There was a huge conference game played in North Carolina Thursday night, one hyped by big names beforehand. The game was part of a series that has regularly provided drama of late, and once again delivered with spades.
Of course we’re talking about the big one played Thursday between UNC Asheville and Winthrop, a series that has become the premier one in the Big South and, frankly, one of the best anywhere this season. And while ESPN provided all the saturation coverage one could ever ask of that other game last night between Tobacco Road rivals Duke and North Carolina, the game in the Blue Ridge Mountains pairing two unheralded NCAA Division I programs took a backseat to no one for suspense.
The Bulldogs and Eagles played their second straight terrific contest this season, with UNC Asheville coming back from the brink multiple times, the last time by scoring the game’s final five points in the last 33 seconds of the second overtime for a 104-101 win. The game was a matchup of two programs sharing first place in the Big South, and it was decided only after 13 ties and 17 lead changes in 50 minutes of play.
Neither team led by more than seven points the entire night, and UNCA made great escapes at the end of regulation and in both overtimes. Macio Teague hit a tying three-pointer at the buzzer of regulation just to get to an extra session, then Ahmad Thomas scored on a tip-in to tie it with 13 seconds left in the first OT. Teague then converted a go-ahead three-point play with 23 seconds left in overtime, responding after Winthrop’s fantastic 5-foot-7 guard Keon Johnson had just hit a three-pointer with 33 seconds left to put the Eagles ahead, the final of his 40 points.
This was the second meeting between these two teams in three weeks that was decided by a single possession, and both were played in front of raucous gatherings. It was highly anticipated beforehand (the pre-game hype by UNCA included none other than stock car racing legend Richard Petty encouraging fans to show up) and it delivered.
In fact, we’d challenge anyone to find a home-and-home series so far this year that’s been better (OK, Oregon/UCLA has been pretty darn good too…but the Ducks and Bruins never went to two overtimes). Best of all both games were shown nationally, with ESPNU providing some much deserved coverage to a solid league and two underrated teams. On that note, while we regularly take ESPN to task, the network deserves serious credit for covering these games and for putting a solid broadcast crew with Robert Lee and Nate Ross on the call for both of them.
The Bulldogs and Eagles going to two overtimes on Thursday also made for what has seemed like only an average length game over the last week. Thursday alone saw eight games played with a combined 132 overtime periods in them, including three games going two overtimes or more. Since Saturday, NCAA Division I has featured 28 overtime games with a total of 44 extra periods. We’ve even had multiple four-overtime games, plus a good share of games going two or three overtimes.
In fact, UNCA and Winthrop weren’t even the only Big South leaders to go to play a couple extra on Thursday. Liberty also came into the night tied with both the Bulldogs and Eagles, and the Flames went-yes-two overtimes at Gardner-Webb before finally pulling out a 92-87 win on the road.
- About that other big one in North Carolina, Duke topped UNC 86-78. Grayson Allen is back: he scored 25 points, and indeed, this one was worthy of the many outstanding games in this series that have preceded it, with 17 lead changes throughout.
- The other mega matchup in the top 10 last night saw UCLA rally from a 19-point deficit to defeat Oregon 82-79 in an uncharacteristically rowdy Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins never led until Aaron Holiday hit a three-pointer with four minutes left, and UCLA had enough daggers down the stretch to avoid getting swept by the Ducks. Wouldn’t mind at all if these two met one or two more times this year.
- Indiana suffered what could wind up being a crushing loss in its season, falling at home to Purdue 69-64 after the Boilermakers emerged in the final minutes. Vincent Edwards ended up making the difference, scoring 26 points. Also notable: James Blackmon returned to the lineup for IU and scored 11 points but made just 3 of 14 from the field.
- Gonzaga is now 25-0 after another blowout, winning 90-60 at Loyola Marymount. Also in the WCC, Saint Mary’s eased past Portland 51-41, setting the stage for a huge game Saturday against the Zags.
- Chalk up win number 14 in a row for Vermont, which survived a challenge from New Hampshire before winning 82-74. Anthony Lamb is one of the better freshmen no one knows about, and he scored 26 to lead the Catamounts.
- SMU just keeps on rolling quietly. The Mustangs won at Temple 66-50, with Semi Olejeye posting a huge game with 30 points and 13 rebounds.
- Furman made a big statement in the Southern Conference with a 60-56 win over Tennessee-Chattanooga. The Paladins defended first place and knocked off the defending league champions as Kris Acox scored the go-ahead basket with five seconds left. Also in the SoCon, the wildest game of all of them last night came as Wofford outlasted Samford 131-127 in four overtimes. Fletcher Magee (career-high 36) and Eric Garcia (31) combined for 67 points for the Terriers.
- UNC Wilmington is back in the driver’s seat in the CAA. The Seahawks easily handled James Madison 88-73, while College of Charleston was edged by Northeastern 73-72, putting UNCW once again a game ahead of the Cougars and everyone else in the league.
- How about Lipscomb? The Bisons are making noise in the Atlantic Sun, now tied for first place after knocking off previous leader Florida Gulf Coast 65-60 on the road.
- Finally, New Mexico State saw its 20-game winning streak snapped, and the WAC just got a whole lot tighter after Cal State Bakersfield handled the Aggies 72-53, moving within one-half game of NMSU in the standings.
- The MAC has a couple good ones on TV, leading off with Ohio at Ball State (6:30 p.m. Eastern, CBSSN). Also, Akron hits the road to face slumping Eastern Michigan (7 p.m., ESPNU), and this one has a good matchup inside (Akron’s Isaiah Johnson against EMU’s James Thompson) plus the Zips’ three-point bombing against the Eagles’ Syracuse zone.
- A big one in the Atlantic 10 is Dayton at Rhode Island (7 p.m., ESPN2). Golden opportunity for the Rams to add a quality win.
- The Ivy League schedule has the top four teams facing the bottom four, with perhaps the best game featuring Harvard at Brown.
- A couple big-time, if lesser known rivalry games, one newer, one older: Oakland goes to Detroit Mercy looking to avenge a home loss to the Titans, while Niagara goes for the sweep on the road against longtime western New York adversary Canisius.
- One more on the TV docket: Monmouth heads up to face Manhattan on the Jaspers’ shiny and, um, not very attractive green court (9 p.m., ESPNU).
Have a super Friday and a great weekend.