The Lede. There were quite a few good games on the tube tonight, mostly in the Big East and Big Ten, but ultimately all of the better teams won. But the big story on this early January evening came from Beaumont, Texas, as a player with the most common of names pulled off a supremely uncommon occurrence — a 50-point game. And he did it while coming off the bench.
Your Watercooler Moment. The Unlikeliest 50-point Night of All-Time? Tonight someone named Mike James, a reserve guard for Lamar whose season and career high coming into tonight’s game with something called Louisiana College was 16 points, put on a Superman cape, ripped open a can of spinach and ate his Wheaties when he raised up off the bench on this particular evening. Twenty-eight minutes later, the 6’1 junior college transfer from Eastern Arizona had nailed eleven threes en route to a 52-point explosion that seems to have come out of nowhere, as he entered the game averaging a mere 10.7 PPG in about fifteen minutes of action. Perhaps just as impressive as his ability to score was his ability to shoot, as James managed to throw up 35 field goal attempts in those 28 minutes, an average of 1.25 per minute (we assume the four fouls were necessitated to rest his shooting arm). James’ ridiculous performance is the best bench scoring output nationally in fourteen years (UT-San Antonio’s Roderick Hall had 52 off the pine in 1997), but for insiders familiar with his game (not us), such rapid-fire cannoning isn’t all that unusual. The player who calls himself “the real MJ” via his Twitter account certainly has a scorer’s attitude, having led his juco league in scoring with a 25.9 PPG average last year and receiving interest from a number of schools including Santa Clara, Nebraska and Detroit. He surfaced at Lamar because he reportedly liked the warm weather in Texas, perhaps knowing that the milder climate would keep his hand hot for those moments when he had the green light off the bench. Tonight appeared to be that night. Something tells us we’re going to be hearing from this new “MJ” again. (for a glimpse of his athleticism, check out this clip on his YouTube page)
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
- Big Ten Favorites. It wasn’t easy but both Ohio State and Minnesota avoided upsets tonight against Big Ten bottom-dwellers Iowa and Indiana, respectively. OSU’s Thad Matta wasn’t happy with his team’s defense for the second straight game, but having a player like Jared Sullinger inside can make up for many defensive lapses — his 24/12 on the interior was something that Iowa was simply not equipped to handle. OSU has started off the Big Ten slate with two easier opponents, even if on the road, but Minnesota has had no such luck, having to travel to Madison and East Lansing prior to tonight’s game at home against Indiana. Trevor Mbakwe, the next best glass-eater in the league after Sullinger, grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds and blocked five shots to help his Gophers come back from a nine-point second half deficit and effectively save Tubby Smith’s team from an untenable 0-3 start in the conference race.
- Colorado State as Spoiler. It’s no secret that the Mountain West has designs on getting four teams back into the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year — San Diego State, BYU, UNLV and New Mexico. Four other schools are simply not very good — TCU, Utah, Wyoming and Air Force. But Colorado State, with senior forward Andy Ogide (16/7) leading the way, is the mid-pack team none of the top four can afford to lose to if they want to take the MWC crown and earn that high seed in the NCAA Tournament. CSU’s win over Wyoming tonight confirms that the rest of the MWC’s fortunes may ultimately rest on how well the top four handle the Rams in their home-and-home series this year.
- LaceDarius Dunn’s 43. On most other night’s LaceDarius Dunn’s 43-point performance would be the headliner, but Mike James’ 52 off the bench displaced the Baylor guard’s outstanding evening. Dunn nailed ten threes (on 18 attempts) and put the Bears on his back down the stretch of tonight’s game against Morgan State when they really needed him. For Baylor to reach its goals this season, they’re going to need Dunn to occasionally do so, especially on the nights where Perry Jones and some of the others fail to step up. He’s been relatively quiet this year, but his averages of 23/5/2 APG while shooting 42% from deep (two-thirds of his shots are treys) are All-American worthy.
… and Misses.