O26 Weekly Awards: Pepperdine, Keifer Sykes, James Whitford & Miami (OH)…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 13th, 2015

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

Pepperdine. Entering last week, you know how many WCC teams had beaten BYU in the Marriott Center since it joined the conference in 2012? Four, and Pepperdine wasn’t one of them. In fact, the Waves had lost their previous three contests there by an average of 25 points per game. So when Marty Wilson’s team went to Provo and beat the Cougars in wire-to-wire fashion on Thursday night, yeah, it was kind of a big deal. The six-point win turned heads and garnered Pepperdine some positive national attention for the first time in a long while (the game was on ESPNU). And as for the Waves’ encore victory at San Diego on Saturday? That win may have propelled Wilson’s club into the upper echelon of the conference.

Pepperdine stunned BYU in the Marriott Center on Thursday. (AP Photo/The Daily Herald, Ian Maule)

Pepperdine stunned BYU in the Marriott Center on Thursday. (AP Photo/The Daily Herald, Ian Maule)

Defense has been Pepperdine’s M.O. this season and it put that stinginess on full display against BYU. The Waves, which entered the contest tops in the country at taking away the three-point line, held the oft-scorching Cougars (15-of-28 threes in their previous game) to just 23 percent (6-of-26) from behind the arc. BYU’s high-scoring, hyper-efficient attack had trouble finding consistent offense all night long, ultimately winding up tied for its lowest point total of the season (61 points). “We talked about our discipline and our toughness and we showed that from the tip,” Wilson said afterwards. Yet, his best coaching move of the night had nothing to do with an instilled mindset or strong defensive principles. Instead, it was probably his decision to bring top scorer and rebounder Stacy Davis (15.7 PPG, 7.7 RPG) off the bench for the first time. The 6’6’’ junior responded with a 23-point, eight-rebound performance that included a couple big free throws to ice the game. “They got us a little bit out of rhythm and they got us to take tougher shots out of our sets,” BYU guard Anson Winder said after the game, summing it up perfectly. “They scored on the other end and it’s hard to beat a team when you can’t stop them from scoring.”

But Pepperdine wasn’t done. Despite having not won back-to-back WCC road games since 2007, the Waves promptly travelled to San Diego two days later, put forth another excellent defensive effort and beat the Toreros by 12. No San Diego player – not even Johnny Dee, the conference’s fourth-leading scorer – ended up with double figures, as Bill Grier’s crew mustered only 0.75 points per possession. In a matter of three days, the team that had been picked seventh in the preseason outdid the second and fifth-place picks in their own gymnasiums. Now at 4-1 in WCC play and cracking the top-100 in KenPom, Pepperdine appears to have staying power among the top half of the WCC.

Honorable Mentions: Ball State (2-0: at Eastern Michigan, vs. Central Michigan); Wyoming (2-0: at Colorado State, vs. Boise State); Eastern Illinois (2-0: at Tennessee State, vs. Belmont); Louisiana Tech (2-0: at UTEP, at UT San Antonio)

O26 Player of the Week

No one could stop Keifer Sykes last week. (Photo: Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media)

No one could stop Green Bay’s Keifer Sykes last week. (Photo: Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media)

Keifer Sykes – Green Bay. Yes, this guy really is as good as advertised. Even on a week in which Fresno State’s Marvelle Harris dropped 40 points on Nevada (he also garnered heavy consideration), Sykes – as he’s been on several occasions throughout his career – was the best player in O26 hoops. The senior averaged 28.6 PPG over a three-game stretch, including 28 points against Wright State on Monday, a season-high 34 at Milwaukee on Friday, and 24 versus Youngstown State on Sunday night. His performance against the Panthers was nothing less than dominant, scoring 22 of his team’s 47 first half points and personally leading Milwaukee, 22-19, with four minutes left in the opening period. On Sunday, the preseason Horizon League Player of the Year ripped off 10 points in the first seven minutes of the second half to help turn a slight lead over the Penguins into a commanding margin down the stretch, adding nine rebounds and six assists in the process. Considering the level at which Sykes is playing, it’s no coincidence that Green Bay won its three games by an average of 18.3 points per game. For that, he earns our Player of the Week Award.

Honorable Mentions: Marvelle Harris – Fresno State (18 points, seven rebounds, sisx assists vs. Utah State… 40 points at Nevada); Aaron Valdes – Hawaii (20 points, six rebounds, five steals vs. Cal Poly… 34 points, five steals vs. Cal State-Northridge); Jameel Warney – Stony Brook (25 points, 13 rebounds at Columbia… 26 points, 10 rebounds at Vermont); George Fant – Western Kentucky (18 points, 11 rebounds vs. Charlotte… 24 points, 13 rebounds vs. Old Dominion); Stacy Davis – Pepperdine (23 points, eight rebounds at BYU… 18 points, seven rebounds at San Diego); Marcus Burton – Wagner (38 points vs. Mount St. Mary’s… 21 points vs. Robert Morris… 18 points vs. LIU Brooklyn)

O26 Coach of the Week

James Whitford is building something at Ball State. (Photo by Kent C. Horner/Getty Images)

James Whitford is building something at Ball State. (Photo by Kent C. Horner/Getty Images)

James Whitford – Ball State. I’m pretty sure Whitford picked up a few things during his nine years working under Sean Miller, because Ball State played some Arizona-level defense in the MAC last week. After holding Eastern Michigan to five points in the last five minutes of regulation, forcing overtime and upsetting the Eagles in Ypsilanti on Wednesday, the Cardinals did something only one other team had managed to do all season: slow down Central Michigan’s offense enough to beat them. But Whitford’s club did more than merely “slow down” the Chippewas’ top-20 offensive attack “enough” to win; its pack-line defense limited one of the nation’s most prolific three-point shooting squads to 29.6 percent from behind the arc and a season-low 1.0 point per possession, enabling Ball State to win going away. Conversely, the Cardinals’ offense was the best it’s been all season, scoring 1.28 points per trip. From Whitford’s point of view (and probably anyone else who follows the MAC), the pair of victories was something of a breakthrough: “It’s not just that we won two close games; it’s that we’ve beaten two legitimate, I think, top-100 teams in the country.” The second-year head man is starting to build something in Muncie.

Honorable Mentions: Marty Wilson – Pepperdine; Jay Spoonhour – Eastern Illinois; Jamion Christian – Mount St. Mary’s; B.J. Hill – Northern Colorado; Michael White – Louisiana Tech

O26 Upset of the Week

Miami (OH) over Eastern Michigan, 82-81. Okay, so Pepperdine over BYU was probably a bigger upset and Eastern Michigan’s loss to Ball State even more improbable, but the manner in which Miami (OH) took down the Eagles last week deserves some attention too. The Redhawks were down by 19 points at the half and trailed by eight with just 1:52 to play, at which point their odds of winning – 31 percent when the game began – fell to somewhere between 0% and 1%. Even after cutting the lead to four, a pair of Karrington Ward free throws extended the deficit back to six with little more than 20 seconds remaining. Hope seemed all but lost. Then Eric Washington made the magic happen. After Miami (OH) traded a two-point basket for one made free throw and cut the lead to five, the diminutive guard drilled two high-rising threes in the final 11 seconds to complete the improbable comeback.

In overtime, the Redhawks held EMU to just three points on a single made basket, which was enough to maintain its one-point advantage despite also not scoring in the final three-plus minutes. Washington said of his heroics after the game: “[Head coach John Cooper] said, ‘Just make a play’. And I made a play.”

Honorable Mentions: Pepperdine over BYU, 67-61; Texas State at Georgia State, 77-74; Ball State over Eastern Michigan, 60-59; Nevada over UNLV, 64-62

O26 Half-Court Lob of the Week

Murray State’s Cam Payne to Jarvis Williams. Payne already ranks among the top-three in points, assists and steals in the Ohio Valley, and now he can add another skill set to his illustrious resume: premier lob artist.

O26 Déjà Vu Finish of the Week

Texas State wins in double-overtime, 77-74… Texas State wins in double-overtime, 77-74. That’s right – three days after Texas State’s Emani Gant hit a buzzer-beater to force double-overtime and eventually beat Georgia State, 77-74, Bobcats guard D.J. Brown hit a buzzer-beater to beat Arkansas-Little Rock, 77-74, in double-overtime. Lightning apparently strikes twice in the Sun Belt.

Tommy Lemoine (250 Posts)

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