A big night of college hoops to start December had even more storylines than we thought it would entering the evening.
The heating up of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge was rightfully the main story heading into Tuesday night. We’ve always had a like-dislike relationship with this event, which always has some great matchups, but also some mostly meaningless ones (and it’s not like the two leagues don’t already play each other fairly regularly). Still, anything that spices up traditionally the most vanilla month of the hoops season is a plus, and this event unquestionably does.
Specifically, the renewal of a series between former ACC rivals North Carolina and Maryland was one of the most anticipated non-conference games of this entire season. The contest lived up to its billing, as the Tar Heels stayed a step ahead of the Terrapins all night in an 89-81 win.
Marcus Paige came back, and it was like he never left-20 points and five assists to lead the Heels in a fluid offensive performance. Most teams would love to shoot 50.8% from the field and hit 12 of 26 three-pointers like Maryland did, but the Terps were done in by 21 turnovers.
The Challenge also had several other notable games on a national scale. Virginia was tested by an Ohio State team at home that didn’t want to fall to 2-4, but Malcolm Brogdon scored 22 in the Cavaliers’ 64-58 win. UVA played without guard London Perrantes, who underwent an appendectomy Sunday. Purdue also earned a strong road win, taking down Pittsburgh 72-59 with A.J. Hammons dominating inside (24 points, 12 rebounds) and despite Rapheal Davis missing the game due to injury. Road teams also were the story as Michigan won at North Carolina State 66-59, Miami (Fla.) got back on track with a 77-72 overtime win at Nebraska and even Northwestern got into the act with an 81-79 OT win at Virginia Tech.
As much as the event between two of the top conferences highlighted the evening, several incredible individual performances also became a story. That includes the blow-up scoring game of the year so far, as A.J. English went for 46 points in Iona’s 101-77 romp over Fairfield.
English’s stat line included 13 three-pointers plus eight assists, giving him a part in 23 of the Gaels’ 37 field goals on the night. His single-game triples total is tied for the fifth-most in NCAA Division I history with Rotnei Clarke, the former Butler bomber, and just two short of the record held set by Marshall’s Keith Veney back in 1996.
English wasn’t the only player to ring the bell for 40 on Tuesday. Davidson’s Jack Gibbs scored 41 in the Wildcats’ 109-74 win over UNC Charlotte with incredible marksmanship. Gibbs was 14 of 17 from the field-this coming from a guard, mind you-as well as 6 of 7 from three-point range, and he did all his scoring in just 29 minutes of play.
- Kansas was buoyed by the debut of Cheick Diallo in a 94-61 win over Loyola (Md.). The freshman had 13 points, six rebounds and three blocks and the Jayhawks commanded the second half after leading the Greyhounds by just four at halftime.
- Villanova earned a tough road win, defeating Big 5 rival St. Joseph’s 86-72 behind Josh Hart’s 18 points and nine boards. Other ranked teams winning included Iowa State pulling away late to beat North Dakota State 84-64. Quietly, the Cyclones have shown few chinks in the armor early this year.
- Texas-Arlington gave it another run on the road against a bigger name opponent, but Texas hit a pair of huge three-pointers late in overtime to beat the Mavericks 80-75.
- Louisiana Tech’s unbeaten start came down with a thud. Memphis dominated in all aspects, steamrolling its way to a 94-68 win.
- It’s time to start paying attention to Florida. The Gators pummeled Richmond on the glass, easily handling the Spiders 76-56. Three players finished with at least 12 rebounds for Florida, while Richmond shot just 33.9%-way too low especially for a team that relies on offensive execution as much as the Spiders.
- Arkansas-Little Rock is now a very surprising 6-0 for the first time since joining Division I in 1978-79 after a narrow 79-73 win over Central Arkansas.
- William & Mary topped Old Dominion 55-48 in a battle between former CAA rivals. Omar Prewitt has stepped nicely into Marcus Thornton’s shoes as a go-to scorer for the Tribe, and he had a game-high 18 points here.
- Belmont defeated Lipscomb 105-89 in the Battle of the Boulevard rivalry in Nashville. Also, Western Kentucky nipped Eastern Kentucky 86-84 when WKU’s Justin Johnson hit the first three-pointer of his career with 1.9 seconds left.
- Finally, offensive performances don’t get much more efficient than Evansville’s in an 88-56 win over Alabama State last night. The motion offense was rolling, as the Purple Aces shot 68.6% from the field. D.J. Balentine was smooth as can be-26 points, 10 of 13 from the field. About the only negative for the Aces: they shot better from the floor than the free throw line (13 of 22, 59.1%).
- Arizona’s depth will be tested in the very near term and over the next month as Kaleb Tarczewski will be down for an announced 4-6 weeks with a foot injury suffered last week against Santa Clara. Of immediate concern for the Wildcats: he will not be available for its huge game at Gonzaga on Saturday against the Bulldogs’ huge and talented front line.
Tonight’s menu: Another quality slate of games
- The ACC/Big Ten Challenge finishes up with its final six games. The biggest has undefeated Louisville at Michigan State, while the undercard to that-but still quite appealing-is Indiana at Duke. Wisconsin also takes on Syracuse at the Carrier Dome.
- Butler at Cincinnati is an outstanding matchup that will give somebody another quality win, while George Washington can pick up another nice non-conference win if it can defeat Seton Hall at home.
- Gonzaga will get a test when it goes to Washington State. The Zags can’t be looking ahead to their game with Arizona on Saturday.
- Good rivalry games: New Orleans and Tulane square off in a city game, BYU and Utah stage their annual very heated contest, while UTEP and New Mexico State meet for the 210th time in the very even series (the Aggies lead it 106-103) between I-10 combatants.
- Coastal Carolina coach Cliff Ellis gets to host one of his former schools when Auburn takes to the road to play the Chanticleers.
- The goodwill from Tulsa’s win over Wichita State has diminished with two losses since, and the Golden Hurricane really could use a road win at Oklahoma State.
- LSU gets back to the court just two days after its disappointing loss to Charleston, but the Tigers better be on their guard against a solid North Florida team.
Enjoy your Wednesday.