Saturday was definitely a day full of action, but little did much of the nation know that the most-discussed event would be the end of the Xavier/Butler game at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Down one to the visiting Musketeers Butler scuffled through their final possession, even having the ball deflected into the backcourt as the clock ticked under fifteen seconds. But a peculiar thing happened as the ball rolled away from the Butler basket: the clock stopped. How long it stopped and why are questions that we may never get concrete answers for but in the madness that ensued Gordon Hayward was able to make the layup that ultimately won the game 69-68.
Had the Musketeers simply been allowed to go from that point (1.2 seconds remaining) there may not have been such an angry reaction from Xavier head coach Chris Mack and his players. But as the play was supposed to be reviewed on the courtside monitor the fans, players and coaches waited. And waited. Why? Well, the 13-minute delay was caused by the absence of a digital stopwatch at the scorer's table. So the Musketeers waited thirteen minutes only to lose 1.2 more seconds, triggering the angry reaction. A painful game to lose for Xavier, especially considering that their best resume win as of right now stands to be their win over Cincinnati last Sunday.
Hayward led all scorers with 22 points (and 14 rebounds) while Jordan Crawford led Xavier with twenty points. Butler led by as many as fifteen points in the first half and finished the game with a 31-19 rebounding edge but their fourteen turnovers and Xavier's shooting (finishing with a 54.7% FG percentage) got the Musketeers in position to leave Hinkle with the win. But unfortunately for them they were unable to avoid being tied up after inbounding the basketball, setting up the wild final sequence. To say the least this is a game many will be talking about for some time.
Three Key Happenings
1. Dexter Pittman and Damion James lead Texas. While freshmen Avery Bradley and J'Covan Brown spearheaded the spurt late in the first half that gave the Longhorns of their game with North Carolina at Cowboys Stadium the two forces in the paint were a pain for the Tar Heels throughout, combining for 48 points and 30 rebounds in the 103-90 victory. All four of those players scored at least twenty points and Texas outrebounded North Carolina 56-36 on the afternoon. But the transformation of Pittman from a freshman closing in on 400 pounds to a senior in the best condition of his life played a role in this win and is a reason why Rick Barnes has a Final Four contender at his disposal.
North Carolina had no answer for Pittman when it came to his interior strength; whenever the Tar Heels needed a stop in the second half the ball went inside to Dexter and he scored many easy baskets. In addition to the disparity in offensive firepower it remains to be seen if the Tar Heels can find another ballhandler to go with Larry Drew II without turning the ball over too often. But at the end of the day the Longhorns were able to pass their first major test of the season due to their rebounding and ability to get the ball to the basket.
2. Lethargic efforts cost both Tennessee and Georgetown. The Volunteers made the long trek west while the Hoyas played a home game at night after watching snow fall thoughout the day. But to offer these things up as reasons for their losses would be nothing more than offering up excuses and taking away from the efforts of USC and Old Dominion. The Trojans took full advantage of a lackluster effort from the Volunteers, outrebounding the Volunteers 42-17 on their way to an impressive 77-55 victory. Tennessee made just two of twenty-two attempts from behind the arc but that rebounding margin shows just how dominant the Trojans were.
As for the Hoyas, they got off to a slow start in falling to Old Dominion for the second time at McDonough Gym, 61-57 in front of a frenzied crowd in a game that Georgetown never led. In fact the Monarchs led by as many as eighteen in the second half before the Hoyas made a furious run to close to within three. But it wasn't enough on a night in which Georgetown turned the ball over eighteen times and shot just 5-17 from behind the arc. That's how you get beat when the preseason Player of the Year in the CAA (Gerald Lee) scores just six points. The defeats should be a wake-up call for both teams, one that they may have needed in order to reach their potential come March.
3. Duke rides their defense to a blowout win over Gonzaga. Neither the Blue Devils nor the Bulldogs got off to a hot start in the early going at Madison Square Garden, going into the under-12 timeout tied at six. But while the Blue Devils were eventually able to find and make good looks the Bulldogs found no such comforts offensively, shooting 27.8% from the field in the 76-41 Duke victory. Gonzaga also made just one of ten shots from behind the arc (10-21 FT as well) while turning the ball over eighteen times.
The Blue Devils, who were led by Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer (combined 44 points), don't play the same overplay man-to-man all over the floor but good luck finding open spots inside the three-point line. Kyle Singler scored just eight points but he also grabbed eleven rebounds, leading Duke to a 41-29 edge on the boards. Mike Krzyzewski has a bigger team that's also more versatile than prior versions, which makes them a serious threat to get to the Final Four.
Top Three Games
1. Butler 69, Xavier 68 See above.
2. West Virginia 80, Cleveland St. 78 The Mountaineers escaped Cleveland with the win thanks to Kevin Jones finding a streaking Da'Sean Butler for the game-winning layup.
3. Wichita State 85, Texas Tech 83 After leading 35-21 at the half the Shockers hung on for dear life in the second half, winning despite the Red Raiders scoring sixty-two points in the final twenty minutes. Clevin Hannah led Wichita State with twenty-four points while J.T. Durley scored a career-high twenty while also grabbing ten rebounds.
Three Notable Performances
1. G/F Dexter Pittman and C Dexter Pittman (Texas) James (25 pts, 15 reb) and Pittman (23 pts, 15 reb) combined for 48 points and 30 rebounds in the Longhorns' 103-90 win over North Carolina.
2. G Jacob Pullen (Kansas State) Pullen scored thirty points, making six of nine three-pointers, in the Wildcats' 87-74 win at Alabama.
3. F Jarvis Varnado and F Kodi Augustus (Mississippi State) Neither shot well in the Bulldogs' 70-64 win over Houston but they did combine for 20 points and 33 rebounds. Varnado added five blocks in the victory.