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Ford scores 26, No. 20 Saint Mary’s edges Wisconsin in OT

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Saint Mary’s got a familiar test from Wisconsin’s defense at an unfamiliar venue.

Jordan Ford scored 26 points, Malik Fitts added 16 and the 20th-ranked Gaels hung on to beat Wisconsin 65-63 in overtime in the season opener for both teams on Tuesday night.

“Wisconsin is hard to get baskets on,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. “We just kept grinding and making them work, covering the on-balls and just tried to wear them out.”

Saint Mary’s led the entire second half before Wisconsin closed the gap and took a brief lead in overtime. But Fitts’ basket with 55 seconds to play gave the Gaels the lead for good.

Freshman Kyle Bowen hit 1 of 2 free throws with 4.4 seconds remaining for the Gaels, and Wisconsin had a chance to win it, but Aleem Ford’s deep 3-pointer at the buzzer was short.

Aleem Ford made a layup with 52 seconds left that tied the game at 54, and he also had a 3-point attempt to win it in regulation that missed just before the buzzer. He finished with seven points.

It was the Gaels’ first visit to the Sanford Pentagon, which will also welcome Minnesota and Oklahoma for a game on Saturday.

Saint Mary’s went on a 21-3 run that erased an eight-point deficit and put the Gaels ahead 30-20 just before the break. Wisconsin went without a field goal for a six-minute stretch.

Jordan Ford, a first-team All-West Coast Conference player last year, fueled the run, scoring 15 points all in the final seven minutes of the half, including three 3-pointers. He finished the night 11-for-24 from the field, including 4-for-8 from beyond the arc.

“I was just feeling out the game, feeling out how they were playing us,” Ford said. “It only takes one or two shots to get me going. Once I got one 3 down, I was really aggressive and I think it helped our offense.”

After Wisconsin cut it to 44-40 with just over 10 minutes to play, the Gaels increased it to 50-41 with a 6-1 run capped by a pair of nifty moves down the lane by Fitts.

Wisconsin didn’t fade, however, and Nate Reuvers’ 3-pointer with 4:08 to play cut it to 50-49.

The Badgers shot 42.3% from the field while the Gaels finished at 39.3%. Saint Mary’s out-rebounded Wisconsin 36-28, including 13 on the offensive end, led by Mattias Tass with rebounds.

BIG PICTURE

Saint Mary’s: The Gaels got a strong test early in the season from a Big Ten opponent that never let them build a big lead. Saint Mary’s was the second-ranked team in the West Coast Conference in the preseason, behind No. 8 Gonzaga.

Wisconsin: The Badgers were picked to finish sixth out of 14 teams in the Big Ten. Their conference opener is Dec. 7 against Indiana.

LETDOWN

D’Mitrik Trice, Wisconsin’s top returning scorer, wasn’t a threat most of the night and finished with 10 points on 3-of-7 shooting. He missed his only field goal attempt in the first half. His first basket was a 3-pointer early in the second half. Trice rimmed out a wide-open 3-pointer with Wisconsin trailing 54-52 with 1:37 remaining.

HE SAID IT

“This is a game I’ll remember for the rest of my life, just because this place is just so cool.” — Bennett on playing at the Sanford Pentagon.

UP NEXT

Saint Mary’s hosts Winthrop on Monday.

Wisconsin is home to Eastern Illinois on Friday.

NCAA Tournament 2019: Instant Analysis South Region

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The South Region is led by some top seeds who were bounced early in the NCAA tournament last season as Virginia and Tennessee look to redeem themselves after strong seasons.

The South Region is led by No. 1 seed Virginia. Following last season’s stunning loss to No. 16 seed UMBC in the first round, the Cavaliers will get a chance to redeem themselves against No. 16 seed Gardner-Webb, the champions of the Big South.

The No. 8/9 matchup is a matchup between SEC and Big 12 as Ole Miss and Oklahoma battle. The Rebels were one of the most pleasant surprises of any team in the field this season while Oklahoma has won some games down the stretch to earn another bid.

Wisconsin draws the No. 5 seed as the Ethan Happ-led Badgers get a major test in No. 12 seed and Pac-12 Tournament champion Oregon. Although the Ducks struggled during the regular season — particularly after the loss of star freshman Bol Bol — they’re a dangerous team with two recent wins over Washington.

ANALYSIS: East | South | West | Midwest

The No. 4 seed is Kansas State as they are still hoping to get senior forward Dean Wade (foot) healthy enough to play in the NCAA tournament after he missed all of last season’s Elite Eight run for the Wildcats. They’ll face No. 13 seed UC Irvine, the champions of the Big West.

Defending champion Villanova drew no favors from the committee with the No. 6 seed. There hasn’t been a No. 6 seed in the Final Four since 1992 as the Wildcats will have an uphill battle to make the Final Four for the third time in four years. They draw No. 11 seed Saint Mary’s as the Gaels gained a lot of momentum in winning the WCC title over No. 1 seed Gonzaga.

Earning a surprising share of the Big Ten regular-season title this season, Purdue draws the No. 3 seed as they get a tough first-round opponent in No. 14 seed Old Dominion.

The committee also didn’t help No. 7 seed Cincinnati as the Bearcats had an impressive showing in an AAC title-game win over Houston on Sunday. The Bearcats will face No. 10 seed Iowa in a clash of styles and tempo.

After falling short in the SEC tournament title game, No. 2 seed Tennessee gets a matchup with No. 15 seed Colgate — a program making its first NCAA tournament appearance in 23 years. Although the Raiders feature the Patriot League Player of the Year in forward Rapolas Ivanauskas, they’ll face one of the best frontcourts in the tournament with the Vols’ veteran combo of Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield.

Introducing Cinderella: Saint Mary’s upsets No. 1 Gonzaga to earn WCC automatic bid

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That noise you hear is bubbles popping in around the country.

Saint Mary’s proved the old axiom true: The hardest thing to do in college basketball is to beat a team three times in one season, as they took out Gonzaga, the No. 1 team in the nation, 60-47, to earn the WCC’s automatic bid and end the dream of one unsuspecting bubble team.

Jordan Ford had an off-night but he still finished with 17 points while Jordan Hunter added 12 points and 15 boards, but the story of this game was what the Gaels were able to do defensively. Gonzaga shot 38.3 percent from the floor. They were just 2-for 17 from beyond the arc. The 47 points Mark Few’s team scored was their lowest offensive output since they mustered just 41 points in a loss at Duke in Dec. 2009.

Should I mention that the Zags entered the game as one of the most efficient offenses that we’ve ever seen? They managed all of 0.783 points-per-possession on Tuesday night.

And while it would be easy to point the finger at Josh Perkins, who struggled mightily, or note just how poorly Zach Norvell shot, the truth is that this win came down to Randy Bennett’s game-plan and the way that St. Mary’s executed it. They did not allow the Zags to get out in transition. They did not take bad shot, and they exploited mismatches offensively when they found them. They controlled tempo and made Gonzaga work for every stop they got.

For a team that lost to the Zags by 48 points earlier this season, I’m sure that this win feels great.

Because twice in the last three years, the Gaels found themselves in the NIT with a 28-5 record thanks to a loss in the WCC tournament, including last season.

What’s more interesting is that this Saint Mary’s win ends the bubble life of … well, of someone. As of this morning, that someone would have been N.C. State, who was the last team in the field in our most recent bracket projection. Clemson is the second to last team in the field, meaning that when those two square off Wednesday at noon they will be playing in what should be a de facto play-out game.

All of that is subject to change.

What is not going to change, however, is where Saint Mary’s will be playing their postseason basketball.

They are tournament bound, and there is nothing a Selection Committee can do about it.

Anyway, let’s get to know the Gaels.

CONFERENCE: WCC

COACH: Randy Bennett

RECORD: 22-11, 11-5 WCC (2nd)

RATINGS

  • KENPOM: 29
  • NET: 37

PROJECTED SEED: The Gaels are likely looking at being somewhere around the 12 seed line. They cannot end up in a play-in game, but since they were not considered to be a real candidate for an at-large bid, it’s hard to imagine them passing too many of those at-large teams.

NAMES YOU NEED TO KNOW: The best player on the Gaels is their starting point guard Jordan Ford. He’s a Patty Mills clone in the way he plays, a super-quick, dynamic playmaker capable of getting 30 on any given night. Malik Fitts has grown into an effective player after transferring into the program from South Florida, while Jordan Hunter, Tommy Kuhse and Tanner Krebs have all popped up for big games this year.

But, to be frank, it’s Ford. He’s the difference-maker.

BIG WINS, BAD LOSSES: Saint Mary’s beat Gonzaga on a neutral floor. That’s pretty good! It’s also one of just two Q1 wins (New Mexico State on the road) to go along a pair of Q3 losses.

STATS YOU NEED TO KNOW: For me, the most important number to know here is 63.0. They average just 63 possessions per game, 347th nationally, and if slowing down Gonzaga on Tuesday night is any indication, the Gaels can do this against just about anyone.

HOW DO I KNOW YOU?: Everyone should know who Saint Mary’s is at this point. They’ve been the best program in the WCC not named Gonzaga for more than a decade. It may be hard to believe, but it’s now been nine years since Omar Samhan carried Gonzaga to the Sweet 16 in 2010.

FINAL THOUGHT: I don’t know if this Saint Mary’s team is actually good enough to win a game in the NCAA tournament. What I do know is that they actually earned their way in by getting the wins they needed to advance. I, for one, am glad that someone like the Gaels will play in the NCAA tournament instead of, say, a Clemson team with one Q1 win on the season.

Saturday’s Things To Know: A recap of all the day’s college hoops action

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PLAYER OF THE DAY: Jordan Bone, Tennessee

Bone was the best player on the floor in the biggest game of the day, and I’m not sure that it was really all that close.

Bone finished with 27 points on Saturday. He was 11-for-15 from the field. He had three assists and two steals with no turnovers, and he made all five of his threes.

We wrote all about Bone here.

TEAM OF THE DAY: UCF Knights

Collin Smith scored 21 points, UCF ended the nation’s longest home court winning streak and they might have just punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament.

We wrote all about the Knights’ win here.

ONIONS OF THE DAY: Sam Merrill, Utah State

Onions of the Day today has nothing to do with a big shot that Merrill hit or any of the 29 points that he scored as the Aggies landed a critical win over No. 12 Nevada.

It had everything to do with this charge he took, because Merrill let himself get absolutely posterized in the name of victory. You have to have some cajones to do that:

But can I just say … it’s ridiculous that this is a charge. Caleb Martin threw down what may very well end up being one of the five favorites for Dunk of the Year in college basketball, and it didn’t count because someone decided to stand in front of him and fall over.

I hearby propose the following rule change: If, while in the process of trying to take a charge, you get dunked on, then the charge is nullified. Put another way, you cannot commit an offensive foul on a dunk, because I don’t want to live in a world where we celebrate a charge over a dunk.

I mean, the announcer here literally says, “THE CHARGE WAS BETTER THAN THE DUNK!”

No.

It was not.

Let’s fix this while there’s still time.

SATURDAY’S WINNERS

PURDUE, THANKS TO INDIANA: The Boilermakers currently sit all alone in first place in the Big Ten standings after they blew out Ohio State on Saturday, winning by 35 points as the Buckeyes tried to figure out how to win a game without Kaleb Wesson on the floor. Purdue is a game up on both Michigan and Michigan State, and while their final two games of the regular season are both on the road — at Minnesota and at Northwestern — the Spartans and the Wolverines play on the season’s final day.

Matt Painter deserves serious National Coach of the Year consideration if he finds a way to win the Big Ten after everything Purdue lost this season.

The biggest reason that Purdue is in a position to win the Big Ten title is …

… INDIANA, THANKS TO JUSTIN SMITH: The Hoosiers finished off a sweep of Michigan State on Saturday, beating the Spartans in Bloomington, 63-62, a month after they knocked off Michigan State in overtime in East Lansing. This might be the win that can get them into the NCAA tournament.

Fans of Purdue, Indiana’s archrival, sure were appreciate:

TEXAS: The Longhorns picked up a massive win on Saturday as well, as they blew out Iowa State in Austin. As weird as it sounds, Texas is sitting at 15-13 on the season and not only do they have a resume that is probably strong enough to get into the NCAA tournament, they won’t even have the worst record of at-large teams.

Indiana, if they get in, will.

What a time to be alive.

LSU’S SEC TITLE CHANCES: The Tigers are tied with Tennessee for first place in the SEC title race. The Vols beat Kentucky in Knoxville and LSU survived Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

SATURDAY’S LOSERS

LEAGUE TITLES FOR KANSAS AND KENTUCKY: Kentucky lost at Tennessee on Saturday, which dropped them a game behind the Vols and LSU for first place in the SEC standings with two games left. To win an outright league title, they’ll need both teams to lose out, and that doesn’t seem that likely.

Kansas is in the same boat. They beat Oklahoma State in Stillwater, but it didn’t get them any closer to first place in the Big 12 as Texas Tech (at TCU) and Kansas State (Baylor) both won.

SAINT MARY’S, MEMPHIS AND CLEMSON: The bubble is weak enough where teams that don’t have horrible losses can get into the NCAA tournament if they manage to land one elite win. Saint Mary’s, Memphis and Clemson all had chances to do just that on Saturday and failed. The Gaels lost to No. 1 Gonzaga at home. Memphis had a chance to beat No. 23 Cincinnati on the road and turned the ball over down 71-69 on the final possession. Clemson did the same thing at home against No. 5 North Carolina, losing 81-79 when they turned the ball over in the final seconds.

FRAN MCCAFFERY: No. 22 Iowa got blown out for the second straight game and lost for the third time in four games on Saturday. This time, however, is was against Rutgers at home, and they did it without McCaffery on the sideline. McCaffery was suspended for the game after cursing out officials in the postgame.

FLORIDA: The Gators are in the mix for one of the last spots on the bubble, and they might have cost themselves by losing at home to Georgia on Saturday. That’s one way to snap a five-game winning streak.

FINAL THOUGHT

The issue of court-storming is going to once again take center stage this week after an incident that occurred after Utah State’s win over No. 12 Nevada.

Nevada star Jordan Caroline was captured on video in the bowels of the Spectrum losing his mind. He punched out the glass encasing a fire extinguisher and needed to be held back by coaches and players to avoid going after someone. Then, the Nevada coaching staff can be seen getting into an argument with police officers that were trying to keep them separated. This happened after the Wolf Pack were on the court as Utah State fans rush the floor, and coaches in the video can be heard complaining to security and police officers that fans had their hands on the Nevada players.

Now, we still do not know what exactly caused this.

Video after the does not seem to indicate that there was an altercation on the court involving fans and players, and there are reports that the scuffle was the result of members of two coaching staffs getting into a verbal altercation; due to the fans on the floor, Nevada had to leave the court through an exit that took them past the Utah State locker room.

As I do every time the court storm conversation comes up, I’ll make the simple and obvious point: Eventually, something really, really bad is going to happen during one of these court storms. We’ve already seen a West Virginia player get suspended for punching a Texas Tech fan, a Kansas State court storm that saw a fan go after a Kansas player and Bill Self get pinned against the scorer’s table and a full-fledged brawl between Utah Valley State fans and New Mexico State players. What happens if one of those punches lands cleanly? What happens if a player seriously injures one of the court-storming students? What happens if a group of students gang up on one or two players that are caught in the melee?

It’s going to happen at some point.

And we’re all going to wonder why we thought it was such a great idea to allow drunk fans to sprint onto the floor after the team they love just won an emotional game while the losing team is still there.

No. 1 Gonzaga wins 20th straight, 69-55 over Saint Mary’s

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MORAGA, Calif. — Josh Perkins scored 19 points and Brandon Clarke sparked a big second-half run with strong play on both ends of the court to help No. 1 Gonzaga wrap up a perfect conference regular season with a 69-55 victory over Saint Mary’s on Saturday night.

Clarke had six points during the game-changing 17-0 spurt in the second half that sent the Bulldogs (29-2, 16-0 West Coast Conference) to another lopsided win, extending the nation’s longest winning streak to 20 games.

Clarke also had three blocks during that stretch and influenced several others as Gonzaga proved to be far too tough for its fiercest conference rival and sealed its fifth perfect conference record in the regular season.

Jordan Ford scored 19 points to lead the Gaels (20-11, 11-5). They went nearly eight minutes without scoring in the second half.

Saint Mary’s cut the deficit to 47-44 when Tanner Krebbs scored on a layup with 12:07 to play. By the time the Gaels fell behind by 20 points before scoring again on a basket by Jock Perry with 4:21 remaining.

Rui Hachimura had 17 points for the Bulldogs and Clarke finished with 15 points and four blocked shots.

Gonzaga broke out to an 11-2 lead early to silence the overflow crowd before the Gaels responded by making seven of their next eight shots to take a 21-19 lead on a 3-pointer by Ford.

The Bulldogs led 36-34 at the half after Filip Petrusev hit a fall-away jumper at the buzzer.

THE TAKEAWAY

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs finished the conference season barely getting tested. They outscored the opposition by 27 points per game to set a WCC record and haven’t played a game decided by single digits since losing 76-73 at Tennessee on Dec. 9. Gonzaga trailed in the second half in just two games all conference season for a total of 42 seconds. Things figure to get tougher when the NCAA tournament starts later this month.

Saint Mary’s: After losing the first meeting by 48 points in the most lopsided loss since coach Randy Bennett arrived at Saint Mary’s in 2001, the Gaels looked like they would be overwhelmed again after the slow start. But they responded and stayed close until the second-half drought that featured six missed shots, six turnovers and two missed free throws. The loss dropped Saint Mary’s to 1-35 all-time against top 10 teams, with the only win coming against Villanova in the 2010 NCAA tournament.

Mahershala Ali’s hoops career at Saint Mary’s back in spotlight after second Oscar win

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Mahershala Ali captured his second Oscar on Sunday night as he’s quickly becoming one of the most respected actors in America. Winning Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Dr. Don Shirley in Green Book, Ali earned his second Academy Award, after previously winning Best Actor for his role in Moonlight two years ago.

But before Ali became a movie star, he was a Division I scholarship basketball player at Saint Mary’s. Playing four seasons and appearing in 97 games under his given name of Hershal Gilmore — mostly as a role player — Ali’s basketball past has started to make the rounds online over the last several days.

While some are clamoring for Ali to take part in a basketball-related role, the 45-year-old actor has stuck with dramatic roles not involving sports during his Hollywood ascension the last several years. Now that LeBron James and Space Jam II is being made, however, maybe The King needs Ali by his side as a worthy sidekick.

In the original Space Jam, Michael Jordan called on Bill Murray to help beat the Monstars. And Ali is a superior hooper who also now owns two Oscars. It’s unlikely, but it would be fun to see James and Ali share the court and the screen together.