For all the first month of the 2015-16 season has brought us-the beginnings of a terrific national player of the year race; upstarts like Monmouth and Arkansas-Little Rock seemingly coming from nowhere; coaches suddenly releasing the shackles on offenses-one area where the offerings have seemed a little thin is buzzer-beating finishes.
Stepping into that void Wednesday night were Cat Barber and North Carolina State. Barber hit a fadeaway three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Wolfpack a 76-73 win over High Point, another better-than-some-may-think win as State continues to claw its way back after a convincing loss to William & Mary in its season opener.
If you were grading a buzzer-beater on how well a play was executed, this one may go down as one of the ugliest in history. First, Barber ran the clock down further than he should have before making a move, as the Panthers did a solid job of keeping him from driving to the basket. Then, with three seconds left, Barber ran into teammate Caleb Martin, who was trying to set a screen. Finally, there may or may not have been (but probably was) a push-off as Barber made one last dribble to the left to get some separation just before he released the shot from the left wing.
No matter. As ugly as the five seconds were preceding it, that’s how beautiful the shot was, raining down through the net so perfectly as to barely ripple the cords.
The points were the final of a 26-point night for Barber, who continues to deliver as he takes on a heavier load with this year’s N.C. State team. The junior is averaging 20.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game. How good are those numbers? They’re almost Kris Dunn-good.
The Providence star averages fewer points but more rebounds and assists and far more steals. Just like Dunn, though, Barber is emerging as a threat for a triple-double on any given night, and he has games this year already of 37 points (vs. Winthrop) and 17 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists against South Alabama. He may not be a national player of the year candidate-yet-but ACC honors? Not far-fetched at all.
The Wolfpack still has a lot of work to do but is putting itself in position for another run at an NCAA Tournament berth. Wins over teams like High Point and Bucknell will likely satisfy the power ratings more than might be expected, and the loss to Arizona State is looking better all the time.
For High Point, this is a tough one to swallow. The Panthers had possession in the final seconds and could’ve taken the last shot in regulation but turned it over on an inbounds pass. This game was even virtually the whole way, but coach Scott Cherry’s team is still looking for a signature win this year after narrow losses at Texas Tech, Georgia and now N.C. State.
- One can’t say enough about what Bobby Hurley is already doing at Arizona State. Despite playing on the road, missing leading scorer and rebounder Savon Goodman (out with injury) and going down 12 points at halftime, the Sun Devils outscored UNLV 41-19 in the second half for a big 66-56 road win. Tra Holder stepped into a lead role and had 19 points and nine rebounds. Said it before and it bears repeating: Hurley is already building one mentally tough team. Excellent win for ASU, and a thoroughly puzzling second-half performance for the Runnin’ Rebels.
- So much for thinking Northern Arizona could give Arizona a game. The Wildcats hammered the Lumberjacks 92-37, outscoring NAU an obscene 52-13 in the second half. Among other ranked teams playing, North Carolina rolled past Tulane 96-73 with Brice Johnson posting a double-double (25 points, 10 rebounds).
- Arkansas-Little Rock is now 9-0 after an easy 77-54 win at Central Arkansas. Marcus Johnson is the Trojans’ leading scorer, and he led the way again with 16 off the bench. Very Stephen F. Austin-esque in how they’re an undersized team sharing the load on offense and playing terrific defense, this is a squad really worth checking out if you get a chance.
- New Mexico completed a sweep of state rival New Mexico State, taking care of the Aggies 79-61. The Lobos are a solid 7-2.
- Texas Tech is starting to deserve some notice for its 7-1 start. The Red Raiders made a run midway through the second half to rally past South Dakota State 79-67 for their sixth straight victory. Tubby Smith has Tech improving, while SDSU-which already had won at TCU and Minnesota-continues to bide time while waiting for George Marshall to return from injury.
- Iona defeated Texas Southern 83-73 despite mounting injuries that are hammering the Gaels. High-scoring A.J. English missed the game after having surgery for a broken bone in his hand, suffered before the team’s recent loss at Tulsa (ironically, a game in which English scored 31 points). Sophomore guard Schadrac Casimir also was out for the third straight contest with a hamstring injury. According to the Journal News article above, it sounds like a possibility that Casimir could miss the rest of the season, a certain blow if true.
- LSU handled Gardner-Webb 78-57, and the Tigers received a boost as Arizona transfer Craig Victor was eligible for his first game. Victor finished with 10 points, five rebounds and three steals.
- Fascinating story: the Big Ten Network has moved the Monmouth at Rutgers game originally scheduled on Saturday to Sunday, in order to show the game on BTN. According to excellent reporting by Josh Newman at the Asbury Park Press, the move is made not because of the Big Ten school involved in the game, but its opponent. From Newman’s story: “Because of the intriguing story of Monmouth’s season to date and the fact that we did not have another live event scheduled for 1 p.m. on Sunday, we were able to change our coverage plans and add the game to our television schedule,” said Elizabeth Conlisk, a V.P. at BTN. In other words, Monmouth right now is so hot that conference networks are pursuing them, even while you can be assured schools in those same conferences are already swearing off any future matchups with the Hawks if at all possible.
Today’s menu: Another quiet schedule on finals week for many schools
- If you want to get your college hoops day off to an early start there are two games on at 12:30 p.m. EST. The Rice Owls host NAIA member St. Thomas (Texas), while Mississippi Valley State’s Delta Devils are at North Texas.
- Easily the game of the day: the battle for the Mountain State resumes as Marshall and West Virginia (7 p.m., ESPNU) meet once again in Charleston. Despite the Mountaineers’ 32-11 lead all-time in the series, the game known as the Capitol Classic is usually a good one-WVU won last year’s game by just three.
- The only other ranked team in action is SMU, which hosts a decent Hampton team.
- Belmont and Middle Tennessee State have played regularly for more than 10 years, sometimes more than once a season. The two square off just once this season, this one in Murfreesboro.
- Cal Poly gave UCLA a tough time earlier this year, and the Mustangs should do at least that much again when they face USC.
- A quietly good game between a pair of schools who have wins over Big Ten teams already this year: South Dakota (victorious over Minnesota) plays at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which knocked off Wisconsin last week.
Have a terrific Thursday.