(center) and Providence survived a scare from Marquette and won in double-OT. (Anthony Nesmith/AP)
The best big shot in a game teeming with them didn't even count. There was Marquette's Davante Gardner, collecting a loose ball as time wound down in regulation at Providence, in a meeting that felt almost like an elimination game already. Gardner dribbled once. He heaved. He swished a three-quarter court bomb that left him swallowed by a pile of teammates.
He also was about a second late.
The moment that might have jet-propelled the Golden Eagles into the NCAA tournament was rendered a quaint footnote, and the fusillade of percussive shots that followed ultimately ended with Providence securing an 81-80 win in double overtime, a night that reiterated just how exhausting and exhilarating desperation can be.
It is desperation season, after all, with NCAA tournament bubble teams thrashing about trying to solidify their spots or execute a hostile takeover of someone else's. There may yet be work to be done. But for some of these teams, Tuesday was a very big night. For Providence, it might have echoed back nearly a decade.
Remember when Providence was an NCAA tournament team? Probably not, because it was 2004, but Providence might be an NCAA tournament team.
The Friars now should be a slot ahead of Georgetown, St. John's and certainly Marquette. Neither side could afford to drop the Tuesday meeting at the Dunkin Donuts Center to keep their NCAA hopes healthy. A four-point play midway through the second half from sophomore Josh Fortune opened an 11-point lead for the Friars, but Marquette had eradicated that and grabbed a lead on a Todd Mayo three-pointer with less than two minutes to go.
Then it was Fortune, again, from the same spot, with another four-point play with 25.6 seconds left. Then it was Mayo, again, tying it with three free throws on the next trip. Then it was Bryce Cotton bricking a potential game-winner, and Gardner heaving in a potential game-winner from three-quarters court that came one second too late.
It didn't stop there. The first overtime featured a late four-possession sequence of Fortune three-pointer, Jake Thomas three-pointer, Cotton nasty step-back jumper, Mayo three-pointer. Then came the mental meltdown, the type of thing that lingers for months when no one calls your name on Selection Sunday. Thomas expected a foul on an inbounds play with eight seconds left and instead got tied up for a held ball, possession to Providence. Cotton then was fouled retrieving the entry pass with 7.2 seconds left, hit two free throws for the lead, then watched as Mayo's last effort clanked away. It was a total free-fall from Gardner's no-good heave to the double-overtime breakdowns, and Marquette will feel it for a while.
For Providence, meanwhile, it was a 20th overall victory and a third straight win for a team with an RPI of 56 as of Monday. A fourth straight will be difficult on Senior Night at Creighton over the weekend, but then the Friars already have a win over the Bluejays. One or two wins in the Big East tournament would help immensely, but then that's the bubble life. The smallest fractions separate teams, but those fractions can be celebrated wildly and they can shift in a blink.
Like remember when Baylor was bad? Baylor is not that bad anymore.
A 74-61 home win over No. 16 Iowa State on Tuesday was needed, not to mention the sixth in the last seven games overall. The Bears have surged back to become a 20-win team that is one road victory away from a .500 finish in arguable the nation's toughest conference. There wasn't much doubt about an NCAA tournament bid before this win and it's barely measurable now. Which is something else, given that a bid was very much in limbo after Baylor lost seven out of eight games in early Feburary.
And remember when Georgetown was in chaos? Georgetown is not in chaos anymore.
Which is not to say the Hoyas are in ideal shape for an NCAA tournament invite, but they are much, much better off after a 75-63 win over Creighton on Tuesday. That's six wins in nine games after a five-game losing streak, and a victory at Villanova to end the regular season might well end the discussion. But Georgetown isn't quite there yet. The RPI was 63 entering the matchup with Doug McDermott and Co., and the win Tuesday was maybe the third quality victory of the season, grouped with a win over VCU and a Feb. 1 victory over injury-wracked Michigan State. The schedule has been onerous, but the Hoyas' finish is making that work for them.
And remember when Oregon was undefeated, and then exposed as not good enough to stay that way? Oregon is cruising yet again and may yet seize a bid.
The Ducks notched a must-have 85-78 win over Arizona State on Tuesday, a sixth straight victory to follow a stretch of eight Pac-12 losses in a 10-game span. It was also a second quality victory in three games, after a double-overtime win against a shorthanded UCLA team. And that would be the only two quality wins of the year for Oregon, although BYU might qualify as a third. Either way, finishing at .500 in the league may well be enough. There might be no doubt if the Ducks could upend Arizona when the Wildcats visit for the regular season finale on Saturday.
As for some non-bubble action on Tuesday?
No. 1 Florida 72, South Carolina 46. The Gators are one game away from an undefeated SEC season because, well, Michael Frazier II. The sophomore guard hit five three-pointers in the first half. That helped build a meager two-point lead, so Frazier drained another six long-range bombs after intermission. All told, it was a career-best 37 points powered by a school-record 11 three-pointers that represented the most ever in an SEC game.
No. 12 Michigan 84, Illinois 53. The Illini had limited four straight opponents to less than 50 points. Then the Wolverines hit 16 of 23 three-point attempts to atomize whatever their hosts from Champaign intended to do, thus securing a first outright Big Ten regular season championship since 1986. Nik Stauskas continued his late re-push for league player of the year honors with 24 points on a career-best seven three-pointers.
No. 25 Kentucky 55, Alabama 48. Probably good that the Wildcats avoided their first three game losing streak in five years, because honestly, no one wanted to see Lexington collapse into a fiery hell mouth. It was gruesome in plenty of other ways, though, as the Wildcats continued to be very bad at offensive basketball. Kentucky shot 32.7 percent. For the sixth time in seven games, it posted more turnovers (12 on Tuesday) than assists (nine). Julius Randle hit 4-of-8 shots and Dakari Johnson hit all four of his attempts...and the other seven Kentucky players combined to make eight shots. It wasn't a loss, but that's about all it was.
HAMILTON: What is wrong with Kentucky?