Creighton’s key defensive stops set up an exciting finish

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Long Beach State is going to have to win its league’s automatic bid if it want to make the conference tournament.

That’s just the way life is for the 49ers. Their two marquee wins — at Pitt and Xavier on a neutral court — don’t appear to be all that “marquee” as the Panthers and the Musketeers have had disappointing seasons. LBSU will have a good shot of running through their league undefeated, but when you play in the Big West, that is a feat that gets scoffed at on a national scale. Anyone can watch this team play and know that, assuming they get upset in their conference tournament, they are one of the 37 best at-large candidates, but if the profile doesn’t fit, the NIT it is.

But that should also give you a sense of just how impressive Creighton’s exhilarating, 81-79 win over Long Beach State on Saturday night was.

The Bluejays did not play their best game. That powerhouse offense, the one that is spurred on by a flock of sharpshooters, sputtered on Saturday. Creighton went 5-23 from beyond the arc, getting bailed out by Doug McDermott going for 36 points and 11 boards. Take away the 14-20 that he shot from the field, and the Bluejays shot just 40% from the floor.

When you rely on your shooting to win basketball games, off-nights like this can be killer. Creighton knows. Its why they went on that three-game losing streak earlier this month.

I’m a firm believer in the “clutch-factor”. I think there are certain players and certain teams that have the mental and physical wherewithal to make plays in the moments when the lights shine the brightest and the pressure is at its strongest. And while that generally applies to the offensive end of the floor — like, for example, the fact that Antoine Young hit the game-winner on Saturday two weeks after hitting a game-tying three at Northern Iowa with 4.6 seconds left — Creighton needs to be clutch defensively.

What I mean is that this group needs to be able to get big stops in crucial moments. From an efficency standpoint, Creighton is not a great defensive team. They don’t force a lot of turnovers and they don’t block a lot of shots. In other words, they don’t have a lot of defensive playmakers. As a result, they have a defense that ranks below-average.

The Bluejays score enough that they can hang with just about anyone in the country. What their season is going to come down to, however, is whether or not they can get the big stops in the big moments.

They’ve done it before. They did it tonight. And if they can continue with that trend, Creighton will have a chance to make some noise in March.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

UMBC becomes first No. 16 seed to beat No. 1 seed in beatdown of Virginia

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UMBC made sports history on Friday night by becoming the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The America East champions pulled off a shocking 74-54 upset over No. 1 seed Virginia in the South Region.

The Retrievers (25-10) not only made history by beating a No. 1 seed — they also knocked off the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament in dominating fashion. Tied at the half, UMBC jumped out to a double-digit lead and maintained its dominance throughout the second half by consistently knocking down three-pointers and keeping the pressure on.

Senior guard Jairus Lyle, the team’s hero in the America East title game, finished with 28 points to pace the Retrievers as he went 9-for-11 from the field.  Joe Shurburne (14 points), Arkel Lamar (12 points) and K.J. Maura (10 points) also finished in double-figures for UMBC, as they extended its winning streak to six games.

Virginia (31-3) won the ACC regular season by four games. They took the league’s conference tournament as well. The Cavaliers were the most consistent team in college basketball this season. The Cavaliers lost sixth man DeAndre Hunter to the season with an injury earlier in the week. They were still a heavy favorite in this game.

But Virginia struggled to knock down three-pointers. It was clear Virginia started playing scared once the upset became apparent. And that’s how once of the biggest upsets in sports history went down. Sophomore guards Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome led Virginia with 15 points each.

Virginia shot only 41 percent (23-for-56) from the field and 19 percent (4-for-22) from three-point range as they couldn’t find consistent offense or a go-to player.

UMBC advances to battle No. 9 seed Kansas State in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats advanced earlier on Friday night with a balanced effort in a win over No. 8 seed Creighton.

UMBC social media won the night as much as the basketball team

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The eyes of the sports world are on UMBC. Cinderella has arrived.

The No. 16 seed shocked No. 1 seed Virginia by double digits on Friday night as the Retrievers became the first No. 16 seed to defeat a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

UMBC’s basketball team wasn’t the only group from the school ready to go on Friday night.

The school’s social media presence was trolling everyone and showing tons of swagger as the Retrievers built a second-half double-digit lead on Virginia.

The UMBC Athletics account called out pundits, trolled doubters and had fun with fans during a special moment in sports history.

Some examples:

Now that the historic win has gone down, UMBC, and their social media account, have become immortal.

No. 1 Xavier takes down No. 16 Texas Southern

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Xavier got off to a slow start, but rallied to run past No. 16 Texas Southern for a 102-83 NCAA tournament victory on Friday night in the West Region.

The Musketeers (29-5) had huge performances from seniors Trevon Bluiett (26 points) and J.P. Macura (29 points) as the duo combined for seven three-pointers and 35 points in the first 20 minutes. The duo ended up getting a third major scorer in the second half when senior big man Kerem Kanter stepped up his play. Kanter ended up with 24 points.

Xavier shot 45 percent (11-for-24) from three-point range and 54 percent from the field (35-for-64) in the win.

Texas Southern (16-20) went on a 16-0 run at one point in the first half to take a 20-13 lead. The Tigers had the momentum, but things quickly turned the other way when Xavier responded with its own 16-0 flurry.

The Tigers had five double-figure scorers, led by point guard Damontrae Jefferson with 20 points, but they couldn’t get stops on the other end. Guard Derrick Bruce finished with 18 points while Robert Lewis (14 points), Donte Clark (12 points) and Trayvon Reed (10 points) also finished in double-figures.

The Tigers started this season 0-13 as they lost all road games against tough competition. The SWAC champions rallied to win eight straight games before the NCAA tournament and put up an admirable fight before falling to the Big East regular season champions.

Xavier moves on to face the winner of No. 8 seed Missouri and No. 9 seed Florida State as the Musketeers could have a tough matchup against either team.

No. 4 seed Auburn survives off-night, beats No. 13 Charleston

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Auburn did everything they possibly could to become the third No. 4 seed to fall to a No. 13 seed in their first round game of the NCAA tournament.

Charleston, who was essentially playing without their best player, Joe Chealey, who was a shell of himself as he battled an ankle injury, turned the ball over 21 times and shot 5-for-22 from beyond the arc and still managed to find a way to be ahead in the final three minutes.

The Tigers, who are eighth in the country in free throw shooting percentage, made just 15-of-32 from the charity stripe. They missed all 13 threes they shot in the first half — a first for the program in Bruce Pearl’s tenure — and finish the night just 5-for-24 from beyond the arc while shooting 35.6 percent from the floor.

After Bruce Brown missed a pair of free throws with 14 seconds left, Charleston’s Grant Riller had a shot to tie the game. He missed, Auburn finally made a free throw down the stretch, and the Tigers escaped with a 62-58 win that they barely deserved.

The most important part of that sentence, however, is “win”.

There’s a reason that the saying in March is “survive and advance”. As long as you survive, as long as you live to advance and play another day, there’s always a chance.

I don’t think there is a single player on that Auburn roster, on the Auburn coaching staff or in the state of Alabama that will believe that the way they played on Friday night will be enough to get this team — who were co-champions of the SEC that went wire to wire in first place in the league — where they want to be this year. And to be frank, with the injury to Anfernee McLemore and the shoulder issue that is plaguing Bruce Brown, there’s a chance that this team may be too beaten down to make any kind of serious run in March.

But they’re still here.

Hope is still alive.

And that counts for something.

Miles Bridges goes into takeover mode as No. 3 Michigan State survives Bucknell

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It took a while for No. 3 seed Michigan State to get into a rhythm, but once they did, Bucknell, the Patriot League champs, didn’t have enough of an answer.

After heading into halftime with just a 44-40 lead, the Spartans held Bucknell to just 14 points in the first 16 minutes of the second half, pushing their lead as high as 18 points in an 82-78 win. The Bison hit a flurry of shots in the final seconds to make the final score look much more flattering than the second half actually was.

For Michigan State, however, the story of this game was Miles Bridges.

Oft-derided this season as a talent that couldn’t take over when his team needed him to, a player that was said to have “no game” by Big Ten expert that shall remain nameless, the NBC Sports Preseason Player of the Year took over against Bucknell. He finished with 29 points, nine boards and four assists, taking 22 shots from the floor with just seven of them coming from beyond the arc.

He went into takeover mode without simply settling for jumpers.

And that is when the Spartans end up at a different level. That’s when they reach their peak, and if we are going to see that Bridges for the rest of the NCAA tournament, then maybe — just maybe — this team has a chance to live up to the potential we all bestowed upon them at the start of the season.

The Spartans will advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament, where they will face off with the winner of tonight’s No. 6 TCU-No. 11 Syracuse game.