Tuesday was one of those nights where you could almost forget the gale-force wind of the virus blowing through college basketball. Want entertainment? This was entertainment.
It was the night Kansas and Creighton met for the first time in more than 46 years and played a classic as top-10 teams, with the Jayhawks surviving at home 73-72 after 13 lead changes. There were odd stats galore; Creighton out-shot Kansas 48.2 percent to 39.4, but still lost. The Bluejays had only three offensive rebounds all night, and 19 of the 26 combined turnovers were off steals. In the end, with 1.1 seconds left, Big East preseason player of the year Marcus Zegarowski had three free throws to tie for Creighton. He made two. “It was an NCAA Tournament-type game,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “A second weekend-type game.”
It was the night Fort Hays State, a Division II team with an 0-3 record and at the bottom of the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association standings . . . with both its head coach and top assistant out due to COVID protocol . . . barged into Manhattan, Kansas, shot 55.2 percent and took down Kansas State 81-68. The Tigers had 20 turnovers, but also put six players in double figures, and never trailed for a second. They hadn’t beaten Kansas State since 1938 and it won’t even count on their record. They had it down as an exhibition. Kansas State didn’t. “Very disappointing and sad for our program,” Wildcats coach Bruce Weber said.
It was the night Oklahoma State freshman Cade Cunningham gave the most vivid evidence yet of why everyone expects his name to be called first in the next NBA Draft. He led the Cowboys’ 83-78 win over Oral Roberts with 29 points. He scored 12 of them in the final 91 seconds to seal the game nearly by himself.
And it was the night the Big Ten went at the ACC like kids after the cake at a birthday party.
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The first seven games of the leagues’ annual challenge were played. The Big Ten won six. And not in any ordinary way.
Zwack! That’s Illinois, storming into fan-less and tooth-less Cameron Indoor Stadium and grabbing Duke by the throat, jumping to a 17-4 lead and never looking back. It ended 83-68 with six Illini in double figures and the team shooting 58 percent. That matched Mike Krzyzewski’s worst-ever non-conference loss at home. The other 15-pointer was 38 years ago. While on the subject, Krzyzewski has lost only 11 non-conference games at home in his 41 seasons – but two have come in the past eight days to the Big Ten, Illinois and Michigan State. The Blue Devils are 2-2 for the first time in 21 years. “We have a lot to learn,” Krzyzewski said.
Zwack! That’s Iowa, shredding North Carolina with 17 3-pointers to beat the Tar Heels 93-80. North Carolina held Luka Garza, the nation’s leader scorer, to 16 points, which was 18 below his average. And Iowa still scored 93. That was a tribute to such outside snipers as Jordan Bohannon, who had scored 11 points in the Hawkeyes’ first three games but 24 in this one, with seven 3-pointers. Bohannon is the fifth-year Hawkeye who endured surgery on both hips to get back. “I’ve been here, like, 20 years,” he said.
Zwack! That’s Penn State with a 17-0 run in the first half, on its way to smacking No. 15 Virginia Tech on its own court 75-55. The Nittany Lions did all that without one point from leading scorer Seth Lundy. But Izaiah Brockington had 24. They also didn’t have a turnover the first 23 minutes. “They popped us right in the mouth,” said Virginia Tech coach Mike Young, whose team took its first home non-conference loss in 35 games.
Zwack! That’s Ohio State, down 11 points with just over 14 minutes to go at Notre Dame, then charging back to win 90-85. The Buckeyes scored 56 points the second half, helped by 16-for-18 from the free throw line. So yeah, they enjoyed their first trip to Notre Dame in 48 years.
Zwack! That’s Rutgers, putting way Syracuse 79-69 with a 17-4 run the last 5 ½ minutes. The Scarlet Knights had lost 13 in a row to the Orange, but times have changed. Rutgers was ranked in the preseason for the first time in 42 years. The Scarlet Knights won this one with muscle — dominating rebounding 42-26 — and 26 points from Ron Harper Jr.
Zwack! That’s Minnesota, spotting Boston College a 15-point lead with 14 minutes to play, then rolling past the Eagles 85-80 in overtime. Gophers’ star Marcus Carr had only two points in the first half — and 20 after that. “Our guys didn’t panic,” coach Richard Pitino said, “and that was huge.” And now a Minnesota team picked to finish 10th or 11th in the Big Ten in most preseason polls, is 5-0. Poor BC is 1-4, but played Villanova, Minnesota and St. John’s tough, and hasn’t had a home game yet. First time in 49 years the Eagles played their first five games on the road.
That’s six Big Ten wins. And it would have been a seven-game sweep had Purdue not blown a 20-point lead at Miami and lost 58-54. Nothing much routine about that one, either. The game opened with a 32-12 Purdue run, and closed with a 31-10 Miami sprint. The Boilermakers were 4-for-25 from the 3-point line, which was awful, but not as bad as the Hurricanes, who missed 16 of 17 shots. Purdue’s leading scorer with 15 point was Zach Edey, who played barely 14 minutes because of foul trouble. Then again, ACC preseason first-teamer Chris Lykes played no minutes for Miami because of an ankle injury.
Odd game. Odd night. But the Big Ten was smiling.