Among all the oddities of this college basketball season, when all is said and done there will be few harder to explain than this: a game between Illinois and Rutgers likely will go down as one of the best and most entertaining games of the entire year.
The chances of a winning Powerball ticket a few weeks ago may have seemed more likely, but indeed, two teams not even in the top 10 of the Big Ten and separated by nearly half a country put on one of the best shows anyone will see this season. The Fighting Illini finally won 110-101 in three overtimes, eventually completing the comeback after trailing much of regulation.
The Associated Press story by Tom Canavan summed this one up better than we can:
“Three overtimes. Rutgers’ best player missing a go-ahead free throw with 3.3 seconds left in regulation. Illinois blowing a seven-point lead in the final 29.2 seconds of the first overtime. Career highs galore. Excitement. Fun. It was everything college basketball is about.”
Indeed. Among the many career highs: Illinois’s Malcolm Hill supplemented his 32 points with a career-best 14 rebounds, while Jalen Coleman-Lands (26) and Maverick Morgan (20) also posted their best scoring totals as collegians.
For Rutgers, freshman Corey Sanders had career highs of 39 points and 12 assists, but missed a go-ahead free throw with 3.3 seconds left in regulation that would have put the Scarlet Knights ahead. Jonathan Laurent also scored a career-high 23 points.
There will be some tired bodies tomorrow, for just 17 players total played in the game, with 10 of them playing at least 38 minutes. All five Illinois starters played at least 43 minutes, while Sanders and Laurent played 51 and 50 minutes, respectively, for the Scarlet Knights. Well done by both of these teams, showing us once again that there is no such thing as a meaningless game, and you just never know where you’ll find a story in sports.
- The night included some impressive performances on national TV, chief among them Miami (Fla.) and Seton Hall.
The Hurricanes buried Notre Dame 79-70 in a game not as close as the final score, repeatedly getting into the lane and shooting nearly 57% for the game because of it. Second generation Hurricane Anthony Lawrence Jr. scored 18 points, or three times as many points as he scored in the previous six weeks combined.
This game also had a fun broadcast, with Dick Vitale and Jeff Van Gundy teaming up on the analysis. We didn’t care in the least about the “Crossover” branding ESPN bragged up about this pairing, as part of its never-ending attempts to make college basketball into the same ultra-dull, pick-and-roll, isolation-based, three-players-standing-around-on-other-side-of-the-floor game as the NBA. We just know both of these guys are fun to listen to, and they made a great team, mixing knowledge with entertainment. For that reason, this was a welcome idea.
- Seton Hall looked the part all the way in a 79-62 win going away over Marquette. Much like the first meeting between these teams, the Pirates pulled away in the final 10+ minutes against the young Golden Eagles. Isaiah Whitehead had 21 points and eight assists and Angel Delgado was terrific inside with 19 points and 13 boards.
- Texas Tech saved itself from a damaging loss, coming back to beat Oklahoma State 63-61 in overtime. Toddrick Gotcher hit a three-pointer to send the game to OT, and Devaughntah Williams scored the winner with a second left in the extra session. Jawun Evans played just 14 minutes for the Cowboys before leaving with a shoulder injury.
- Kansas upended Kansas State 77-59, and perhaps the biggest story after the game was KU coach Bill Self using a foul word to describe Brannen Greene dunking in the final seconds. While we always appreciate and encourage sportsmanship, coaches’ fervent objections to this type of thing almost always smacks more as self-serving posturing than anything else. We also note this with full understanding that Greene has notably been in and out of Self’s doghouse many times over the past few years.
Coaches never complain when their rotation players jack up three-pointers while leading by 30 with three minutes left in a game, a perfect time to be perfecting passing, ball movement and getting the ball inside. Yet a player who hardly ever plays takes a shot in the final 30 seconds and they’re the ones who get pilloried? The true life lesson here should be this: if you’re losing, don’t quit playing until the final buzzer sounds. A 10-point loss is better than losing by 16, a 16-point loss is better than an 18-point loss, a 18-point loss is better than a 20-point loss. And it should be noted that Kansas State was not the ones complaining here, so if the Wildcats didn’t care, then neither should Kansas.
- Also news from this morning: Kansas State freshman point guard Kamau Stokes, who missed last night’s game, will have knee surgery and miss the rest of the season. Stokes started 20 games before an injury Saturday against Mississippi and was averaging 9.4 points and 2.7 rebounds this season.
- Make it 12 straight for VCU, which took care of business against La Salle 88-70. Melvin Johnson has become one of the premier shooters in the country, and he lit it up for 30 points with eight three-pointers.
- Florida escaped with an 87-83 win at home over Arkansas, weather four three-pointers by the Hogs in the final minute. The Gators are one of the more pleasant surprises this season.
- Another team escaping: Washington, which trailed shorthanded Arizona State at home by 12 at halftime and never shook the Sun Devils until overtime, finally prevailing 95-83. Dejounte Murray scored 34 and added 11 rebounds and six assists to carry the Huskies.
- St. Bonaventure went to Hawk Hill and came out with an impressive 83-73 win over Saint Joseph’s, damaging SJU’s NCAA at-large prospects. Jaylen Adams scored 31 for the Bonnies, who also continue to be one of this season’s better stories and on their current pace will certainly deserve an NIT bid.
- A surprise in the Patriot League, where American knocked off league-leading Bucknell 69-55. The Eagles-perhaps best known as one of the most deliberate teams in the country-started 2-15 this year, yet have now won five straight games.
- Finally, UC Irvine got past Cal Poly 78-72 in overtime on the road to stay atop the Big West, but it took this incredible play at the end of regulation to do it:
- If Vanderbilt is going to salvage a disappointing year and make a run at the NCAA Tournament, it will start Thursday night at Memorial Gym against Texas A&M (7 p.m. EST, ESPN2).
- Wisconsin aims to continue its march back from a tough first half of the year when it hosts Ohio State (7 p.m., ESPN).
- Big-time showdown for first in the CAA, with UNC-Wilmington at Hofstra. The Seahawks have won seven straight and have the hottest player in the league in Chris Flemmings, the two-time defending league player of the week.
- A share of first is also on the line in the NEC, where surprising Fairleigh Dickinson is at Wagner.
- Saint Mary’s and BYU always put on a good show, and they meet again in Provo (9 p.m., BYU TV). Our over-under for three-pointers in this one is 24, but this is also a key game for two teams who need to continue beefing up resumes.
- The Pac-12 has started to sift out a bit, but still offers plenty of biggies just about every night. Colorado has what is almost a free shot at Oregon (9 p.m., FS1), while UCLA and USC duke it out for L.A. supremacy for a second time, with the Trojans looking for the sweep.
- Hawaii takes to the road to face UC Santa Barbara in the Thunderdome. The Gauchos remain easily the most dangerous darkhorse in the Big West.
- Finally, maybe the game of the year in the WAC as Grand Canyon takes on New Mexico State.
Have a great Thursday.