College basketball winners and losers: North Carolina in ACC driver's seat, Kentucky bounces back in a big way



The final Saturday of February helped set the stage for what figures to be a wild March in college basketball as conference title races came into focus. Nowhere was the action more consequential than in the ACC, where No. 10 North Carolina emerged from the fray with a one-game lead in the league standings.

No. 8 Duke fell 83-79 at Wake Forest in a game that was defined as much by what transpired afterward as the contest itself. Blue Devils star Kyle Filipowski suffered a knee injury as an army of Wake Forest fans rushed the court in celebration of a marquee victory for the Demon Deacons.

Between Duke’s loss and the Tar Heels’ 54-44 win at Virginia, it’s North Carolina that holds the edge in the conference standings entering the homestretch of the regular season. It was UNC’s lowest-scoring performance of the season by 11 points, but the Tar Heels held UVa to just 27.6% shooting while improving to 21-6 (13-3 ACC).

That game was a defensive struggle, but the beauty of college basketball is its variety. Elsewhere, there were high-scoring affairs and offensive firefights. Kentucky and Alabama combined for 212 points as the No. 17 Wildcats emerged with a 117-95 victory over the No. 13 Crimson Tide to keep the SEC title race wide open entering the season’s final two weeks.

With that, here’s a look at the winners and losers from around the country.

Winner: Wake Forest wins the big one 

Wake Forest desperately needed a marquee win, and it got one by edging No. 8 Duke 83-79. The Demon Deacons (18-9, 10-6 ACC) entered on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble in Jerry Palm’s Bracketology but showed their mettle while playing in front of a sellout home crowd for the first time since 2017. Hunter Sallis led the way with 29 points for the Demon Deacons, who shot 60.4% from the floor and 9 of 17 from 3-point range. A Nov. 29 home win over Florida is Wake Forest’s only other Quad 1 victory, and it’s at risk of falling to Quad 2 before Selection Sunday. That’s why this one was so important for Wake. – Cobb

Loser: Court-storming incident overshadows Wake’s win

Duke star Kyle Filipowski injured his knee as Wake Forest fans stormed the court following an 83-79 win over the No. 8 Blue Devils. Filipowski, who led Duke with 17 points, was walking back to his team’s bench when he appeared to collide with one of the sprinting fans. The incident prompted Duke coach Jon Scheyer to plead for the banning of court-storming in college basketball. It’s been a hot-button topic since a court-storming fan collided with Iowa women’s basketball star Caitlin Clark last month. What happened Saturday will only accelerate discussion about how to prevent similar injuries in the future. – Cobb

Winner:  makes a case for No. 1 

No. 2 Houston has a case to be No. 1 when the polls release on Monday following an 82-76 overtime road win over No. 11 Baylor. After No. 1 UConn lost 85-66 at Creighton on Tuesday, the Cougars and Huskies both have three losses, and Houston is surging. The Cougars are the first Big 12 team to go 10-1 or better in an 11-game stretch of conference play since Baylor did it 2020-21 before going on to win the national title. Houston blew a 17-point lead against the Bears but regained its composure in a hostile environment, hitting 9 of 10 free throws in overtime to take another step toward claiming the Big 12 title during its first season in the league. – Cobb

Winner: High Point is soaring

High Point improved to 23-6 (12-2 Big South) and clinched at least a share of the Big South with a 74-59 win over Charleston Southern. The Panthers have already tied the previous school record for victories as a Division 1 program. With two regular-season contests and the postseason still ahead, it’s shaping up as a historic year for the Panthers. What’s most impressive is it’s all occurring in Year 1 for head coach Alan Huss, who spent the previous six seasons as an assistant at Creighton under Greg McDermott. Huss inherited a program coming off four straight losing seasons and has it in the running for its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. – Cobb

Loser: Oklahoma State falls in heartbreaker

In what is likely the last Bedlam game of the rivalry series between Oklahoma State and Oklahoma for quite some time, OU completed the season sweep of the Cowboys with an 84-82 shocker in Stillwater, America on Saturday. The Sooners took OSU to overtime after trailing by as many as 11 then sunk a dagger into the heart of the Cowboys faithful by drilling a buzzer-beating 3-pointer as time expired in the extra period. – Boone

Loser: Jay Williams fails to avenge Duke’s 1999 title loss

Former Duke star Jay Williams assumed responsibility for avenging the Blue Devils’ loss to UConn in the 1999 national championship game when the College Gameday crew pitted him against former Huskies star Rip Hamilton (despite Williams not being part of that team!). The decision almost instantly backfired for Williams.

It turned into an epic sequence of live television in which Williams said he wanted to redeem Duke for its 1999 loss to the Huskies, only for Hamilton to instantly make him eat his words with a make from halfcourt. Hamilton leaned into the trash talk with words of his own right in Williams’ face: “We are the true blueblood!” 

That’s cold, Rip. That’s cold. – Boone

Winner: Eastern Kentucky makes history

For the first time since 1979, Eastern Kentucky earned at least a share of a regular-season conference championship. The 95-82 win over Central Arkansas gives EKU a two-game lead over Stetson with two regular season games remaining. The Colonels are seeking their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2014 when they captured the Ohio Valley title. Eastern Kentucky can clinch the regular-season title outright with a win over Austin Peay next week. – Salerno

Loser: Indiana’s misery continues

Indiana slipped and fell (again) Saturday, this time 83-74 on the road at Penn State, to drop to 6-10 in Big Ten play. The loss continued what has been a nightmare season for the Hoosiers under coach Mike Woodson. The program is enduring its worst record through 16 conference games since 2018-19. IU has lost eight of its last 10 with horrific defense and an equally inept offense to match. Things got so bad Saturday that former All-American Trayce Jackson-Davis even weighed in on social media, calling out the defensive coverage and the team’s inability to tag cutters. Yikes. – Boone

Winner: Justin Edwards has career day vs. Alabama

Kentucky wing Justin Edwards came into the season as a highly touted recruit. The former No. 3 overall prospect in the 2023 recruiting class has been overshadowed at times by teammates Rob Dillingham and Reed Sheppard. Saturday could be a turning point for him and the No. 17 Wildcats’ season. Edwards scored 28 points and shot a perfect 10 for 10 from the floor in a 117-95 win over No. 13 Alabama. Edwards scored the most field goals without a miss for a Kentucky player under coach John Calipari. – Salerno

Loser: Ole Miss takes a big bubble loss

Ole Miss entered the day as one of the “Last Four in” Jerry Palm’s projected NCAA Tournament bracket. But the Rebels are headed in the wrong direction after falling 72-59 against No. 20 South Carolina. It was Ole Miss’ fifth loss in the last six games. Four of the defeats have come by double digits. The Gamecocks limited Ole Miss to just 33.3% shooting while ending their own two-game slide. – Cobb

Winner: Samford clinches SoCon

Samford didn’t post a winning record in Southern Conference play during its first 14 seasons in the league. But after an 87-71 win over East Tennessee State on Saturday, the Bulldogs have clinched at least a share of the SoCon title for the second straight season. Fourth-year coach Bucky McMillan is working wonders with the program after he was hired amid the COVID-19 pandemic from his previous position as a local high school coach. – Cobb

Loser: New Mexico’s resume takes a hit

The Mountain West could very well put six teams in the NCAA Tournament next month, but New Mexico’s 78-77 loss to Air Force at home isn’t going to help that cause. The Lobos were in the thick of the Mountain West title race before suffering their first Quad 4 loss of the season to the Falcons. While New Mexico is still projected to make the field, this loss could come back to haunt the Lobos. – Salerno





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