Monday, February 26, 2024

Every top-12 upset on loaded men’s basketball Saturday

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Three top-12 foes fell on the road Saturday on a busy men’s college basketball slate, as Rutgers and Michigan State took down contending Big Ten foes No. 11 Wisconsin and No. 10 Illinois, respectively, while Florida blitzed No. 12 Auburn at the Swamp. 

Here’s a look back at the biggest action from Saturday:

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Late rally sees Michigan State past No. 10 Illinois

As Marcus Damask drilled a 3-pointer straight out of the under-8 timeout to give No. 10 Illinois an eight-point lead, a 10th loss loomed over a sold out Breslin Center. But Michigan State’s embattled senior class offered one more defiant surge, as Tyson Walker teamed up with A.J. Hoggard for an immediate 8-0 response before Malik Hall muscled in a pair of and-one baskets, fueling a 19-4 charge that led Michigan State to a much-needed 88-80 victory over the Illini. 

Hall had an efficient 22 points on 7 for 9 shooting. A pair of high-powered offenses — Illinois and Michigan State finished a combined 48 percent from the floor — ensured neither team managed to extend their lead beyond a single possession before a Ty Rodgers jumper put the Illini up five midway through the first half. The visitors would lead by as much as eight in the first half, but nine points from Hall in just three minutes saw Michigan State take a 44-41 lead into the locker room.

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Illinois’ Terrance Shannon Jr. led all scorers with 28 points drilled a 3 early in the second half to restore the Illini advantage, but timely playmaking from Walker and Hoggard, who finished with a career-high 23, helped keep MSU level with the Illini as the clock ticked inside 10 minutes. The Spartans would cede and overcome the aforementioned eight-point deficit, and after Hall’s second and-one gave the Spartans a 78-76 lead, Illinois’ Justin Harmon and Marcus Damask each committed turnovers that gave MSU a key six-point edge with less than a minute remaining. 

No. 17 Kentucky suffers historic home defeat to Gonzaga

Graham Ike scores over Kentucky defender

Gonzaga’s joint-leading scorer Anton Watson assumed his usual place in the spotlight with a chance to knock off No. 17 Kentucky at the iconic Rupp Arena, converting a pair of layups in the final 90 seconds to lead the Zags over UK 89-85. Kentucky has now lost three straight in Lexington for the first time since 1976. 

Two offensive-minded ball clubs provided the expected fireworks immediately on Saturday, as Justin Edwards and Nolan Hickman exchanged baskets inside the opening 35 seconds. Gonzaga built an early 13-6 lead into the first media timeout, and Hickman would stay hot with 11 points in as many minutes. The Bulldogs’ go-to bucket getters Graham Ike and Watson stepped up to close the first half, capping off a 13-2 run — Watson completed a gritty and-one before finding Ike on a layup — that gave the Zags a 42-32 edge. 

With Kentucky’s deficit still hovering near double-figures a couple of minutes out of the locker room, Reed Sheppard took control of what would quickly become a dominant second half. The star freshman converted an and-one and drilled a jumper in quick succession, and a pair of Sheppard layups before the under-12 media timeout rounded out a 21-7 run for Kentucky and gave the Cats a three-point lead. Ike, who led all scorers with 23, quickly answered back with a hoop through contact, and the two offensive superstars traded baskets as the game continued neck-and-neck into the final minutes. Braden Huff gave the Zags crucial production off the bench with nine-straight Bulldog points, building a 76-72 lead, before Ike and Watson led the visitors through crunch time. 

Florida rides fast start to upset over No. 12 Auburn

Pullin completes layup vs. Auburn

An alluring matchup between Florida’s high-powered offense and No. 12 Auburn’s stingy, third-ranked defense went the way of the Gators from nearly the opening tip, as Florida led by as much as 26 and cruised to a dominant 81-65 victory.

Florida’s attack buried the visiting Tigers into a 9-0 hole after just 150 seconds of play thanks to Walter Clayton’s triple and a pair of Zyon Pullin layups. The Gators maintained a seven-point lead into the first media timeout, where star sophomore Riley Kugel was introduced off the bench and quickly made a statement. Kugel notched a block on his second defensive possession before drilling a 3-pointer less than a minute later, and the Orlando native finished with a game-high 22 points. His insertion sparked another dominant, 13-3 Gator run, and Florida would lead by as much as 18 before taking a 42-26 lead into halftime. 

Florida’s offense evolved from good to great out of the locker room, managing to score on the first eight offensive possessions of the half as its lead rapidly ballooned. Clayton, one of three Gators over 19 points, knocked down a pair at the line that gave Florida a game-high 64-35 lead less than seven minutes into the second half. A Pullin jumper at the 9:40 mark actually served as Florida’s last made field goal, but the Gators rode free-throw shooting from Pullin and Clayton to a comfortable victory. 

Rutgers hands No. 11 Wisconsin fourth-straight loss

Jeremiah Williams celebrates and-one finish vs. Wisconsin

Rutgers’ Jersey Mike’s Arena has a new ranked victim: No. 11 Wisconsin. The Scarlet Knights led for all but 10 seconds in a dominant performance, shooting 10 of 17 from 3 in a 78-56 win. 

RU entered Saturday riding a wave of elite defense — Rutgers posted an adjusted defensive efficiency below 82 points/100 possessions in its last three outings — and that Steve Pikiell stinginess disrupted the Badgers early. Among the more turnover-averse ball clubs in America, Wisconsin committed 12 first-half giveaways that turned into a dozen points for the Scarlet Knights. Cliff Omoruyi excelled on both ends with 11 points and four blocks, Jeremiah Williams continued to give Rutgers a boost with 18 points and 7 assists, and a loud Rutgers crowd enjoyed a 37-28 halftime edge. 

Uncharacteristic 3-point excellence from the Scarlet Knights in the second half turned the game into a laugher, shooting 7 for 10 from deep in the final 20 minutes. Noah Fernandes was particularly lethal, overcoming a recent rough patch to shoot a perfect 5 of 5 from deep. Williams also added a dozen after halftime to lead the Scarlet Knights as they recorded their largest-ever win over a ranked foe. 

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