UCLA’s historic comeback, Ja Morant’s vicious dunk highlight wild CBB Thursday

After a pair of loaded slates on Tuesday and Wednesday, Thursday was supposed to be the night this week where college basketball took a bit of a breather. Of course assuming anything when it comes to this sport tends to lead one in the wrong direction, a fact evidenced by the madness Thursday night wound up producing.

The only two ranked teams in action — No. 2 Michigan and No. 5 Gonzaga — each handled their business with relative ease. The second tier of games is where the real juice resigned.

Here are the five things you need to know about from Thursday night:

1. UCLA mounted an unbelievable comeback to stun Oregon

With just 48.5 seconds to go in the game, Oregon — playing on its home floor — led UCLA by a score of 74-65. You can continue from that point by saying either the Ducks fell apart or the Bruins mounted a furious rally, but either way, you’re going to wind up in a place where Oregon leads by three with 2.6 seconds to play.

There seems to be less and less pushback from the “maybe you shouldn’t foul up three” crowd these days, but the one point that contingent is always going to have is that fouling up three presents a scenario, however small, where your team can lose in regulation. That disaster scenario very nearly played out for Oregon, as UCLA’s Jaylen Hands calmly sunk his first free-throw, intentionally missed the second, and then watched as teammate Chris Smith corralled the offensive rebound, scored and was fouled.

After all the hard work was completed, Smith, naturally, misfired on the potential game-winning free-throw.

Oregon once again seized control in overtime, owning an 84-80 advantage at the midway point of the extra frame. The Ducks would then miss their next six shots, allowing UCLA to end the game on a 7-0 run and win in Eugene for the first time since 2014.

The comeback was, quite literally, the most improbable in Pac-12 history and one of the most improbable in the history of Division-I.

Let’s not let all the weirdness from this particular game overshadow the larger, bigger picture weirdness of UCLA now being 3-0 since firing Steve Alford and 3-0 in the Pac-12.

Two years ago, just after the calendar flipped from 2016 to 2017, Murry Bartow took over as the interim head coach at South Florida following the midseason firing of Orlando Antigua. The Bulls would finish that season 1-16 under Bartow’s direction. Now, coaching one of the most prestigious programs in the country, Bartow has a UCLA team that had been suffering through an abysmal season suddenly sitting at 3-0 and looking like a legitimate contender in the Pac-12.

Bartow winning Pac-12 Coach of the Year in a season like this would be so perfect that it almost has to happen.

2. Ja Morant remains ridiculous

Chris Schutte wrote earlier this week about Ja Morant, the Murray State superstar who might be a top five pick in this year’s NBA Draft and who is currently the most exciting player in college basketball not named Zion Williamson.

During the Racers’ 98-77 win over UT-Martin Thursday night, Morant set a school record by dishing out 18 assists (and broke an assist network function). He also scored 26 points, two of which came via this Vince Carter impersonation:

A dunk like that demands a second angle.

Morant currently leads the nation in assists at 9.9 apg, and is No. 13 in scoring at 23.3 ppg.

The NCAA tournament needs this man.

3. New Mexico State’s Johnny McCants hit one of the best shots of the year

The preseason pick to win the Western Athletic Conference for the seventh time in eight years, New Mexico State appeared poised to fall to 0-2 in conference play late Thursday night. The Aggies trailed Grand Canyon by a point with 3.3 seconds to play and the Antelopes at the free-throw line.

Enter sophomore hero Johnny McCants:

“When I shot it, I knew it was going in the way I released it,” McCants said after the game. “It felt good. After the shot went in, it was like fireworks exploded. The whole crowd, the whole team — I don’t know what happened, I got tackled out of nowhere. At the end, I was just lucky and fortunate that the shot felt good off the release and went in. It’s an amazing experience.”

McCants’ miracle leaves CSU Bakersfield and UMKC as the only WAC teams yet to taste defeat in league play.

4. Overtimes were everywhere

Nine different games from Thursday night needed at least one extra period to crown a winner. Two of those games went into double overtime, and a third — Hofstra vs. William & Mary — needed three extra frames.

In their most recent game before Thursday, The Pride (that’s Hofstra) took down Northeastern thanks to an absurd buzzer-beater from the nation’s third-leading scorer, Justin Wright-Foreman.

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Wright-Foreman finished the night with a career-high 42 points.

Turnabout was fair play on Thursday, as William & Mary forced the game’s second overtime with an equally improbable shot.

Hofstra would ultimately prevail in third OT, 93-90. Wright-Foreman finished with a game-high 37 points.

Outside of the UCLA-Oregon game, the most notable of the overtime contests was Cincinnati’s 70-65 road triumph over Tulsa. Coming off an upset loss to East Carolina, the Bearcats narrowly avoided posting back-to-back embarrassing losses in AAC play.

5. Nebraska avoids bad loss, sets new school record

If you watch a decent amount of Big Ten basketball, you should expect to be beaten over the head with “Nebraska has never won a game in the NCAA tournament” with the same ferociousness that “Northwestern has never made the NCAA tournament” struck you with a couple years ago.

The Cornhuskers’ dream of experiencing the second round — or potentially the first round if they played in the First Four — in 2019 was nearly dealt a massive blow on Thursday. Winless in the Big Ten, Penn State was within 1 point of Nebraska with 2:15 to play, and never trailed by more than the final margin of six points.

The gritty/ugly/blue collar/gross win was its 20th straight at home. That’s the longest home winning streak in school history, the longest active home winning streak of any power conference team, and the fourth-longest active home winning streak in Division-I.

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