College basketball scores, winners and losers: Auburn wins SEC, Kansas and Baylor share Big 12 title

College basketball scores, winners and losers: Auburn wins SEC, Kansas and Baylor share Big 12 title

The final full Saturday slate of college basketball action before Selection Sunday’s arrival next week delivered drama, emotion and a classic March feel as a perfect teaser to March Madness. There were bubble teams who either helped or hurt their cases, there were nail-biters across the country and, of course, there was the final home game for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski looming over it all in what was a noisy day in the sport.

Sifting through the chaos that was, it was clinching day for several in the power conference ranks. No. 6 Kansas held off No. 21 Texas to secure a share of the Big 12, ousting the Longhorns in a back-and-forth thriller from Lawrence. Elsewhere, the only other major conference program with an opportunity to do the same — Auburn — did exactly that. With an 82-71 win over South Carolina, the Tigers clinched a solo SEC championship — the program’s fifth ever and second under Bruce Pearl.

Elsewhere in the sport, there were thrillers of varying degrees with LSU taking down Alabama in overtime, Syracuse turning in an all-time collapse and much more. So stick with us as we take a spin through Saturday and highlight the biggest winners and losers from it all.

Winner: Auburn clinches solo SEC crown

Auburn clinched an undefeated season at home — the same achievement as another SEC team we will get to shortly — with an 82-71 win over South Carolina that also secured a solo SEC title for the No. 5 Tigers. With a loss, Auburn would have split the league crown with Kentucky and Tennessee. Instead, coach Bruce Pearl’s team handled business behind 21 points from freshman phenom Jabari Smith. It marks the third time in the last four seasons that the Tigers have won at least a share of the SEC title. Auburn was fortunate to avoid playing at Kentucky this season — they beat the Wildcats at home — but that bit of scheduling good fortune won’t discolor the banner the program hangs from the rafters at Auburn Arena.

Winner: Tennessee goes undefeated at home

Home-court advantage returned with a vengeance in college basketball this season after a pandemic-altered 2020-21 campaign that limited attendance in most venues. The subdued environments of yesteryear felt like an especially distant memory in the SEC, where the conference’s top four teams finished a combined 35-1 in league home games as they regularly played in front of rowdy fans. Nowhere was the home edge more evident than at Tennessee, where the No. 13 Volunteers put the finishing touches on a 16-0 home season by beating No. 14 Arkansas 78-74 on Saturday to lock up the No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament.

Loser: Video reviews in college basketball

The special environments on home courts around the country regularly bled through on TV broadcasts this season and gave viewers a reminder of the pageantry and passion that make college basketball great. On the down side, the monotony of incessant video reviews in the final two minutes of games also came through far too often. Nothing kills the vibe of an exciting finish quite like the officiating crew spending five minutes at a monitor dissecting grainy footage to determine whose hair follicles the basketball grazed on its way out of bounds. TV time slots in the sport are just two hours. Anecdotally, it felt like more regular season games this season ran past their time allotments, and some of them weren’t even close. Take the Tennessee-Arkansas game, for example. Because of multiple reviews, the game lasted nearly two and a half hours without even going to overtime.

Winner: North Carolina crashes Coach K’s party

North Carolina entered Saturday’s showdown at No. 6 Duke as one of the “First Four Out” of Jerry Palm’s projected NCAA Tournament field. After knocking off the Blue Devils 94-81, there’s little doubt the Tar Heels will be on the right side of the bubble entering the ACC Tournament. It was a marquee win not just for this year’s UNC squad but for the program as a whole. Normally, a program with the Tar Heels’ history being on the bubble entering a rivalry showdown would be the dominant storyline. But North Carolina’s presence at Cameron Indoor Stadium was merely an afterthought to the main show of Mike Krzyzewski coaching his final home game for Duke.

The fact that UNC picked up such a critical win in such a historically significant game for its arch rival means that the day will go down in history. When first-year UNC coach Hubert Davis’ coaching tenure is reflected upon some day, it will doubtlessly be mentioned that his first victory in the Tobacco Road rivalry came in Krzyzewski’s last home game.

Loser: Indiana misses out on marquee win

Indiana entered the weekend as one of the “First Four Out” of Jerry Palm’s projected bracket, and the Hoosiers did not do themselves any favors on Saturday. On the road against a top-10 Purdue team, the Hoosiers, who led by as many as four with under seven minutes to play, let the Boilermakers back into it and fell on the wrong end of a close one, falling 69-67. After losing earlier in the week 66-63 to Rutgers, it likely means IU has work to do in the Big Ten tourney to get in. That may require multiple wins to punch a ticket with another close loss piling on.

Winner: Bubble teams after Murray State won the OV title

Bubble teams everywhere breathed a sigh of relief when Murray State won the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament title with a thrilling 71-67 win over Morehead State. If Morehead State had won, it would likely have made the OVC a two-bid because of Murray State’s strong at-large resume. But the Racers didn’t take it easy on the Eagles just for the sake of the OVC. Besides, the Racers are departing for Missouri Valley Conference next season.

Considering the MVC’s strong basketball pedigree and Murray State’s established brand — they will now have appeared in three of the last four NCAA Tournaments — this program looks like it is still rising. Many know it for being Ja Morant’s college or for steadily producing coaches who go on to high-major jobs. But if the Racers stay on this trajectory, you might know them as a Sweet 16 team before too long. If not this season, then as members of the MVC in the future.

Winner: LSU wins a thriller

In an SEC thriller that featured 15 ties, 12 lead changes and required an overtime period to settle the score, LSU emerged victorious at home over No. 25 Alabama with a huge 80-77 win. The Tigers clamped up on Alabama leading scorer Jaden Shackelford defensively, holding him to 3-of-14 shooting, and got 24 points from Darius Days — 15 of which came in the second half and overtime. After some inconsistent play during the SEC slate, the win gives LSU a regular-season finale high note to carry into the conference tournament next week. 

Loser: Syracuse collapses late against Miami

Syracuse led by as many as 18 points in the second half, including 10 with 2:29 to go and seven with a minute to go, and still managed an epic collapse at home Saturday afternoon on its home court. The Orange’s late-game fumbling led to a 75-72 home defeat to the Hurricanes despite leading for nearly 37 of the game’s 40 minutes, marking its fourth consecutive loss and dumping it to 15-16 overall as the regular season comes to a close.

Winner: Florida’s Johnson earns honorary start

Sidelined since Dec. 12, 2020, the night he collapsed on the court for Florida against Florida State, Gators forward Keyontae Johnson made an emotional return to the starting lineup Saturday. As part of an incredible scene for Senior Day at the O’Dome, coach Mike White named Johnson an honorary starter, so he was introduced as a starter and fielded the opening tip from Collin Castleton before walking off the court — but not before an incredible scene unfolded in Gainesville. 

Johnson was diagnosed with a heart condition after his collapse in 2020 that effectively ended his college playing career. He was at the time considered a first-round NBA Draft prospect and off to a red-hot start after an All-SEC season the year prior. 

Loser: Georgia finishes 1-17 in SEC play

Georgia basketball’s no good, very bad basketball season hit a new low Saturday as the Tom Crean-led Bulldogs dropped their regular-season finale 76-69 to Missouri, dropping to a dreadful 1-17 overall in SEC regular season play. It’s the fewest wins for Georgia in conference play since the 1955-56 season (!) when it went 1-13 in SEC play and finished the year 3-21 overall. There have been very few bright spots for UGA this season, but the new low may make Crean’s seat even more scorching hot as they enter postseason play. 

Winner: Loyola-Chicago’s defense wins the day

Loyola-Chicago held Northern Iowa without a field goal for the final 15:12 of its 66-43 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament semifinal victory over Northern Iowa. The Ramblers likely need to win the tournament tomorrow at 2 p.m. ET on CBS in order to reach the NCAA Tournament, and they are playing like a team that knows its back is against the wall.

After closing the regular season with a 4-3 stretch that included losses to Bradley, Drake and Northern Iowa, they have already avenged the UNI defeat and crushed Bradley 66-50 in the quarterfinals. It would bring some positive irony for the program to reach the NCAA Tournament under first-year coach Drew Valentine after Porter Moser left to coach an Oklahoma team that will need to win the Big 12 Tournament in order to reach the Big Dance.

Loser: Oregon’s at-large candidacy going up in flames

Oregon won 10 of 11 games between Dec. 21 and Feb. 10 as the Ducks rallied from a rough start to look like a team capable of reaching the NCAA Tournament. But their season is ending much like started. After a 94-74 loss at Washington State on Saturday, Oregon will enter the Pac-12 Tournament having lost five of its last six games. The Ducks were clinging to the bottom of Palm’s bubble after a loss at Washington on Thursday. But at just 18-13 (11-9 Pac-12), it seems probable at this point that the only way Oregon makes the Big Dance is by winning the Pac-12 Tournament. Oregon State showed last season that it can be done, but it’s hard to envision the Ducks replicating that performance while playing this poorly.

Winner: Kansas and Baylor share Big 12 title

Kansas needed overtime to beat Texas, and Baylor blew an early 25 point lead before fending off Iowa State. But in the end, the Jayhawks and the Bears both took care of business to close the Big 12 season with 14-4 league records and share the conference crow. By virtue of a tiebreaker (which is head-to-head record against No. 3 seed Texas Tech), Kansas will be the No. 1 seed in next week’s Big 12 Tournament. After the Red Raiders fell at Oklahoma State on Saturday to finish two games behind Baylor and Kansas in the standings, it’s clear that the Bears and Jayhawks are the teams to beat entering the postseason — even if their final regular season victories did come with some drama.

Loser: Lamar goes 0-16 in WAC

Lamar received a rude introduction to the WAC this season as it transitioned in from the Southland Conference for the 2021-22 season under first-year coach Alvin Brooks. Saturday’s 78-66 loss to Cal Baptist capped an 0-16 league slate for the Cardinals, whose only two nonconference victories came against teams outside Division I. Brooks came to Lamar after working as Kelvin Sampson’s associate head coach at Houston and is a well-traveled and respected coach. Lamar also had success in the Southland Conference. But there is nowhere to go but up from here for the Cardinals as they traverse a new league with their new coach.

Winner: Houston Baptist vs. McNeese viewers

It took 60 minutes instead of 40, but Houston Baptist picked up a 149-144 four-overtime win over McNeese. Darius Lee led HBU with 52 points, besting his previous career-high by 19. He was one of 13 players who reached double figures in the game, which featured 69 fouls and 110 free throws. Five players from McNeese fouled out compared to just three from Houston Baptist. It marked revenge for Houston Baptist, which lost the first meeting 78-75 on Jan. 15. Nearly twice as many points were scored in the rematch.

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