Mid-Major Takeaways: Week Eleven

SAN DIEGO, CA - MARCH 16: Grant Riller #1 of the Charleston Cougars looks to pass against Chuma Okeke #4 of the Auburn Tigers in the first half in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Viejas Arena on March 16, 2018 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

While basketball is a team game, individual players can be the difference in helping a team succeed. At the mid-major level, an individual player can singlehandedly carry a team to victory. Last year alone, players like Mike Daum and Fletcher Magee could get hot and beat you in a heartbeat. This past week saw both the positive and negative results of having (or not having) a player of that caliber in the mid-major landscape.

Mid-Major Week Eleven Takeaways

Double Triple-Double

There were two triple-doubles this week at the mid-major level. The first came from Grant Riller of the College of Charleston. He scored 20 points, grabbed ten rebounds and had a career-high ten assists in a loss to Northeastern on Thursday. It was the first triple-double in school history. It was also Riller’s 100th career game scoring in double-figures. This was the first triple-double in the CAA since Northeastern’s T.J. Williams posted one in 2017.

Then, on Saturday, UNLV’s Marvin Coleman posted the first triple-double in 20 years for the Runnin’ Rebels as they defeated New Mexico. Coleman finished the game with 11 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists. This was just the fifth triple-double in Mountain West Conference history. The last triple-double for UNLV came from Mark Dickel against Mississippi Valley State in 1999. Coleman has been starting in place of injured point guard Elijah Mitrou-Long and has filled in nicely for UNLV. He helped pace the Rebels to a 6-1 start in conference play and, most likely, will start even when Mitrou-Long returns.

Trouble in New Mexico

The New Mexico Lobos were quietly having a good season heading into last week. Then, on January 12th, fresh off a win against Air Force, head coach Paul Weir announced that Carlton Bragg Jr. was dismissed from the team. Bragg was arrested for a DWI and possession of marijuana earlier that day. This is the third time Bragg was dismissed from a team, previously having stints at Arizona State and Kansas. He averaged 12.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game for the Lobos. Coach Weir stood by his big man even after the announcement.

“My hope is that he can find increased time and attention to his personal well-being. My sole purpose going forward is to support Carlton in his health and growth as a young man,” Weir said.

With Utah State’s recent slide, New Mexico appeared to be the next best chance the Mountain West had at getting an at-large bid. However, since Bragg’s dismissal, the Lobos are 0-2, losing to Colorado State by 33 and UNLV by 21. At 15-5, there’s still time for New Mexico to turn it around, especially with two games against undefeated San Diego State on the schedule. Still, depth will now be an issue and more will be expected from JaQuan Lyle and Corey Manigault. Regardless of the fate of the Lobos the rest of the way, coach Weir knows what’s most important.

“The game of life is much more important than the game of basketball,” Weir said.

Winless No More

When Houston Baptist picked up their first win at the beginning of the new year, only Mississippi Valley State was left without a victory. Their misery finally ended when they defeated Alabama A&M on Monday 72-66. What’s more impressive about the win is that it came on the road. The Delta Devils led from start to finish, using a 51.5 percent first-half shooting performance to take a 14 point lead into the break. Mississippi Valley State led by as many as 20 and held off a late Bulldog rally to seal the victory. Caleb Hunter scored a team-high 19 points, while three other Delta Devils scoring in double-figures as well.

Merry Merrimack

Transitioning from Division II to Division I is never easy, and it can take years to build a program up. However, things for Merrimack seem to be going well in their first year at the Division I level. The Warriors defeated Robert Morris 53-49 on Saturday to move into a tie for first place in the Northeast Conference. This gave the Colonials their first conference loss and avenged the only conference loss Merrimack has taken thus far. Jaleel Lord led the way for the Warriors with 14 points and eight rebounds. He put in the game-deciding layup with two minutes remaining while the team held Robert Morris scoreless during the final stretch.

It’s been a banner year for the transitional team, with their first-ever Division I win coming on the road against Big Ten member Northwestern. Now, Merrimack is in the thick of the conference title race. The Warriors are not allowed to participate in the NCAA Tournament until 2024. However, a regular-season conference title would earn them an automatic berth to the NIT. They are also eligible to participate in the CBI and CIT if they receive an invitation. They are following in the footsteps of Cal Baptist, who played their first Division I season last year and earned an invite to the CBI. Merrimack faces off against the St. Francis Red Flash with a chance to take sole possession of first place on Monday.

Mid-Major Top Performers

As mentioned above, there were a lot of outstanding performances in mid-major basketball this week. Javon Greene of George Mason scored 39 points in a loss to Richmond Saturday. Greene’s 39 were the most points scored in EagleBank Arena, which has been George Mason’s home since 1985. He went 15-22 from the field, with five made threes, four assists, and five steals.

Jordan Roland finds himself in the spotlight again, scoring 38 for Northeastern in an overtime loss to UNC-Wilmington on Saturday. Roland set a new single-game scoring record for UNC-Wilmington’s Trask Coliseum, which has been hosting games since 1977. This is the fifth 30+ point performance for Roland this season. He previously set a new school record with 42 points against Harvard in November.

Jomaru Brown of Eastern Kentucky scored 37 points in a win over Tennessee State on Saturday. He went 18-19 from the charity stripe, including going 6-6 in the game’s final two minutes to seal the Colonels’ victory. Brown has been dominant in Ohio Valley play, scoring 22.3 points per game in Eastern Kentucky’s first six conference games.

Toledo’s Marreon Jackson scored 36 points while helping the Rockets give Akron their first conference loss of the season. This was a new career-high for Jackson. He scored 14 straight points during a two-minute stretch halfway through the second half to put Toledo ahead for good.

Lamine Diane of Cal State Northridge scored 36 points in a win over UC Riverside on Thursday. He scored 24 of his points in the second half and added nine rebounds for the game. Diane missed the first half of the season due to academic issues, but the reigning Big West Player of the Year is averaging 27.4 points in the seven games he played in this season.

Finally, Sergio El Darwich scored a career-high 36 points for Maine in an overtime loss to Massachusetts-Lowell on Wednesday. The guard from Lebanon came up one rebound shy of a triple-double, finishing with ten assists and nine rebounds. 27 of his points came in the final 25 minutes of play. He went 12-13 from the free-throw line and 4-9 from three.

 

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