By Andrew Kahn
It’s the most exciting time of year for college basketball fans. Some of the smaller conferences have wrapped up their tournaments, while the bigger leagues’ are set to begin. The high stakes in the one-bid leagues give the games an incomparable intensity. The one league that doesn’t have a tournament was still expected to crown its champion on Saturday, but Yale’s upset loss to Dartmouth—at the buzzer—coupled with Harvard’s win forced a tie atop the standings. The rivals will play a tiebreaker on Saturday at Penn.
Four schools have already punched their tickets to the NCAA Tournament. The first was Belmont, which shocked No. 25 Murray State in the Ohio Valley on Saturday night. Murray State entered with a 25-game win streak, including a 16-0 conference record, and it looked like star Cameron Payne was going to be the difference, hitting a three and making two free throws on consecutive possessions to give the Racers a one-point lead down the stretch. But Belmont’s Taylor Barnette hit an off-balance, deep three off a sideline out-of-bounds play with three seconds left to win it, 88-87. Murray’s final heave was after the final buzzer. Despite their 27-5 record, the Racers will be sweating out their postseason fate until Selection Sunday.
Yesterday, Northern Iowa won the Missouri Valley (see below), North Florida took the Atlantic Sun to reach its first NCAA Tournament, and for the second year in a row, Coastal Carolina beat Winthrop in the Big South final. The championship games for Colonial, MAAC, and Southern conferences are tonight.
Duke sweeps Carolina
Just as he did in the earlier meeting, Tyus Jones took over in the second half to propel Duke to victory on Saturday. The freshman point guard scored 17 in second half and combined with Quinn Cook for 44 total points. While not as thrilling as the Feb. 18 game in Durham, this was competitive throughout, with Duke winning 84-77.
Wildcats still perfect
Kentucky’s players celebrated Saturday’s 67-50 win over Florida by wearing t-shirts that displayed their 31-0 record above the phrase “NOT DONE.” The Wildcats have had a historic season, but they don’t want to end up like Wichita State, which entered last year’s NCAA Tournament undefeated before losing in the second round. Speaking of Wichita…
Shocker in the MVC
Illinois State, the fourth seed in the Missouri Valley tournament, beat Wichita State, the No. 8 team in the country, on Saturday, 65-62. Illinois State scored 42 points in the second half against a normally stingy Wichita defense. Daishon Knight finished with 25 points to help propel the Redbirds to the title game, where they led by 18 in the first half against Northern Iowa. The second half opened with a 25-4 UNI run, however, and bubble teams across the country could breathe a sigh of relief when the Panthers pulled it out.
Buzzer beaters in finales
Oklahoma and Louisville ended regular season play in dramatic fashion on Saturday. Buddy Hield had a tip-in as time expired to give the Sooners a two-point victory over Kansas, while Mangok Mathiang hit a jumper with two seconds left to give Louisville a one-point lead and a double-bye in the ACC Tournament. Rick Pitino joked after the game that Mathiang was the 64th option on the play.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.