The month of February is winding down. March is just around the corner. In the mid-major basketball world, that means conference tournaments are approaching. In fact, the Horizon League sets everything into motion with the first round of its tournament this Thursday, February 25th. Meanwhile, plenty of other mid-major leagues have one or two weeks left in their regular season title races. Every outcome gets magnified now, not only for titles, but for potential bubble teams as well. Strap in for one of the best times of the year in college basketball.
2020-21 Week 13 Mid-Major Takeaways
It seems that every bubble team in the Mountain West has had its ups and downs this season. What that has equated to is a lot of sweat from fans of those programs. Boise State has not been immune, with their most recent setback being swept at the hands of Nevada. However, the Broncos knew they had opportunities remaining, and they capitalized on their first one, sweeping Utah State this past week. The Broncos defeated the Aggies 79-70 on Wednesday and 81-77 on Friday. That put Boise State at 14 conference wins, tied for the most in program history. It also vaulted them into sole possession of first place in the Mountain West.
The Broncos took game one behind a crowd of just under 700, the first game with fans at the home arena all season. They used a 9-2 run in the game’s final minutes to salt it away. Meanwhile, a hot-shooting second half propelled Boise to a win in game two. The Broncos shot almost 74 percent from the field in the second half, putting up 51 points. Derrick Alston stepped up, scoring 26 and 23 points, respectively, in the two games. The Broncos have a chance to cement their status as top dogs in the league and as an at-large team with a series against San Diego State this week.
Cal State Fullerton is one of many Big West teams that has been at the mercy of UC Irvine over the past few seasons. However, the tide may be turning for 2020-21, as the Anteaters aren’t as formidable as many are used to. The Titans continued that trend with a 67-64 win over UCI on Saturday. The win snapped a six-game losing streak for Fullerton against Irvine. The win was also Titans’ head man Dedrique Taylor’s 100th career win, the fourth coach to hit that mark in program history.
Cal State Fullerton trailed by 11 early in the second half before making their comeback bid. The Titans erased that deficit entirely by the halfway mark of the second half, taking a lead they wouldn’t give up. Tray Maddox Jr. led Fullerton with 15 points. The loss for the Anteaters sets them further behind league-leading UC Santa Barbara. Irvine has a sweep of the Gauchos on its profile, but it may not matter, as UCI now sits two games behind UCSB in the loss column in league play.
VCU was coming off a big week, knocking off fellow A-10 bubble foes in Richmond and St. Bonaventure. Their stellar play had put them into first place in one of the tougher mid-major leagues out there. However, the Rams’ fortunes changed in one game after falling to George Mason in overtime on Saturday, 79-76. The Patriots’ victory marks their third in their last four tries at VCU’s Siegel Center, one of the toughest places to win in the Atlantic 10 and the nation.
George Mason pulled off a comeback for the victory, trailing by 13 early in the second half, and by seven at the under-eight media timeout. However, the Patriots jumped all over VCU from that point on to force the extra period and earn the win in the game’s final five minutes. George Mason dominated inside on their way to the victory, winning the rebounding advantage 42-26. That included a 15-3 advantage on the offensive glass. The Patriots also amassed 48 points in the paint. Josh Oduro had a career-high 27 points on 8-for-11 shooting for GMU. Meanwhile, VCU is once again back to sweating on the bubble.
Perhaps triple-doubles are becoming a little more common than they used to be at the college level. However, that still doesn’t mean they aren’t special for the players and programs at the mid-major level. The latest occurred for Darius Brown at Cal State Northridge. Brown went for 18 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists for the Matadors in their game against Hawaii on Saturday. He also added five steals to his stat line as well.
Brown’s triple-double is just the second in program history, but the first to occur against another Division I opponent. Elijah Harkless had the Matadors’ first last season, but that came against an NAIA foe. Brown’s performance is also just the 13th triple-double in the history of the Big West Conference. His 16 rebounds were a new career-high, and his assist total pushed him into third place on Northridge’s career list. The Matadors needed every bit of his performance, as they had to win in overtime over Hawaii 88-80.
Mid-Major Top Performers
Zep Jasper of Charleston scored a career-high 38 points in an overtime win over Division II Columbus State on Saturday. Jasper shot an efficient 13-for-18 from the field. He also shot 4-for-7 from beyond the arc and 8-for-9 from the charity stripe. This was Jasper’s seventh straight game scoring in double-figures, and his fifth straight leading the Cougars in scoring.
Eli Scott of Loyola Marymount scored a career-high 37 points in a win over Santa Clara on Tuesday. He scored 22 of those points in the second half on 9-for-12 shooting. He shot 15-of-22 for the game overall. None of his points were bigger than the game-winning jumper he made with 14 seconds left. Scott also grabbed six rebounds to surpass 700 for his career.
A.J. Plitzuweit of South Dakota is back in this section after tying his career-high of 37 points in a win over Oral Roberts on Saturday. He scored 13 of the Coyotes’ final 15 points, including the game-winning free-throws with 2.8 seconds left. He shot a ridiculous 8-for-11 from deep and has now scored at least 34 points in three of South Dakota’s last six games.
Max Abmas of Oral Roberts countered Plitzuweit in the loss, tying his career-high of 36 points in the loss. He shot 13-for-18 for the game, including a blistering 7-of-8 in the second half. He was also 7-for-9 from beyond the arc for the game. Abmas has now scored at least 20 points in seven straight games, pushing his season scoring average to 24 points per game. That puts him just off the pace of Iowa’s Luka Garza for the nation’s scoring title, as Garza is currently averaging 24.7 points per game.