It took a desperation, four-point play with less than 30 seconds remaining in regulation to keep Patrick Ewing from registering the most impressive victory of his young coaching career at his alma mater. That came just hours after Ewing's former nemesis, Chris Mullin, registered the most impressive victory of his young coaching career at his alma mater.
It was that kind of day in college basketball. Come to think of it, it has been that kind of season in college basketball.
Saturday’s slate of games produced another hefty helping of drama, surprise and upper-echelon upheaval. Underdogs prevailed from coast to coast, starting early in New York City and continuing until the final shot of the night out in Seattle. Four of the country’s proudest programs -- Duke, Kentucky, Kansas and Arizona-- fell to unranked teams. No. 12 Oklahoma also lost to unranked Texas, and others in the top 10 (Purdue, Michigan State) flirted with similar disasters.
Let's start trying to wrap our heads around another wild day in college hoops with the victorious Mr. Mullin. His St. John’s team, still without a victory in Big East play, snapped an 11-game losing streak by beating No. 4 Duke 81-77. St. John’s led by double digits with eight minutes to play.
“We didn’t play basketball the first 32 minutes worthy of our program,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “It was disgusting, really.”
That’s one way to look at it. As sloppily and soullessly as the Blue Devils played at times in Madison Square Garden, it would be an injustice not to mention the 33 points and clutch shooting of 6-foot-1 Brooklyn native Shamorie Ponds. The Red Storm sophomore is averaging 19.7 points per game and shined on the biggest stage he’ll get this season.
Chaos in the Top 25 usually leads to open lamenting about a lack of great teams. Chaos has certainly invaded the sport: The lineup of top five teams in the AP poll has been different every week so far this season, and only in the past couple of weeks has the top three (Villanova, Virginia and Purdue) found some type of stability. At the current pace, that trio shouldn’t get too comfortable. Purdue nearly tumbled against Rutgers on Saturday, and Villanova will be pushed by Seton Hall on Sunday.
Instead of spending the final four weeks of the regular season concerned about the lack of a steady titan, perhaps it would be a bit more fun to take the Shamorie Ponds approach: Embrace great moments.
Trevon Bluiett's fallaway four-pointer (thanks to the foul shot that followed it) was another huge bucket for the Xavier senior who has contributed a lot of them for the sixth-ranked Musketeers in his career. It was an undisciplined foul that sank Georgetown’s shot at an upset (Xavier pulled away in overtime), but that shouldn’t take away from Bluiett’s continued ability to recognize and rise to a big moment.
Missouri had a freshman named Porter -- Jontay Porter -- pour in 13 points off the bench to help the program to its first-ever win against No. 21 Kentucky. Oklahoma State’s Cameron McGriff and Texas freshman Mo Bamba rattled rims and shook up standings in the Big 12 on Saturday afternoon.
That league now has four ranked teams all within a game of each other heading into the final month of the regular season. All four will face each other head-to-head before February is done. Great teams? Perhaps not when stacked against history. Those games, though, ought to be a lot of fun.
It might not be pretty each step of the way. Saturday’s games were at times as “disgusting” to the basketball purists as they were shocking and entertaining. Another day chock-full of anything but chalk keeps several conference races and tournament seeding wide open. That means stakes will remain high in February. Great teams earn that title by playing great in big games, and there are plenty of opportunities for that across all of college basketball in the next couple of months. Someone will emerge to claim that level of respect. Until then, lean into the craziness and enjoy some great drama.