Notre Dame chokes away eight-point lead in 58 seconds vs. No. 3 Ohio State

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There is no questioning No. 3 Ohio State’s ability on the defensive end of the floor.

Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott may be the two best on-ball defenders in the country, and Sam Thompson isn’t too far behind them. The Buckeyes have played a fairly weak schedule, but it’s not a mistake or a statistical fluke that they currently sit as the best defensive team in the country, according to KenPom’s defensive efficiency rankings.

So it shouldn’t surprise you that, on a night where Ohio State was stymied by Notre Dame’s 2-3 zone, it was the Buckeye defense that came to the rescue.

The Irish had a 58-50 lead with 58 seconds left when Jerian Grant threw the ball away. It ended up being the first of three Notre Dame turnovers in the span of 18 seconds, two of which came against Ohio State’s stifling press and all three of which led to two points for the Buckeyes. After Demetrius Jackson gave Notre Dame a four point lead with two free throws, Pat Connaughton fouled Lenzelle Smith shooting a three. Smith hit all three free throws and followed that up with a lay-in to give OSU the lead after Steven Vasturia missed the front end of a one-and-one.

On the ensuing possession, Grant lost the ball off of his leg. After two Ohio State free throws, Grant was fouled but only hit one of the two free throws. All told, Grant had three turnovers and a missed free throw in the final minute. It was not his finest moment.

A game-tying three from Jackson bounced harmlessly off the rim, and Notre Dame left the Garden with a 64-61 loss.

And with that, Ohio State remained undefeated, although the Irish did well to expose the Buckeye’s biggest flaw. Thad Matta’s boys really struggled against Notre Dame’s 2-3 zone in the second half. They don’t have enough weapons on the offensive end of the floor. They don’t have enough creators, and when their best defensive lineup is on the court, there just isn’t enough perimeter shooting and no one to park in the middle of the zone.

Think about it like this: the Buckeyes have to have LaQuinton Ross on the court because he is their most dangerous scorer in the half court. But he’s painfully streaky and quite simply not a good on-ball defender. Notre Dame was outscoring Ohio State 32-17 at one point in the second half largely because they allowed whoever Ross was guarding to attack the rim.

There aren’t many teams that can field a lineup with four quality ball-handlers like Notre Dame can, so the Buckeyes should be able to hide Ross defensively on most night. When that’s the case, their defense is good enough to keep them in the game against anyone. But there are certain matchups — teams with four perimeter players, like Michigan, or Duke, or Wisconsin — that will give them some trouble.

As far as the Irish are concerned, this is just a crushing, devastating loss.

Teams don’t lose when they have an eight point lead with 58 seconds left on the clock. The Irish collapsed in a game that they really, really needed to win. Notre Dame has lost to Indiana State and North Dakota State at home this season, but those results would have been forgiven with a win over a top five team in the country at a neutral site.

It will be interesting to see where Notre Dame goes from here. They collapsed. They choked. There’s no other way to put it. The Irish played perfect basketball for 19 minutes in the second half before giving it all away. This is the kind of game that can destroy the confidence of a team.

Notre Dame gets Canisius next Sunday before hosting No. 8 Duke at home to kick off ACC play.

No. 11 Cincinnati rallies for 82-74 win over Tulsa

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HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. — Gary Clark led a 24-4 run that put Cincinnati ahead to stay early in the second half, and the 11th-ranked Bearcats held on for an 82-74 victory over Tulsa on Sunday that preserved their one-game lead in the American Athletic Conference heading into the final week.

Cincinnati (25-4, 14-2) stayed ahead of No. 13 Wichita State (23-5, 13-3) in the race for the regular-season title. The Shockers won on Cincinnati’s home court 76-72 a week ago.

Wichita State plays at UCF on Thursday and hosts Cincinnati next Sunday in a potential showdown game. The Bearcats play at Tulane on Thursday before heading to Wichita State.

The Bearcats struggled defensively, giving up a season-high 14 3-pointers, but made a season-high 15 from beyond the arc. Clark and Jarron Cumberland had 17 points apiece.

Tulsa (17-11, 10-7) led by eight points early in the second before Clark scored during the decisive run. Junior Etou scored 21 for Tulsa, which had its six-game winning streak snapped.

Cincinnati completed its season playing at Northern Kentucky University while its on-campus arena is renovated, going 14-1 at BB&T Arena.

BIG PICTURE

Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane is wrapping up a regular season that marks a step up for the program. Tulsa went 15-17 last season and 8-10 in the AAC, finishing seventh. It’s fourth in the league with two games to go.

Cincinnati: Even though the Bearcats rank second nationally in defense, they’d given up a lot of open shots in the previous two games, a concern to coach Mick Cronin. The Golden Hurricane got plenty of those, too, while shooting 59 percent in the first half. The Golden Hurricane led 47-44 at the break, the most points Cincinnati has allowed in a half this season.

UP NEXT

Tulsa: Golden Hurricane plays at East Carolina on Thursday. Tulsa opened AAC play by beating ECU 79-53 on Dec. 28.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats have won four straight and 14 of 15 against Tulane, including a 78-61 victory last season.

Bubble Banter: Sunday Funday on the bubble

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Sunday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

YET TO PLAY

TEMPLE
UCLA
PENN STATE
NEBRASKA
N.C. STATE

Georgia’s Mark Fox ‘disgusted’ by investigation into college basketball

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Georgia head coach Mark Fox did not hold back when asked about the FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball, calling is “disgusting” and pleading with coaches and the institutions that employ them to do right.

“It starts with our coaches, and then you ask how the NCAA has handled it,” Fox said. “The NCAA is made up of member institutions. How are the institutions handling it? That’d be my first question. How are they handling it? Putting their head in the sand and looking the other way? I’m past anger, sadness. It’s just disgusting, and we’re really hurting the game, and the game has been so good to everybody.”

Fox is in a difficult position. He’s regarded as one of the nicer coaches in the business and is considered to be ‘clean’. He team also appears headed for another NIT, which could end up costing him his job.

“We’ve had some situations where we didn’t get players because of that reason, and other teams have, too,” Fox said.

“I’m disgusted,” he added. “I’m disgusted with how people have treated our game. It’s absolutely disgusting.”

Cuonzo Martin: ‘No timetable’ for a Michael Porter Jr. return

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There still is not clarity on whether or not Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr. will return to the court this season.

On Saturday, he participated in Missouri’s shootaround at Kentucky but did not run through warmups and did not play in the game.

“I don’t have a timeline,” Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin said after Saturday’s 87-66 loss. “He wants to play.”

“We have to make sure he’s ready to go.”

Porter has only had one full practice since he underwent surgery on his back in November, and that came on Friday. A source confirmed to NBC Sports that Porter was, in fact, cleared for full contact on Thursday afternoon after a visit with a doctor.

Porter is expected to continue practicing with the team. He told reporters earlier this month that he would like to get a few games prior to the start of tournament play if he happens to take part in any games.

Kentucky, Duke, Arizona comment on player eligibility amidst FBI scandal

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On Saturday night, Kentucky won their third straight game over an opponent that will be in next month’s NCAA tournament. They were led by freshman Kevin Knox, who finished with 21 points just 36 hours after his name appeared in a report by Yahoo Sports in connection with a runner that was tied to disgraced NBA agent Andy Miller.

“I’m not here to talk about that,” Knox said in response to questions regarding the runner, Christian Dawkins, or the story that Yahoo published.

“That was all the university dealing with it,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said, adding that he did not discuss the matter with Knox. “I wasn’t involved in any way. But I felt good about it.”

“I was sure I would be able to play this whole week,” Knox told reporters. “I wasn’t really focused on none of that. I let Kentucky handle it.

“I just focused on me, focused on my game, and let them handle it. I slept well at night knowing I was going to be able to play.”

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski went a step further, detailing precisely how he found out about the report and how Wendell Carter’s parents were involved. Carter’s mother called him while he was walking his dog and told him what was in the story. According to Coach K, Wendell’s parents went to break bread with Dawkins, but Wendell’s father did not like him and left immediately while Wendell’s mother stayed to be polite. She said she did not have anything to eat.

“It wasn’t a distraction because I know I didn’t do anything wrong,” Carter told reporters after going for 16 points, 10 boards, four steals, four assists and two blocks in a win over Syracuse. “My family didn’t do anything wrong. No one around me did anything wrong. I knew I was going to play. Once I got out on the court, it was all good. It felt good.”

“We are very comfortable with where we are on this,” Coach K said. “We don’t feel like we are taking any chances with this. We very confident about this particular thing.”

Alabama told ESPN that any connection that Collin Sexton had to Dawkins or the Yahoo story was dealt with during his one-game suspension at the start of the season.

“We reviewed i, and after we reviewed it, we made the decision that Collin was going to be available for us,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said. “That’s the extent of it.”

Meanwhile, Arizona lost at Oregon after Sean Miller was replaced by Lorenzo Romar as head coach for the night. Romar offered no answers as to whether or not Miller, who was reportedly caught on a fire tap talking about a $100,000 payment to Deandre Ayton, will return to the program anytime soon because, as he put it, “I don’t know.” Romar was unable to even answer if he would be coaching practice on Sunday.