O26 Weekly Awards: Northern Iowa, Damion Lee, Jon Coffman & Richmond…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 3rd, 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

Northern Iowa knocked around Wichita State on Saturday. (Bryon Houlgrave, The Register)

Northern Iowa knocked around Wichita State on Saturday. (Bryon Houlgrave, The Register)

Northern Iowa. The Panthers beat Southern Illinois last Wednesday, 59-52, which was a nice MVC road victory; but let’s be honest – this league is all about the Shockers. While plenty of folks figured Northern Iowa could defeat Wichita State (they were in fact slight favorites by KenPom), I’m not sure anyone thought Ben Jacobson’s group would manhandle the reigning Missouri Valley champs. After trading baskets for the opening 10 minutes, the Panthers spent the final 30 minutes of game time pummeling a team that hadn’t been pummeled in a long, long time. In fact, Wichita State had not lost an MVC contest since the 2013 league championship game against Creighton, racking up 27 straight regular season conference victories entering Saturday. So it goes without saying that Northern Iowa’s performance – a 70-54 beatdown – was something special. Trailing by two with 9:50 left in the first half, the Panthers used stifling defense and an energetic home crowd to close out the period on a 21-6 run, confronting the Shockers with their largest deficit since January 11, 2014. And even though Wichita State had won 12 games in a row when trailing at the break, they were simply overmatched this time around; Northern Iowa began the second-half on another 8-2 spurt to open up an insurmountable 19-point lead. Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker were unable to find consistent looks against the home team’s stingy pack-line defense – now the 17th most efficient in college basketball – and Northern Iowa senior Seth Tuttle had the game of his career, scoring 29 points against the Shockers’ usually-tough interior. How did the Panthers dominate Wichita State so thoroughly? Perhaps it was a matter of expectations. “We didn’t really talk about coming in and beating them by one or two,” Tuttle said afterwards. “We talked about coming in here and beating them by 15.” Northern Iowa is now projected as a #5 seed in multiple mock brackets and has a real shot to win the league. February 28 – the return match-up in Wichita – looms large. But for now, the Panthers are our Team of the Week.

Honorable Mentions: Richmond (2-0: vs. Duquesne, at VCU); William & Mary (2-0: vs. Hofstra, at James Madison); Pepperdine (2-0: at Pacific, at Saint Mary’s); Albany (2-0: at Vermont, at Maine); Radford (2-0: at Charleston Southern, vs. Radford); USC-Upstate (2-0: at Jacksonville, at North Florida)

O26 Player of the Week

Drexel's Damion Lee was excellent in a pair of sorely-needed victories. (Christopher Szagola-USA TODAY Sports)

Drexel’s Damion Lee was excellent in a pair of sorely-needed victories. (Christopher Szagola-USA TODAY Sports)

Damion Lee – Drexel. It’s been a rough year for the Dragons, which lost their starting point guard before the season began and dropped 11 of their first 13 games once it did, including an embarrassing home defeat to Division II University of the Sciences. Lee, however, has been one of the few bright spots, and he shined brighter than ever last week. On Wednesday, the 6’6’’ wing scorched preseason CAA favorite Northeastern for 33 points in a 65-60 Drexel victory, shooting 9-of-16 from the field and knocking down 10 straight free throws on his team’s final five possessions – all within the last 45 seconds.  The Dragons trailed by 10 points at the half, but never once turned the ball over in the final 20 minutes of action, keyed by Lee’s near-flawless outing (zero turnovers in his own right). “He played a great game for us tonight,” coach Bruiser Flint put simply afterwards. Three days later, against a hot UNC-Wilmington club, the preseason all-conference selection was (somehow) even better, scoring 32 points on 10-of-14 shooting, ripping down a career-high 13 rebounds and pacing Drexel to its third straight win. In total, Lee made 22-of-23 free throws and shot better than 63 percent over the course of the two games, posting high-volume numbers without being a ‘volume shooter.’ With the junior playing the best basketball of his career and forward Rodney Williams back in the fold, Drexel seems to have pulse in the CAA – something that could not have been said just a couple weeks ago.

Honorable Mentions: Ty Greene – USC Upstate (22 points at Jacksonville… 39 points at North Florida); Ladarius Tabb – Alabama A&M (33 points, 12 rebounds vs. Alcorn State… 30 points, 14 rebounds at Prairie View A&M); DeAndre Bembry – Saint Joseph’s (20 points, five steals at La Salle… 21 points, 17 rebounds, seven assists vs. Davidson); Chavaughn Lewis – Marist (22 points at Niagara… 35 points at Canisius); Corey Hawkins – UC Davis (28 points vs. UC Santa Barbara… 22 points, six assists vs. Cal Poly)

O2 Coach of the Week

Jon Coffman and IPFW are starting to turn things around. (midwestsportsfans.com)

Jon Coffman and IPFW are starting to turn things around. (midwestsportsfans.com)

Jon Coffman – IPFW. There had been mounting frustration surrounding IPFW basketball in recent weeks, as the preseason Summit League favorites had dropped five of their first six conference games and slipped progressively further down the standings. First-year head coaches and unmet expectations don’t often mix well – people are quick to point fingers – so you can bet Coffman, who took over for Tony Jasick in the offseason, felt the heat. “Some of the hype around this program was built up by the media,” he said recently. But if unmet expectations are pinned on a coach, then so too should be major turnarounds – and that’s exactly what looks to be happening in Fort Wayne. After losing by 29 at South Dakota State on January 21, the Mastodons have since reeled off three straight victories, including a pair of double-figure road wins last week. On Thursday, Coffman’s group shot 72 percent from inside the arc and beat South Dakota in runaway fashion. Two nights later, IPFW toppled Nebraska-Omaha by 10. Big man Steve Forbes (14.2 PPG, 6.5 RPG) has come to life in recent weeks after struggling with injury and foul trouble earlier in the season, and the Mastodons as a team have picked up their play defensively. Coffman has managed to flip the script – the former assistant recently cited using “Jedi mind tricks” as an example – he deserves serious credit for the sudden turnaround.

Honorable Mentions: Marty Wilson – Pepperdine; Rob Murphy – Eastern Michigan; Bill Herrion – New Hampshire; Dan Muller – Illinois State; Steve Masiello – Manhattan

O26 Upset of the Week

The Spiders beat their cross-town rivals in their own building. (MARK GORMUS/TIMES-DISPATCH)

The Spiders beat their crosstown rivals in their own building. (MARK GORMUS/TIMES-DISPATCH)

Richmond over VCU, 64-55. VCU had won 29 of its last 30 home games entering the weekend, including Tuesday’s 72-48 drubbing of George Washington. Richmond, on the other hand, hadn’t beaten the Rams in their building since 2001, dropping eight games in a row at the Siegel Center by an average of 12 points per contest. And Shaka Smart’s bunch came in playing its best basketball of the season, riding a 12-game winning streak and looking every bit the A-10 front-runner it was supposed to be. So, with recent history and heavy odds stacked against them – KenPom gave Chris Mooney’s team a 17.5 percent chance of winning the game – how did the Spiders respond? By overcoming a first-half deficit and toppling the Rams by nine points, 64-55. Which is to say that they responded quite well. Richmond turned the ball over just five times in the second half – crucial ball security against Smart’s club – and 5’8’’ guard Kendall Anthony put on a clinic, scoring 20 of his 22 points in the final 20 minutes. Even when the Rams looked primed for a comeback, cutting the Spiders’ once-double-figures lead down to four with under a minute, the crosstown visitors calmly knocked down six straight free throws to ice the upset. After losing five of its previous eight games – including four defeats by three points or fewer – Richmond has now won back-to-back games and looked really good in the process. The Spiders might not be an NCAA at-large contender, but they are certainly among the better teams in the A-10.

Honorable Mentions: Towson over Hofstra, 86-72; Drake over Evansville, 70-65

O26 Dunk of the Week

Raheem Appleby – Louisiana Tech. Appleby gives a slight fake, drives baseline… and absolutely demolishes Western Kentucky’s George Fant. That’s a 6’4’’ guard posterizing one of the best big men in Conference USA. Beastly.

Honorable Mentions: Ike Nwamu – Mercer; Mo Alie-Cox – VCU

O26 Buzzer-Beating Launch of the Week

Riley Grabau – Wyoming. The Pokes don’t just throw down massive dunks – they also drill massive buzzer-beaters. Here, Grabau nails a casual ¾-court shot against Utah State. No big deal.

Honorable Mentions: K.J. Rose – Fairfield

Tommy Lemoine (249 Posts)


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