NCAA basketball - Season 2019-20 - Second review (from January to March 2020)

Tennessee State Tigers vs. Eastern Illinois Panthers: 84-79 (played on 2020-01-02)
Score at the half: 40-26

The Tennessee State Tigers vs. Eastern Illinois Panthers game played at the Gentry Center in Nashville, TN was in fact an Ohio Valley Conference opener on Jan. 2nd, 2020. The contest started with two fast threes for the Panthers who quickly took the lead at 2-6. The solidly built EIU players Jaqualis Matlock (forward, 1.96m, senior) and George Dixon (guard/forward, 1.96m, junior) worked hard in the first minutes of the game but Mark Freeman (point guard, 1.83m, freshman) replied for the Tigers. Jaqualis Matlock and Mack Smith (guard, 1.88m, senior) put Eastern Illinois in front at 6-13 and were pretty efficient from behind the arc for the Panthers. TSU suddenly developed a much better defense and increased the tempo offensively. It was a tied game at 13-13 on two free throws hit by Emmanuel Egbuta (forward, 2.01m, senior) who came off the Tigers' bench at the right moment. Both TSU guards Michael Littlejohn (point guard, 1.78m, senior) and Wesley Harris (guard, 2.03m, senior) boosted their team and the Tigers even took the lead (18-13). There was no other choice for EIU's Head Coach Jay Spoonhour than taking a time out at 23-14 but it did not help and the score even evolved up to 29-14 afterwards. On a strong play in the paint, George Dixon of Eastern Illinois eventually reduced the gap at 29-16. Mark Freeman had been able to find Shakem Johnson (forward, 2.01m, junior) or Wesley Harris in the paint or run triumphant fast break offenses for the Tigers. Josiah Wallace (guard, 1.93m, junior) reacted with an efficient play for EIU and reduced the gap at 31-22. Spectacular plays by the Tigers nevertheless allowed them to stay in front at the half (40-26).


Mark Freeman of TSU, going full speed and working hard, kept putting some good rhythm in the game right after the break. Shakem Johnson and his mate Jy'lan Washington (forward, 2.06m, senior) successfully finished the job in the paint for the Tigers (45-29). Wesley Harris had impressive plays and nice sequences to lead the Tigers to a 54-39 advantage but Marvin Johnson (guard, 1.98m, junior) of EIU got on fire and the scoreboard showed 54-44 with 13'05" to go. Carlos Marshall Jr. (guard, 1.98m, sophomore), very precious, hit a nice trey to make 57-44 for TSU on the next play. Josiah Wallace looked able to bring back his team in the race at 59-51 but his team EIU failed to defend. It was 62-51 on a shot hit from downtown by TSU's guard Carlos Marshall. Once again, Wallace managed to bring the Panthers back at 62-55. TSU's pocket player Michael Littlejohn hit his fourth three-pointer of the day to make 67-57 and was imitated by his mate Wesley Harris to make 70-59 a few moments later. EIU, mainly thanks to Josiah Wallace's superb performance in the second half, remained in the race despite Littlejohn's impressive shooting display. In the last minute of the game, Jaqualis Matlock missed an easy shot for EIU and his mate Marvin Johnson committed an offensive foul but the Panthers' guard Josiah Wallace managed to reduce the gap at 78-74 on a trey (4/4 in this game). Tennessee State's Head Coach Brian "Penny" Collins took a time out with 22" remaining. Those who would have thought that the game would have been over with two minutes remaining on the clock were completely wrong. TSU's guard Mark Freeman hit two free throws but Josiah Wallace followed with a succcesful cost-to-coast rush (80-76). Wesley Harris and Mark Freeman iced the game from the free-throw line and secured the TSU win. The last rush by Josiah Wallace (32 points on that day) was eventually not enough but the end of the game was simply thrilling. Special mention to George Dixon of EIU and Wesley Harris of TSU who had 10 rebounds each in this game. Final score: 84-79 for the Tigers!

There are several interesting prospects from EIU and TSU to be watched in the next few seasons:
- Wesley Harris of Tennessee State is a versatile and mobile tall guard who can run fast down the court, grab rebounds and hit shots from downtown;
- Josiah Wallace of Eastern Illinois is a hardworking guard who likes to drive in the paint, his ball handling is excellent and he is able to hit treys and set plays;
- Michael Littlejohn and Mark Freeman of Tennessee State are two creative guards able to set high tempo and to hit shots from range with precision and success;
- Mack Smith of Eastern Illinois is a guard who has a great presence inside;
- two forwards who show a lot of energy on the court particularly caught my attention: Marvin Johnson of Eastern Illinois and Carlos Marshall of Tennessee State.

Best scorers:
Tennessee State Tigers: Shakem Johnson 10, Mark Freeman 6, Carlos Marshall Jr. 14, Wesley Harris 17, Michael Littlejohn 18, Emmanuel Egbuta 6, Jylan Washington 5, Jon Brown 6, Ravel Moody 2.
Eastern Illinois Panthers: Jaqualis Matlock 6, Josiah Wallace 32, George Dixon 11, Mack Smith 13, Marvin Johnson 16, Dondre Duffus 1.


Grand Canyon Antelopes vs. California State Bakersfield Roadrunners: 64-61 (played on 2020-03-07)
Score at the half: 33-27

On paper, the Grand Canyon Antelopes vs. California State Bakersfield Roadrunners college basketball game scheduled on Mar. 7th, 2020 was the last regular Western Athletic Conference (WAC) match-up at the GCU Arena this season. In reality, it was also the very last home game for the Lopes this season just a few days before the severe COVID-19 crisis... On this academic year's senior and homecoming night at Grand Canyon University, the local team of former NBA All Star, Team USA and Phoenix Suns' legend Dan Majerle, Head Coach of GCU men's basketball team for 7 years, hosted CSU Bakersfield of Coach Rod Barnes. GCU's guard Carlos Johnson (1.93m, senior) started the game very well in offense for the Antelopes: he ended a nice sequence by draining a three-pointer to make 11-4 for his team and 17-4 later on. CSU Bakerfield's strong man Shawn Stith (forward/center, 2.03m, junior) put some pressure underneath the basket but, on the other side, Carlos Johnson continued to be efficient offensively for the hosts. The atmosphere was great at the GCU Arena but Dan Majerle had nevertheless to take a time-out after a 0-8 run for the Runners. Czar Perry (guard, 1.88m, junior) and Taze Moore (guard/forward, 1.96m, junior) were very proactive for the visitors. CSU Bakersfield also managed to stay in the race mainly thanks to some nice drives by Cam Allen (guard, 1.88m, senior) in the paint. The scoreboard suddenly showed 22-18 and it was then a brandnew basketball game. The Roadrunnners even took the lead at 23-24 but it was without counting on Carlos Johnson who, with 23 points scored in the first half, kept his team on top after 20 minutes. 33-27 for the Antelopes at the break!

All observers had the feeling that Dan Majerle's team would simply need to stop the Runners in the paint to win this game. Despite low percentages from long range in the first half, both teams became successful from downtown early in the second period. Jovan Blacksher Jr. (point guard, 1.80m, freshman) looked fit and efficient for GCU but both Roadrunners Taze Moore and De'monte Buckingham (guard, 1.93m, junior) replied: 38-36 on the scoreboard. You could have nevertheless given the ball to Carlos Johnson all night long... Mainly thanks to him again, it was 52-41 with 9'52" remaining in this game. Isiah Brown (guard, 1.88m, junior) and Italian talented center Alessandro Lever (center, 2.08m, junior) then showed their skills and Grand Canyon kept a nice advantage: 56-44, 56-48 (twice by the Runners' guard Justin McCall who came off the bench), 58-48, 60-50, etc. The Roadrunners' full court press and a last rush by Cam Allen, De'monte Buckingham, Czar Perry (6 assists), Taze Moore and their mates allowed the guests to come back at 62-59 with only 43.3" to go. The visitors had been offered several second-chance opportunities in the paint too. The Antelopes looked like they could not really secure the win but the visitors were also unable to hit a crucial three-point shot in the last seconds. The Roadrunners of Coach Barnes eventually fell short at 64-61! It had been some great college action with a crowd really getting involved. Carlos Johnson of GCU finished with 33 points in this contest. GCU played with only seven players (six of them have scored). Special mentions also to Lorenzo Jenkins (forward, 2.01m, senior) who grabbed 10 boards for Grand Canyon and Ronne Readus (center, 2.06m, junior) who had 8 rebounds for Cal State Bakersfield in this game. A few days after the game, American media announced that Dan Majerle, coming off his worst season as men's basketball coach at GCU, was fired. It came hours after the WAC decided in Las Vegas to cancel its tournament over coronavirus concerns. According to azcentral.com, "Majerle faced pressure to get the team into the NCAA Tournament, which this year would have taken winning the WAC tournament, which like others across the country were canceled in mid-March."

Best scorers:
Grand Canyon Antelopes: Lorenzo Jenkins 5, Alessandro Lever 4, Isiah Brown 5, Carlos Johnson 33, Jovan Blacksher Jr. 11, Mikey Dixon 6.
CSU Bakersfield Roadrunners: Taze Moore 15, De'monte Buckingham 8, Czar Perry 4, Justin Edler-Davis 6, Shawn Stith 4, Greg Lee 9, Justin McCall 4, Cam Allen 11.


Pictures and courtesy: Karina Delgado - DailyEasternNews.com; Twitter - @TSUTigersMBB; John E. Moore III - Getty Images; Billy Hardiman - The Republic/azcentral.com; Sam Wasson - Getty Images; gorunners.com.

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