The SEC/Big 12 Challenge took center stage Saturday and boy, oh boy, it did not disappoint.
Florida upset No. 11 West Virginia with a thrilling come-from-behind 85-80 win, No. 12 Missouri overcame a double-digit deficit to escape TCU in overtime 102-98 and No. 10 Texas Tech pulled the Houdini act of the
day year with a 12-0 run in the final minute to oust LSU 76-71 in stunning fashion.
That wasn’t all. The Oklahoma schools delivered the goods as well, with No. 24 Oklahoma kicking off the day with a 66-61 win over No. 9 Alabama and Oklahoma State defeating Arkansas 81-77 thanks to the late-game heroics of Cade Cunningham. Then, the premier team in the state just north of Oklahoma, No. 15 Kansas, got walloped on the road by No. 18 Tennessee.
It was a wild day indeed in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge but also in the sport. So we’ve done the leg work to wrap up all the happenings into one tidy column dubbing the day’s biggest winners and losers. Enjoy.
Loser: Kansas struggles continue
Times are tough for Bill Self and Co. They took their fourth loss in five games Saturday to the Vols, who stomped them 80-61. It was the Jayhawks’ fifth loss of January to close the month, the first time since 1989 the program has taken that many losses in a single month and the first time Self has done so as a head coach since 1995, per ESPN.
Winner: Florida bolsters NCAA Tournament resume
No one would have blamed the Gators if they’d folded after losing preseason SEC Player of the Year Keyontae Johnson in December in frightening fashion. But the Gators have now won four straight after outlasting No. 11 West Virginia 85-80. Only Gonzaga and Texas Tech have scored more against the Mountaineers this season. But with Michigan transfer Colin Castleton proving to be a revelation, the Gators are surging and building quite a resume. The 6-foot-11 Castleton finished with 21 points, seven rebounds and five blocks on Saturday.
Loser: Providence blows 15-point lead to Hoyas
As if blowing a 15-point lead to a Georgetown team that sat at the bottom of the conference standings ahead of Saturday wasn’t brutal enough, Providence did just that, losing 73-72 in especially agonizing fashion. With 1.5 seconds remaining, Providence star David Duke missed a free throw that would have likely sent the game to OT, sending the game to a screeching halt instead. (Duke is hitting above 80% from the free-throw line this season.)
Winner: Duke’s Johnson shows dunking skills
Duke freshman forward Jalen Johnson delivered the dunk of the day with authority Saturday as the Blue Devils blew out Clemson 79-53. Johnson took a steal midway through the first half and jammed over Clemson freshman PJ Hall when the two met at the rim, posterizing him in the process.
Here’s another look, because it was absolutely glorious and just one angle does not suffice.
Johnson brought the confidence and swagger to his postgame, too, telling ACC Network that he saw it coming.
“I could tell by the way he was pursuing it [that he was going to try to block it],” he said. “I knew I was going to put him in the rim.”
Loser: TCU blows huge lead on the road
To cough up a double-digit lead is one thing, but to do so in the final minutes on the road against a ranked team is in its own special category of pain. TCU led by a dozen with 4:40 left in regulation but let No. 12 Mizzou mount a 19-7 run from there to force overtime. In OT, the Tigers outscored TCU 13-9 to take a 102-98 win at home. TCU has now lost five-straight and is only projected by KenPom to win two of its remaining nine conference games. Ouch.
Loser: Two more unbeaten teams go down
The number of unbeaten teams in college hoops shrunk by two this weekend after Alabama A&M lost to Prairie View A&M 79-57. The Bulldogs’ loss came a day after Winthrop (16-1) took its first loss of the season on Friday by just two measly points in a 57-55 victory by a UNC Asheville team it beat by four points only a day before.
The Bears still haven’t won a game by fewer than eight points after they repped the Big 12 with an 84-72 win over Auburn. Baylor led just 35-30 at halftime before systematically dismantling Bruce Pearl’s club with the usual mix of 3-point shooting and defense, holding Auburn star guard Sharife Cooper in check. There was also this ridiculous put-back dunk by Matthew Mayer that sent the Bears’ bench into an utter frenzy.
Winner: Cade Cunningham heats up late
Oklahoma State freshman Cade Cunningham didn’t make the start Saturday against Arkansas after missing the last two games due to COVID-19 protocols. But true to the cliche: It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.
And Cunningham finished with purpose. He had 14 second-half points in the Pokes’ 81-77 win over Arkansas, and sunk not only the go-ahead jumper in crunch time, but free throw attempts in the final few seconds to salt away the win.
Loser: Colorado’s Pac-12 hopes take crushing hit
With a 19-point second-half lead vs. Utah all Colorado had to do Saturday in the second half was avoid a total collapse. But that’s exactly what the Buffaloes did falling 77-74 in a stunner to the Utes. Colorado made just four shots from the field over the final nine minutes of play and Utah guard Alfonso Plummer came off the bench to score 21 of his 23 points in the final 7:49 of the game. Plummer hit four 3-pointers in that span, including a four-point play with 3:24 that gave the Utes a 70-69 lead that they would not relinquish.
Loser: Florida State misses opportunity
On a day where ACC leader Virginia fell to Virginia Tech, Florida State squandered a good opportunity to move up the league standings, falling on the road 76-65 to Georgia Tech. The loss pushed the Seminoles to 6-2 in conference play, but a win would’ve tied them with Virginia for first place. Now they’re a full game back in the standings and chasing both Virginia schools.
Winner: Villanova keeps cruising
Remember Villanova? You should. After a long layoff due to COVID-19 issues, the No. 3 Wildcats have returned by winning three straight, with Saturday’s 80-72 win over Seton Hall serving as the latest example of their Big East supremacy. Most agree that No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 Baylor — both undefeated — are clearly the best teams in the nation. But at 11-1 (6-0 Big East), Villanova is not far behind.
Loser: LSU melts down late vs. Texas Tech
Down seven with a minute to go at LSU, No. 10 Texas Tech needed a miraculous turn of events to avoid a three-game losing streak.
And a miracle it got.
The Red Raiders cobbled together a 12-0 run over the final minute of play to win 76-71. It started with a Mac McClung 3, followed by another, followed by six consecutive points from Terrence Shannon to close it out. An absolute melt from LSU but a brilliant effort worth acknowledging as such by Tech.
Winner: Shorthanded Sooners show up vs. Alabama
Oklahoma ordered a win Saturday with a healthy side of history, defeating No. 9 Alabama 66-61 and, in the process, becoming just the third team ever to record four regular-season wins over top-10 opponents in the same month. The impressive win came without leading scorer Austin Reaves, capping a month in which the Sooners (11-4) defeated No. 9 West Virginia, No. 9 Kansas, No. 9 Alabama and No. 5 Texas all within a 28-day window.
Don’t look now, but OU suddenly looks like the most serious threat to Baylor (if there is one!) in the Big 12. And a warning in advance: Good luck if you’re ranked No. 9 and playing the Sooners.
Winner: UT Arlington gets by Arkansas State at the horn
UT Arlington led for exactly zero seconds in the second half against Arkansas State, and yet it still managed to come out with a win. That’s because the Mavericks played catch-up the entire second half yet finally prevailed as time expired, with a buzzer-beating layup lifting them past ASU.
Loser: Clemson’s rough month continues
Only two weeks ago, Clemson was ranked, the owner of the No. 1 defense in adjusted efficiency and cruising towards serious ACC contention. But oh, the last two weeks have been dreadful. The Tigers have fallen four times in their last five outings capped with a drubbing at the hands of Duke 79-53. They’ve now lost each of their last four games by a combined 98 points.