Before the heavyweight battle between Duke and Wisconsin, two top 25 teams showed they aren’t yet contenders. On the road against unranked Notre Dame, No. 19 Michigan State lost 79-78 in overtime and dropped to 5-3 on the season. And at home against unranked Iowa, No. 12 UNC went down 60-55. What happened?
In South Bend, Notre Dame continues to benefit from the return of senior guard Jerian Grant, who had a career-high 27 points and played all 45 minutes. Sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson also posted a career night, racking up 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting.
In a back-and-forth affair, neither team had a lead larger than 7 points. In the final four minutes of regulation, the game came down to Grant and Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine. Grant completed a three-point play with 4:07 left, and Valentine responded with a three at the 2:05 mark. A three apiece from the pair sent the game to overtime. In the extra period, Jackson scored six of the Irish’s 12 points to help them pull out the win.
Michigan State continued to struggle with late-game possessions, wasting time searching for open looks while trailing at the end of overtime.
It was a key non-conference victory for Notre Dame, which haven’t faced a rank team this season and doesn’t have another marquee matchup scheduled before ACC play begins in January. Michigan State, meanwhile, returns home after playing six out of its first eight games this season on the road. The Spartans will be in East Lansing for their next seven games, but they won’t have any opportunities to record a signature non-conference win.
In Chapel Hill, UNC fell behind early to Iowa, trailing by as many as eight and finishing the first half down 31-29. The Tar Heels turned it around slightly in the second half, building a five-point lead with 10 minutes to go. But neither team shot well down the stretch, and a three-point play from Iowa guard Mike Gesell with 1:16 left proved to be the difference.
Neither team shot well on the night: The Hawkeyes shot 32.7 percent from the floor and 15 percent from three, while the Tar Heels went 27.9 percent from the floor and 17.4 percent from three. North Carolina had plenty of chances to win the game but couldn’t capitalize on easy baskets, going 14-of-30 in the paint (eliminating the impact of an impressive 24 offensive rebounds) and 13-for-17 from the free-throw line. Iowa hit 21 of its 24 free throws.
Part of the Tar Heels’ offensive troubles can be attributed to Iowa’s tenacious defense. The Hawkeyes switched between zone and man-to-man and didn’t allow a shooter other than big man Kennedy Meeks (15 points and 12 rebounds) to hit more than 33 percent of his shots.
After a humbling loss to Butler in the Bahamas, it looked as if UNC had learned it couldn’t beat opponents on talent alone. But the Tar Heels don’t have much time to sulk; they host East Carolina on Sunday and then face Kentucky and Ohio State in back-to-back weekends.
For the Hawkeyes, which SI.com projected to finish third in the Big Ten behind Wisconsin and Ohio State, this was the signature win that had eluded them so far this season. At the 2K Classic in New York, they were routed by Texas before coming up just short against Syracuse. This win should help them build confidence for upcoming contests against Iowa State (on Dec. 12) and Ohio State (on Dec. 30). It’ll also help separate them on Selection Sunday.