While You Were Sleeping…
truTV’s final game of this first day of the Big Dance did not end shortly after 1 a.m. Eastern time and it was Gonzaga coming up huge in the Denver pod. Poor lobster men from Seton Hall, but the ‘Zags brought their shooter’s touch like I expected them to do all along. The 11 seed of Gonzaga pounded the 6 seed out of the Midwest Region in Seton Hall 68-52, who were led in scoring by Domanta Sabonis with 21 points while grabbing 16 rebounds. Isaiah Whitehead, the mostly all-everything man from Seton Hall was held way below his typical scoring average getting only ten points on the night (4 of 24 shooting, including missing all ten of his attempts from three-point range). Next up for Gonzaga is Utah, who cruised past Fresno State 80-69.
Wichita State continues to impress, while Purdue fails to close out Little Rock
Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet were at it again, especially on the defensive end in Wichita State’s textbook 65-55 first round win over 6 seed Arizona in Providence. 19 Arizona turnovers led to 22 Shockers points, nine of those turnovers came off of steals which lead to mostly easy baskets at the other end. By the time Arizona got the lead below single digits at 60-51 with 1:36 to play, it was mostly curtains for the Pac-12 in general. Combined with USC’s last second loss to Providence 70-69, only Cal and Oregon remain to carry the Pac 12 banner loud and proud out West.
But clearly the game of the day was in Denver as Purdue blew what was an insurmountable 13 point lead with 3:33 left in regulation when senior A.J. Hammons converted on a free throw. The Boilermakers also had a chance to win both ending regulation and the first overtime period, but both shots failed to go down. Celebrating his 22nd birthday, Josh Hagins lit up the Boilers scoring 29 points in the final 30 minutes of action. None was bigger than the shot in front of the “March Madness” logo plastered around most of mid-court ending regulation.
It was all set up with 33 seconds on the second half clock and UALR trailing 68-64. Hagins missed a three, but the ball took a sharp turn to the corner and was corralled by 6’1″ swingman Lis Shoshi (sounds like a girl’s name to me, but it isn’t). His three point shot hit the iron, bounced straight up in the air and dropped. Somewhere, former NBA standout and UALR’s most famous basketball alumnus Derek Fisher’s prayers were answered sitting in the stands.
Vince Edwards was then fouled and hit two free throws of his own to push the lead back up to three. Edwards led Matt Painter’s team in scoring with 24 points. With P.J. Thompson applying some token pressure, Hagins launched a shot from 30 feet and drew nothing but nylon with 5.1 seconds to play.
Both teams scored five points in the first overtime, then Hagins took over during the second extra stanza. He opened that five minute period by nailing a pull-up 12-foot jumper, a nifty dribble drive along the baseline, a fadeaway pull-up that would have made Isaiah Thomas jealous which pushed UALR’s lead to 83-79 lead with 1:01 left on the clock. For good measure, he also hit on the last free throw for the 85-83 upset. Hagins finished as the game’s high scorer with 31 points. Next up for UALR, a date with Iowa State who powered by upset-minded Iona 94-81 led by Georges Niang’s 28 points as all five starters for the Cyclones finished in double figures.
Two number one seeds briefly challenged, but coast easily into Second Round
Florida Gulf Coast was entertaining serious thoughts of making history, trailing top seed North Carolina by the slimmest of margins 41-40 at halftime. But the second half proved to be a similar story–defense, defense, and more defense to the tune of a 20-3 run led by Brice Johnson who scored 18 points to go along with 7 rebounds in a 83-67 pasting of FGCU. The UNC-Providence tilt on Saturday should be interesting, but with the game in the Tar Heels home state, the Friars are going to have to play a mostly perfect game to beat them. Most noteworthy during this victory was that Head Coach Roy Williams earned his 65th career NCAA Tournament win, passing the late Dean Smith for second all-time. Obviously, Mike Krzyzewski of Duke has the all-time record and continues to add to it this season.
Virginia saw their coach briefly collapse on the sideline, but he emerged fine and so did his top seeded Cavaliers in racing past Hampton 81-45.
As for the overall number one seed, Kansas toyed around with Austin Peay and it wasn’t even close–that final was Jayhawks 105, Governors 79.
Indiana and Kentucky won with ease and prepare to lock horns once again on Saturday, while Utah won by double digits over Fresno State and Miami got by Buffalo in their second straight appearance in the Big Dance by a 79-72 count.
Games to keep an eye on during Friday’s action
1:30 p.m. Eastern on TNT, Oregon State vs. VCU, this game may be fun to watch.
9:30 p.m. or thereabouts on CBS, Notre Dame vs. Michigan. The Wolverines won both prior NCAA Tournaments matchups, the last coming way back in 1976.
10 p.m. or thereabouts on truTV, Saint Joseph’s vs. Cincinnati. The Hawks are for real after upsetting VCU in the Atlantic 10 final in Brooklyn. Can Cincinnati step up the defensive pressure just like they did last year in stopping Purdue in the first round?
Long day turned into a long night, hope to get enough rest and do it all again on Friday.
Pleasant dreams, everyone.