O26 Weekly Awards: GW, Christian Wood, Benjy Taylor & Pac-12 Upsets

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 30th, 2014

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.

O26 Team of the Week

George Washington. While many folks were drinking eggnog and caroling and having holiday fun, George Washington was in Hawaii stringing together three impressive, defensive-minded victories in a row to win the Diamond Head Classic. In doing so, not only did the Colonials establish themselves as the Atlantic 10’s second-best unit, they also picked up a resume-defining non-conference victory that should work wonders come Selection Sunday.

George Washington beat Wichita State and won the Diamond Head Classic. (Eugene Tanner / Associated Press)

George Washington beat Wichita State and won the Diamond Head Classic. (Eugene Tanner / Associated Press)

Mike Lonergan’s club entered last Monday with essentially zero quality wins of note, having dropped all three opportunities against KenPom top-100 units – including a 13-point handling at Penn State the previous week – and running out of chances. Luckily, the trip to Hawaii offered a few finals shots before A-10 play, and the effects from that contest in Happy Valley (especially defensively) were apparently left on the mainland: GW opened the tournament by holding Ohio to 15 points in the second half and steamrolling the Bobcats, 77-49. Big man Kevin Larsen finished with 19 points and 15 rebounds and the Colonials allowed their MAC opponent a mere 0.77 points per possession – a dominant defensive effort that continued into their next two games. Against Colorado the next night, Lonergan’s group limited the Buffaloes to just 50 points on 36.5 percent shooting, their second-worst offensive output of the season. Then, on Christmas night, GW notched its biggest win (and probably the A-10’s biggest win) of the young season by storming back from eight down against Wichita State, grabbing the lead with under five minutes to play and holding off the Shockers for a 60-54 triumph. Lonergan’s decision to switch to a 1-3-1 zone in the second half enabled GW to limit Wichita State to its fewest points per possession since February 2, 2013, and helped spark the game-clinching, 20-6 run late in the contest. In fact, over the course of three games, the Colonials allowed just four (total!) double-figure scorers and never surrendered more than 0.90 points per trip – a stretch of defensive excellence that puts them firmly in the NCAA Tournament at-large discussion, likely from now until March.

Honorable Mentions: Loyola-Chicago (2-0: N-Texas Tech, N-Boise State); Stony Brook (2-0: vs. American, at Washington); UNLV (2-0: vs. Arizona, vs. Southern Utah); Iona (2-0: vs. Florida Gulf Coast, at Drexel)

O26 Player of the Week

UNLV's Christian Wood is our Player of the Week after dominating against Arizona. (Sam Morris/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

UNLV’s Christian Wood is our Player of the Week after dominating against Arizona. (Sam Morris/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Christian Wood – UNLV. If you were inclined to call Christian Wood soft or lacking muscle on the interior, you might want to reconsider. Not only was the 6’11″ sophomore the best player on the floor against Arizona on Tuesday – Wood finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds and a pair of blocks – he compiled his beastly numbers by attacking the paint and outworking guys like seven-footer Kaleb Tarczewski. “Chris was as good as he’s ever been at UNLV,” coach Dave Rice said afterwards. “He shows flashes of brilliance, and tonight he was brilliant.” After leading the Runnin’ Rebels to its biggest win of the season, Wood continued his dominance against Southern Utah over the weekend, scoring 22 points and ripping down 14 boards. In all, the forward shot 17-of-24 from the field, 6-of-6 from the free throw line, and blocked seven shots on the week, establishing himself as one of the Mountain West’s best big men and probably boosting his NBA Draft stock.

Honorable Mentions: Ameen Tanksley – Hofstra (23 points vs. La Salle… 32 points, eight rebounds at LIU Brooklyn); Kyle Collinsworth – BYU (18 points, 15 rebounds vs. Massachusetts… 13 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists vs. Gonzaga); David Laury – Iona (23 points, eight rebounds vs. Florida Gulf Coast… 17 points, 10 rebounds at Drexel); Brad Waldow – Saint Mary’s (18 points, 10 rebounds vs. Northeastern… 20 points, nine rebounds vs. Santa Clara); Corey Hawkins – UC Davis (18 points, seven rebounds at Northern Colorado… 29 points, six assists, five steals at Washington State)

O26 Coach of the Week

Benjy Taylor has done a great job this season under tough circumstances. (Brandon Flores / www.brandonfloresphotography.com)

Benjy Taylor has done a great job this season under tough circumstances. (Brandon Flores / www.brandonfloresphotography.com)

Benjy Taylor – Hawaii. To illustrate just how good of a job Benjy Taylor has done so far this season, we first must backtrack to late October. In a matter of two days, just before Halloween, head coach Gib Arnold was fired amid an on-going NCAA investigation and all-conference forward Isaac Fotu – far and away the team’s best player – turned pro after being ruled ineligible. To make matters worse, freshman Sammis Reyes then decided to transfer, only to return, injure his hand in practice and ultimately transfer for good a month later.  Oh, and did I mention that leading scorer Christian Standhardinger graduated and point guard Keith Shamburger transferred in the offseason? Needless to say, Taylor – the interim coach – was dealt a difficult hand. So, with that in mind, now consider Hawaii’s past week: having already beaten Pittsburgh in November, the Warriors handled a Big Ten contender (Nebraska), took the 11th-ranked team in the country to overtime (Wichita State) and knocked off a quality Pac-12 opponent (Colorado) to claim third-place in the Diamond Head Classic. Despite his team lacking size, experience (guard Garrett Nevels is the lone senior on the roster) or very much depth, Taylor has tinkered with guard-heavy lineups and mixed up defenses and somehow managed a 10-4 record through December – a win-loss total made all-the-more legitimate following Hawaii’s stellar week. The former Chicago State head man earns Coach of the Week honors as a result.

Honorable Mentions: Brian Wardle – Green Bay, Tim Cluess – Iona, Porter Moser – Loyola-Chicago

O26 Upset of the Week

Stony Brook stunned Washington on Sunday night. (James Snook / USA TODAY Sports)

Stony Brook stunned Washington on Sunday night. (James Snook / USA TODAY Sports)

Three Pac-12 Upsets(UNLV over Arizona, 71-67; Stony Brook over Washington, 62-57; Cal State Bakersfield over California, 55-52). UNLV’s 76-67 downing of third-ranked Arizona looked like the Upset of the Week, especially considering the light holiday slate. The young, highly-touted Runnin’ Rebels who have struggled at times this year had everything working against the Wildcats on Tuesday, with freshmen Rashad Vaughn and Patrick McCaw combining for 34 points and sophomore Christian Wood dominating the paint, racking up 24 points and 10 rebounds. And yet, somehow – even though UNLV was a 12.5-point home underdog – the upset ended up paling in comparison to Sunday night’s west coast wackiness. First, America East favorite Stony Brook, facing a 10-point deficit with under eight minutes to play, assembled a 17-2 run to knock off undefeated Washington, 62-57, in its own building. “This is our biggest win in program history,” said Jameel Warney afterwards, the Seawolves’ big man who finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Then – as improbable as that was – Cal State Bakersfield toppled California on the road, 55-52, despite entering the night 2-10 and facing a 94.2 percent chance of defeat (per KenPom). Realistically, the odds could have been even longer when you consider that Bakersfield’s offense, among the least-efficient in America, was facing a top-30 defensive unit in Cal. But Rod Barnes’ group managed to defy the odds by slowing the game down offensively and playing gritty defense of its own: Cal scored a meager 0.81 points per possession. “It’s unbelievable,” Barnes said the game – a fitting statement that could apply to all three Pac-12 upsets this past week.

Honorable Mentions: Texas Southern over Kansas State, 58-56; Gardner Webb over Purdue, 89-84

O26 Dunk of the Week

Evan Payne – Loyola Marymount. There were a few nice dunks in Hawaii last week, but chief among them was the 6’1’’ sophomore’s soaring, thunderous jam. FEEL THE PAYNE.

Honorable Mentions: Aaron Valdes – Hawaii; Christian Wood – UNLV

O26 Finish of the Week Texas Southern over Kansas State, 58-56. No more than a week after Texas Southern knocked off Michigan State, the Tigers – improbably (impossibly!) – went into Manhattan and toppled Kansas State on Sunday night. Down one, Tonnie Collier intentionally missed the last of three free throws, at which point Chris Thomas grabbed the offensive rebound and tied the game at 56. Kansas State then proceeded to throw the ball out of bounds with 0.9 to play – the clock never starting – which set the stage for a Jason Carter game-winner as time expired. Watch for yourself – it’s as crazy as it sounds.

Honorable Mentions: Wichita State over Hawaii, 80-79; Portland over San Diego, 61-58

Tommy Lemoine (250 Posts)

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