Last Word On Basketball

Mid-Major Takeaways: Week Thirteen

KINGSTON, RI - JANUARY 31: Rhode Island Rams guard Fatts Russell (1) and Rhode Island Rams guard Jeff Dowtin (11) return to the floor after celebrating with fans at the conclusion of the college basketball game between VCU Rams and Rhode Island Rams on January 31, 2020, at the Ryan Center in Kingston, RI. (Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The mid-major bubble can burst much quicker than that of a power conference team. Just ask Liberty and East Tennessee State. While East Tennessee State still has a slim chance, there are a few other teams who are looking to make their cases. This past week saw a few mid-major teams help themselves up the bubble ladder.

Mid-Major Week Thirteen Takeaways

Battering Rams

The Atlantic 10 had two of its Ram members square off when VCU took on Rhode Island Friday night. When it was all said and done, Rhode Island came away with a huge victory. The Rams from New England defeated VCU 87-75 and announced themselves to bracketologists everywhere. This was Rhode Island’s eighth straight victory, pitting them just a half-game behind Dayton. They used a 17-2 run in the first half to give themselves a 22 point cushion at halftime.

Rhode Island also held a 38-22 rebounding advantage as well as a 23-7 advantage in fastbreak points. Fatts Russell, the unquestioned leader of this Rhode Island squad, dropped 30 points while adding five assists and four rebounds. He also went 16-18 from the free-throw line, the most made free-throws by a Rhode Island player since 2004. If it was not for Obi Toppin, Russell would be the leader for the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year race. Tyrese Martin and Jeff Dowtin added 18 and 17 points respectively. Rhode Island’s win will push them on the right side of most projected brackets. More importantly, the Rams are staying hot on Dayton’s tail with two games left to play against the Flyers this season.

Golden Hurricane Warning

Memphis took all of the preseason headlines in the American Athletic Conference. Houston and Wichita State emerged as surprises. However, none of those programs sit in first place. The Tulsa Golden Hurricane defeated Wichita State at the buzzer on Saturday to take sole possession of first place in the league. Elijah Joiner drained a 25-foot three-pointer as the clock hit double-zero to give Tulsa a 54-51 victory. Joiner led all Golden Hurricane scorers with 22 points. His point total, as well as his five made three-pointers, were career-highs.

Tulsa is now on a six-game win streak and sits at 15-6 overall. Frank Haith’s crew also owns wins over tournament hopefuls Memphis, Houston and Wichita State, though all of those victories came at home. This is the first time the Golden Hurricane has beaten two ranked teams at home in the same season since 1968-69. Tulsa has now quietly crept into the bubble picture. Their non-conference outcomes leave something to be desired, but their performance in conference games has them creating some buzz. Watch out for Tulsa.

Haw-Some Moment

BYU avenged their overtime loss to Saint Mary’s this year behind senior T.J. Haws. Haws hit the game-winning three-pointer with nine seconds left to win it for the Cougars. He led all BYU scorers with 23 points, all while he awaits the birth of his child. Zac Seljaas had the game-clinching block and rebound as time expired. Yoeli Childs added 19 points. The Cougars gained their biggest advantage at the free-throw line, shooting 83.3 percent compared to Saint Mary’s shooting 64.3 percent.

The Cougars tied their season-best with 44 points in the paint. They also shot 10-22 from behind the arc. The win put BYU back into a tie with Saint Mary’s for second place behind mid-major powerhouse Gonzaga in the WCC. The Cougars will get one more shot against Gonzaga at home later this month. While BYU and Saint Mary’s split the regular-season series, both appear to be headed for tournament berths.

Streaking Salukis

Northern Iowa continues to sit inside the bubble of most bracket projections. Many expect them to win the Missouri Valley Conference, but Southern Illinois will have something to say about that. The Salukis defeated Loyola-Chicago and Drake this past week to take sole possession of second place. They now sit one game back of Northern Iowa, though they already own a victory over the Panthers this year.

The victory over Loyola-Chicago was sparked by 27 points from Eric McGill. It was also their ninth straight home victory, the most by a Salukis team in over ten years. A few nights later, Southern Illinois snapped Drake’s 15-game home winning streak, which was one of the ten best in Division I at the time. Marcus Domask scored 28 points in that one.

Southern Illinois was picked last in the conference preseason poll. Legendary coach Barry Hinson retired and the Salukis had just three returning players. However, in Bryan Mullins’ first year at the helm, Southern Illinois is contending for a Missouri Valley title.

Mid-Major Top Performers

As always, the weekly segment ends with the top mid-major scoring performers. Davion Buster from Lamar scored a career-high 39 points in a win over McNeese State on Saturday. He went 11-18 from behind the arc. The 11 made threes tied a school and Southland Conference record.

Portland State’s Holland Woods scored a career-high 39 points in a win over Big Sky leader Montana on Thursday. “Boo Boo” went 21-21 from the free-throw line, setting a new school and Big Sky record for made free-throws in a game without a miss. Woods made 16 of those free-throws in the second half, including 10 in the last 90 seconds of the game to seal the win.

Rashad Williams scored a career-high 37 points to help Oakland win its program-best seventh straight game against rival Detroit. The transfer from fellow Horizon League foe Cleveland State was playing in just his fifth game for the Golden Grizzlies. Williams tied a career-high with seven made threes.

Harald Frey of Montana State scored a career-high 37 points in a loss to rival Montana on Saturday. The Norwegian scored 26 points in the first half, including going 12-13 from the charity stripe. He also finished the game going 7-14 from behind the arc.

Finally, Grant Riller of Charleston scored a season-high 36 points in a victory over James Madison on Thursday. It was Riller’s 50th straight game scoring in double figures. It was also his third 30+ point performance this season and the 14th of his career. Riller went 11-17 from the field and moved into sixth on the CAA’s career scoring list.


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