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The Morning Dish – Friday, February 9, 2018

February 9, 2018 The Morning Dish No Comments

One could debate who was the more desperate team going into the latest incarnation of the Duke/North Carolina rivalry, which resumed Thursday night, lest any college basketball fan not have been reminded one of about 10,000 times this week.

On one hand, the Blue Devils came in off a very disappointing loss at Big East cellar-dweller St. John’s in their last game, had lost two of their previous three and are increasingly in danger of slipping down the ACC standings. On the other hand, the defending national champion Tar Heels already had seven losses entering the game, and with a loss would’ve fallen to NINTH in the ACC, credentials that make UNC look less like a national title contender and more resembling an 8 or 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

It was critical for Carolina to hold serve in a huge game at home, though, and the Heels did just that, rallying for an 82-78 win. Trailing much of the first half, UNC out-toughed Duke in the second 20 minutes. Cameron Johnson finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds, epitomizing the Tar Heels winning the battle of the boards and racking up 20 offensive rebounds.

Apparently working as an unofficial research or sports information arm of these two schools, ESPN provided all sorts of nuggets and factoids about Thursday night’s game. No stat impressed us more, though than the fact that UNC committed two turnovers in this game.

Two. That’s tied for the school record for fewest TOs in a game, with an unlikely but memorable contest in the 1997 NCAA Tournament. North Carolina was a 1 seed that year and faced 11-18 Fairfield for its No. 16 seed in the first round, but the Stags played one of the most memorable games ever by an underdog in the tourney, leading well into the second half and forcing the Tar Heels to play a nearly perfect game to take an 82-74 win.

Carolina didn’t have to be perfect last night-it shot just 39% and got just four points from the bench-but it did have to do something special against the talented Blue Devils, who were more efficient offensively and have been ranked higher almost the entire season. The Heels did so, and with it were able to get the latest word in this historic series.

Side Dishes:

  • The Pac-12 is having such a bizarre season that sometimes even when it wins, it loses. UCLA likely set up the conference for another at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament with an 82-74 win at Arizona in what was a mix of a near-flawless performance on the road by the Bruins and a really disappointing showing at home by the Wildcats, who continue to look like a pretender when it comes to being a national title contender. UCLA completely outplayed Arizona at the McKale Center, shooting 51.6% and also slowing up the Wildcats’ normally efficient attack.
  • Like the SEC, the Pac-12 couldn’t have more results breaking just right of late to pump up its NCAA bid total. Another came as Arizona State outlasted USC 80-78 at home last night with Tra Holder hitting the game-winner with 1.6 seconds left. The Trojans generally outplayed the Sun Devils but for one fatal flaw: 18 turnovers to ASU’s six. USC led by seven with just over two minutes left but then did not score again, Arizona State scoring the game’s final nine points. If the Sun Devils beat UCLA on Saturday now, just about all will be forgotten about their slide early in conference play.
  • Houston is probably a team that deserves to start receiving some top 25 consideration, and the Cougars won again, defeating SMU 67-58 after a finishing flourish. Houston outscored the Mustangs 17-1 over the final 6:16, coming back after trailing by seven late. Wow. And talk about stepping up off the bench: Armoni Brooks finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds, hitting 7 of 9 from three-point range.
  • A battle of winning streaks in the Sun Belt saw the longer of the two snapped as Georgia State outran Louisiana-Lafayette 106-92, handing the Ragin’ Cajuns just their fourth loss in 24 games. The Panthers ran their win streak to 10 while stopping Louisiana’s 10-game spree. GSU played seven players in this game; six scored in double figures, including four with at least 18 points. No shame in this loss for the Cajuns, but Georgia State is now just one-half game behind them in the league standings.
  • What a comeback by Vermont, which trailed at Albany by 17 early and by 10 again in the second half but fought back for a 72-67 win on the road to assert itself as the clear team to beat in the America East. The Catamounts got almost zero from their reserves-all 72 points came from the starters-but won in part because they were-this is not a misprint-20-for-20 from the foul line. This is the type of game that could leave a scar on the Great Danes, who have significant postseason history that says they may be heard from again in March.
  • College of Charleston got a career performance from Grant Riller in an 82-77 win over William & Mary that keeps the Cougars alone atop the CAA. Riller scored 37 points, hitting 13 of 19 from the field including 5 of 8 from three plus 6-for-8 from the line, a magnificent showing by the athletic sophomore guard in Charleston’s seventh straight win. He outdueled the Tribe’s Nathan Knight, who also scored 29 points and added seven rebounds, four assists and four blocked shots.
  • Stanford has made a nice run in the Pac-12, but the Cardinal’s hopes of a last-ditch NCAA Tournament run are dwindling after a 75-60 loss at Utah. The Utes led this one from start to finish.
  • From a 1-2 start in the Big West, UC Santa Barbara is now the league leader. The Gauchos won the battle for first place, defeating UC Davis 90-81 in Davis for their eighth straight victory. It is notable that the Aggies are playing without star Chima Moneke, who was suspended five days ago due to a violation of team rules at a hotel, a rather cryptic situation that has seen him now miss two games.
  • New Mexico State is now 21-3 after an easy 69-43 win over Cal State Bakersfield, which shot an icy 25.5%. It says something about the Aggies that they won by 26 in a game where they shot just 34.3% themselves against the Roadrunners, who take a backseat to nobody defensively. Jemerrio Jones put up a big-time single-double in this one: six points, 20 rebounds. Dennis Rodman would be proud.
  • We’re just over a week into February, but Florida Gulf Coast is just a win away from clinching the top seed and homecourt as long as it’s alive in the Atlantic Sun Tournament. The Eagles are now 10-0 in league and four games clear of the field after a 75-70 win at New Jersey Tech for their 12th straight win. FGCU owns at least a share of the regular season title and can clinch it outright with one win in its last four games.
  • Murray State handled rival Austin Peay 84-63 to move to 19-5, shooting a blazing 59.3%. The Racers also are now tied for the OVC lead with Belmont after the Bruins were upset by Tennessee State 64-56.
  • Rider and Canisius continue to lead the way in the Metro Atlantic after the Broncs edged Manhattan 77-73 and Canisius took care of Siena 89-65. The Golden Griffins trail Rider by half a game in the MAAC standings.
  • Just another night for Marshall’s Ajdin Penava: 25 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots in the Thundering Herd’s 76-66 win over Florida International.
  • In the Mountain West, news leaked out Thursday that Larry Eustachy will soon be out as coach at Colorado State for violating a previous set policy by the school against what is being termed as “emotional” and “verbal” abuse. So it goes in these times. Basically, some can handle the style of coaches like Eustachy, and some cannot. Players like current Rams star Prentiss Nixon have been very vocal about their support of Eustachy, and we’re not sure exactly what synonym there can be for “emotional abuse” other than “hurt feelings.” Which certainly seems to be what anonymous sources were telling the Denver Post was the issue when they revealed Eustachy would cuss out players in practice or the locker room. Without defending Eustachy’s reported behavior, one can’t help think if we’re firing coaches for hurting feelings…that’s a very scary slippery slope to be trying to stand on. Obviously Eustachy was asked to change and did not, and for that he is responsible. But at some point, schools are hiring coaches and giving them lengthy and lucrative contracts, knowing full well what they get from someone like Eustachy. They better be ready to live with those coaches’ methods.
  • Also a Mountain West note we missed from Wednesday somehow, New Mexico big man Joe Furstinger has been suspended for one game for his very hard attempted foul as time expired in the Lobos’ 73-71 snatching-of-defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory Tuesday night against Boise State. Good move by the conference, no more was needed and no less. It was a too-hard foul, not a good play and deserved to be punished, but nothing more. Smart move by the conference to send a message without going overboard. Boise State guard Justinian Jesup also was given a reprimand for his role in the post-game scrum after the play.
  • More reading material from Hoopville, our notebook posted yesterday with discussion of Michigan State, Loyola Chicago, South Dakota & South Dakota State, bubble teams, March sleepers and more.
  • Finally, looking ahead to Saturday, a note that this weekend will feature Autism Speaks Coaches Powering Forward. Towson head coach Pat Skerry and South Florida assistant coach Tom Herrion created it in 2014, as both have sons diagnosed with autism. We invite you to find out more about the event, autism and Autism Speaks at this link.

Tonight’s Menu:

  • A very quiet Friday is led off with Toledo at Miami (Ohio) in a good Mid-American Conference game (6 p.m. Eastern, CBSSN). Don’t count out the Rockets putting up a serious challenge to Buffalo yet for league supremacy. Kent State at Ball State (9 p.m. Eastern, ESPNU) also should be good, the Golden Flashes’ Jaylin Walker dueling with Cardinals’ big shot-maker Tayler Persons.
  • Another of those Atlantic 10 games on Friday that looked good on paper, not so much when it will be played: Davidson at Rhode Island (7 p.m., ESPN2). The Wildcats have been excellent frontrunners this year, blowing out teams when they win but also falling handily when losing.
  • The night’s Ivy League schedule is led by Princeton at Harvard (7 p.m., ESPNU). The Crimson are a solid second in the league behind Penn, while the Tigers are part of a three-way tie for third and have lost two straight. Lot of work to do for Princeton.
  • Minnesota is at Indiana (7:30 p.m., FS1), the Golden Gophers trying to somehow a promising season that has gone incredibly sour.
  • Budding Horizon League rivals Detroit Mercy and Oakland face off (9 p.m., ESPN2), where points promise to be plenty-the Golden Grizzlies won the first meeting on the road 92-86, and both rank in the bottom 50 in the country in points allowed.
  • The Big Sky wraps up the night with Eastern Washington heading about 70 miles south to play Idaho in a battle for third in the league, with the individual battle including EWU’s Bogdan Bliznyuk and the Vandals’ Victor Sanders.

Have a wonderful Friday.

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