O26 Weekly Awards: Harvard, Jalen Cannon, Jim Les & Rice

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 10th, 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

Harvard. One could argue that Harvard’s season was at stake against Yale on Saturday, or at least close to it. The Crimson, 4-1 in Ivy League play, faced the prospect of falling two games back of the undefeated Bulldogs and severely damaging their hopes for a fourth-straight outright conference title. A victory for Tommy Amaker’s group would even up the records with a return game in Cambridge still ahead on March 6; a loss, and Harvard’s NCAA Tournament destiny would no longer rest in its own hands even if it did beat Yale next month. This was about as “must-win” as it gets in early February.

Harvard regained control of the Ivy League on Saturday. (Robert F. Worley / The Harvard Crimson)

Harvard regained control of the Ivy League on Saturday. (Robert F. Worley / The Harvard Crimson)

Yet the pivotal showdown would have been even direr for Harvard had it not been for some late-game heroics the night before. Trailing Brown by two with only a few seconds left, it took reigning Player of the Year Wesley Saunders corralling his own miss and banking in a shot at the buzzer just to send Friday’s game into overtime. In the extra period, the Crimson controlled things – ultimately winning by two – and Saunders finished with a career-high 33 points. “We’ve had these kind of games against Brown,” Amaker said afterwards, referring to his team’s third overtime victory in as many seasons against the always-pesky Bears.

Call it ‘survival,’ call it what you want, but a win is a win – and Harvard made the most of its second life the following night in New Haven. After an ugly 20 minutes of basketball (Harvard took a 16-11 lead into the locker room), the Crimson held on to their advantage throughout the second half, beating the Bulldogs 52-50 in their own house. Saunders again led the way, scoring 16 points and hitting two clutch free throws in the closing seconds, and in a matter of 24 hours Amaker’s team went from the brink of disaster to re-establishing control of the Ivy League. “We’ve taken these kinds of shots from the other teams the last few years; we’ve been up to the challenge,” he remarked afterward. With Harvard returning home for six of its final eight contests – including the Yale game in a few weeks – the Crimson’s ability to take those shots and respond when it mattered most has put them in good position to retain the conference crown and return to the Big Dance.

Honorable Mentions: St. Bonaventure (2-0: at Davidson, vs. VCU); Boise State (2-0: at Utah State, vs. San Diego State); Ohio (2-0: vs. Akron, vs. Eastern Michigan); Vermont (2-0: vs. Maine, at Stony Brook); IPFW (2-0: vs. South Dakota State, vs. Oral Roberts)

O26 Player of the Week

St. Francis Brooklyn's Jalen Cannon had a monster week. (Brooklyn Daily Eagle)

St. Francis Brooklyn’s Jalen Cannon had a monster week. (Brooklyn Daily Eagle)

Jalen Cannon – St. Francis Brooklyn. The preseason-favorite Terriers are finally starting to separate from a crowded NEC pack, thanks in large part to Cannon, who is shaping up to be conference Player of the Year. On Thursday night, the senior poured in a career high 35 points on 13-of-19 shooting – including 3-of-3 from behind the arc – to go along with 13 rebounds in St. Francis’ 90-81 victory over Central Connecticut State. Two days later, Cannon logged another double-double – his 14th of the season – this time scoring 29 points and ripping down 11 rebounds in the Terriers’ 15-point win over Wagner. All told, the 6’6’’ forward shot nearly 68 percent from the field, accounted for over 40 percent of his team’s scoring and, on Saturday, surpassed Quinnipiac great Justin Rutty as the NEC’s all-time leading rebounder. Head coach Glenn Braica talked about his development afterward: “Now he can step on the floor and make perimeter shots, and he can handle the ball some. He’s become a very good player.” Considering the season he’s having, ‘good’ might be selling Cannon quite a bit short.

Honorable Mentions: Chris Fowler – Central Michigan (42 points vs. Bowling Green… 17 points, nine assists vs. Western Michigan); Marcus Posley – St. Bonaventure (19 points at Davidson… 15 points vs. VCU… two buzzer-beaters); Matt Lopez – Rider (10 points, 10 rebounds at Siena… 20 points, 19 rebounds vs. Fairfield… 27 points, 10 rebounds vs. Manhattan); Wesley Saunders – Harvard (33 points, 10 rebounds at Brown… 16 points at Yale); Kyle Wiltjer – Gonzaga (22 points at Santa Clara… 29 points, 11 rebounds at San Francisco)

O26 Coach of the Week

UC Davis head man Jim Les is our O26 Coach of the Week. (Andrew Seng / Sacramento Bee)

UC Davis head man Jim Les is our O26 Coach of the Week. (Andrew Seng / Sacramento Bee)

Jim Les – UC Davis. Sometimes the excellence of an individual player can overshadow a really good coaching job, through no fault of either one. Take UC Davis, for example: In the midst of its best season since joining the Division I ranks, much of the success has been attributed to senior guard Corey Hawkins, the Big West’s leading scoring (21.3 PPG), three-point shooter (52.6% 3FG) and fourth-best assist man (3.5 APG). And make no mistake about it – he’s been superb. But considering how the Aggies responded last week without Hawkins, who was forced to miss two games with a leg injury, it’s time head coach Jim Les garnered some serious praise as well. Not only did the Aggies go 2-0 without their best player, they walloped conference co-leader UC Irvine in their own gym, 75-56, snapping the Anteaters’ six-game winning streak. Two nights later at Cal State Northridge, the story was much the same; Les’ group shot 50 percent from behind the arc, played strong defense and beat the Matadors by 13 points. Long term, UC Davis will certainly need the eventual conference Player of the Year if it intends on keeping pace in the Big West – especially come tournament time – but Les’ ability to keep the Aggies atop the league standings without Hawkins in the lineup deserves its own applause.

Honorable Mentions: Saul Phillips – Ohio; Leon Rice – Boise State; Tommy Amaker – Harvard; Scott Padgett – Samford

O26 Upset of the Week

Rice went to Western Kentuckyon Saturday and took down the Hilltoppers. (Austin Anthony / BG Daily News)

Rice went to Western Kentuckyon Saturday and took down the Hilltoppers. (Austin Anthony / BG Daily News)

Rice over Western Kentucky, 72-68. As wild as Conference USA play has been in recent weeks (e.g., North Texas beating Louisiana Tech on January 22), it’s doubtful anyone saw this result coming. The first-place Hilltoppers entered the game 9-1 in conference play and undefeated in Diddle Arena this calendar year – their last home loss coming on December 20 against Louisville. KenPom gave Western Kentucky a 91.7 percent chance of beating the lowly Owls, a team which had lost four straight games and sat at 6-15 overall. But sometimes teams get hot, and sometimes huge early deficits are too huge to overcome, and that’s exactly what happened in Bowling Green on Saturday. Rice shot 68 percent in the first half, put together a 22-5 run and took a 17-point lead into the locker room. Western Kentucky came back in the second half (even briefly jumping ahead late), but Rice’s ability to knock down free throws (15-of-17 FT) – particularly Seth Gearhart, who scored 31 points and shot 10-of-10 from the stripe – proved too much for the Hilltoppers. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been more proud of a team because of their fight than I am of this team tonight,” first year coach Mike Rhodes said after the game. That ‘fight’ (wherever it came from) has thrown a wrench into the C-USA standings: three teams are now tied at the top, with two others not far behind.

Honorable Mentions: Bradley over Evansville, 56-53; Delaware over Northeastern, 73-68; Prairie View A&M over Texas Southern, 58-55; College of Charleston over William & Mary, 80-72

O26 Dunk of the Week

John BrownHigh Point. The fact that this award was even debatable is a testament to just how hard Iona’s Kelvin Amayo threw down on Sunday [see below]. Still, Brown – insane athlete that he is – takes the cake for this Dunk of the Year candidate.

Honorable Mentions: Kelvin Amayo – Iona; Mo Alie-Cox – VCU

O26 Ridiculously Clutch Player of the Week

Marcus PosleySt. Bonaventure. On Wednesday, Posley beat Davidson on a coast-to-coast, Tyus Edney-like buzzer-beater. On Saturday, he took down VCU in similar fashion. This guy is clutch.

Tommy Lemoine (250 Posts)

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