Due to the Christmas holiday, there wasn’t much action in college basketball this past week. Many teams took all or most of the week off, with a Christmas Eve and the day after Christmas having no games at all. In the little bit of action that occurred the before and after, there were a few notable mid-major upsets and performances.
Mid-Major Week Eight Takeaways
Titan of an Upset
Cal State Fullerton picked up their fourth win of the season on Saturday with their upset of UCLA. The Titans won 77-74, earning their second win over UCLA in program history. It was Fullerton’s first victory over a power-five program since defeating Utah in 2011. Wayne Arnold led the Titans with 19 points off the bench. Jackson Rowe added 17 points and 11 rebounds.
Cal State Fullerton made a season-high 14 three-point baskets over 24 attempts. Arnold’s 19 points contributed to 34 total off of the bench for the Titans, while UCLA only had 17 bench points. The game was constantly going back and forth, with 26 ties and 38 lead changes. Austen Awosika had the game-clinching bucket and steal in the final seconds.
WINNERS! @austen_acee WITH THE GAME-WINNING BUCKET AND STEAL!
— Titans Men's Basketball (@FullertonMBB) December 29, 2019
There was a lot of hype surrounding New Mexico State heading into this season, and rightly so. The Aggies nearly ended Auburn’s Final Four run before it even got started in last year’s tournament, and most of that team returned. However, injuries have plagued the team this year, causing them to underperform. The team’s health is slowly returning, and it showed as the Aggies knocked off Mississippi State last Sunday 58-52.
While the hopes of a mid-major at-large bid are out the window, this is still a confidence-building win for the Aggies. It was the first victory over an SEC opponent in 25 years. Johnny McCants led all New Mexico State scorers with a career-high 18 points on 7-10 from the field. The Aggies held a slight rebound advantage at 33-32, though they dominated the boards 24-16 in the first half. The aforementioned injuries may have been a blessing in disguise, creating depth for this team. New Mexico State outscored Mississippi State 23-3 in bench points. As this team continues to get healthy, they will still be a force in March.
— NM State MBB (@NMStateMBB) December 22, 2019
Handsome Dan Strikes Again
Harvard garnered all the preseason hype out of the Ivy League, but we must not forget that it was Yale who represented the league in last year’s tournament. The Bulldogs pushed LSU to the brink last March, and are looking just as dangerous this year. Yale picked up their fifth win over a power-five program in five years when they defeated Clemson 54-45 last Sunday. The 45 points were the lowest total for Clemson all season.
Yale’s defense also held Clemson to just 31.6 percent shooting and outrebounded the Tigers 35-27. Paul Atkinson led all Bulldogs with 20 points, shooting an efficient 80 percent from the field. South Carolina native Jordan Bruner added 10 points and 13 rebounds in helping to defeat a school that heavily recruited him out of high school. Yale’s next game comes against another ACC opponent in North Carolina. They have what it takes to compete in that game and threaten other major programs in March.
Cougars on the Prowl
Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s received all of the national attention out of the West Coast Conference heading into this season. However, BYU is starting to make its case as another team that is NCAA Tournament worthy. The Cougars won their fifth game in a row, defeating Oral Roberts on Saturday 79-73. In that win, Yoeli Childs moved into tenth place on the school’s all-time scoring list and is poised to move up another spot in their next game.
BYU sits at 11-4 already owning wins over UCLA, Virginia Tech, Utah State and Houston. Only UCLA seems like a surefire miss for the tournament at this point in the season. The Cougars lost three of their four games while Childs sat out nine games for failing to file paperwork before hiring an agent when he was going through the NBA Draft process in the spring. He is an explosive player who can singlehandedly carry BYU. Keep in mind that the selection committee does consider the absence of players when evaluating teams for tournament consideration. Don’t be surprised if the Cougars are playing in March.
Mid-Major Top Performers
All of this week’s top performers scored 33 points in their games. UTEP’s Bryson Williams tied a career-high with 33 points in a loss to Hawaii in their opening game of the Diamond Head Classic. It’s the highest point total for Williams against a Division I opponent. He shot 13-26 overall, including 3-6 from behind the arc.
Benjamin Stanley of Hampton is back on this list after putting up 33 points in a win against St. Peter’s on Saturday. He also added five blocks, his last being a block of a potential game-tying three with five seconds left. He knocked down 13-19 from the free-throw line and has scored 20 or more points in nine of Hampton’s 13 games this season. He’s averaging 21.2 points on the season.
The final mid-major top performer is Abu Kigab of Boise State. The Oregon transfer became eligible for the Broncos during their games in the Diamond Head Classic and shined in his home debut against Cal State Northridge on Saturday. Kigab scored 33 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, both career-highs. His point total came on 11-16 shooting, and he is believed to be the first Bronco to score 30 points in his first-ever game at Boise State’s home gym. Of his performance, Kigab said “I’ll do whatever it takes. I might have to score more, I might have to rebound more, I might have to pass more. Whatever my team needs, that’s what I’ll do.”
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