Though there was only one ticket punched on Wednesday night (shout Colgate), the action got started at 9:30 a.m. local time (yes, I am serious) and never let up. The Big Sky tournament kicked off at CenturyLink Arena in Boise first thing Wednesday morning. Here’s everything that happened around college basketball:
No. 9 Sacramento State 72, No. 8 Northern Arizona 60
The Hornets were hot right out the gate, leading by 15 at the break behind lights-out shooting from distance and an early 10-0 run in the first half. They did not trail for the remainder of the morning. Junior guard Marcus Graves led the way for SSU, finishing with 27 points on a career-high six three-pointers. A matchup with the regular season champs, Montana, is next.
No. 6 Montana State 75, No. 11 Idaho 71
Montana State was able to avoid a scare from the 348th best team in the nation (per KenPom). Leading by just two at half, the Bobcats centralized their offensive game plan around senior leader Tyler Hall. Behind his 23 points and 10 boards, Montana State was able to live another day and escape 75-71 over the Vandals, who finish the year at 5-27 (yikes). After trailing 10-0 to start the game, the Bobcats were able to dig in defensively to secure their program’s first Big Sky tournament win in a decade.
No. 7 Southern Utah 94, No. 10 Idaho State 80
The final Big Sky contest of the day was an offensive explosion with Southern Utah and Idaho State combining for 174 points. Southern Utah entered the day losers of three straight, including a 20-point blowout loss at home to Northern Colorado in their home finale last week. Brandon Better put up 17 points in as many minutes off the bench, providing the offensive spark the Thunderbirds needed in the second half. They also got 23 points from forward Andre Adams and 21 team assists.
No. 12 George Washington 68, No. 13 UMass 64
Entering the game, both schools sat at 4-14 in conference play as they met in Brooklyn to determine who would square off with George Mason Thursday. The contest was back-and-forth straight from the tip but thanks to a combined 39 points between Terry Nolan Jr. and Jack Maceo, the Colonials were able to hold off UMass in overtime and pull out a win. The Colonials’ bench went a long way as they combined for a total of 29 points.
No. 11 Richmond 52, No. 10 Fordham 50
Freshman forward Nathan Cayo of Quebec led the way for the Spiders with 15 points and seven boards. Another back-and-forth A-10 contest, this one came down to the final possession as Cayo converted a lay-in with under a second left to secure the win for a Richmond club that has had its fair share of distractions this season. Fordham finishes the year 12-20 and a league worst 3-15 in the Atlantic 10. Next up for Chris Mooney and the Spiders is 4 seed Saint Louis.
No. 8 Boise State 66, No. 9 Colorado State 57
For the first time in four years, the Broncos were victorious again in the MWC conference tournament. Redshirt senior and Boise State leader Zach Haney produced on both ends of the floor, providing 16 points and seven rebounds to go along with his two steals. In the two schools’ rubber match game, the Rams put up a season-low 57 points and turned the ball over 18 times. Next up for Boise: Nevada.
No. 7 New Mexico 78, No. 10 Wyoming 68
The Cowboys held an 11-point lead entering half time at the Thomas & Mack Center but a second-half fury from Vance Jackson, scoring 21 of his 26 points in the second frame, lead to a come-from-behind statement victory for the Lobos. The Cowboys were led by Justin James’ 31 points from the floor, but even a 16-point first half lead wasn’t enough for Allen Edwards’ crew to hold on.
No. 6 Air Force 87, No. 11 San Jose State 56
Chris Joyce led the way for the Falcons, scoring 20 points on 7-9 shooting in a game where Air Force again started cold out the gate and trailed 13-0 early. Air Force’s up-tempo offense and pressure inside the arc against San Jose State was the difference-maker as AF broke away in the second half to cap off the 31-point victory. By the final buzzer, the Falcons’ starting five had outscored the Spartans’ team 57-56.
No. 8 Louisiana Tech 57, No. 9 Florida Atlantic 56
Louisiana Tech came storming back in the second half to pull off a miraculous one-point victory over the 9 seed Owls behind a made free throw by Karlis Silins with just one second remaining. Florida Atlantic led by as many as 16 points early in the second frame before the Bulldogs put their offense in overdrive. FAU’s inability to shoot from beyond the arc was their Achilles heel in this one, falling to Tech for the second time in eight days by a total of four points.
No. 5 UAB 70, No. 12 Middle Tennessee State 61
Lewis Sullivan led the way for the Blazers as they topped MTSU for the first time in three tries this season. The senior forward finished with 17 points on 6-9 shooting from the floor to compliment his seven rebounds. The fifth-seeded UAB team knocked down 10 shots from distance and pulled away down the stretch after trailing 34-33 at the break. A disappointing season ends at MTSU where the Blue Raiders finish the year at 11-20. Next up for head coach Rob Ehsan is a matchup with the Roadrunners of UTSA in the quarterfinals.
No. 10 North Texas 71, No. 7 Florida International 57
A season-low 22 first-half points from the Panthers led to their downfall as they were unable to dig themselves out of that hole in the final frame. Zachary Simmons was a force to be reckoned with for North Texas as his ability to pound the boards and make himself at home in the paint was the key. Simmons’ finished with 19 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks as the Mean Green look ahead to their matchup with Western Kentucky. Entering the game, North Texas had lost seven straight.
No. 6 Marshall 82, No. 11 Rice 65
The Thundering Herd got out to a big-time lead early on against the Owls’ and never looked back. Jon Elmore was feeling it all night for the Herd, finishing with 32 points on 6-9 from the three-point arc. Marshall advances to face the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles, who defeated Marshall by 50 (yes, FIFTY) points in January.
No. 1 Norfolk State 78, No. 9 South Carolina State 73
NSU had its slimmest winning margin since Feb. 16 in an unexpectedly tight matchup Wednesday. Thanks to a season-best 30 points from Nic Thomas and 31 opportunities from the charity stripe, the Spartans were able to best SC State and finish the season with just one loss in the state of Virginia. SC State was aggressive straight from the tip, both offensively and defensively from the glass. Spartan faithful are hopeful that head coach Robert Jones will finish the job and earn the school its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2012.
No. 2 NC A&T 82, No. 7 Coppin State 79 (OT)
Entering Wednesday night’s matchup, the 2 seed Aggies had been rolling, winners in seven of their last eight. Just like we witnessed in the first MEAC matchup of the game however, seeding is overrated. It took an extra five minutes of free basketball to determine the winner in this one. For the second time in as many games this year, NC A&T was able to pull away from a scrappy Coppin State Eagles squad and come away victorious.
Ronald Jackson was a force to be reckoned with all night for the Aggies, both offensively and on the boards, where he contributed 14 rebounds to pair nicely with his 21 points. The true difference maker was the ability of the NC A&T roster to pick up the slack with Milik Gantz finishing just 1-12 from the floor.
No. 5 Lamar 81, No. 8 Houston Baptist 79
The red-hot Lamar Cardinals, winners of eight straight games, kept winning, but it was no easy test as the last team to get into the Southland Tournament put up one heck of a fight. Josh Nzeakor was the difference maker, with 25 points from the floor and 13 boards, including five on the offensive glass. HBU had 10 of its players contribute points but it wasn’t enough as Nzeakor hit what became the game winning jump shot with under five seconds to play. Next up for Lamar is New Orleans, a team that pulled off a miraculous come-from-behind victory in the first meeting between the two schools this season.
No. 7 Central Arkansas 73, No. 6 Texas A&M CC 53
In CAU and Texas A&M-CC’s first matchup earlier this season, the Islanders relied on the three-point ball and ability to create shots off screens to overmatch the ill-prepared Bears’ starting five. Wednesday night could not have been more different. Right out the gate, the Bears were aggressive on defense, making hard cuts and setting solid screens. CAU used the final 10 minutes of the first half to outscore the Aggies 20-10 and build a double-digit lead at the break. Following a brief run by A&M to start the second half, coach Russ Pennell was able to take a timeout and right the ship for CAU. The game’s MVP was Central Arkansas’ Thatch Unruh, who finished with 21 points to go with a perfect 10-10 from the stripe and five rebounds.