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Sunday’s Things to Know: Houston wins AAC title; three autobids earned; bubble madness in the Big Ten

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The final regular-season Sunday in college basketball had some drama as a major conference title was decided. On the postseason side, three more autobids were also claimed while the bubble had some action as well.

Houston runs past Cincinnati to claim AAC regular-season title

Houston earned its first regular-season conference title since 1992 with a convincing 85-69 road win at No. 20 Cincinnati. The No. 12 Cougars poured on 48 second-half points as they went on a 35-12 run to put the game away. Corey Davis Jr. scored a career-high 31 points while freshman Nate Hinton produced a double-double of 16 points and 11 rebounds — knocking down some key three-pointers to ignite the comeback run.

For the fourth time in the last six games, Houston scored at least 85 points, which is a notable accomplishment considering the Cougars generally prefer to play on the slower side (232nd in adjusted tempo on KenPom). Houston already has a top-15 defense, so if its offense is getting hot before the postseason, then it’s a trend to keep an eye on during Championship Week.

Autobids handed out to Bradley, Gardner-Webb and Liberty

Sunday didn’t have very many regular-season games left. But there were plenty of conference tournaments to keep track of with three autobids being handed out in traditionally one-bid leagues.

The Big South kicked the autobid day off as Gardner-Webb earned its first NCAA tournament bid in school history by knocking off Radford for a true road win. With back-to-back true road wins during the conference tournament, the Bulldogs certainly earned their way into the Field of 68 with two difficult wins.

Things got crazy during the second half of the Missouri Valley Conference title game shortly after as Bradley rallied from an 18-point second-half deficit to stun Northern Iowa. A day after knocking out a Final Four team from last year in Valley No. 1 seed Loyola, the Braves followed it up with their eighth win of the season in which they were trailing at halftime to come back and win. This will be Bradley’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 2006 when they stunned the nation as a No. 13 seed who made the Sweet 16.

Finally, Liberty gutted out yet another road win for a team in an autobid situation by advancing in front of a sold-out crowd at Lipscomb. A high-level game featuring two teams who deserve a real look from the NCAA tournament committee, the Flames are back in the Big Dance for the first time since 2013. While Liberty is a potentially-dangerous double-digit seed, Lipscomb remains on the bubble as they have a long week of waiting ahead.

The bubble gets crazy in the Big Ten

Among bubble teams playing on Sunday, things got especially chaotic in the Big Ten. Indiana began the conference’s bubble day with a home win over Rutgers. Winners of four consecutive games, the Hoosiers have played their way back into the serious at-large discussion after a mid-season freefall.

Later in the afternoon, No. 21 Wisconsin outlasted Ohio State for an overtime road win that brutally hurts the Buckeyes’ bubble profile. Rallying from 23 points down to tie the game and force overtime, this was a golden opportunity for Ohio State to add some insurance by getting another Q1 win. Instead, they’ve dropped three straight games as the slide continues entering the postseason.

These two results mean that Thursday’s Big Ten tournament matchup between Indiana and Ohio State will have massive implications for the bubble. Both of these teams appear to be teetering right on the edge of the cut line as this result could ultimately put one team in while leaving the other team out of the proceedings.

No. 12 Houston beats No. 20 Cincinnati 85-69 for AAC title

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CINCINNATI — Galen Robinson Jr. raised his arms at midcourt as the buzzer sounded and red-clad Cincinnati fans headed glumly for the exits. No. 12 Houston has just drubbed the American Athletic Conference’s defending champion, leaving no doubt about who’s best this time around.

It’s the Cougars, and it’s not even close.

Corey Davis Jr. scored a career-high 31 points Sunday, and Houston dominated the second half for an 85-69 victory over No. 20 Cincinnati that clinched the AAC’s regular-season title outright.

The Cougars (29-2, 16-2) knocked off the defending champs and earned their first league title since 1992 in the Southwest Conference. Coach Kelvin Sampson got a celebratory dousing from his players afterward.

“At no point in time this year did I think we were a great team, but I thought we were a pretty good team and it showed on the road,” said Sampson, who had a white towel draped over the back of his soaked blue shirt.

Down by six early in the second half, Nate Hinton hit back-to-back 3s that started a 35-12 spurt. Davis’ back-to-back 3s put the Cougars up by 17 points and sent Cincinnati fans headed home with 4:22 to go.

“Corey Davis is the best two-way player in this league, plays both ends with the same voracity,” Sampson said. “Corey’s been consistently good. He never had a bad practice, never had a bad game.”

Hinton added 16 points and a career-high 11 rebounds as Houston scored at least 85 points for the fourth time in the past six games.

Last year, the Bearcats (25-6, 14-4) won the regular-season title and the AAC Tournament, beating Houston in the title game. This time, the Cougars swept the season series, winning in Cincinnati for the first time after 16 losses.

The Bearcats were outrebounded 42-28, with the Cougars getting 18 offensive rebounds. Coach Mick Cronin said the rebounding performance was embarrassing and suggested he’d invite some of Cincinnati’s football players to try out after such a poor showing.

“You give a team like that extra chances, they’re going to light you up,” Cronin said. “There’s not a whole lot to say when you get whipped that bad physically, dominated physically. The dam’s going to break eventually.”

The Cougars put themselves in position for a league title by beating the Bearcats 65-58 in Houston on Feb. 10, holding Cincinnati scoreless for the final 6:11.

Jarron Cumberland scored 20 points for Cincinnati on 4-of-11 shooting from the field.

Cincinnati held a slim lead through most of the first half, but Davis Jr. made a jump shot, a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws in the last 1:33 that sent the Cougars into halftime up 37-35. They missed eight of their first nine shots in the second half, and Cincinnati pulled ahead 47-41 .

Hinton hit back-to-back 3s that sparked the decisive run. The Cougars went 8 of 14 from beyond the arc in the second half while pulling away.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

While Houston held its ground, the Bearcats’ losses this week to UCF and Houston could knock them out of the Top 25.

BIG PICTURE

Houston finally overtook the team that had dominated them until this season — Cincinnati leads the series 31-5. The Cougars also set a school record with 29 regular-season wins, topping the 28-win team from 1967-68.

Cincinnati fell to 0-4 against ranked teams on the season, the main reason they never gained much traction in the poll despite their gaudy record. The Bearcats opened the season at home with a loss against then-unranked Ohio State and concluded it with the loss to the Cougars.

RARE DRUBBING

Houston handed Cincinnati its most lopsided loss since a 75-59 defeat at Temple on Feb. 10, 2015. It was the Bearcats’ most lopsided loss at home since a 68-47 defeat against VCU on Dec. 20, 2014.

FAREWELL

The Bearcats honored senior point guards Justin Jenifer and Cane Broome pregame.

TOUGH AAC HOME

The Bearcats have rarely lost an AAC home game, going 34-3 in the past four seasons. The only other losses were against Temple and Wichita State. Overall, Cincinnati is 49-5 in AAC home games since the league was formed for the 2013-14 season.

UP NEXT

Both teams will start tournament play Friday in the quarterfinals in Memphis, Tennessee.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

No. 17 Houston hits 16 3-pointers in 94-50 win over ECU

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HOUSTON — Houston had one of its best offensive nights of the season. Coach Kelvin Sampson was more impressed with his team’s intensity and defense.

Armoni Brooks scored 17 points, Corey Davis Jr. added 12 and No. 17 Houston hit 16 3-pointers while beating East Carolina 94-50 on Wednesday.

Brooks and Davis combined to hit nine 3-pointers while the Cougars (19-1, 6-1 American Athletic Conference) finished 16 of 24 from behind the arc.

“We shot the ball well tonight, but look at who was shooting them,” Sampson said. “Armoni Brooks is an outstanding shooter. Corey is an outstanding shooter. I thought Corey and Armoni and (Galen Robinson Jr.’s) defense and attention to detail tonight was outstanding.”

The Cougars entered the game second in the nation in field goal percentage defense, third in 3-point field goal percentage defense and eighth in scoring defense. They held the Pirates to 32 percent shooting and 2 of 22 on 3-pointers.

“We are a good defensive team,” Sampson said.

Nate Hinton had 13 points, Cedrick Alley scored 12 and Fabian White Jr. had 11.

Houston, which won its fourth straight, shot 52 percent from the field while extending its home winning streak to 30 games.

“We are all extremely confident in one another,” Brooks said.

Seth Leday had 12 points and Isaac Fleming added 11 for ECU (8-10, 1-5). Jayden Gardner, who came into the game leading the American in scoring with 19.8 points per game, finished with eight points for the Pirates. ECU has lost four straight.

“They’re hard to beat when they don’t shoot the ball well, and when they shoot it like that, it’s just a double-edged sword,” ECU coach Joe Dooley said.

After Fleming’s layup with 8 1/2 minutes left cut Houston’s lead to 21-15, the Cougars went on a 26-9 run over the next eight minutes to take a 47-24 lead on Robinson’s 3-pointer with 1 1/2 minutes left in the half. Houston made six straight 3-pointers during the run.

The Cougars led 49-26 at the half.

BIG PICTURE

East Carolina: The Pirates struggled to find scoring as Houston did well defending Gardner. The Pirates took care of the ball, committing 10 turnovers and held a 24-18 advantage in points in the paint. “I thought they did a good job (guarding Gardner),” Dooley said. “I thought they pressured us, and they also gapped us. It shortens the court when you don’t make any shots, and we didn’t make any three-point shots.”

Houston: The Cougars never trailed. They opened 2 of 9 from the field before catching fire and finishing the first half 15 of 22. Houston played well on both ends and was able to keep ECU off the glass, holding a 47-25 advantage. The Cougars continued to pass the ball well, finishing with 21 assists on 29 made field goals.

CLIMBING THE CHARTS

Robinson surpassed 500 assists for his career at Houston, becoming the sixth Cougar to accomplish the feat. Robinson finished with eight.

OLAJUWON IN ATTENDANCE

NBA Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon, who played a key role in Houston’s run of three straight NCAA Final Four appearances from 1982-84, sat courtside.

TIMEOUT PLEASE

ECU called three timeouts in the first 13 minutes.. ECU used its final timeout two minutes into the second half.

UP NEXT

East Carolina: Hosts South Florida on Saturday.

Houston: Travels to Tulsa on Sunday.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

No. 21 Houston leads throughout in 69-58 win at SMU

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DALLAS — Corey Davis Jr. scored 20 points and Armoni Brooks added 19 with five 3-pointers as No. 21 Houston led throughout in a 69-58 win at SMU on Wednesday night.

Davis hit a 3-pointer for the game’s first points, and the Cougars (17-1, 4-1 American Athletic Conference) jumped out to a 12-4 lead after Brooks made three early 3s. Houston led 31-22 at halftime after Brooks buried a long straightaway 3 just before the break.

Jimmy Whitt Jr. had 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting for SMU (11-6, 3-2), which played most of the game without senior guard Jarrey Foster (sprained left knee).

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson got his 600th career win in 30 seasons, and his 100th victory in five seasons with the Cougars. Sampson, who has a 600-319 overall record, previously coached at Indiana, Oklahoma, Washington State and Montana Tech.

Davis scored 15 points in the second half, when Houston built a 17-point lead. The Mustangs cut the deficit to nine before Houston worked the shot clock down and Brooks hit a long 3 from the left wing to make it 67-55 with 1:47 left.

Fabian White Jr. added 11 points for Houston.

Isiaha Mike had 15 points for SMU and Jahmal McMurray scored 11. Ethan Chargois had a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds.

BIG PICTURE

Houston: The Cougars won for the second year in a row at SMU, where the Mustangs are 46-9 under coach Tim Jankovich the past four seasons. Houston has bounced back nicely from a loss last week at Temple that ended its 15-0 start, winning at home over Wichita State on Saturday before the solid road win at Moody Coliseum.

SMU: The Mustangs had won nine of their previous 11 games. … Foster played only four minutes before leaving the game. He missed the second half of last season and the first six games this season after an ACL injury. Jankovich said Foster tweaked his knee and will have tests on Thursday. He is the only scholarship player who has played at SMU more than one season.

UP NEXT

Houston is in a stretch with three of four games on the road. The Cougars play Saturday at UCF.

SMU plays at Memphis on Saturday, then has a week between games before playing again the following Saturday at home against Tulane.

Wednesday’s Things to Know: Bizarre double ejection in UConn/Tulsa; Iowa State, Kansas State earn huge Big 12 wins

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After Tuesday night’s craziness in college hoops, things were bound to slow down on a Wednesday that only featured a few intriguing conference games. Of course, things got weird with a double head-coach ejection in the American while the Big 12 had some enticing contests.

UCONN’S DAN HURLEY AND TULSA’S FRANK HAITH HIT WITH DOUBLE DOUBLE-TECHNICALS. YOU READ THAT RIGHT. 

Strange ejections went down in the American on Wednesday night when UConn head Dan Hurley and Tulsa’s Frank Haith were both kicked out — as they were trying to shake hands to make amends for an argument. The bizarre incident occured one day after Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin was ejected, as the American has a lot of incidents like this being talked about lately.

Tulsa ended up holding on for the close 89-83 win as Jeriah Horne dropped 27 points.

Both head coaches released statements after the game, as well as the officials, as this will surely be talked about among sports talking heads for all of Thursday.

IOWA STATE WIN AT No. 8 TEXAS TECH AFTER LOSING TWO STRAIGHT

After dropping two straight games in which they had a chance to win late, a young Iowa State team showed rapid maturation in an important 68-64 win over No. 8 Texas Tech.

Falling to Baylor and Kansas State, the Cyclones avenged those losses and even held everything together once Texas Tech made a late rally. Getting multiple important stops and doing just enough offensively to finish the job, this is a great job by Iowa State to win an important Big 12 road game while staying right in the mix of a very crowded Big 12 race.

Now that unbeaten Texas Tech has fallen, every team in the Big 12 has lost at least one game in conference play as a deep conference looks like it’s going to be a bloodbath once again.

KANSAS STATE BLOWS OUT No. 20 OKLAHOMA IN NORMAN

Perhaps more than any other team going on Wednesday night, Kansas State needed a win to help its cause. With the Wildcats right on the bubble for a handful of NCAA tournament projections, an opportunity for a road win against another ranked team would be huge.

After knocking off Iowa State on the road the last game, Kansas State earned its second straight Big 12 road win over a ranked team with a convincing 74-61 win over the Sooners. The back-to-back road wins are the first true road wins of the season for the Wildcats — who appear to be gaining confidence.

Senior guard Barry Brown Jr. poured in 25 points — his third straight outing of at least 23 points — to pace the Kansas State offense as he’s looked like a consistent go-to scorer in recent wins.

UConn’s Hurley, Tulsa’s Haith ejected after confrontation ‘escalated by the officials’

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The UConn and Tulsa game turned into a mess on Wednesday night after a bizarre incident in which both head coaches, UConn’s Dan Hurley and Tulsa’s Frank Haith, were ejected after a pair of double technicals were issued..

As seen in the video below, the two coaches got into a verbal argument over a foul call. That resulted in the duo both receiving a technical foul. Then things got strange. As Hurley and Haith appeared to be mending fences with a handshake with official Pat Adams seemingly in control of the situation, another official — Marques Pettigrew — cam in from the other side of the floor and each coach received a second technical foul. It is the first double head coaching ejection in the American.

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Hurley told reporters after the game. “It was surreal, I would say.

“Watch what happened on TV. It’s very clear. I was talking to the official, and then I was engaged by someone on the other sideline. They said my name, in my direction, so I turned and looked [with] kind of a look of surprise.

“I’ve known Frank for a very long time — probably 15, 18, 20 years, back to when I was a high school coach and he recruited my players. I feel as though that situation escalated because of the officials and the way they handled the situation.”

Haith agreed.

“I don’t feel like it was to that level,” he said. “There was competitive conversation. I didn’t know the both of us got a first technical. I would have hoped it would have been handled a lot differently.”

“That was embarrassing,” Hurley added. “It’s embarrassing for the conference, for both me and Frank, and on the heels of last night, it’s not a good look for our league. It’s just very disappointing the way that thing was handled.”

This comes on the heels of Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin getting ejected on Tuesday night as the conference appears to be on a hot streak with tossing coaches. Cronin acknowledged that he had never been ejected from a game before.

It is the second time that Hurley has been ejected in his first season at UConn. He was also tossed in a loss to Iowa in Madison Square Garden earlier this season.