Reviewing all the key matchups of interest that you may not have seen during a very busy Saturday of Action
Well that may have been the craziest finish to a game I've seen all season. Gonzaga hit what felt like the game winning shot two or three times in the last minute, before Butler's Roosevelt Jones threw up an off-balance prayer that dropped through for the victory, sending the home crowd into an absolutely ballistic frenzy.
Elias Harris played a strong game, scoring 14 of his 20 points in the second half and showing no fear in being physical, cutting the lane, and taking the inside shots the defense (perhaps surprisingly) gave him. Saw Dower also tossed in 20 points of his own (16 in the first half).
There is little to fret about for Gonzaga - there are many worse fates than losing on the road to a team likely to wind up in the RPI top 10. It would have been nice to take that "W" home with them, but they did pretty much everything right except win. Oh, and stopping Roosevelt Jones.
However, that wasn't the only significant game in the mid-major landscape yesterday. No, not by a long shot.
Don't look now, folks, but Stetson University is leading the Atlantic Sun conference. The very same Hatters squad that lost 11 of their last 13 and finished last season 9-20 overall and 6-12 in conference has now matched both win totals in half as many games this season.
Senior Adam Pegg has seen his efficiency and points increase some, but by and large the offense isn't wildly different. The biggest difference appears to be on defense, where the Hatters are 8-1 in games where they hold their opponent to 70 points or less, after only finishing 8-0 in such contests all of last season.
The Atlantic Sun is certainly wide open after Belmont's departure, but Stetson has been the first to step through the door and try to take their place atop the conference.
Speaking of Belmont, last night marked their second consecutive Ohio Valley conference game against an opponent that was unbeaten in conference play. And I doubt it would surprise anyone, but the Bruins are now the only remaining team that is unbeaten in OVC play. Ian Clark and Trevor Noack continued their strong play, chipping in 22 and 16 points, respectively, and Kerron Johnson added in 17 of his own as Belmont raced out to a 30-7 lead and then turned on the cruise control.
The Bruins are most definitely on a roll, and will have their schedule on repeat for a while - a rematch with Eastern Kentucky sandwiched between a home-and-home with Morehead State - before we will finally see what they are all about when they take on Murray State at home.
Speaking of teams rolling on offense, BYU gave us a great example of how top-heavy the West Coast Conference is - and how unlikely it is that San Diego belongs there. Coming into this contest, the Toreros were in first place in the WCC at 4-0 but had played zero games against the conference's "top three" (Gonzaga, BYU and St. Mary's). THey aso had managed non-conference losses to James Madison, Cal State Northridge, and Stephen F. Austin.
So it should come as no surprise to anyone that, while San DIego may have opened the game on an 8-3 run, BYU followed that up with a span of almost eight minutes where they shot 11-12 from the field and posted a 24-7 run of their own.
San Diego's reward after this pummeling is - surprise! - to go on the road and face Saint Mary's and then return home to face Santa Clara and Gonzaga, while BYU will jump right into a road game against the Zags.
Evansville ran out to a 17-6 lead early on and looked like they might get to knock the highly touted Indiana State team down a peg, but Colt Ryan's first half absence (on the scoreboard, not the court) quickly erased that lead, as the Aces needed a couple of quick baskets to push their halftime lead back up to six.
The Aces could never really find their rhythm all night (39% FG) and a seven minute second-half stretch without a basket sealed their fate and turned toe matchup into a free throw parade.
Coming into last night, Western Illinois had played eight games where neither team cracked 60 points (including two games against Savannah State that saw a grand total of 150 points). North Dakota State, on the other hand, had been held under 65 points five times this season.
Tonight saw a likely changing of the guard at the top of the conference. The Bison had no troubles defeating IUPUI without Taylor Braun, but there was no such luck here, as the only player to reach double digit points for NDSU did so with two minutes left in the game. The Bison made only 17 of their 50 shots on the night, and while I don't think their Braun-less offense is quite this bad, expect another loss to show up on their ledger next week against Nate Wolters and South Dakota State.
Lastly, there's Lehigh. The Mountain Hawks are now 3-0 in conference and have won four straight since C.J. McCollum went down with his broken foot. How did they shut down Colgate, you ask? About the same way they shut down American and Holy Cross, of course.
These last three opponents are shooting 54 of 157 (34%) from the field and 15 of 66 (23%) from long range, while Holden Greiner has lead the team averaging 13 ppg over this stretch. It's doubtful this win streak will continue into their next game at Bucknell, but it's nice to see they aren't a total mess without their leader.