It was just another Thursday night in the college basketball season. And so much more.
North and south, east and west, there were high-level games and fantastic finishes last night. We’ve still got more than a month yet until we get to March-including a Leap Year day-but it felt like a snapshot from the greatest basketball month of the year.
Among the many cliffhangers and dandies:
Maryland 74 Iowa 68 A matchup of top 10 teams included two squads in opposite roles of what many expected before the season-Iowa earning its way from top-40ish club to the top 5, while the Terrapins were also highly ranked but still somewhat unproven with not a single RPI top 50 win. What the Terps have shown time and again this year, though, is the ability to finish games, especially at home, and they did it again here with Robert Carter and Rasheed Sulaimon (17 points each) leading the way. Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes may not have won but gave a good account of themselves in a tough environment. Watching Iowa, the resemblance to another recent Big Ten power is stunning, and the question begs: did Bo Ryan really retire, or is he just a secret assistant now to Fran McCaffery?
Cincinnati 58 Connecticut 57 Rule changes have reduced the number of true grinders in college basketball, which is good to a point, but the sport still needs games like this for diversity. It wasn’t pretty, but it was fascinating down the stretch. This one featured lots of defense (and some really poor offense), but the Bearcats clawed out a big-time road win when Gary Clark converted a three-point play with 12 seconds left, and UConn then missed three chances in the final seconds. Can’t give Cincy enough credit for this one.
Evansville 85 Southern Illinois 78 (OT) What a finish. D.J. Balentine hit a fall away three-pointer to tie this one in the final seconds of regulation, just seconds after Leo Vincent had put the Salukis ahead with a three of his own. The Purple Aces got a huge road win in the Missouri Valley ahead of their home showdown with Wichita State on Sunday.
Hofstra 66 Elon 64; UNC Wilmington 78 James Madison 73 The Colonial Athletic Association is not getting a lot of attention this year. It should be. The power ratings are far more in love with the league as a whole (ninth in the RPI entering Thursday) than individual teams (just one-William & Mary-in the RPI top 70), but there is no more competitive conference race. Hofstra and UNCW are atop the league now, but the Pride needed a Juan’ya Green jumper to beat Elon, while the Seahawks won at JMU to knock the Dukes out of the previous three-way tie for first. This will be one of the very best conference tournaments.
Oregon 83 Arizona 75 It feels like home winning streaks have been falling by the wayside regularly of late-and often on Thursdays. Old Dominion ended Louisiana Tech’s streak three weeks ago and saw its ended by UAB a week late. If anyone needed an announcement of the Ducks as contenders in the Pac-12, this is it. Dillon Brooks starred again-24 points-and continues to get as much out of his size inside as almost any player in the country, and Oregon won despite permitting the Wildcats to shoot 61% from the floor. The difference? Turnovers: Arizona 19, Oregon 6.
Richmond 98 George Washington 90 (2 OT) Like Balentine, GW’s Paul Jorgensen tied this one in regulation, banking a 27-footer off the glass-twice-before it went in. The Spiders-who got seven three-pointers from Marshall Wood for the second time this year-fought through a first overtime after star Terry Allen fouled out, then shot impeccably from the free throw line in the second to wrap up the road win. This loss could haunt the Colonials on Selection Sunday, and Richmond is the team no one at the top of the Atlantic 10 wants to see. The Spiders are 11-8 but have wins over GW, California, Northern Iowa and Wake Forest.
Washington 86 UCLA 84 This one looked like a stunning Huskies rout for most of the night, but Bryce Alford scored 17 points in the final 5+ minutes and the Bruins came all the way back from an 18-point halftime deficit to lead late. Washington responded, though, and Andrew Andrews hit a pair of free throws with 3.6 seconds left for the winning points. Huge road win for the Huskies, while UCLA-good as it has looked in its wins-is now 12-9 overall.
Long Beach State 80 UC Santa Barbara 70 (OT) How about one more? The Gauchos had this one under control on the road, leading by 13 midway through the second half. Nick Faust willed the 49ers to the win almost single-handedly, though, with a career-high 34 points. UCSB needed three Michael Bryson free throws with :00.6 left just to get the game to overtime, but then went scoreless in the extra session as The Beach beat the Gauchos for the second time in eight days.
- Syracuse stomped on Notre Dame 81-66. The Fighting Irish played without Demetrius Jackson, who missed the game with an injured hamstring, and it obviously affected them against the vaunted Orange zone.
- Western Kentucky ended Alabama-Birmingham’s 14-game winning streak, defeating the Blazers 69-62 in Bowling Green, Ky. UAB played from behind the entire night and could just never get over the hump against the streak-busting Hilltoppers, who responded more than well in their first game after the dismissal of Chris Harrison-Docks. The nation’s longest winning streak (12 games) now belongs to two teams, including Stony Brook, whose last loss was to…Western Kentucky.
- The other team tied for the longest winning streak now is Grand Canyon, which defeated Cal State-Bakersfield 70-64 in a battle of two of the best in the WAC. The Antelopes are now 19-2. What a season, and though they’re ineligible for the NCAA Tournament, it will be fun to see how this team does in another of the postseason events.
- Gonzaga had a low-stress night, beating Santa Clara 84-67 as Kyle Wiltjer lit it up for 35 points, including seven three-pointers.
- Eastern Washington blitzed Portland State 112-83, drilling an incredible 20 three-pointers in 31 attempts. EWU shot 63.8% for the game.
- The CAA announced on Thursday that it will hold its tournament in North Charleston, S.C., for the next three years beginning in 2017. It’s an interesting move further south for a tourney that for so many years was based in Richmond, Va., and not well-received by some on Twitter.
- If Davidson is going to make a run in the Atlantic 10, it has to start tonight when it hosts VCU (6 p.m. EST, ESPN2). The Rams have won 10 straight.
- The Ivy League now gets busy with back-to-back conference games every weekend for the next six weeks. Tonight’s offerings include Princeton at Brown, Columbia on the road at Dartmouth, Cornell at Harvard and Pennsylvania taking on Yale.
- The Metro Atlantic’s best rivalry in recent years resumes with Manhattan at Iona (7 p.m., ESPNU). Neither of these teams is quite up to its standards of recent years (yet), but that shouldn’t diminish the intensity of this one in the least.
- The Horizon League has three games, including the in-state showdown with Wisconsin-Green Bay at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, plus surprising Wright State and its defense taking on the freewheeling offense of Oakland.
- One game in the MAC, as East Division leader Kent State travels to Ohio (9 p.m., ESPNU).
- Finally, if you need some late morning/early afternoon viewing on your computer, Western Illinois is at IUPUI for a high noon Central time start.
Have a great Friday and a terrific weekend.