Sixers Hold Off Mavericks With Smallest Margin of Victory Ever

Sixers Hold Off Mavericks With Smallest Margin of Victory Ever

Don't let the final 100-98, two-point scoring margin fool you—this 76ers
/ Mavericks game was a whole lot closer than that. Not only was it neck
and neck all the way through, but the game came down to the final
possession (despite the Sixers being up nine with just over three
minutes to go), where the Mavericks got two chances to steal the victory
from the Sixers, both of which seemed nearly inevitable until they just
didn't quite happen. It was a coin flip at best, but the Sixers escaped
with the win, moving to 9-6 on the season.

This thing really
did seem over when Jrue Holiday connected on a long two to put the
Ballers up nine with about 3:20 to go. But an O.J. Mayo three here, a
Vince Carter putback there, and the Mavs had suddenly cut the score down
to two, with Mayo drawing a foul with three seconds left and stepping
to the free throw line to likely send the game into overtime. But the
87% FT shooter missed his first, necessitating him missing the second to
try to get the team a putback. Instead, Mayo's second miss spilled out
to the good-shooting forward Jae Crowder behind the arc, and Crowder
quickly squared up a three for the win. The heave looked good on its
descent—Mark Cuban certainly looked like he expected it to connect—but
somehow it spilled off the rim as time expired. Breathe.

The
Mavs' late surge threatened to turn sour what would have otherwise been a
fairly sweet Sixers victory. Sure, it would've been a tight home win
against a middling Western team, but it was done on the backs of our
core young guys—Jrue, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young—and as Mike Prada of
Bullets Forever tweeted,
the development of those guys (esp. Jrue and Evan) is way more
important for the Sixers than wins and losses. Still, wins remain
infinitely preferable, especially when the game seemed good as wrapped a
couple minutes earlier, so we here at the Level appreciate whatever
divine forces caused that Crowder shot to rim out, thus allowing us to
dwell on the game's positives.

For instance: Evan Turner scored a
team-high 22 points tonight. More notably, he did it in only 12 shots,
hitting eight of them (including two threes) and going 4-5 from the
line. Turner has now scored in double digits for seven straight games,
the longest such streak in his career. (He's also set the longest streak
of his career with multiple threes in a game, with, uh, two.) Courtesy
of Derek Bodner,
here are Turner's numbers over that seven-game stretch: 16.9 ppg, 6.2
rpg, 5 apg, 48.9% FFG. (He's also 41.6% from three and 84% from the
line.) If Evan put those numbers up for a whole season, combined with
the solid defense he's been playing and the Sixers' winning record, he'd
be a borderline All-Star contender.

[RELATED: VIDEO: Evan Turner Hits His 'MJ Move,' Cracks Joke at Doug Collins]

Of course, seven games is
not a whole season, and we've seen Evan play in hot stretches before
only to revert to sloppy, inefficient, haphazard play for equally long
periods immediately afterwards. But the sample size keeps getting
larger, and in 15 games so far this season, only two or three could you
call real duds. And as well as we may have seen him play for a week or
so at a time before, we've never seen him shoot the ball like
this—especially from deep, where he only made 11 threes all last year,
but already has ten in 15 games this year. It's not concrete yet, but
it's very, very encouraging.

And then there's Jrue. The Damaja
didn't have his best game in this one, turning the ball over six times
and coming up short on some big possessions down the stretch, but he
still ended with 18 and 7 on 7-13 shooting, and check out his
numbers over the last seven, again courtesy of Bodner: 18.9 ppg, 9.4
apg, 3.3 TOpg, 46.1 FG%, 41.2 3PT%. And with his 20 and seven tonight,
Thad's numbers over that stretch are pretty damn solid too: 15.8 ppg,
8.3 rpg, 52.1% shooting. Oh, and not coincidentally, the Sixers went 5-2
over that seven-game span.

Of course, as we focus on the
positives, we should probably point out that there's still a reason that
the Sixers are coming so close to giving some of these wins away, and
the primary reason—aside from turnovers tonight, of which we had an
uncharacteristic 17—is a lack of production from the bench and the
center spot. Dorell Wright and Nick Young had some nice moments on
defense, but were relative non-entities on offense, shooting a combined
2-10 and 0-3 from three. Dorell has been particularly disappointing,
since it seems like if he's not squaring up behind the arc, he doesn't
have a clue what to do—opponents are running him off, and when he fakes
and drives to the basket, it almost always seems to result in disaster.
Maalik Wayns scored a career-high ten tonight, but his qualifications as
a backup PG still seem limited, and right now all he can do is play the
homeless man's Lou Williams for about 12 minutes a game as Coach
Collins figures out how to steal minutes on the bench for Evan and Jrue.


The Sixers actually did get some good combined minutes at the
pivot tonight from Lavoy Allen, Spencer Hawes and Kwame Brown, but it's
bullpen by committee for Collins with those three guys, and they're
always giving up something having any one of them on the floor. Hawes
and Allen had some moments offensively, but couldn't keep Mavs center
Chris Kaman from doing damage in the post, so Collins brought in Kwame.
The K-Man did slow down Kaman, and even had a couple putback dunks for a
six-point, eight-rebound final line (season highs, and likely to stay
as such for a while), but also missed a couple easy looks around the
basket, and proved a late-game liability when Dallas coach Rick Carlisle
resorted to Hacking-a-Kwame in the fourth quarter. There's no easy
solution to the team's center problem—at least until that guy with the
big hair decides he's good to lace up—so Collins will have to continue
mixing and matching and hoping at the five and hoping not to get exposed
too badly on either end while doing so.

Next up: The Sixers
visit Charlotte for their first game this season against the
surprisingly decent Bobcats. Not a lot of gimmes remaining on the
schedule for the 2012 calendar year, but a lot of winnable games still.
If Evan, Jrue and Thad can keep up their hot play—I'm gonna resist all
kinds of temptation and not refer to them as any kind of Big Three just
yet—I like our chances in that one.

Penn State uses dominant second half to top No. 6 Wisconsin for Big Ten title

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Penn State uses dominant second half to top No. 6 Wisconsin for Big Ten title

INDIANAPOLIS — Penn State’s offense rewrote the Big Ten Championship’s offensive record book Saturday night but its 38-31 victory over Wisconsin wasn’t secure until the final minute.

And Linebacker U. got the game-saving play from the secondary.

Wisconsin, armed with a pair of timeouts and lining up for a fourth-and-1 play from the Nittany Lions’ 24, called on Corey Clement. Clement, who’d already racked up 166 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, got the ball but never got close to the marker.

Grant Haley made sure of it.

The junior cornerback wrapped up Clement’s legs and safety Marcus Allen kept Clement from leaning forward and the game was over. Penn State (11-2) has the 2016 Big Ten title and, at worst, will play in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2009.

“They ran [a counter] early in the game and split it for a touchdown,” Haley said of the final play. “I saw them set the edge, so I got triggered really well and Marcus finished off the play.”

Haley and company watched the Badgers run wild in the first half; 164 yards and three touchdowns, including Clement’s 67-yard scamper. Wisconsin, one of the conference’s best rushing teams this season, managed less than half that total (77) in the second half.

“They really weren’t running that many plays,” Haley added. “We just came out in the second half and had a jolt. 

“We just had the energy going into the second half.”

Wisconsin got the ball twice in the fourth quarter but managed only 65 yards - 51 of which came on its final drive.

“Give credit to Penn State for coming out in the second half and making those adjustments and allowing those big plays to happen,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. 

Give plenty of credit, too, to the Nittany Lions’ offense. 

Quarterback Trace McSorley was named the game’s most valuable player after completing 17 of his 25 passes for 319 yards and four touchdowns - both championship game records. He helped Penn State complete the biggest comeback in the game’s six year history after his team fell behind 28-7 in the first half and also finished the regular season with 3,360 yards and 25 touchdown passes, both school records.

Saeed Blacknall had six catches for a Big Ten Championship-record 155 yards and two touchdowns and DaeShean Hamilton finished with 118 yards on eight grabs.

Tailback Saquon Barkley, injured in last weekend’s victory over Michigan State, returned with 88 yards and a touchdown on the ground and caught an 18-yard scoring pass from McSorley early in the fourth quarter to put the Nittany Lions ahead for good.

Penn State, in its first-ever trip to this game, is coming home from it with just its second outright Big Ten title. It’s on a nine-game winning streak that has seen it average 40 points per contest.

It also could present the College Football Playoff selection committee with a bit of quandary. The Nittany Lions, who were ranked seventh by the committee last week, topped the No. 6 Badgers and claimed a conference championship, something likely playoff teams Alabama, Clemson and Washington all boast.

On the flip side, Penn State’s last defeat was a lopsided 49-10 loss at Michigan, which sits at No. 5 in the rankings and likely won’t move into the top four after losing last week to No. 2 Ohio State.

Penn State coach James Franklin stated his team’s case after Saturday night’s win, but also made it clear he and his team won’t be moping their way to Pasadena, Calif., where the conference champion is slotted if it is not chosen for the playoff.

“We’ve got great options in front of us,” he said. “I hear people on TV talking about they feel like maybe the playoff has taken away from the bowls. 

“Are you kidding me? The Rose Bowl? It doesn’t get a whole lot better than that.”

Report: Jordan Matthews (ankle) not expected to play vs. Bengals

Report: Jordan Matthews (ankle) not expected to play vs. Bengals

Jordan Matthews will not play Sunday against the Bengals after missing practice all week with an ankle sprain, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

Matthews is the Eagles' leading receiver with 57 catches for 686 yards and three touchdowns. The team has called him a game-time decision.

Second-year receiver Nelson Agholor will reportedly be inserted back into the lineup. If Matthews doesn't play the Eagles will have only four healthy receivers active on Sunday: Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham and undrafted rookies Bryce Treggs and Paul Turner.