Late Night Snacks: Saint Louis clamps down on No. 9 Butler

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Game of the Night: Niagara 93, Iona 90 (OT) 

The thriller between the Purple Eagles and Gaels featured an amazing finish to regulation, with Niagara missing three attempts to tie the game before Juan’ya Green hit a three-pointer with 4.5 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime. Green would be the hero in overtime as well, knocking down the game-winning three with five tenths of a second remaining.

Green (26 points) and Antoine Mason (30) led the way for Niagara, who now leads Iona by two games in the MAAC standings. And with Canisius and Loyola (MD) three games back at 7-4, it’s safe to say that Joe Mihalich’s team is in firm control of the conference race.

Important Outcomes

1. Saint Louis 75, No. 9 Butler 58

Jim Crews’ Billikens clamped down defensively, forcing 23 turnovers in an emphatic victory at Chaifetz Arena. With Butler’s loss there are now seven teams in the Atlantic 10 with two conference losses, with VCU and Xavier currently sitting atop the standings at 5-2. “Figuring out” the conference when it comes to how to rank the teams is nearly impossible at this point, but there are a number of opportunities for teams to pick up resume-building wins in February. Hopefully the Atlantic 10 doesn’t get punished for beating up on each other when Selection Sunday rolls around.

2. Middle Tennessee 66, Florida International 64

Last season the Blue Raiders won 25 regular season games and won the Sun Belt regular season title by two games (they won their division by six games), only to wind up in the NIT after losing to Arkansas State in the quarterfinals of the Sun Belt tournament. With a strength of schedule of 103 according to warrennolan.com Kermit Davis’ team can ill-afford to lose games like Thursday’s against FIU if they want to entertain any thoughts of an at-large bid.  That’s what made Shawn Nolan’s tip-in of a lob as time expired so important. Now 19-4 overall (10-1 Sun Belt), Middle Tennessee continues on their quest to reach the NCAA tournament.

3. No. 13 Michigan State 80, Illinois 75 

While there is the need to focus on the play of Michigan State guard Keith Appling (24 points, seven assists) down the stretch of this contest, there’s also the need to take a look at the Fighting Illini. Illinois got off to a good start offensively and led 37-27 at the half, but they didn’t bring the same effort defensively in the second half.

Michigan State shot 87.5% from the field and 23-of-32 from the foul line in the second half, and it’s tough to win anywhere (much less at Breslin) when allowing a team to shoot that well. While it’s important that Illinois hit their perimeter shots, if they don’t toughen up defensively the Fighting Illini will have a tough time reaching the NCAA tournament.

4. Arizona State 63, Washington 59 

Jahii Carson scored a game-high 25 points on 10-of-19 shooting, making a pair of key baskets down the stretch to lead the Sun Devils past the Cougars in Pullman. Evan Gordon added 13 points and Carrick Felix posted his fourth double-double in Pac-12 play while also defending Washington State’s Brock Motum (3-of-13 FG, 11 points and 11 rebounds) for much of the night. Now 6-2 in conference play (17-4 overall, best record since the 1980-81 season), Herb Sendek’s team has to be considered a factor in the Pac-12 race. And that’s something few people expected back in November.

Starred

1. F Roosevelt Johnson (Southeast Louisiana) 

Johnson scored 28 points (10-of-18 FG), grabbed 14 rebounds and dished out five assists in the Lions’ 70-69 win at Central Arkansas. Johnson scored on a lob with seven tenths of a second remaining to give the Lions the victory.

2. G Juan’ya Green and G Antoine Mason (Niagara) 

In a matchup of two of the MAAC’s best backcourts this tandem combined to score 56 points in the Purple Eagles’ 93-90 overtime win over Iona. Mason scored a game-high 30 points while Green added 26 and eight assists, not to mention those two key shots mentioned above.

3. C Jarred Shaw (Utah State)

Shaw was a big reason why the Aggies (who have been without Preston Medlin and Kyisean Reed) were able to end their four-game losing streak, scoring 27 points on 12-of-15 shooting and grabbing nine rebounds in Utah State’s 77-67 win at Idaho.

Struggled

1. Loyola Marymount

Yes, No. 7 Gonzaga is one of the best teams in the country. But the Lions were overwhelmed from the start in the 88-43 beating, shooting 6-of-25 from the field and scoring 18 points in the first half. For the game Max Good’s team shot 25%.

2. North Texas

Remember when the Mean Green had the look of a team that could win the Sun Belt? That was back in November, and at this point in the season North Texas looks like a team counting down days until the end of the season. The Mean Green lost 105-74 at Louisiana-Lafayette, giving up 60 points in the second half.

3.  UMKC

The Kangaroos scored just 12 points in the first half and finished with more turnovers (18) than field goals (11) in their 71-34 loss at North Dakota State.

Three Facts 

1. Thanks to a Matt Carlino three-pointer in the final minute of play BYU was able to hold on to beat Pepperdine 63-61 in Malibu. And with a resume that lack a marquee victory this was a contest that would have done major damage to the Cougars’ at-large hopes had it gone the other way.

2. Connecticut picked up their first win at Providence since 2006, hanging on to beat the Friars 82-79 in overtime. And the Huskies won despite being out-rebounded 55-24, a margin that ties a Big East record originally set in 1997 (St. John’s vs. Seton Hall).

3. While Butler and VCU have received a lot of publicity for their adjusting to a new conference, Belmont and Oral Roberts have both adjusted well to new leagues. Rick Byrd’s Bruins moved to 9-0 in the OVC with a 93-74 win over Morehead State, and ORU is 9-1 in the Southland after beating Nicholls State 90-78.

Top 25 Scores

No. 7 Gonzaga 88, Loyola Marymount 43

No. 8 Arizona 57, Washington 53

Saint Louis 75, No. 9 Butler 58

No. 13 Michigan State 80, Illinois 75

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej

No. 1 Kansas dominates No. 4 Purdue in style

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Kansas, the top-seeded team in Midwest region, didn’t just beat No. 4 Purdue, it did so in style. Fast break after fast break, dunk after dunk, the Jayhawks ran the Boilermakers off the floor, advancing to the Elite Eight with a 98-66 win on Thursday night in Kansas City.

Kansas went on an 11-0 run in the second half, forcing four Purdue turnovers during that stretch. Once the Boilermakers finally got back on the board, the Jayhawks led 69-56. That run broke open the game en route to the 32-point victory.

Frank Mason II and Devonte Graham each had 26 points. Mason added seven rebounds and seven assists. Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan ended his season — and perhaps, his college career — with 18 points and seven rebounds.

Kansas advances to play No. 3 seed Oregon on Saturday in the Elite Eight.

WATCH: LaGerald Vick’s 360 dunk

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It takes a lot of confidence to throw down a dunk better suited for pre-game lay-up lines than the middle of a NCAA Tournament game.

But Kansas sophomore guard LaGerald Vick thought this breakaway opportunity in the second half of a Sweet 16 matchup against No. 4 seed Purdue was the perfect time to throw down a 360 dunk.

Jordan Mathews three sends No. 1 seed Gonzaga past No. 4 West Virginia

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Jordan Mathews hit a three with less than a minute left and West Virginia missed a pair of threes on the final possession of the game as No. 1 seed Gonzaga won a dogfight, 61-58, over No. 4 seed Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night.

Mathews, who finished with 13 points on the night, spent 4:30 on the bench before checking into the game right before hitting the eventual game-winning three. It came on a possession fitting of this game, which was the embodiment of the mantra ‘a close game is not always a good game.’ Nigel Williams-Goss, who played arguably his worst game as a member of the Zags, turned the ball over immediately after gathering a defensive rebound. But West Virginia’s Nathan Adrian had a shot blocked at the rim and, after corralling the loose ball, Williams-Goss found Mathews open in the wing for a three that put the Zags up 60-58 with 37 seconds left.

What’s going to be talked about after this game is the final possession for West Virginia.

Jevon Carter, who finished with 21 points and who, prior to that final possession, continued to hit big jumper after big jumper for the Mountaineers, airballed a three and, after West Virginia gathered the rebound, threw up another tough three that bounced off the front rim. West Virginia again got the loose ball, and after Carter dribbled 15 seconds off the block, he gave the ball up to Daxter Miles, who didn’t have enough time to get the shot off:

That possession is going to haunt Carter for a long, long time, and West Virginia was rightfully criticized for the way that they “executed” on that possession — I wonder if Bob Huggins regrets not saving a timeout for the end of the game — but it’s impossible to criticize West Virginia without also mentioning that Gonzaga’s defense was as good as it gets.

Not just just on that possession, either.

The Zags made life difficult for West Virginia all night long, and that should not come as a surprise to anyone that has been paying attention to this Gonzaga team. West Virginia shot 26.7 percent from the floor. They were 5-for-23 from three, and if it wasn’t for the 20 offensive rebounds they grabbed — more than the 16 field goals they made on the night — Gonzaga would have walked out of the SAP Center with a comfortable win. They are, quite literally, the best defensive team in college basketball, according to KenPom, and they made the plays they needed to make down the stretch to get the win. That’s what championship-caliber teams do.

And if you still don’t believe that Gonzaga can win a national title this season, than I’m not sure what else you need to see.

West Virginia was a terrible matchup for Gonzaga. Their guards, as good as they’ve been all season long, are not cut out for playing against a back court that is that much tougher, that much quicker, that much more aggressive and that much more athletic than them. Williams-Goss, who was a second-team NBC Sports All-American, was exposed. He finished the evening 2-for-10 from the floor with five turnovers and just a single assist before finding Mathews for the game-winning three. As a team, Gonzaga turned the ball over 16 times. Josh Perkins didn’t even get a shot off. Silas Melson was 2-for-7 from the floor. Throw in Zach Collins, who had just a single point, and four of Gonzaga’s top seven players were flat out bad on Thursday night.

That was, unequivocally, a game played the way West Virginia wanted it to be played. The Mountaineers controlled the game.

And yet, Gonzaga is still headed to the Elite 8, one game — against the winner of No. 2 Arizona and No. 11 Xavier — away from the right to go to the Final Four.

The knock on this Gonzaga team was their toughness, both physical and mental. Would they be able to handle a team that plays the way that West Virginia plays? Would they be able to handle the game pressure of playing to the final possession in the Sweet 16?

The answer is yes.

That doesn’t mean Gonzaga is going to win the national title.

But they are certainly good enough to get it done.

No. 3 Oregon advances after thriller with No. 7 Michigan

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Oregon is returning to the Elite Eight for the second consecutive season following a thrilling, 69-68, victory over No. 7 Michigan in the Sweet 16 in Kansas City on Thursday night.

In a game in which neither team could fully grasp control of the game, it came down to the wire. Michigan held a 3-point lead with two minutes to play. Jordan Bell, who was unquestionably the deciding factor in this contest, came up with the first of several critical hustle plays down the stretch. He knifed in on a missed free throw, for the second-chance bucket, cutting the deficit to one.

On the ensuing Michigan possession, Bell didn’t block it but affected Derrick Walton Jr.’s shot enough to force the miss. Tyler Dorsey, the other hero for the Ducks, continued his stellar play this month with a go-ahead layup after he spun through the Wolverine defense. Bell’s close out on D.J. Wilson sent his 3-point attempt way off the mark. Bell would corral another offensive rebound on the other end of the floor, and while Dylan Ennis left the door open for Michigan following another missed free throw, Bell, deservedly, rebounded Walton’s miss as time ran out.

“Do whatever you can to win,” Bell told reporters after the game. “Me, get every rebound, offense or defense, help my team out as much as possible.”

Bell had 16 points and 13 rebounds. Tyler Dorsey poured in 20 points. Walton Jr., who front-rimmed a potential game-winner at the buzzer, ended his collegiate career with stat-line of 20 points, eight assists, and five rebounds. Zak Irvin added 19.

Dillon Brooks is without a doubt the star, but Bell and Dorsey round out a big three that could lead the Ducks to Phoenix.

Before the start of the Pac-12 Tournament championship game on March 11, Oregon announced that Chris Boucher would miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. How would this effect Oregon’s defense days before it began its quest for a Final Four?

Bell has helped answer those questions on Thursday night. He’s a big reason why Oregon outscored Michigan, 34-16, in points in the paint. But his greatest impact was how he slowed down the two-headed monster of Moe Wagner and D.J. Wilson, two forwards whose increased production is a big reason why Michigan’s unlikely run extended into the second weekend of the tournament. The duo scored a combined 19 points off 7-of-20 shooting.

The other for Oregon was the continued offensive tear of Dorsey. In six postseason games, the sophomore two-guard is averaging 23.0 points per game. He went toe-to-toe with Walton, who was playing as good as any guard in the country, in the final minutes and got the better of the battle. Playing at this level, Oregon has another go-to scorer, one who has no issue taking a big shot late in the game. In either matchup in the next round, that should come in handy. Dillon Brooks, one of college’s toughest matchups, will either be busy with Purdue’s massive frontline or locked in an all-out war with Kansas’ Josh Jackson the perimeter.

“I’m really fortunate to have Jordan for three years and Tyler for two and Dillon Brooks,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said. “We’ve just been really fortunate. We’ve got good players and guys that are unselfish. They want to win. They’re competitive. We got down four there and guys could have gave into it. They didn’t. They fought their way back. Shows you what kind of competitive spirit they’ve got.”

The Ducks, the No. 3 seed in the Midwest region, will face the winner of top-seeded Kansas and No. 4 Purdue on Saturday night at the Sprint Center.

“We know Purdue is really big and Kansas is Kansas,” Altman said.

WATCH: Steve Alford end practice with half-court shot

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford ended practice on Thursday by drilling a half-court shot on the first attempt.

According to the Associated Press, this has been a season-long battle between the UCLA coaching staff and the players.

“Truth be told, we’ve been getting slaughtered. We’ve got guys like Lonzo (Ball) literally takes a jump shot from the timeline. We were just lucky that they only got one shot at it. I think coaches are down about eight on the half-court shots this year. I told them, though, that the coaches are ahead at the Sweet 16. I don’t think they’re buying it.”

No. 3 seed UCLA is set to play No. 2 seed Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night in Memphis. The Bruins defeated the Wildcats, 97-92, in a non-conference matchup on Dec. 3.