers and has gone 1-for-8 from 3-point range.


9:23 p.m.
Give Gabriel McCulley credit for a basket and an assist off the same play. The basket was obvious, as McCulley drained a 3-pointer in overtime to break open a tie game and give UTEP a lead they never relinquished on the way to a 67-62 victory over Houston.

The assist came later, as McCulley stood up for his teammate, Julian Washburn, whose missed dunk on that play sent the ball sailing over the rim and directly to McCulley, who was standing wide open in the right corner. When McCulley was asked after the game about Washburn missing the dunk, McCulley replied, "I think that was a good pass. It was an excellent pass from him off the board."

It was an admirable statement from McCulley, but not an accurate one. Washburn himself admitted that he simply blew the dunk.

The play took place following a UTEP timeout with three minutes left in overtime and the score tied at 60. Head coach Tim Floyd designed a play for Washburn to get the ball on the inbound pass along the baseline and drive immediately toward the basket.

And that is exactly what happened, except as Washburn began to throw down the one-handed slam, he said the ball simply slipped out of his hand.

"Coach Floyd drew up a great play, I just didn't execute it," Washburn said. "I thought the ball was going out of bounds. But I looked up and Gabe had the ball wide open in the corner, and that's where he likes to shoot it. I knew it was going in as soon as it left his hands. That was by far the biggest play of the game."

Floyd agreed, saying, "We wanted to run a backdoor play to get something at the rim for Julian off the inbound. He got it to the rim, he just missed his dunk. We were very fortunate that the ball went to the right guy at the right place."

That guy was McCulley, who made that shot and finished with 18 points and eight rebounds, both team highs. But as far as he is concerned, his biggest shot of the game came off an excellent pass by Washburn.

When Washburn was told what McCulley had said, he smiled and replied, "Then I should get an assist for that, right?"


8:45 p.m.
For the sixth time this season, UTEP has won a game while trailing with less than five minutes to play, though this might have been the most unlikely comeback of them all. With Alandise Harris and Tashawn Thomas both putting up double-doubles for Houston, the Cougars appeared to be in control late in the game. But Houston was undone by the poor outside shooting of starting guards Joseph Young and Darian Thibodeaux, who combined to go 0-for-13 from 3-point range.

Combine that with a botched UTEP dunk that turned into a made 3-pointer, and the Miners somehow staged a comeback and pulled off a 67-62 overtime victory. This was a fun, exciting game that had a little bit of everything, including a surprise ending.


8:32 p.m.
We may have just seen the play that decides this game. With the scored tied at 60, UTEP's Julian Washburn went up for a slam dunk while driving hard along the baseline. As he reached the top of his jump and began to throw down a one-handed jam, the ball slipped from his hand and shot across the court straight into the hands of Gabriel McCulley, who was standing all alone in the right corner. McCulley calmly drained a 3-pointer, giving the Miners a 63-60 lead with less than two minutes remaining. What a crazy, crazy play.


8:26 p.m.
After all the accolades directed toward Alandise Harris in this game, he missed a mid-range jumper at the buzzer, and we are heading to the first overtime of the tournament. But the fact is, if the Cougars had received any sort of decent offensive production from their starting backcourt, they would have won this game by double digits. Guard Joseph Young and Darian Thibodeaux are a combined 0-for-12 from 3-point range.


8:18 p.m.
Alandise Harris just sank a 15-foot turnaround jumper to break a 56-56 tie and give Houston the lead with 33 seconds to play. He now has 25 points on 11-of-14 shooting. The rest of the Cougars have combined to scored 33 points


7:52 p.m.
Alandise Harris is starting to have a monster game for the Cougars. He just took a pass in the lane and powered his way to a layup despite being fouled hard by UTEP's Cedrick Lang, and then followed that up with a 3-pointer. He currently has 21 points (tying his career high) on 9-of-12 shooting and 10 rebounds. If the Miners can't figure out a way to slow him down soon, it's going to be extremely difficult for them to win this game.


7:43 p.m.
The offensive pace has definitely picked up in the second half of the Houston vs. UTEP game. After combining to make a total of 19 baskets in the entire first half, the two teams have already hit 10 baskets six minutes into the second half. Houston forward Alandise Harris is closing in a double-double, with 13 points and eight rebounds.


7:15 p.m.
Houston and UTEP are engaged in a defensive showdown in the third game of the opening round, with the Cougars holding a 25-21 lead at the half. Though points have been tough to find for both teams, Houston forward Alandise Harris has been doing OK, making 4-of-5 shots from the field and taking a nine-point, six-rebound performance into halftime.

The most amazing stat from the first half is the fact that UTEP has only one assist. The Miners ranked fourth in C-USA in assists during the regular season, averaging 14.3 per game. Jacques Streeter led the team with 4.6 assists per game, but he still is looking for his first one tonight.


5:23 p.m.
Marshall scored 41 points over the final 16 minutes of the Herd's 74-56 victory over SMU. That offensive explosion coincided with Damier Pitts' return to the game for Marshall following a left leg injury that sidelined him for most of the first half. Damier scored all 16 of his points in the second half, including a flurry of seven points in less than two minutes.

"I thought we had a chance when Pitts went down, but when he came back in the second half he showed how good he is," SMU head coach Matt Doherty said. "He's kind of like (Los Angeles Clippers points guard) Chris Paul in the way he can take over a game."

That is high praise indeed, but Pitts was far from alone. DeAndre Kane had 18 points, four assists and three steals, Shaquille Johnson had 15 points and five assists, and Dennis Tinnon hauled in a game-high 15 rebounds. Overall, Marshall outrebounded SMU 43-31 and held the Mustangs to 29 percent shooting (9-of-31) in the second half.

"At times I felt like it was men against boys out there," Doherty said.


4:37 p.m.
Game 2 is in the books. Marshall broke open a close contest in the second half and pulled away for a 74-56 victory. The Thundering Herd advances to play Tulsa at 2:30 p.m. CST Thursday. The winner of today's opening game, East Carolina, will play Southern Miss at noon Thursday.

We still have two more first-round games this evening. No. 8-seeded UTEP will take on ninth-seeded Houston at 6:30 p.m., followed by UAB vs. Tulane at 9 p.m.


4:20 p.m.
Marshall guard Damier Pitts was helped off the court five minutes into the game with a left leg injury. At the time it appeared the injury might be serious. But Pitts returned in the second half and has played well. With 3:48 remaining he has 14 points (all in the second half), two rebounds and two assists. Since his return he has gone 4-for-6 from the field and made all five of his free-throw attempts.


4:06 p.m.
Marshall center Nigel Spikes just made it known that he is not pleased with the unwillingness of some of his teammates to work the ball inside for easier shots. He has a point. While the Thundering Herd is only 3-for-15 from 3-point range, they are shooting 50 percent (17-of-34) from inside the arc.


3:52 p.m.
The Marshall band just played a rousing rendition of the old Twisted Sister song, "We're Not Gonna Take It." Maybe Marshall and SMU should consider that to be a message aimed at their 3-point shooting. We are barely five minutes into the second half and the two teams have combined to take 30 3-pointers. The problem is, they have combined to make only six of them. Marshall is 2-of-12 from long range and SMU is 4-for-18. Perhaps they shouldn't take it, at least not so often.


3:23 p.m.
We have been enjoying some close basketball games in the Conference USA Tournament. Real close. Through the first game-and-a-half there has has yet to be a double-digit lead. In fact, we went nearly 50 minutes over two games without there being a lead of more than six points (from the 14:20 mark of the first half of the first game to the 4:50 mark of the first half of the second game).

Marshall has managed to build a 33-26 lead over SMU at halftime of the second game, thanks to a short baseline jumper by DeAndre Kane at the buzzer. But based on what we've seen so far, look for the Mustangs to keep things close in the second half.


2:57 p.m.
If you had told East Carolina head coach Jeff Lebo early in the season that rebounding would be the key to his team's first-round victory in the Conference USA Tournament, he would have laughed.

"We were getting crushed on the glass back then, just manhandled," Lebo recalled. "We were losing the battle of the boards by 16 or 18 a game. That's a stat we weren't winning at all."

But against Rice, rebounding was one of the few stats the Pirates did win, and it turned out to be the one that made the biggest difference in their 68-66 victory. ECU outrebounded the Owls 23-10 in the second half and finished the game with 20 second-chance points compared to only two for Rice.

Those stats helped ECU offset Rice's significant shooting advantage from the field (52 percent to 42.6 percent), and sent the Owls home shaking their head and wondering what had happened.

"We played well enough to win this game in so many ways," Rice head coach Ben Braun said. "The big key was ECU was able to get offensive putbacks. That was the difference in the game.

"There wasn't anything tactical or strategic. Anything we should have done or didn't do. It's just scrambling and getting one more loose ball, getting one more rebound. Those are the little things that add up and spell victory if we convert them."


2:03 p.m.
When you get a second chance in life, take advantage of it. The East Carolina Pirates certainly did in their 68-66 first-round victory over Rice. The Owls outshot ECU from the field 52 percent to 42.6 percent. But the Pirates outrebounded Rice 37-30 and, most importantly, managed 20 second-chance points compared to only two for the Owls.

Rice had the ball with an opportunity to force overtime in the final seconds, but Lucas Kuipers missed a mid-range jumper. It's a tough loss for the Owls, who played well enough to win, and an impressive performance by the Pirates, who struggled with their shooting for much of the game but made key shots when it mattered the most.


1:39 p.m.
Two notable individual performances for Rice with four minutes to play: Arsalan Kazemi is two points away from recording the 44th double-double of his career, and Dylan Ennis needs one more assist to tie his career record of 11. As a team, the Owls are shooting 54 percent from the field (to 41.1 percent for ECU).

Despite all these impressive stats for Rice, East Carolina continues to hang in there, trailing 63-60 thanks in large part to 10 made 3-pointers.


1:25 p.m.
Rice and East Carolina are tied 48-48 midway through the second half even though the Owls continue to make more than 50 percent of their shots from the field (51.2) while ECU is shooting closer to 40 percent.

But the Pirates have a substantial advantage in two important categories. They have scored 14 points off Rice turnovers, while the Owls have managed only 4; and ECU has 14 second-chance points to just 2 for Rice.


12:57 p.m.
We're at halftime of the first game of the day, and it's a good one. Rice leads East Carolina 33-32, thanks largely to the Owls' 51.7 shooting percentage from the field (compared to 39.4 percent for ECU). Arsalan Kazemi is leading the way for Rice with eight points, nine rebounds and two steals. Paris Campbell has come off the bench to score nine points for ECU.

One of the reasons the Pirates have kept it close is they have taken care of the ball, committing only two turnovers through the first 20 minutes. Rice, meanwhile, has turned the ball over eight times.

Even though this is the early-bird game of the day, the play has been crisp and clean. The teams have been whistled for a combined total of only seven fouls. That should allow both teams to be aggressive in the second half, setting up what likely will be an exciting finish.


12:46 p.m.
Southern Miss head coach Larry Eustachy was surprised when it was announced this morning that he was being honored as the Gene Bartow Coach of the Year. Not so much because he was being recognized following the Golden Eagles' 24-7 season, but because the award had been renamed in honor of Bartow, the longtime head basketball coach and athletic director at UAB who passed away in January.

"I didn't know it was the Gene Bartow Award. That means a lot more to me, because Coach Bartow was a very, very good friend," Eustachy said. "He tried to get me to buy his condo out in Palm Desert about eight times. He was a special person, so that's quite an honor."

USM's 24 victories are the most in team history as a Division I program. The Golden Eagles finished second in the C-USA standings with an 11-5 record, tying the 2001 USM team for the best regular-season showing as a member of C-USA.

"You don't win something like this without character players and a great staff," Eustachy said. "We have great players and the best staff in the country. It's been a lot of fun. I've really enjoyed this season."


12:23 p.m.
Memphis guard Will Barton might be one of the skinniest players in Conference USA, but he certainly has put up some fat numbers this season. As a result, it was announced this morning that Barton has been named the Conference USA Player of the Year.

Not only did the 6-foot-6, 175-pound sophomore lead C-USA in scoring this season with an average of 18.7 points per game but he also was sixth in rebounding at 8.1 per game, making him the only guard in the league ranked in the top 10 in rebounding.

"It's all about heart and wanting it more than anyone else," Barton said. "People always underestimate me because I'm so slender. But nobody is going to bang and go after it harder than I do. I take pride in that all the time.

"I've always been skinny, and people have always doubted me because of my size. That's one of the things that drives me and makes me play hard. I was never considered a phenom or the next big thing. I was just a kid who loves playing basketball."

Barton also finished the regular season ranked fourth in C-USA in steals (48), seventh in field-goal percentage (52.5) and 13th in assists (2.9 per game).

"I feel like I can do a lot of things, whether it's scoring or rebounding or dishing out assists," Barton said. "I just want to go out there and play hard and give it my all. I think the best attribute of my game is competing and wanting to win. And when you want to win, you'll do whatever you have to do to get the W."


March 06, 2012

4:19 p.m.
There's an old saying that "its calmest before the storm."

I can't help but think of that phrase as I sit here courtside and watch Marshall's practice. Second-year Thundering Herd head coach Tom Herrion stands calmly at center court watching his players shoot at both ends of the floor not saying a word. But, at this time tomorrow, the fury will be unleashed. If you are in the FedExForum on Wednesday afternoon (and why wouldn't you be?) you MUST watch Coach Herrion's sideline demeanor during the Herd's 2:30 p.m. matchup with SMU. Take a good look at the jacket that Herrion is wearing when the game starts. Chances are, you won't see it very long after tip-off. Few coaches coach with the energy level that Herrion exudes during a game. For the fan, it is entertaining and even exhausting to watch.

By the way, Marshall has never lost to SMU, going 7-0 all-time. The most dramatic of those wins came four years ago in Huntington on a long buzzer-beater by Markell Humphrey. "It was 74 feet, one inch," according to Marshall play by play announcer Steve Cotton.


3:33 p.m.
The Rice Owls have taken to the practice floor at FedExForum and that means Mr. Double-Double is in the house.

Rice junior forward Arsalan Kazemi is one of two players in C-USA to average a double-double this season and heads into this week's conference tournament averaging 12.5 points and 10.3 rebounds.

Last week, Kazemi set a Conference USA career double-double record with a 12-point, 11-rebound performance in the Owls' 68-61 road win at UTEP. With his 43rd career double-double, he broke the former record established by Memphis' Kelly Wise (1998-2002).

His 16 double-doubles this season place him in the top 10 of all Division I players and all of those double-doubles have helped the Owls post their largest total of league wins as a member of C-USA and their highest overall win total since 2004-05.


2:22 p.m.
UTEP is on the floor scrimmaging in what has been the fastest-paced practice so far today. Head coach Tim Floyd has been very vocal in leading the team in its final preparations for Houston.

The Miners are a much different team than the one that played in last year's Tournament Championship Game. Seven freshmen and two JUCO transfers help compile the UTEP roster.

UTEP has enjoyed success in the FedExForum lately, winning its last two meetings against the home-standing Memphis Tigers, including a 60-58 victory on Feb. 18. Another win on this floor tomorrow and the Miners will get an opportunity to make it three in a row vs. the Tigers on Thursday.


1:29 p.m.
Who is the only school to defeat Memphis in the Conference USA Championship in the last six years? The Houston Cougars, who are on the floor now practicing. The Coogs upset the Tigers in the quarterfinals in 2010 in Tulsa, en route to Houston's surprising tournament championship as the No. 7 seed.

Houston may get the opportunity to make it two in a row over Memphis at the C-USA Championship, but first they will have to get past the UTEP Miners, a team it has now faced in four of the last five C-USA Tournaments. In fact, the Miners are the team that the Coogs defeated in the 2010 Championship game to earn an NCAA bid. But, UTEP downed Houston last year in El Paso.

The Cougars enter the tournament as a No. 9 seed for the first time ever, as a member of C-USA or even in its old Southwest Conference days. More importantly for Houston fans, the Coogs come in having won four of their last five and playing some of its best basketball this season.


11:33 a.m.
Greetings from Memphis! We are back in the Bluff City for the eighth time in Conference USA's 17 years for the men's basketball championship.

Currently, the second practice of the day is underway and the SMU Mustangs are on the floor preparing for their game against Marshall tomorrow.

We will have some entries on the blog today, but we will really get going when the games start tomorrow. We encourage you to follow along with the blog all week long. Veteran C-USA correspondent Cary Estes will be doing the majority of the reporting, but I will also be adding some thoughts and perhaps even some insight along the way. I'm excited to get it it going...for the 17th year in a row.

Russell Anderson (RDA)

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