In this basketball season of rapidly changing fates and oddball plot twists... well, somehow Tuesday night all made sense.
There’s Michigan State blowing a 20-point second-half lead at Illinois — all of it — to teeter on the brink of its first four-game losing streak in 13 years. What a troubling state of affairs that would be for a team once ranked No. 1, but then Xavier Tillman slammed home a put-back dunk to save the day. And in five seconds, the Illini lost not only what would have been a magical comeback victory, but maybe their star, when Ayo Dosunmu’s knee crumpled as he rushed down the court for a last-ditch shot. “The outcome of the game is secondary,” coach Brad Underwood said afterward of his fallen player.
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There’s Syracuse losing at home to North Carolina State 79-74, when leading scorer Elijah Hughes played under three minutes because of a groin injury he suffered in pre-game drills. And Jim Boeheim figured he had seen it all. “I’ve never had a player in 44 years get hurt in warm-ups,” he said. “But there’s a first time for everything.”
There’s Rhode Island carrying a 10-game winning streak to Dayton for a clash of Atlantic-10 leaders, eager to make a statement... and falling behind 17-0. Never a good sign in basketball when you're down two touchdowns and a field goal before your first point. It ended 81-67 with Obi Toppin scoring 22 points for the Flyers, plus one notable block. The shot he swatted was taken by his freshman brother Jacob, who plays for Rhode Island. “I wasn’t going to let little brother score on me,” he said. “I can’t let that happen.” Their mother was in the stands wearing a jersey that was half Dayton red and half Rhode Island blue. You could measure the heat of the clash of league contenders by one number — seven technical fouls. Or only one fewer than there were 3-pointers. Dayton finished the night 22-2 for the first time since 1958.
There’s Maryland, alone at the top in the Big Ten, at home against 13th-place Nebraska, who was 2-10 in the league. It sounded like a comfortable evening. Nah. The Terrapins were lucky to get by 72-70. “We didn’t respect our opponent enough,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “I’ll take the blame for that.”
There’s Notre Dame taking Virginia into overtime in Charlottesville, and holding the Cavaliers to only three points in the extra session... but losing 50-49 because the Irish scored only two points themselves. The game was close — the biggest lead all night was five points — if not elegant. The two teams combined to shoot 35 percent and were 1-for-10 in overtime.
There’s North Carolina, coming off the Duke game that was heartbreaking but at least hinted at better play, going 1-for-16 from the 3-point line and getting whacked by Wake Forest 74-57. It was the biggest victory margin for the Demon Deacons over the Tar Heels in 18 years. And now look at the very bottom of the ACC standings, with last-place shared by Miami — and North Carolina. “I’ve been mad all year,” Roy Williams said. “We got to play harder, we got to play smarter.”
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There’s Mississippi trailing Mississippi State by 13, but winning by 25. Breein Tyree’s 40 points led the 83-58 onslaught. He had 27 points in the second half — or three more than the entire Mississippi State team.
There’s LSU barely getting by Missouri 82-78, its seventh SEC victory of the season by four points or fewer.
There’s Vanderbilt, loser of 28 of its last 29 SEC regular-season games, up on Kentucky by 14 early and nine at halftime — the biggest deficit the Wildcats had faced all season at intermission. Kentucky eventually restored order 78-64.
There’s Purdue, still savoring its win at Indiana, and back at home, where there is rarely bad news. And there’s Penn State as the opponent, in a hostile place where the Nittany Lions were 2-22 all-time. Penn State led by 24, won by 12. And now the top six spots in the Big Ten standings include Penn State, Illinois and Rutgers — none of whom have been in the NCAA Tournament for at least six years.
All that seem a little bizarre? Not this year. Tuesday night fit the 2019-20 motif.