Saturday’s college basketball action included the Big 12/SEC Challenge, the No. 1 team in the latest AP Top 25 poll facing its largest deficit of the season and Duke falling behind by eight points at home in the second half, despite its starting lineup returning to full strength.
Here are our takeaways and observations from Saturday.
No. 24 Iowa State shows offensive efficiency at No. 20 Ole Miss
Iowa State committed 19 turnovers and attempted just four free throws on the road against No. 20 Ole Miss. The Cyclones still had an incredibly impressive offensive showing, whether you use traditional stats (87 points) or tempo-free stats (1.24 points per possession) as a barometer.
That means that in a 70-possession game, the Cyclones scored 1.70 points per possession on possessions in which they didn’t turn the ball over. They were 38-of-55 (69.1%) from the field in the win.
Iowa State freshman Talen Horton-Tucker, a big-bodied guard at 6-4, 233 pounds, carried the load offensively with a team-high 23 points on 11-of-18 shooting – at least eight more shots than any of his teammates. He made seven layups and Iowa State made 8-of-15 threes as the Cyclones found gaps in the Rebels’ defense, especially when they played a 2-3 or 1-3-1 zone.
They also benefited from sophomore Lindell Wigginton’s best game of the season – 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting off the bench – as the guard has slowly returned to his freshman-year form after recovering from a foot injury this season.
Iowa State has the best offense in the Big 12 by a considerable margin – 4.3 points per 100 possessions better than Kansas, which ranks second in the conference – and it showed as the Cyclones almost scored 90 points despite turning the ball over on 27 percent of their offensive possessions.
It was potentially a critical win for the Cyclones’ resume as it gave them their first and only Quadrant 1 win in non-conference play and their only road win outside of the Big 12.
Maryland suffers damaging loss to Illinois
The only potential “bad” losses available in the Big Ten – from an NCAA tournament resume perspective – are at home against Rutgers or Illinois. Maryland learned that the hard way on Saturday.
The Terrapins lost to the Fighting Illini 78-67 at Madison Square Garden (so technically it was a neutral-site game) but Illinois’ No. 126 NET ranking will mean the game will go down as a Quadrant 3 loss for Maryland.
A 7-2 start to Big Ten play suggested the Terrapins might be the third-best team in the conference behind Michigan State and Michigan but the loss dropped them to fourth in the standings and added an irreconcilable loss to their resume. It was Maryland’s only remaining regular season game that would fall under Quadrant 3 or Quadrant 4.
The Terps still have a strong resume overall with a 17-4 record (4-3 Quad 1, 3-1 Quad 2, 4-1 Quad 3, 5-0 Quad 4) and they’re almost exclusively a top-20 team according to advanced metrics.
But Maryland’s latest loss could cost the Terrapins a seed line in the NCAA tournament.
Duke pulls away from Georgia Tech down the stretch in Tre Jones’ return
Duke point guard Tre Jones returned to the court on Saturday after missing the Blue Devils’ last two games while recovering from a shoulder injury. They found themselves trailing by two points at halftime at home and by eight points with 18 minutes left in the game before finding a higher gear that the Yellow Jackets couldn’t match in a 66-53 win.
Facing potentially just their third loss of the season, which would have been a glaring Quadrant 3 defeat at home against the Yellow Jackets, the Blue Devils closed the game on a 39-18 run.
With the chance to extend its lead to double digits in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Georgia Tech committed a turnover five times in eight possessions during a two-and-a-half minute stretch that saw Duke take a four-point lead.
Duke freshmen RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson combined for 46 of the Blue Devils’ 66 points and they won by 13 points despite shooting just 2-of-21 (9.5%) from three as a team.
Jones had six points, four rebounds and four assists in his return.
Marquette wins high-scoring affair at Xavier
The first timeout in Marquette-Xavier came with 10:40 left in the first half and it was only called because Xavier’s Zach Hankins took a shot to his mouth. The Golden Eagles and Musketeers blew past both the under-16 and under-12 minute media timeouts as Xavier took a 22-18 lead into the first break.
The game was tied 39-39 at halftime and Marquette rallied from an 11-point deficit in the final 14 minutes to win 87-82 in Cincinnati to stay one game in the loss column behind first-place Villanova.
Xavier’s Naji Marshall did an admirable job defending Marquette’s First Team All-American candidate Markus Howard. But Howard took advantage of favorable matchups when Xavier bigs Tyrique Jones or Hankins were switched onto him. He finished with a game-high 31 points on 10-of-22 shooting.
Marquette’s win showed how dangerous the Golden Eagles can be when closing out games with a lead. They shoot 77.6 percent from the free throw line as a team, which ranks ninth nationally, and their top three scorers each make at least 83 percent of their free throws.
Howard and Sam Hauser are 91 percent free throw shooters, while Joey Hauser shoots 83 percent from the stripe. Marquette was 8-of-9 at the free throw line in the final minute and 17-of-20 for the game.
That’s why a technical foul called against Xavier Coach Travis Steele with 3:34 left in the game and Marquette leading 71-69 proved to be so costly for the Musketeers. Marquette sent Howard to the line, who’s almost automatic, and he made both shots to double the Golden Eagles’ lead.
Xavier never got within three points the rest of the way and Marquette’s lead in the final minutes was frequently one possession larger than it would have been otherwise.
As Marquette chases Villanova in the Big East standings and the postseason starts in about a month and a half, opposing teams will face an uphill battle when playing from behind in the final minutes against the Golden Eagles because of their best players’ success at the free throw line.
NC State wins on Braxton Beverly’s game-winner
NC State overcame a six-point deficit thanks to an 8-0 run in the final 19 seconds of the Wolfpack’s 69-67 win against Clemson on Saturday. Clemson’s Shelton Mitchell made 1-of-2 free throws with 26 seconds left but the Tigers didn’t score again.
NC State’s Markell Johnson hit a jumper, got fouled and made the free throw to cut the deficit to three.
Clemson called a timeout after Johnson’s trip to the free throw line and on the ensuing possession, NC State’s DJ Funderburk fouled Clemson’s Marquise Reed, an 81.6 percent free throw shooter.
Reed went 0-of-2 at the line, giving the Wolfpack the ball in a one-possession game.
Leading by three with nine seconds left, Clemson immediately fouled NC State’s Braxton Beverly, who made both of his attempts at the free throw line. Clemson’s lead was down to one point, 67-66.
NC State fouled Reed again and he went 0-of-2 again. NC State’s C.J. Bryce grabbed Reed’s missed second attempt, pushed the ball down the floor and passed it to a trailing Beverly, who stepped into the deep 3 at the buzzer.
Beverly nailed it to give NC State a 69-67 win.
Clemson was 2-of-8 from a free throw line in the final 34 seconds and 17-of-26 (65.4%) for the game.
Take a look at NC State’s resume after the win:
Quadrant 1: 1-3
Quadrant 2: 6-0
Quadrant 3: 0-1
Quadrant 4: 9-0
The Wolfpack don’t have a great record against Quadrant 1 opponents but they still have six opportunities left so a 1-3 Quadrant 1 record is far from irreversible. NC State is undefeated in Quadrant 2 games but it also has one Quadrant 3 loss.
NC State is in the 25-30 range in several advanced metrics, like the NET and Sagarin ratings, but the Wolfpack was ranked as high as No. 19 in ESPN’s BPI and as low as No. 68 in the KPI, as of January 24, which means there could be some considerable variance to where NC State is seeded on Selection Sunday.
On the other hand, Clemson dropped to 0-7 against Quadrant 1 opponents this season after climbing to No. 16 in the AP Top 25 poll in Week 2. The Tigers are just 11-8 on the season and they’ll have a really hard time making the NCAA tournament after a 1-5 start in ACC play.
No. 1 Tennessee overcomes largest deficit of season
Earlier in the week, we had written that West Virginia at No. 1 Tennessee could be the most lopsided of the 10 Big 12/SEC Challenge matchups, so naturally, the top-ranked Volunteers found themselves facing their largest deficit of the season early in the game.
The Mountaineers, who beat Kansas last Saturday, stormed out to a 19-7 lead in Knoxville. The Volunteers missed jumper after jumper and they had three turnovers in a four-possession stretch, including an ill-advised behind-the-back pass from Jordan Bone in transition that drew the ire of Tennessee Coach Rick Barnes.
But as the game continued, Tennessee played more and more like the No. 1 team in the AP poll, taking a 10-point lead into halftime and scoring 52 in the second half of its 83-66 win. The Volunteers didn’t play their best as they committed 16 turnovers and were out-rebounded by five but they had more firepower than the Mountaineers thanks to double-digit outings from Lamonte Turner (23 points), Grant Williams (19), Jordan Bowden (15) and Admiral Schofield (14), and it showed in the final score.