It’s nice to start strong, but finishing strong is what everyone remembers.
Whether it is making a buzzer-beating shot or rallying from a large deficit for a victory, finishing strong is what separates great teams from really good teams.
With a full slate of games on Saturday, basketball junkies (me included) got to watch games from noon until late into the night, and were thoroughly entertained as a No. 1 team went down for the second consecutive weekend, two top mid-major teams battled in buzzer-beater fashion and the nation’s fourth-ranked team came from behind to stave off an upset.
What did all of these games have in common? Strong finishes – the kind of finishes that keep you watching until time expires on the game clock.
Let’s look back at three of Saturday’s fantastic finishes:
• In a clash between the top-two teams in the Big East Conference, then-No. 6 Syracuse edged former-No. 1 Louisville 70-68 on the Cardinals’ home court as the top-ranked team in the nation fell for the second consecutive week.
The Orange trailed 68-67 with less than a minute left in the contest when sophomore Michael Carter-Williams stole the ball from the Cardinals and dunked it to put Syracuse ahead by one point. On the following possession, Carter-Williams was fouled and converted on one of the free throws to give the Orange a two-point lead with 13 seconds left in the game. Carter-Williams then stole the ball on the Cardinals’ final play to seal the victory for the Orange, giving Syracuse its first win against a No. 1 team since 2006. Carter-Williams, who had scored just five points and turned the ball over six times in the first half, ended the game with 16 points, two blocks and four steals despite his shaky start.
Syracuse stretched its winning streak to seven with the victory, while it ended Louisville’s 11-game winning streak.
• Historic Hinkle Fieldhouse was rocking in front of a sellout crowd of 10,228, as sophomore forward Roosevelt Jones hit a game-winning shot with less than one second remaining to lift former-No. 13 Butler to a 64-63 defeat of then-No. 8 Gonzaga on Saturday. It was Butler’s third win against a top-10 team (No. 9 North Carolina, No. 1 Indiana) this season, and third buzzer-beater victory of the year. The Bulldogs also downed Marquette at the buzzer in the Maui Invitational, and knocked of then-No. 1 Indiana in shocking fashion in early December.
• I’ll admit it, I didn’t turn this one on until I caught the score on the bottom line. The mighty Jayhawks were losing to Texas? Could we have another upset on our hands? Not quite.
Down 11 points with just 15 minutes remaining, Kansas shook off a first-half sub-30 percent shooting performance and rallied for a 64-59 victory against Texas as the Jayhawks remained unbeaten against Big 12 opponents this season. The Jayhawks went on a 17-6 run in the final 5:36 of the game to earn their 15th consecutive victory. It is not the first time Kansas has rallied for an eventual win this season. The Jayhawks have overcome deficits of eight or more three times this season including the Texas contest. They were down eight at Ohio State and 12 against Chattanooga before coming back.
• No. 4 Duke remained the nation’s lone remaining undefeated Division I women’s basketball team with a 58-26 rout of Virginia Tech on Wednesday as the Blue Devils improved to 16-0 on the season. It was the least points Duke had allowed since 2003, and set a Virginia Tech record for fewest in a game.
The Blue Devils are hoping they can continue with their stingy defensive effort when they travel to No. 3 Connecticut for a non-conference battle between two of the top-five teams in the nation. It will be broadcast live on ESPN2 at 7 p.m. ET.
• The Massachusetts men’s ice hockey squad ended then-No. 2 Boston College’s 18-game home unbeaten streak on Friday, scoring three goals in a stretch of 3:23 in the third period for a 5-2 victory. It was the first time UMass has beaten BC on the road since 2007 as the Minutemen were sparked by junior Branden Gracel, who tallied two goals and an assist on the night to increase his team-leading total to 21 points on the season.
It was the second consecutive loss for the Eagles, who bounced back on Saturday with a convincing 9-3 victory against Northeastern in Hockey East action on Saturday. The Eagles have posted a 4-4-2 mark since recording 10 consecutive victories earlier this season.
• Minnesota junior forward Amanda Kessel became the 24th player in NCAA women’s hockey history to reach the 200-point plateau in her career as she dished out a trio of assists in the Gophers’ 6-0 defeat of Minnesota State on Saturday. Kessel is the sixth Gopher player to achieve the feat. With the win against the Mavericks, No. 1 Minnesota improved to 24-0-0 on the year, and stretched its winning streak to 32 games, tying the NCAA record for longest unbeaten streak.
• In a series of two of the top Division III women’s hockey teams in the nation, No. 1 Plattsburgh State earned a sweep of No. 3 Elmira with a pair of ECAC West victories during the weekend. The losses were Elmira’s first two in league play, while Plattsburgh improved to 9-0-0 in conference action and remained unbeaten on the year at 16-0-1.
• Michigan men’s gymnastics team won their first Windy City Invitational team title since 2009, outdistancing No. 2 Illinois and Ohio State, who tied for second place. Sophomore Adrian de los Angeles and senior Rohan Sebastian claimed first and second place in the all-around competition, while sophomore Stacey Ervin won the vault at the meet. The Wolverines opened the season with a victory in the six-team field despite missing 2012 U.S. Olympian Sam Mikulak, who is training with the National Team in Colorado Springs.
• No. 4 Clayton State prevailed in a mid-week meeting at No. 3 USC Aiken on Wednesday as the Lakers earned a 56-50 victory in a battle of two undefeated Peach Belt Conference teams in Division II women’s basketball. The Lakers’ defense, which ranks among the nation’s best shined, holding the Pacers to 26 percent (14-of-54) from the floor for the game, and only four baskets in the second half (4-of-29). Clayton State went on to defeat UNC Pembroke 67-46 on Saturday as the Lakers improved to 15-0 on the season.
|THE DIGIT||THE 4-1-1|
||Junior All-American Mackenzie Caquatto scored a perfect 10.0 on the uneven bars in No. 3 Florida’s 197.30-194.625 victory against Missouri in women’s gymnastics on Friday. Caquatto is the fifth Gator to earn the perfect mark on bars and the first since All-American Melanie Sinclair earned her third 10.0 in 2009.|
|34||Ashland senior forward Kari Daugherty’s NCAA Division II record of 34 consecutive double-doubles came to an end on Thursday when the native of Fresno, Ohio, suffered a knee injury in the first half of the Findlay contest. She had collected 10 points and seven rebounds before her exit in the No. 1 Eagles’ 72-41 win against Findlay. Daugherty is out indefinitely, but Ashland remained unbeaten, downing Hillsdale 80-51 on Saturday.|
|45.91||Sophomore Deon Lendore ran a world-leading time of 45.91 to win the 400 meters at the Texas A&M Triangular, leading the former-No. 2 Aggies to a team victory against No. 1 Arkansas and then-No. 8 LSU. It was the third-fastest indoor time in school history, and set a new meet record.|
|50||Baylor All-American center Brittney Griner notched her 50th career double-double, narrowly missing a triple-double, as she tallied 26 points, 15 rebounds and nine blocked shots as the No. 1 Lady Bears cruised past West Virginia 76-58 in Big 12 Conference action on Saturday. It was the 28th consecutive regular season conference win for the Lady Bears, and extended their nation’s longest active home winning streak to 49 games.|
|164-9||The No. 1 Penn State wrestling team has outscored Big Ten opponents 164-9 in four meets. After shutting out Indiana and Michigan State earlier in the season, the Nittany Lions posted a 36-6 win against No. 24 Wisconsin and a 35-3 victory at Purdue to continue their dominance this year.|
|301||The No. 2 Gustavus Adolphus swept St. Catherine’s with 2-1 and 3-1 wins during the weekend, propelling head coach Mike Carroll to and past the 300-win mark of his career. Carroll, who now has 301 career victories, became just the second coach in NCAA Division III women’s hockey to accomplish the feat, and the eighth coach to achieve the milestone in all divisions of women’s college hockey.|
|2,000||Calvin senior Carissa Verkaik became the first player in women’s basketball program history to reach the 2,000-point career mark as the No. 2 Knights topped Rochester College 74-54 in Division III non-conference play on Saturday. Verkaik contributed 22 points and 12 rebounds for her 42nd career double-double in the contest. Her all-time point total now stands at 2,008.|
• Former longtime Miami baseball coach Ron Fraser died Sunday at the age of 79. Fraser, who coached the Hurricanes for 30 years, guided Miami to the 1982 and 1985 College World Series titles. Nicknamed the “Wizard of College Baseball,” he compiled a 1,271-438-9 mark during his career. Fraser led Miami to 20 consecutive NCAA Regional berths and 12 College World Series appearances. In 1990, he was named “Coach of the Decade” for the 1980s by Collegiate Baseball.
• The No. 1 West Liberty men’s basketball team suffered its’ first loss on Monday, falling to Charleston (W.Va.) 101-96. It was only the Hilltoppers’ second West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference loss in the previous 70 league contests. On Thursday, the Hilltoppers returned to their winning ways, but the nation’s top scoring team was held to just 82 points, well below their season average of 109 points per game. West Liberty returned to triple-digit form on Saturday, downing Concord 101-81 for their 10th 100-point outing of the season.
• Grand Canyon sprinter Dario Horvat posted an automatic qualifying time of 6.69 to win the 60-meter dash at the Cherry & Silver Collegiate Invitational in Albuquerque, N.M., which is the fastest time in the country this season among Division II athletes.
• The sixth-ranked WPI men’s basketball team remained unbeaten with a 65-59 defeat against NEWMAC rival and defending Division III champion MIT in a battle of the Engineers on Saturday. WPI improved to 18-0, and has won 20 consecutive contests dating back to last year’s ECAC New England Championship.
• No. 4 Kentucky Wesleyan is the lone remaining unbeaten in the Great Lakes Valley Conference after the Panthers fended off No. 5 Indianapolis 79-69 on Thursday. UW-Parkside also suffered its’ first conference setback, falling to No. 12 Bellarmine 65-58 the same night. KWC then topped Saint Joseph’s 92-58 on Saturday to stay perfect in the league at 6-0 and on the year at 14-0. Meanwhile, UIndy dropped its second consecutive road contest of the week, falling to No. 15 Southern Indiana 69-55.
Follow Amy Farnum on Twitter: @NCAA_Amy