Mid-Major Takeaways: Week Three

In the world of mid-major basketball, 15 minutes of fame might be all you have to hang your hat on at the end of the season. This is where we find the Evansville Purple Aces a little over a week after upsetting Kentucky. Before beating Morgan State in three overtimes on Sunday, the Purple Aces had lost three in a row. The season is far from over, but any good vibes that remained from winning in Lexington have all but disappeared. The spotlight shifted to a few other mid-major programs and players over the past week.

Mid-Major Week Three Takeaways

Lesley Says, Uncle!

There has been a lot of love for the Merrimack Warriors in their first season at the Division I level. The Warriors, however, did not show a lot of love to Division III’s Lesley University earlier this week. Merrimack defeated Lesley 110-16, holding the Lynx to five made field goals and ten percent shooting overall. Lesley had 35 turnovers compared to four assists, while Merrimack flipped those numbers, having 30 assists to just five turnovers. The 16 points allowed by Merrimack was the lowest since Southern gave up 12 to Champion Baptist in 2013. This is also the third outcome with a margin of victory that is 90 points or greater this season. Devin Jensen and Jaleel Lord led Merrimack in scoring with each dropping 17 points.

Big Sky Blues

While Merrimack dominated a non-Division I opponent, the Montana Grizzlies found themselves on the wrong end of the box score. The Grizzlies fell to NAIA member Montana Tech 74-72. According to Chad Sherwood at Hoops HD, this was the first time an NCAA Tournament team from the prior season lost to a non-Division I opponent since Tulsa lost to Southeastern Oklahoma back in 2014. This was the Grizzlies first home loss to a non-Division I opponent since the 1980-81 season. Head coach Travis DeCuire criticized his team’s effort, reminding them that they “have to show up with the same energy every night and bring your “A” game.” Instead, Montana Tech scored 24 points off of 17 Montana turnovers and shot 52.6 percent from behind the arc. Kendal Manuel was the lone bright spot in the loss, scoring 22 points for the Grizzlies.

Aggies, Mon

Utah State may be cementing itself as the second-best mid-major behind Gonzaga. The Aggies got their first big non-conference win on Friday, defeating LSU 80-78 in their first game at the Jersey Mike’s Jamaica Classic. Utah State had to fight back from a 19-point deficit, their largest comeback in five years. It was also the program’s first win over an SEC opponent in six years. Reigning Mountain West Player of the Year Sam Merrill and Alphonso Anderson each scored 24 points in the victory. The pair were especially lethal in the second half, scoring 32 of the Aggies’ 50 points. Anderson was a sniper from deep, shooting 77.6 percent from the three-point line. Utah State is the class of the Mountain West this season. If the Aggies can get through non-conference play unscathed, they may find themselves as a top ten team just in time for conference play.

Feasting on the Pac-12

Thanksgiving came a week early for a trio of mid-major squads that feasted on Pac-12 opponents last Thursday. This continues a trend of mid-majors dethroning their power conference partners this season. The biggest of the three upsets was at the hands of the Hofstra Pride, who took down UCLA 88-78. The Pride only turned the ball over six times, while 86 of their 88 points came from the hands of their starters. Desure Buie led Hofstra with a career-high 29 points, including a perfect 13-13 from the free-throw line. Jalen Ray contributed 27 points of his own, also a career-high.

Nebraska-Omaha picked up their first-ever win over a Pac-12 opponent when they defeated Washington State 85-77. KJ Robinson scored 20 points off the bench for the Mavericks, 18 of which came in the second half. Omaha went 20-24 from the charity stripe, helping to seal their victory down the stretch.

Coastal Carolina also secured their first victory over a Pac-12 opponent, thrashing Utah 79-57 in their first-round match-up of the Myrtle Beach Invitational. The tournament is held at the Chanticleers home arena, so an argument can be made that they had a home-court advantage. However, the game still had to be played. Keishawn Brewton led Coastal Carolina in scoring with 22 points off the bench, including shooting 6-9 from behind the arc. Many of those three-point baskets came at clutch moments to keep the Utes at bay. The Chanticleers played well on both ends of the court. They held Utah without a field goal for the final 5:43 of the game, while also outscoring the Utes 17-3 in transition points.

Mid-Major Top Performers

As always, our takeaways will finish off by highlighting some of the best performances from the prior week. Pepperdine’s Colbey Ross dropped 38 points in a loss to USC last Tuesday. Ross shot an impressive 65 percent from the floor, including draining 6-10 from three-point land. Meanwhile, on Saturday, Austin Peay’s Terry Taylor scored 37 points in the Governors’ dominate victory over Southeastern Louisiana. Taylor shot 71.4 percent for the game, including an efficient 75 percent on two-point shooting.

While those performances were impressive, nobody had a bigger week than Zach Cooks of NJIT. The junior guard for the Highlanders scored 35 points against Binghamton Wednesday and 30 points against Brown on Saturday. It was the first time in Cooks’ career that he scored 30+ points in back-to-back games. Over those two games, Cooks shot 45 percent from the three-point line. He has yet to score below 20 points in the Highlanders six games this season and is averaging 25.5 points-per-game on the young season. Cooks was a second-team All-Conference player in the Atlantic Sun a season ago. If he can keep up his production, he may put himself in the conversation for the conference’s player of the year.

Main Photo

Embed from Getty Images