(Mike Lawrence – Sportsday Wire)
On Saturday, Barclays Center hosted the CBS Sports Classic, which has already become a landmark event among the early-season college basketball tournaments.
In just its second year, it has taken its rightful place with tournaments like the 2K Classic, the Jimmy V Classic, and the Maui Invitational and surpassed longtime events like the preseason NIT and Holiday Festival in prominence.
Featuring college basketball dynamos UCLA, North Carolina, Kentucky and Ohio State, it has the feel of a Final Four.
Kentucky is the biggest draw, as they are a contender every year. The Wildcats nearly went undefeated last season, losing in the Final Four National Semifinal to Wisconsin. This year, they are off to another fast start, at 9-2 and ranked fourth in the country.
Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari has once again put together a starting five full of blue chips, led by Newark’s own Isaiah Briscoe, Skal Labissiere of Haiti, Joel Murray of Ontario, Tyler Ulis and Alex Poythress.
North Carolina is off to a 9-2 start, ranked 11th in the country, and the Tar Heels are led by senior Marcus Paige. Paige has been a star since he arrived as a freshman in 2012, and he is averaging 17.3 points, 4.8 assists, and 2.5 rebounds per game right in line with his per-game averages since he was a sophomore.
The CBS Sports Classic doubleheader began with North Carolina coming from behind to beat UCLA, 89-76.
UCLA jumped out to a 26-15 lead in the first ten minutes, and then North Carolina rallied back to tie it at 38 at halftime.
The second half belonged to the Tar Heels, as they outscored UCLA 51-38. North Carolina shot 22-36, or 61 percent from the field in the second half, and 52 percent, or 36-69 from the field, for the game.
North Carolina was led by Brice Johnson, who had 27 points on 11-for-12 from the field, with nine rebounds. Joel Berry II had 17 points on 8-14 shooting, with five rebounds and four assists. Marcus Paige had an off night, as he shot 2-for-9, both of which were threes, with six assists and four rebounds.
UCLA was led by Isaac Hamilton, who had 23 points on 9-12 from the field, 4-5 on threes, two assists and a rebound. Bryce Alford had 15 points (4-14 FG< 3-8 on threes), four assists, and three rebounds. Tony Parker had a double-double with 13 points (6-11 FG) and 11 rebounds.
North Carolina Head Coach Roy Williams said of the win, “The last 26, 27 minutes of the game, I thought we were pretty doggone good. The first 12 or 13 minutes, I didn’t think we were very good at all. Youngster (Isaac) Hamilton (of UCLA), I think, makes four threes in the first seven or eight minutes of the game. We talk about trying to do a better job of covering the three. We got to do a better job of it during the game as well.
“Brice (Johnson) and Joel (Berry II), Marcus (Paige), Isaiah (Hicks), Justin (Jackson), all the guys that got in there and did a nice job. We went small a little while because of our foul trouble and played Theo at the four, and I think that helped us a little bit as well. Foul problems for both teams weren’t very good, and I think we both would like to stay out of foul trouble more than we did today.
“Second half, again, I thought defense — the second half and the last six or seven minutes of the first half, I thought we were really good,” said Williams.
Brice Johnson said of how much better he can you play going forward, and how good can this team be if he continues to play like that, “I can definitely do a lot better. I’m still messing up on the defensive end here and there. Those are the shots I shoot in practice every day. If you let me get it down there, that’s what I do. You want to be able to make that shot. I practice it every day. I’ve been practicing for the last four years of my life. If you give me that opportunity to get in the paint and get my right hand jump hook, then I’m going to score it.
“The team, the sky’s the limit for us. We haven’t been playing great, but we did get a big time win for us today outside of our building. Like Coach always says, he wants us to be able to get wins outside of the Smith Center. Just got to keep going. We can learn from this, learn from our little mistakes that we made and just be able to keep going, because we didn’t play well in the first 14 minutes of the game. But the last six minutes of the first half, we did some really good things. That’s what we need to do the entire game and not wait,” said Johnson.
Joel Berry II said of the defensive pressure forcing the turnovers is what really turned it around for North Carolina by getting into their fast break that way and using their speed, “I think that was one of our strong points today. I just tried to stop my man from scoring. He’s a big key to the team, and I just tried to keep the ball out of his hands. In the first half, we were able to force a lot of turnovers from our traps and everything, and we work on that in practice, and I think Coach wants us to get to a point where we can run it a little bit more. Today in the first half, we did a great job of that.”
In the nightcap, Ohio State upset Kentucky, 74-67.
Ohio State dominated the first half, which was capped by a buzzer-beater from halfcourt by JaQuan Lyle that gave them a 37-25 lead.
Kentucky battled back in the second half and pulled within 63-60 with four minutes left. Ohio State held tough and Marc Loving gave them a six-point lead, 69-63, with a jumper at the 2:15 mark. Loving put it away when he hit a couple of free throws to make it 74-65 with 51 seconds left.
The Buckeyes had a balanced scoring attack, as Keita Bates-Diop lead the way with 14 points (5-12 FG, 2-5 threes), seven rebounds, and three assists.
Marc Loving had 12 points on 3-for-10 from the field, 2-3 on threes, eight rebounds, and two assists. JaQuan Lyle had 11 points (4-11 FG, 2-3 threes), two assists, and a rebound. Trevor Thompson had 10 points (4-7 FG) and five rebounds. Jae’Sean Tate had six points (3-9 FG) and 10 rebounds.
Kentucky was led by Jamal Murray, who had 33 points on 13-for-23 from the field, 7-9 from behind the arc, three rebounds, and an assist. Marcus Lee had 12 points (4-7 FG) and nine rebounds. Tyler Ulis had 11 points (4-12 FG, 1-7 threes), four assists, and two rebounds.
Ohio State Head Coach Thad Matta said of what the win means to his team, “I think that, obviously, it’s a big, big win for us. I think the defense was — you know, we had two days to prepare for this. It was a little bit of a different game plan. These guys did a tremendous job of understanding in a short period of time of what we were going to attempt to do.
“The fact that (Jamal) Murray got rolling today, that was one of the best performances I’ve seen in a short period of time. Keita (Bates-Diop) a couple of times was right there. He just shot over him. The defense was definitely the key for us. We did not let our offense affect our defense. We had some tough stretches, and that was big,” said Matta.
Wisconsin forward Marc Loving said of the win, “I feel like it’s an awesome feeling to know we played as hard as we possibly could, and we came out with the result we wanted.”
Kentucky forward Marcus Lee said of the loss, “The game as a whole was just frustrating. Seeing our team dive to the ball and trying to win the game and not worrying about anything else is a good thing coming out of the game, a good thing that we’ve learned to battle and that’s something we’ve always worked on. So that’s always a plus.”
Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari said of the game, “Well, we still have to learn how to win. We had the plays. First of all, we didn’t start the game. They were the aggressor, and they came after us.
“So you’re down — the way we ended the half wasn’t winning basketball. We took a bad shot. They make a three. Fifteen seconds to go, you take one shot, and the kid came down and went nuts. Threw it, five seconds and another three. Now you’re down 12 instead of 6. That’s not winning basketball.
“Again, these guys have just played basketball in the past. Now we’ve got to teach them how to win and what it means defensively, what it means rebounding the ball. I mean, late there were three, four rebounds. You bring that in, we’re right there. We have our chance. You don’t bring it in, they lay it in, and it’s an and-one or whatever, and you don’t have a chance to win.
“We fought in the second half and did some good things. We’re a ways away. I’ve been saying it. I thought Skal was better today, but when the game got a little rough in the end, I just didn’t want him to — I just went with Alex (Poythress) and Marcus Lee,” said Calipari.
Calipari feels that Kentucky is not where it should be at this point and he said, “They’re freshmen. They’re going through this for the first time. They’re learning what it takes to win. They’re learning what it means to be tough. Tough doesn’t mean you fight, you push, you swing. Tough means you play people before the play happens. Tough means, when you go in there and I have nothing, I’m not trying to make a fabulous play. I’m tough enough to know it’s done. I’m throwing it back out. We’re going to go again, which we did late. We did not early.”