College basketball: One wild, unpredictable Wednesday night in January
Want to see how good college basketball can be, how dramatic, how close it can come to a drop on Disney World’s Tower of Terror?
One night in January. Wednesday night, to be exact. Only 39 games on the schedule, but look what happened: Six went overtime, nine more to the regulation wire, with buzzer-beaters coast-to-coast.
Hop aboard, and fasten your safety belt ...
Never mind Oklahoma had lost seven of eight and West Virginia was ranked No. 7. Never mind the Mountaineers led the world in turnovers forced – when teams come to Morgantown, their poise is supposed to remind you of butter on pancakes, always melting, melting -- and the Sooners were tied for worst in the Big 12 in turnovers committed. Never mind Oklahoma’s 15-point deficit with nine minutes left.
Jordan Woodard tied the score for Oklahoma with 3.1 seconds left in regulation, and won it with a driving layup with 2.2 seconds remaining in overtime. In 45 minutes, the Sooners had only 12 turnovers. Oklahoma hadn’t beaten a team ranked so highly in a true road game in 24 years
The best entertainment of all was afterward, when West Virginia coach Bob Huggins -– in full crustiness -- was asked about some of his players claiming a lack of energy as the cause. "That’s not lack of energy. That’s lack of effort. They had the 'lack of' part right ... They give you this 'lack of energy.' These are guys that are going to be NBA players and play 100 games? We’re at what, they’ve played 18 games? They’re 32 games from the All-Star break. That’s some phony stuff right there. 'Don’t have energy.' Come on, man."
The Irish hit a remarkable 15-of-21 in 3-pointers. Wasn’t enough. Florida State’s Johnathan Isaac made sure of that with 23 points and seven blocked shots, three in the last 19 seconds.
"I’ve never seen a team shoot 15-for-21 from 3 ever. Period. I’ve never witnessed that," Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “It’s hard to shoot 71 percent from 3 if you’re in the gym by yourself and nobody is guarding you at all."
This was the Seminoles’ fifth consecutive game against a ranked opponent -– with a sixth to come Saturday against Louisville -– and they are 4-1. "Big-time, and huge," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "They are on a gauntlet that is unbelievable."
So it goes in the ACC, which has 10 teams in the current RPI top 50. Hamilton minced no words. "This league is the best basketball league ever assembled in the history of college basketball."
This was bordering on a cataclysmic Indiana disaster. The Hoosiers had blown a 13-point lead in the last five minutes, and lost key player OG Anunoby, who wept in the locker room at halftime after hurting his knee. "I hated to leave a guy that was crying," coach Tom Crean said later.
But with the game even at 75, James Blackmon Jr. went coast to coast, pulled up for a well-defended 3-pointer and buried it at the buzzer, putting a finger to his lips to hush the crowd afterward. The Nittany Lions' pain was clear in freshman Tony Carr’s words: "You fight so hard to get back into the game and you give all your effort, and then you lose on a heartbreaking shot like that."
Said Crean, "We grew up tonight."
The idea, with Nebraska leading 66-65 and Ohio State trying to run an inbounds play under its own basket with under two seconds left, was for the Cornhuskers to play a switching defense. Then Glynn Watson Jr. fell down, and suddenly there Marc Loving was, as alone as a telephone pole, open to score the game-winner for the Buckeyes with 0.6 seconds left.
"I don’t care what you run," Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. "If you fall down, you are going to give up a layup."
Once, the Cornhuskers were savoring a 3-0 Big Ten record that was their best league start in 41 years. Now, they’re 3-3.
Anyone wanting lots of offense should leave the room. With 14:30 left in the first half, the two teams had 13 missed shots, 12 turnovers –- and no points. Just think what it might have looked like If both weren't ranked. It never got much prettier in this engagement of clawing defense, with 55 fouls called and 62 free throws.
But a conference win is never too ugly, and the drama at the end was if the Gators would ever hit a 3-pointer. They wouldn’t, finishing 0-for-17, their first game without a 3-pointer since 1992, or 850 tipoffs ago.
Four days earlier, Washington had come from 21 points behind in the second half to tie its game with Stanford, only to lose in the end. This time, the rally had a happy ending. The Huskies were down 17 in the second half but came alive with 37 points from freshman Markelle Fultz.
After these two games, nobody is going to sleep on Washington, no matter what the lead.
There was more. Hawaii beat CSU Northridge 80-77 in a game that had 22 –- count ‘em – 22 lead changes.
Fordham was 0-6 all-time against VCU ... but not any more after a 69-67 overtime win, on Antwoine Anderson’s buzzer-beater.
Darell Combs was a clanking 4-for-13 for IUPUI, but he hit two shots late in overtime, including the game-winner at 1.4 seconds, to put down South Dakota State, 85-83.
Anyone remember Drake being 1-10, then firing its coach in December? The Bulldogs have now won five of eight, including Wednesdsy over Southern Illinois 88-84 in overtime, after trailing by five points with 18 seconds left in regulation.
All in all, quite a college basketball show. And it wasn’t even the weekend,