Joel Wright. Royce O'Neale

WAC co-champions Louisiana Tech, Denver eliminated in quarterfinals

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Upsets in mid-major conference tournaments have been all the “rage” this week. On Sunday, regular season champions Middle Tennessee (Sun Belt) and Stony Brook (America East) went down, and the top two teams in the MEAC (Norfolk State and North Carolina Central) met a similar fate on Wednesday.

On Thursday WAC co-champions Denver and Louisiana Tech were upset in the quarterfinals, as the Pioneers were knocked off by Texas State 70-68 and the Bulldogs fell 73-67 to UTSA.

The Pioneers (21-9) shot 10-of-28 beyond the arc and 45.8% inside of it, and while that percentage may not seem all that bad it is when compared to the Bobcats making 20 of their 29 two-point shots (and going 23-of-28 from the foul line as well).

Joel Wright, a second-team all-conference selection, led the way for Texas State with 32 points (9-of-10 FG, 14-of-16 FT) and seven rebounds. The Bobcats (11-21) advance to take on New Mexico State in the semifinals on Friday night.

Brett Olson (19 points) and Jalen Love (17 points) paced the Pioneers, but a 1-of-7 afternoon from forward Royce O’Neale and their inability to take advantage of a plus-7 turnover margin resulted in Denver falling two games short of the ultimate goal.

As for Michael White’s Bulldogs they entered the WAC tournament on a two-game losing streak (losing at both New Mexico State and Denver), and a defense that resulted in 26 victories was a problem against the Roadrunners as well.

Kannon Burrage led UTSA with 26 points and 13 rebounds, and as a team the Roadrunners shot 54% from the field in the second half. UTSA will take on the Utah State/UT-Arlington winner in the second semifinal on Friday.

Due to their winning the tiebreaker Louisiana Tech gets the automatic bid to the Postseason NIT, which depending on results involving bubble teams around the country could end up squeezing Denver out of the equation.

This is life for programs in one-bid conferences, where the achievements throughout the course of a season pale in comparison when held up against three or four days in March. A painful reality indeed.

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

Marcus Paige, Joel Berry lead No. 9 North Carolina past No. 2 Maryland

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — He’s back.

For the first time this season — and for the first time in more than a year that he hasn’t been hampered with some kind of foot or ankle injury — Marcus Paige donned a North Carolina jersey, and it didn’t take him long to find the form that made him the Preseason National Player of the Year.

On the first Tar Heel possession, Paige came off of a ball-screen, drove the lane and found Kennedy Meeks at the rim for a layup. Not 30 seconds later, he came off of a down screen and buried a three. Paige would finish with 20 points and five assists as No. 9 North Carolina put together a fairly resounding win over No. 2 Maryland in the Dean Dome on Tuesday night, winning 89-81.

Paige finished 7-for-12 from the floor and 4-for-5 from beyond the arc, hitting a number of threes in the second half that helped hold off a Maryland push sparked by their own all-american point guard, Melo Trimble.

Trimble was erratic early on, committing three turnovers in the first six minutes and eight on the night, but it was his play at the end of the first half and early second half that kept North Carolina from blowing their doors. At one point, Maryland was down 32-19 and in danger of getting run out of Tobacco Road.

In total, Trimble finished with 23 points and 12 assists, hitting four big threes during that stretch. He either scored or assisted on 11 of Maryland’s first 12 second half field goals.

As good as Paige was, the bigger story may actually be Joel Berry II. He took two dumb threes in the first half — which played a role in Maryland being able to make this a game — and he missed a few free throws late, but overall he was terrific. He finished with 14 points and five assists, making 3-of-5 threes and turning the ball over just twice. He’s clearly beat Nate Britt out at the point guard spot, and his ability to take pressure off of Paige as a secondary ball-handler and playmaker is huge.

(More to come from Chapel Hill…)

VIDEO: Melo Trimble drops Nate Britt with a crossover

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North Carolina is hosting No. 2 Maryland in a heated contest in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Terps sophomore guard Melo Trimble is playing very well and part of his performance was dropping North Carolina’s Nate Britt with a crossover in the second half.

(H/T: The Cauldron)