What makes the Battle of the Boulevard so special?

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NASHVILLE, TN – The last time that Belmont and Lipscomb played at Memorial Coliseum — the home of the Vanderbilt Commodores, a fellow Nashvillian institution of higher learning — they not only packed the house with 16,000 fans, they had to lock out ticket-holders in order to prevent the fire marshall from shutting down the game.

That was all the way back in 1990.

Now, Belmont and Lipscomb have a combined enrollment of about 9,000 students today. But 22 years ago, there were probably have as many enrolled students at the two universities. That fact alone goes to show you just how passionate these fan bases are that they were able to sell out Memorial Coliseum.

Now consider this: Belmont went Division I in 1997. Lipscomb followed suit a couple of years later in 2000.

Back in 1990, the two schools were members of the NAIA. Granted, they were both powerhouse programs competing for national titles year in and year out, but they were still NAIA schools.

Have you ever been to an NAIA game? Me neither. And more than 16,000 still showed up to see these two teams play.

That should give you an idea of what this rivalry is all about.

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What makes the intensity of this rivalry so unique is that both schools embody the lost philosophy of the student-athlete.

There are a couple of players that took the court at the Curb Center on Belmont’s campus on Friday night that may be able to play basketball professionally someday. There are a lot of leagues overseas, and there is a reason these kids were able to get their education paid for through hoops. They certainly aren’t bad basketball players.

But NBA scouts weren’t beating down the doors of the Curb Center trying to get one last credential for the game. John Calipari didn’t recruit any of these kids out of high school. The game wasn’t televised anywhere, let alone on ESPN.

In other words, even if one of the kids from Belmont or Lipscomb does play for pay when their collegiate career comes to a close, they won’t be making a life-changing amount of money. Eventually, they are all going to go pro in something other than sports.

“Its just two programs that are trying to do things the right way,” Lipscomb head coach Scott Sanderson said after the game. “A lot of times people cut corners trying to do a lot of stuff, trying to recruit good kids. Everyone here is going to graduate, which is very important to both of us.”

Belmont is a school with very strong music and arts programs, and being located a stone’s throw from downtown Nashville — the Music City — makes it difficult to get a casual fan base to make time in a busy schedule to come see a game. Lipscomb has similar issues with their athletics programs. Their school is affiliated with the Church of Christ, which means that things like drinking and partying and even staying out past 11 pm is not allowed. The Bison faithful aren’t exactly shotgunning beers outside of Allen Arena prior to the game.

The lack of interest in athletics as a whole is a negative and a positive.

Both the Bruins and the Bison have trouble selling tickets to the majority of their home games, and its understandable. I’m a basketball junkie and you’d have a tough time convincing me its worthwhile to pay for a ticket to the Florida-Gulf Coast come to town. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to convince an aspiring country music star to skip a gig at one of the local honky-tonks to see a game against 2-14 Jacksonville.

But it also helps to build up the intensity for the times that the two schools do share a court. The Battle of the Boulevard is more than just a basketball game; its an event. Its something that people look forward to, talk trash prior to and attend because it fills their social agenda.

“Its an event and everybody hypes it up and talks trash on facebook and everyone promotes the game and comes out,” Belmont senior forward Mick Hedgepeth said. “The news comes to our practice the day of the game and I’m sure it goes to their’s. To see what the coaches and players have to say. Its a blast.”

Case in point: Belmont SID Greg Sage said that even though Belmont’s basketball team has been relevant nationally for the past few years, he still has a tough time convincing some of the local media to come cover a game. That will happen when you’re team is far from the only game in town.

But on Friday afternoon, both of the FM sports radio stations in Nashville were broadcasting their afternoon drive-time shows live from the student center right outside the doors to Belmont’s arena.

That doesn’t happen unless Lipscomb is visiting.

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The Battle of the Boulevard dates all the way back to 1953.

This year’s first installment, an 85-74 come from behind victory on the road for Lipscomb in front of a Curb Center record crowd of 5,227, was the 129th in the history of the series. The Bison improved to 73-56 all-time vs. Belmont with the win. They’ve played as NAIA teams and as members of Division II. They’ve shared conference affiliations in the Volunteer State Athletic Conference and the TransSouth before the Atlantic Sun. And while Belmont is currently the stronger hoops program, it wasn’t always that way.

“They had the upper hand, they were a phenomenal NAIA powerhouse,” Belmont head coach Rick Byrd told Kyle Whelliston of the Mid-Majority in his book “One Beautiful Season”, which chronicled his travels during the 2009-2010 season. “But we challenged them, and by 1994-95 we beat them six times in a roe. For the first ten years, I was just trying to get us to the point when we were good enough for us to beat Lipscomb. At the beginning, everyone at the school was saying ‘We’ve got to be Lipscomb, we’ve got to beat Lipscomb’. My thought was that we had to get good enough to beat the other teams in the league, and then we could start thinking about beating the best. That’s how good Lipscomb was.”

When Byrd first took the Belmont job back in the mid-1980’s, Lipscomb was being led by Don Meyer, who just so happens to be the all-time winningest coach in college basketball history. Of the 923 wins he had in his career, 665 of them came with the Bison. He built Lipscomb from a team that won just 11 games in his first season into the 1986 NAIA champions, but it was a game that took place at the end of the 1989 season that will go down as one of the most memorable in the history of the rivalry.

Meyer had perhaps his best team in his tenure with the Bison. Lipscomb was 38-1 heading into the league playoffs, but Byrd’s scrappy group of underdogs knocked off the Bison and kept them from advancing to the National Tournament. With the majority of both rosters returning for the 1989-1990, it set the stage for the game in 1990 when, the Bruins opted to move their home game to Memorial Coliseum.

The 16,000 people that were in attendance is still a record for an NAIA game.

Byrd’s program eventually eclipsed that of Meyer so much so that, in 1997, the Bruins decided to move their athletics to the Division I level. They did so in 1997, and after four years as an independent, Belmont landed safely in the Atlantic Sun. Not to be upstaged by their intercity rivals, Lipscomb did the same in 2000. Their tortuous stint as a Divison I independent lasted only three years before they, too, ended up in the Atlantic Sun.

After an eight year hiatus, Belmont and Lipscomb reignited their rivalry. The Battle of the Boulevard was, once again, a conference clash.

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The athletes aren’t the only members of the schools that take this rivalry incredibly seriously.

The students do as well.

“You gotta beat them,” TJ Ojehomon, a sophomore an Lipscomb and the school’s athletics hype man said. “Its bragging rights. There’s a lot of pride. Having a successful season kind of rides on beating this team.”

Ojehomon is at every single Lipscomb home game, be it women’s basketball, men’s basketball, volleyball. You name it. He has his seat reserved at the end of the front row, and he spends the majority of the game working up a sweat trying to get the fans of his team into the game. As he describes it, he has “a big responsibility with getting the fans a little rowdy at our games and our athletic events.”

Ojehomon made the trek down the Boulevard to attend the game at Belmont. The way he explains it, the rivalry has more to it than just athletics.

“You don’t have to many schools of equal competition that’s right down the street from each other,” he said. “So when you do get two Division I schools who try to pride themselves on the same morals and try to compete with each other with the students they select and not just the athletics they’re performing? This is a huge game.”

Its not just basketball, either. The attendance at the Belmont’s soccer games increases five-fold when Lipscomb visits. Belmont students head over to Allen Arena to take in the women’s volleyball games with regularity. And all the energy and trash talk that we saw from the 5,227 people in the crowd for Friday’s basketball game?

Its present for the other sports as well.

“Its not one of those love-hate rivalries. We don’t like Belmont, Belmont don’t like us,” Ojehomon said. “They came over to our house for Battle of the Boulevard volleyball. We were doing the same thing, kind of heckling each other and talking a lot of trash, and at the end they came over and shook hands and said ‘Hey man, we had a great time.’ So it is friendly, but when we’re in the heat of it, I don’t like them.”

Braxton Wilson is a fifth-year senior at Belmont and a brother in the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity at Belmont. Playing the role Belmont’s Van Wilder, he’s been to every single Battle of the Boulevard basketball game, home and away, in his time at the school.

But for Wilson, the tone of the rivalry was set the first time he attended a game. As a freshman back in 2007-2008, Lipscomb hosted the first game. Wilson went over with a group of his frat brothers, but the Lipscomb athletic department stuck them up in a corner where their view was blocked by the basket.

“We ended up being so loud and so obnoxious that they never gave us a bad seat again,” Wilson said.

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It would be impossible to recap all of the legendary battles waged between these two schools over the past 59 years, but in the mind of John Langdon, a member of Belmont’s athletic department for 14 years and a big enough Bruin supporter that he’s stopped attending the Battle of the Boulevard games in Allen Arena because he can’t handle seeing Belmont losing to their rivals, one game in particular sticks out.

Belmont’s 74-69 overtime win over Lipscomb in the 2006 Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament title game.

“That win kind of sent the two programs on their divergent paths,” Langdon said. Belmont to the top of the league and Lipscomb back to the middle of the pack.

In just their third season in the Division I ranks, Lipscomb had managed a tie with the Bruins for the league’s regular season title. The two teams had split during the regular season, meaning that not only were bragging rights in the city on the line, a first-ever NCAA Tournament bid for either school was up for grabs. The importance of the game for the two programs could not have been overstated.

The excitement of the game didn’t let the crowd down, either. With less than 30 seconds left in regulation, Jordan Hare drove for an and-one layup, hitting the free throw to tie the game and force overtime, where the Bruins would eventually win and advance to their first of four NCAA Tournament. In 2008, Belmont lost to Duke by one in the first round of the NCAA Tournament when Gerald Henderson scored on a driving layup with 11.9 seconds left and the Bruins came up short on two opportunities in the final ten seconds.

Last season, the Bruins won 30 games and earned a 13 seed in the Big Dance, where they lost to Wisconsin by 14 in the first round. With the majority of their roster returning, Belmont was once again considered the favorite in the Atlantic Sun and one of the few mid-majors to get consideration for the top 25 prior to the season. Lipscomb has yet to make another serious run at getting an NCAA Tournament bid.

And if you believe the folks at Belmont, it was that win in 2006 that made all the difference.

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The other unique part of this rivalry is that for all the hatred on the court and the vitriol spewed from the stands during the games, the majority of the players are friends.

Or, the very least, friendly.

“I know some of their older guys being a senior,” Hedgepeth said. “I see them around, I like a couple of those guys. I’m friendly with them. But once you cross those lines, their is no friends.”

The way the Atlantic Sun is set up, every team in the league has a travel partner, and, obviously, Belmont and Lipscomb are travel partners. When Belmont plays at Jacksonville, Lipscomb plays at North Florida. Two days later, when Lipscomb is playing at Jacksonville, Belmont is playing at North Florida. Its like that every time they travel.

And it can set up some awkward situations.

“We flew back from Jacksonville Thursday, [a day before the Battle of the Boulevard], and we were on the same plane,” Sanderson said. “[Coach Byrd] was on one side of the aisle watching film and I was on the other side of the aisle watching film.”

Can you imagine Coach K and Roy Williams watching tape of each other’s teams sitting across the aisle from each other on a plane the day before UNC played Duke? I can’t.

“We’re friends. We don’t talk all the time, but we’re nice to one another and we respect one another,” Sanderson said.

Players at this level are no different than players are the high-major programs. They know that they shouldn’t tell members of the press anything that would make it up onto the wall of an opponent’s locker room, even if those members of the press are simply a pair of bloggers on a cross-country trip. That said, you could still get a sense of the intensity of this rivalry through the sugar-coated quotes from members of both teams.

“I do think that it’s not any fun to lose this game. It’s not any fun to lose any game, but it’s been a long, long time since we’ve been upset,” Byrd said after his team’s loss on Friday night. “If you want to say that last year’s loss at their place was an upset, you can, but they were picked to win the league and it was on their home floor. I don’t remember when we’ve been upset before that. It’s a long, long stretch, so I’m proud of what our team has accomplished. There aren’t many people who can go back over a year and a half and say that they haven’t been upset. This was an upset, based on where the teams were at the time, and how they’ve played to this point, but they outplayed us and deserved to win.”

“The games haven’t been as close here recently. When Scott first got in the league, it seemed like we had overtime games every time. They haven’t been as good recently, but it’s the toughest game for us to lose … a Lipscomb game on our floor.”

Its not just the coaches, either.

“We do play some pickup in the summer and we do have some friends on the other team,” Jacob Arnett, a redshirt junior at Lipscomb, said after Friday’s win. “We’ll hang out and stuff like that. Its not all hatred except on the court.”

“And maybe a little bit off it.”

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Last year, Belmont hosted the Battle of the Boulevard on January 13th. It was a Thursday and came just one day after Belmont started classes for the spring semester. In 2009-2010, the game was held at Belmont on January 26th, a full two weeks into the semester. In 2008-2009, Belmont hosted the game on January 12th. It was a Monday and while classes had yet to start — they were beginning the Wednesday of that week — the dorms had opened on the 11th, meaning that the students were back on campus.

This season, the Curb Center played host to the Battle of the Boulevard on January 6th, which is the earliest that this rivalry has taken place since both school became members of the Atlantic Sun back in the 2003-2004 season.

This year, Belmont’s dorms opened up on New Year’s Day. Their classes started on Wednesday, January 4th. Every Belmont student was back on campus for the game.

Coincidence?

“We don’t start school until Monday,” Sanderson said. “We usually have a whole section full with our people. That’s what the rivalry is about, to have that environment in here.”

Does that make this win feel that much better?

With a smile as he walked away, Sanderson simply said “It does.”

No. 13 Memphis lands rivalry road win against No. 19 Tennessee

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Tyler Harris and Alex Lomax came off the bench to combine for 19 points, 12 boards and three assists, providing a major spark as No. 13 Memphis overcame a dreadful start to land a come-from-behind, 51-47 win over No. 19 Tennessee.

Memphis scored five points in the first 11 minutes. They were down by as many as 12 points in the first half after missing 13 of their first 14 shots. To be quite frank, they opened this game playing like a team that was starting five freshmen in a rivalry game.

Tennessee finished the afternoon shooting just 25 percent from the floor and 4-for-26 (16 percent) from three. They scored just 0.723 points-per-possession, the worst performance since an 82-55 drubbing Tennessee took at South Carolina in February of 2017.

Here are the three things we can take away from this game:

1. THIS WAS VERY, VERY IMPRESSIVE FROM MEMPHIS

I don’t think that I can say that enough.

There was so much that did not go the Tigers’ way in this game, and so many built in excuses for the loss.

It was played in Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, the first time a Memphis team starting four freshmen was playing a true road game against a top 25 team. It was the first time those freshmen were playing in a rivalry game, and they spent the first 12 minutes or so looking like a team that was overwhelmed by the moment.

And they were doing it while their best player and the potential No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft missed his seventh game due to a suspension. Should I mention that their best shooter, Lester Quinones, was also out as he continues to recover from a broken hand?

Oh, and the game was played at Tennessee’s pace. The Tigers want games to be frenetic. They want to be able to get out and run in transition. They want to force turnovers, get more possessions and have a chance to let their athletes avoid having to attack set defenses by playing on the break. None of that happened. This game had 65 possessions, which will go down as the fewest possessions in a game for this team this season.

And they still won.

I can fully admit that I did not think that Memphis had a win like this in them.

2. ALEX LOMAX AND TYLER HARRIS WERE THE DIFFERENCE-MAKERS

The Memphis freshmen are the guys that get all the hype and attention, but the two guys that changed this game on Saturday were Harris and Lomax. Harris provided the offensive spark in the first half, hitting a pair of threes and scoring eight of his 11 points in the final nine minutes to wake up a team that looked like they were still working their way through the itis.

Lomax was involved, too. He forced a couple of first half turnovers and he settled the team in the second half, making a couple plays in the halfcourt when it looked like Tennessee was on the verge of getting a critical stop.

Credit does have to be given elsewhere. Precious Achiuewa had 13 rebounds and two blocks and played with four fouls for the final five minutes of the game. D.J. Jeffries had a couple important drives down the stretch, including one where he found Damian Baugh for a three to give Memphis the lead back. Boogie Ellis was trapped in the corner in the backcourt with the Tigers up by two, less than 15 seconds on the clock and no timeouts left and found a way to get the ball out without committing a turnover.

This was very much a team effort, and an impressive one at that, but the catalysts were the two little guards that were relegated to Penny’s bench when he brought in a vaunted recruiting class.

3. TENNESSEE HAD SOME SERIOUS ISSUES ON THE OFFENSIVE END

The Vols shot 25 percent from the floor on Saturday. They were 4-for-26 from three. Josiah-Jordan James got off to a hot start to the game, but beyond that, their best offense ended up being post touches for Yves Pons and John Fulkerson.

The question that needs to be asked is whether this is just an off-night or if this is a sign of a larger issue for a program that is still working through how to replace Grant Williams, Jordan Bone and Admiral Schofield.

Lamonte Turner was 1-for-11 from the floor on Saturday and did not make his first shot until there were four minutes left. Jordan Bowden was 2-for-10 from the floor. That is not normal, and they missed a number of good, open looks. They are Rick Barnes’ two-leading scorers, so I tend to think that this is the kind of thing where you just chalk it up as one of those nights shots didn’t go down.

The larger concern might be that the last time Tennessee played a tough, athletic and defensive-minded team, Turner and Bowden combined to shooting 7-for-24 from the floor and 3-for-11 in a loss. If anything, I think the answer is that the Vols need to find a way to score on the nights where two are off.

Balanced effort leads No. 16 Michigan State past Oakland

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DETROIT — Michigan State and Oakland have one of the most lopsided rivalries in college basketball. It also is one of the friendliest.

With Saturday’s 72-49 victory at Little Caesars Arena, Tom Izzo and the No. 16 Spartans (7-3) are now 18-0 against Greg Kampe’s Golden Grizzlies, with all 18 games coming in the last 21 years.

“I love this game, but there’s nothing I love about beating a team 18 straight times, especially when it means beating a good friend,” Izzo said. “It’s just so good to come down here, because we get a great crowd of Spartans who don’t usually get to see us play.

“And it is great to see what is happening in this city.”

For Kampe, who started his Oakland (5-6) career when the then-Pioneers were still in Division II, a victory over Michigan State remains one unchecked box on his coaching bucket list.

“I’m not trying to beat Tom — that’s not what these games are all about,” he said. “This is about Oakland trying to beat Michigan State — one of the best programs in the country.”

The game was a defensive struggle, with both teams having offensive troubles. Oakland’s size forced Michigan State into 33 3-point attempts, while the Golden Grizzlies tried and failed to score in the paint.

“Taking 33 3s is a joke, but most of those were because of the way Greg guarded us,” Izzo said. “It was a good idea, because Cassius (Winston) went 1-for-9 and Gabe (Brown) went 0-for-5. We’re not used to that.”

Aaron Henry put up 10 points and six assists but was the only Spartan to reach double figures. Xavier Tillman added nine points and 13 rebounds.

“I never thought I’d lead us with 10 points, but that’s just how it was today,” Henry said. “We couldn’t hit any shots.”

Xavier Hill-Mais led Oakland with 10 points. The Golden Grizzlies, who have come close to upsetting their in-state rivals in past years with a high-speed, 3-point-heavy offense, shot just 26%, including 31% (7-22) on 3-pointers.

“We expected to have two of the top shooters in the country coming back this year, but they didn’t, and they left when it was too late to replace them,” Kampe said. “We’re not a good shooting team and we’re going to have to find a way to win without threes.”

Michigan State took control early, using an 18-3 run to take a 24-9 lead with eight minutes left in the first half. The Spartans led 34-19 at halftime, holding the Golden Grizzlies to 23% shooting, including 1 of 6 on 3-pointers.

The Spartans made only 21% (3 of 14) of their 3s in the first half but hit a pair on their first two possessions of the second half to go up by 21.

Kampe picked up a technical foul with his team down 52-30 midway through the second half, and his team struggled to keep the game from getting out of hand down the stretch.

Izzo put son Steven into the game for the final moments, and he delighted the crowd with three rebounds.

“Those rebounds didn’t mean much in the context of the game, but it meant a lot to see how the fans reacted to them,” Izzo said. “Memories last a lifetime and those memories will last two lifetimes.”

BIG PICTURE

Spartans: Although Michigan State was cheered by most of the 18,145 fans, it was officially a road game for the Spartans. MSU will play Oakland for the next six seasons, with the game alternating between the Breslin Center in Lansing and Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.

Golden Grizzlies: The first Michigan State-Oakland game opened the “O”-rena in Rochester in 1998, but the Spartans have never been back. All of Oakland’s subsequent “home” games have been hosted at the Palace of Auburn Hills or Little Caesars Arena.

A LOT OF COACHING EXPERIENCE

Kampe (36 seasons) and Izzo (25 seasons) have combined for 1,263 wins and 61 seasons in the only head coaching jobs they’ve ever held. Izzo, though, wasn’t thrilled when asked about the duo being at their schools for “70 years.”

“I shouldn’t even answer that question, because you made me absolutely terrible when you said I’d been here for 75 years,” he said. “We’ve extended the series contract for six more years, so I guess you’ll say we’ve been here for 90 years by then.”

KAMPE GRUDGINGLY PRAISES OFFICIALS

Oakland’s three post players — Hill-Mais, Daniel Oladapo and Brad Brechting — were a combined 8 of 34 from the floor. Kampe felt it was all due to the good officiating.

“The officials called a good, consistent game, which is what you want,” he said. “But they called a physical game, and we can’t beat that team in a physical game.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

A comfortable win on national television won’t hurt Michigan State’s No. 16 ranking, but Oakland isn’t a high-caliber opponent. The Spartans will be tested more on Wednesday when they face Northwestern on the road.

UP NEXT

Spartans: At Northwestern on Wednesday.

Golden Grizzlies: At Syracuse on Wednesday.

No. 1 Louisville bounces back 99-67 rout of Eastern Kentucky

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville rebounded from a lackluster defeat that will end its stay at No. 1 with the offensive patience and accuracy that fueled its rise to the top.

Jordan Nwora scored 26 points, Steven Enoch had a career-high 23 and the Cardinals shot 63% in both halves to blow out Eastern Kentucky 99-67 on Saturday.

After taking their first loss Tuesday against Texas Tech in the Jimmy V Classic behind 34% shooting, the Cardinals (10-1) responded with baskets from all over the floor. They made 17 of 27 from the field before and after halftime, including 9 of 19 from long range, to pull away from their in-state opponent.

That wasn’t easy against an EKU defense that consistently pressed the Cardinals.

“We wanted to make sure we didn’t just settle for the first shot or the quickest shot we could get,” Cardinals coach Chris Mack said. “We weren’t perfect, but thought we made some really good decisions.

Nwora had the hot hand throughout, making 6 of his first 8 to finish 10 of 14 and 3 of 5 from behind the arc. The junior forward certainly sought improvement after a 4-of-16 performance epitomized the Cardinals’ night against the Red Raiders in New York.

“My mindset was just being efficient, getting back in the gym and just continuing to get better,” said Nwora, who also had seven rebounds, three assists and two steals. “Games like that happen. You just have to move on to the next one.”

Enoch, meanwhile, made his first seven attempts to finish 9 of 10 and surpass his previous career best by a point. He was also 5 of 6 from the line, with his miss the only one by Louisville in 23 attempts.

Enoch also grabbed six rebounds as Louisville controlled the Colonels (3-7) 35-24 on the boards and 42-18 in the paint. Malik Williams made a pair of 3s for 11 points with six rebounds.

EKU began 7 of 13 from the field to stay close before several cold spells created a 20-point hole before halftime that steadily grew in the second half. The Ohio Valley Conference school shot just 37% — including 33% in the second half in losing their fifth straight.

Ty Taylor had 13 points, Tre King 12 and Jacquess Hobbs and Jomaru Brown nine each for EKU.

“They made shots and we didn’t shoot the ball well like we should have,” Hobbs said.

MILESTONE

Louisville senior forward Dwayne Sutton had 11 points to surpass 1,000 in his career between the Cardinals and UNC Asheville.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Though Louisville will fall from No. 1 come Monday, this win should minimize its drop in the Top 10.

BIG PICTURE

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels made nine 3-pointers, but those 18 misses along with struggles inside the arc led to Louisville scoring opportunities. Their trapping defense contributed to 16 turnovers, but their 14 miscues also led to 34 Cardinals points.

“We couldn’t capitalize off some turnovers we forced,” second-year coach A.W. Hamilton said. “We missed some shots we can make. They are hard because there is not a lot of room for error with them. If you make a couple of mistakes, they can go on a 10-0 run on you in a second.”

Louisville: After three games of 36% shooting or worse, the Cardinals got healthy against the Colonels. They worked the ball around for 22 assists, displayed better shot selection and went deep in their bench. They sometimes struggled against the trap, but figured it out often enough to get the ball in the hands of their top two scorers. Allowing 16 offensive rebounds concerned Mack, but his team handled the defensive boards 23-8.

UP NEXT

Eastern Kentucky: Visits Marshall on Thursday to complete a four-game road swing.

Louisville: Hosts Miami (Ohio) on Wednesday in its final game before Christmas and will have 10 days off before visiting rival No. 8 Kentucky.

No. 10 Oregon knocks off No. 5 Michigan in a thriller in Ann Arbor

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Payton Pritchard scored 15 of the final 17 points for Oregon and Michigan missed two shots at the rim on the final possession of the game as the No. 10 Ducks held on to beat the No. 5 Wolverines in overtime, 71-70.

Pritchard shook off a slow start to the game before taking over down the stretch. He finished with 23 points, four assists and three steals on 11-for-19 shooting despite being defended by Zavier Simpson, one of the best in the country. One of the few times that Simpson was actually able to get a stop came on the final possession of regulation, when he knocked the ball loose before it ended up with Anthony Mathis. Mathis, who had 19 points and hit six threes on the night, buried a 30-footer, but after a review the officials determined the shot game just after the buzzer.

Franz Wagner led the way for Michigan with 21 points while Isaiah Livers scored all 13 of his points in the second half. Michigan was down by as many as 16 points in the first half and trailed 31-23 at the break.

Here are three things that we can take away from this game:

1. YOU CANNOT HAVE A PLAYER OF THE YEAR CONVERSATION WITHOUT PAYTON PRITCHARD

Pritchard did not put up monster numbers on Saturday. He finished with 23 points, four assists, three boards and three steals, which is really good but not the kind of performance that typically makes you get up out of your seat and start screaming “THAT IS YOUR NATIONAL PLAYER OF THE YEAR!”

But let’s put this into context.

Michigan’s Zavier Simpson is one of the best on-ball defenders in college basketball. There may not be anyone in the sport that is better at disrupting an offense at the point of attack that he is. And Pritchard just torched him over the final five minutes of regulation and in overtime.

Oregon’s offense down the stretch was, essentially, giving the ball to their star and getting out of the way, and it worked. Pritchard scored the final nine points in regulation for the Ducks, and if Anthony Mathis is able to get a buzzer-beating three off just a split-second earlier, than it would have been enough to give the Ducks a win. In the extra frame – playing in front of a raucous home environment as a short-handed team that just blew a 16 point lead – the Ducks probably weren’t considered the favorite.

But Pritchard scored six of Oregon’s eight points, and that was enough to get the win.

Entering Saturday, Pritchard was averaging 18.8 points, 6.1 assists and 4.2 boards for a team that now has wins over Memphis, Seton Hall, Houston and at Michigan. This is not the first time that he’s made big plays late to win a game (Memphis) or to get his team to overtime (Gonzaga). He’s going to be the guy that carries this Oregon team as far as they go, and given what he’s proven that he can do, I think that’ll be pretty far.

I’m not sure who the Player of the Year favorite would be as of today, but I know for a fact that there is no way to talk about who it should be without including Pritchard in that conversation.

2. FRANZ WAGNER AND BRANDON JOHNS SHOW UP FOR MICHIGAN

On a night where Zavier Simpson struggled, Jon Teske forgot to show up and Isaiah Livers was non-existent outside of a six-minute heater at the start of the second half, the Wolverines got massive production from a couple of guys that haven’t shown the ability to do it just yet.

Wagner was Michigan’s leading scorer on Saturday. He finished with 21 points, he hit four threes and he made a number of plays down the stretch that kept Michigan from getting run. This was the guy that the Wolverines thought they were getting when Wagner committed. He was terrific.

Johns’ numbers are not as impressive, but his impact was just as important. He finished with eight points, nine boards, two assists and two blocks – solid production from a five coming off the bench – but it was the fact that he allowed Michigan to play small without losing any of their defensive mettle. Johns is a former top 50 recruit, a burly, 6-foot-8 forward with tantalizing athleticism, but he has struggled finding the confidence to allow him to tap into that potential.

We’ve seen it in flashes. This was more than that.

If Wagner and Johns continue to play like this, then maybe Michigan won’t be so worried about No. 3 …

3. MICHIGAN WILL LIVE BY THE THREE AND DIE BY THE THREE ALL SEASON LONG

Heading into Saturday afternoon’s showdown with the Ducks, the Wolverines were shooting 42.3 percent from three in their eight wins and 6-for-37 from three in their two losses.

In the first half against Oregon, Michigan shot 2-for-12 from three, trailed by as many as 16 points and entered the second half with a 31-23 deficit at home. In the second half, the Wolverines were 7-for-9 from beyond the arc, came roaring back and, if they had been able to stop Pritchard in the final five minutes of regulation, would have won this game.

That’s more or less how this team is built.

Since so much of their offense is based on the ability of Zavier Simpson to make something happen out of ball-screens, when the guys on the perimeter are forcing defenses to pay attention to them – and punishing them when they don’t – the Wolverines are going to be that much better.

Rocket science, this is not.

USC receives notice of allegations from NCAA in federal corruption case

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Southern California’s basketball program has received a notice of allegations from the NCAA following a federal investigation into corruption and bribery in the sport.

The school said in a statement Friday night it has “cooperated with the NCAA since it first became aware of the issues” raised in the notice, and it “looks forward to an expeditious resolution of this matter.”

The notice had been expected, but the NCAA’s timeline for ruling on USC’s case is uncertain. The NCAA opened similar cases against North Carolina State, Kansas, and Oklahoma State this year.

The university statement referred to a “former coach in the men’s basketball program,” which presumably is former assistant Tony Bland. He was fired by USC in January 2018. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery last January. As part of his plea, Bland acknowledged accepting a $4,100 bribe and received two years’ probation.

Bland said in court he received payments for directing USC players to retain the services of certain financial advisers and business managers.

Bland and nine others were arrested and faced charges of fraud and bribery following the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. USC and several other schools were caught up in the inquiry.