Thursday’s slate of games featured one top-25 matchup, one showdown of mid-major NBA draft prospects and Chris Mack’s debut Louisville season rolling on. Here’s what you need to know.
Sixth-ranked Michigan State pulls away from No. 19 Iowa in the second half
There was a moment there that looked like Iowa really had a chance to do it. The Hawkeyes were up eight in the second half at home to a team that blasted them by 22 earlier this season, which lead to some soul searching in Iowa City and was followed by a 10-wins-in-11-games stretch that had the Hawkeyes looking legit, all the more so with the Spartans now on the ropes.
Then Tom Izzo’s team figured it out and laid Iowa to waste.
The Spartans turned an eight-point deficit into a lead that reached as many as 19 thanks to a monster second half run that netted them an 82-67 victory to improve to a perfect 9-0 in the Big Ten.
Izzo’s group has now ripped off 13 in a row and are in the driver’s seat in the B1G after Michigan’s loss last week. It’s even more impressive given the Spartans have been doing it recently without the injured Joshua Langford. Much of the credit goes to Cassius Winston, who put up 23 points and seven assists this night. The Spartans now travel to West Lafayette, where Purdue awaits Sunday in a B1G (get it?) matchup.
For Iowa, it’s further reinforcement that while the Hawkeyes are capable of playing high-level ball, the defense is going to continue to put a ceiling on them. Iowa, which ranks outside the KenPom top-100 on that side of the floor, allowed Michigan State to shoot 66.7 percent from the floor and 60 percent (6 of 10) from 3-point range in the second half.
Early ankle injury for Ja Morant mars Murray’s matchup with Dylan Windler and Belmont
The rare mid-major showdown that garners true national interest because it involves a couple good teams but more importantly because it involves a couple great NBA prospects.
Sure, it was Murray State vs. Belmont, but what got the likes of Danny Ainge and Mitch Kupchak to Murray, Ky. was the Racers’ Ja Morant and the Bruins’ Dylan Windler.
Then 100 seconds into the game, Morant twisted his ankle and the whole thing was blown up. Sure, Morant returned, but he was clearly hampered by the injury in what turned out to be a 79-66 Belmont victory.
Morant finished with 20 points, but was 5 of 19 from the field, had five turnovers (though he did have nine assists) and clearly lacked the explosiveness that has not only made him a likely top-five pick come June, but in the conversation with one Zion Williamson for the crown of the Country’s Most Exciting Dunker.
Windler, meanwhile, managed just five points on seven shots while piling up 13 rebounds and four assists.
It’s a huge win for Belmont, which ended Murray State’s undefeated start to Ohio Valley Conference play and pulled within a game of first itself with a road victory, but all whole evening felt like a bust without Morant at his best.
Cardinals stay hot
Don’t look now, but Chris Mack’s Louisville is on a little of a roll.
It started when the Cardinals knocked off North Carolina two weeks ago and continued Thursday when they outran NC State to the finish line in an 84-77 victory at the KFC Yum! Center.
Mack and the Cards have now won four-straight and – along with about a fourth of the league – are tied atop the ACC with a 5-1 conference record. Not bad for a guy who inherited something of a mess from Rick Pitino a few months ago.
Louisville’s schedule takes a bit of a breather with Pitt at home this weekend before a trip to Wake Forest, and then the difficulty level ramps up in a major way with a rematch against the Tar Heels at home, away games at Virginia Tech and Florida State and then Duke at home.
That’ll really put the Cards to the test.