This message, loud and clear, bellowed from college basketball’s Saturday:
Dorothy was right.
Remember her last words on the screen after leaving the land of Oz? There’s no place like home. So it would seem. The Associated Top-25 teams are 296-24 in the friendly confines at this moment, and Saturday vibrantly showed the value of home.
We take you to Bloomington, Indiana...
Where the No. 1 team in the nation is getting mashed 50-35 at halftime. The Purdue offense that committed only 16 turnovers the past two Big Ten games back in comfy Mackey Arena has boo-booed its way to 11 in 20 minutes in the pro-Indiana fury of Assembly Hall. The defense that has not allowed any of its previous 23 opponents to score more than 70 points has already given up 50 in one half.
“I think in the first half, the environment kind of shocked some of us,” Boilermakers star Zach Edey will later say.
“That was our sixth man, obviously,” the Hoosiers’ Trayce Jackson-Davis will agree of the atmosphere. “That was the most electric crowd I’ve been a part of since I’ve been here.”
It ends 79-74. Edey has a massive game — 33 points, 18 rebounds — but Indiana has the answers, not only with 25 points from Edey’s counterpart in the paint, Jackson-Davis, but the rest of the cast that seems so affected by location. The Hoosiers were hammered 15 points by Rutgers, 22 by Kansas, 19 by Penn State, 11 by Maryland, and could not hold a 21-point lead against Iowa. But all those were in other zip codes. Take freshman Jalen Hood-Schifino, who provides 16 critical points against Purdue. The last two games at home, he is 16-for-27 shooting. The last two on the road, he was 3-for-25.
“I’ve got to get everybody when we’re out on the road to play like they do here at home.” Coach Mike Woodson says. Indiana will have to do that to polish up its NCAA Tournament seeding, and it looks like the Hoosier State will have to provide the Big Ten’s top threats in March. They meet this day as the only ranked teams in the league.
Purdue will have something to take from this day. "We don't lose, we learn," says guard David Jenkins Jr. Matt Painter mentions the lesson he wants to get across, for future games in hostility. "Just concentrate, be tougher mentally in that first half and take care of the basketball.
"You outrebound somebody by 16 and you’ve got somebody who gets 33 (points) and 18 (rebounds), you should win the game. That should have been ours."
At the final buzzer, the Indiana students storm the court, just like last year.
“I’m used to it by now,” Edey says. “Every (road) game I’ve lost in the last two years I’ve had the court stormed. It’s not an unfamiliar feeling. It sucks every single time. It’s a sign of respect when teams storm the court because that means they’re very, very excited to beat you.”
🤯: No. 1 Purdue falls at Indiana, three other top 10 teams lose on loaded men's hoops Saturday
We take you to Ames, Iowa...
Where the No. 8 Kansas Jayhawks are being shackled by Iowa State 68-53. Kansas is getting pounded in the paint 36-16. While Jalen Wilson is carrying the Jayhawks with 26 points, the other 10 guys in Kansas uniforms are combining for 27. The Jayhawks finish with 17 field goals — and 20 turnovers. Offense has not usually been an issue for them. Before Saturday they had been 13-1 when holding opponents under 70 points.
But they have wandered into a true tourist trap, where ranked teams have gone to lose. Iowa State is 12-0 in Hilton Coliseum this season, and that includes a Who’s Who of the Big 12 — No. 12 Baylor, No. 7 Texas, No. 5 Kansas State and now Kansas. That makes 30 ranked opponents beaten in Hilton Coliseum since 2010. In five Big 12 home games this season, the Cyclones have outscored their opponents 104-58 in points off turnovers. They love to call it Hilton Magic and it has carried Iowa State to second place in a brutal league and a No. 13 ranking.
“We did nothing to make them play bad and they did some things to make us play bad,” Kansas coach Bill Self says afterward. “They were better from start to finish.”
So thorough is the beating Self says in his press conference he just wants to get back to his post-game chicken finger sandwich. “That’s about the best thing to happen to me today.”
We take you to Blacksburg, Virginia...
Where a season is being salvaged, On Jan. 21, Virginia Tech was defeated at Clemson for its seventh consecutive loss. The Hokies’ once-promising journey to the NCAA Tournament — they were 11-1 — was swirling down the drain. One local writer said the team was on the brink of the “abyss.”
But then Duke showed up in Blacksburg, followed by Syracuse, and No. 6 Virginia Saturday. Virginia Tech win, Virginia Tech win, Virginia Tech win, including 74-68 over the Cavaliers, who came to town with a seven-game victory streak but never led one second.
So now Virginia Tech is thinking March again, revived by location.
Coach Mike Young gently chides the media afterward. “We’re trying to make it back from the abyss. The term was the abyss, and we were there,” he says, while observing of the home crowd, ”I think they might have let in a few more students than they were supposed to today.”
It creates a minefield for Virginia, but as Young mentions of the Cavaliers home, “Go down to John Paul Jones Arena, good luck to you. That’s (life on the road) part of what makes college basketball great. It’s hard. It’s unnerving.”
We take you to Moraga, California...
Where the crowd is not rushing the court after Saint Mary’s has outlasted Gonzaga 78-70 in overtime. Once upon a time, a victory over the Zags would be followed by a court-storming as surely as cotton candy is followed by sticky fingers. But the Gaels want there to be a message in this home victory.
“We are making this a thing now where we want to be able to rival with them every time,” freshman guard Aidan Mahaney says, after leading Saint Mary’s with 18 points. “This isn’t an upset or anything.”
The Gaels now lead Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference by two games. The Zags haven’t finished that far out of first in 26 years.
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We take you to Knoxville, Tennessee...
Where the No. 2 Vols can't hit the Tennessee River from a bridge. They shoot 27 percent and most days that gets a team steamrolled. Not in this building, with this defense. Tennessee shuts down No. 25 Auburn on 23.6 percent shooting and wins 46-43 in a game where every basket is like pulling a molar.
The two teams combine to take 48 shots from beyond the 3-point arc and miss 43 of them and it doesn’t get much uglier than that. But the Tennessee fans are pleading for the Vols to go places they’ve never been before — like the Final Four — so every win is beautiful, especially over a ranked SEC colleague. Tennessee has beaten eight consecutive top-25 opponents in Thompson-Boling Arena.
“It’s February, you look around the country there’s a lot of teams that struggle this time of the year, especially in conference play because you know each other so well. Baskets are hard to come by,” Vols coach Rick Barnes says. The fire of a home crowd can help push when the season becomes a grind.
“I don’t think we were affected at all by the environment, which was great,” says Auburn coach Bruce Pearl says. “We weren’t affected by the environment.” Hmmm. That emphasized he was possibly implying all those versions of Rocky Top might have impacted the guys with the whistles. Tennessee’s Olivier Nkamhoua appears to make some contact on Wendell Green Jr’s last-ditch 3-point attempt. Borderline foul isn’t called. Might it have been in Auburn?
We take you to Stillwater, Oklahoma...
Where Oklahoma State is blowing a 19-point lead against No. 15 TCU. The Cowboys regroup with 25 points from Kalib Boone and win 79-73. They were another team on the downslope in mid-January with a 9-8 record and 1-4 start in the Big 12. But four of the next six games were at home and they won them all and now 14-9 looks more like a resume the selection committee won’t ignore. “We’re really in a dogfight now,” Boone says.
We take you to Westwood, California...
Where the UCLA Bruins are plowing over Washington State 76-52. That’s 21 Pauley Pavilion victories in a row, the nation’s longest home streak. The Winners of Westwood. But coach Mick Cronin’s mind is already on the Pac-12 travel to come, when the Pauley comfort zone will not be a weapon.
“I was trying to make a point tonight pretty clear. You’re not playing if you turn the ball over,” he says. “If you go on the road and turn the ball over, you will lose. You look at my record since we rebuilt Cincinnati, my road record is pretty good because my teams take care of the ball. It’s how you win on the road.”
Matt Painter will second that if anyone asks.
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We take you to Durham, North Carolina...
Where there sure is a lot of noise and attention over two unranked teams fighting for sixth place in the ACC. But it’s North Carolina at Duke, and that’s always going to get bright lights, no matter the numbers. Also a full house. Not counting the pandemic year, this is the 502nd consecutive sellout in Cameron Indoor Stadium, going back 33 seasons. The Blue Devils have lost only 46 of those 502.
Both these teams are trying to fight their way back into the top-25, and even more importantly, develop a proper state of mind for March. A day like this can be a big step, and it’s Duke’s advantage that Cameron is in full throat for Jon Scheyer’s first crack at the Tar Heels as head coach. “It was the loudest game I’ve ever been in in my life,” Blue Devil freshman guard Tyrese Proctor will say afterward.
Duke wins with a lot of defense 63-57. Dereck Lively II blocks eight shots — which is more than any North Carolina player has field goals — and the Tar Heels put up their lowest point total in Cameron since 2010. That was Jon Scheyer's Senior Night as a Duke player.
“Just really hungry,” Scheyer calls his young Blue Devils, and in need of a confidence boost. This game will certainly do, and Cameron is there to help. “We’ve gotten pushed around at times throughout the year, but we’ve learned how to do that much better.”
One curious stat does not go unnoticed by North Carolina coach Hubert Davis. The Tar Heels come in with 93 more free throw attempts than any other team in the ACC. They shoot three against Duke, and are outscored 11-2 at the line. “That’s hard for me to believe,” Davis says. Well, Duke is at home...
One thing about home conference games with all their rewards. They’re usually followed by trips to the other team’s place, and then the world reverses.
In three weeks, Indiana will be at Purdue. What will the sight of all those cavorting Hoosier fans Saturday mean then? Boilermaker guard Jenkins takes the post-game microphone with a thought.
“Fuel for the fire.”