Thursday was one of those days that wreaks havoc on a person’s tournament bracket – the rumor is only .1% of all brackets have yet to be busted. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the rest of the Big Dance. Besides, when else will your boss be sort of fine with you watching TV at work?
#12 Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans (30-4, 17-3 Sun Belt) @ #4 Iowa State Cyclones (22-11, 10-8 Big 12) (6:10pm ET Saturday, TNT)
The Trojans joined a long line of 12-seeds who’ve risen up to strike down Goliath, beating Purdue in double-overtime. The Boilermakers led by 13 with 7:14 left to play following a Ralph Davis three-pointer. The Trojans’ Josh Hagins went off, scoring 15 points on five-of-seven shooting, two assist, two steals, and one rebound and sent the game into OT with a three-pointer with four seconds left. He then scored 10 more points in the two overtime periods to lead ALR to an 85-83 victory. When the dust had settled, Hagins had 31 points, seven rebounds, six assists and five steals.
Georges Niang once again carried the Cyclones to victory on Thursday, scoring 28 points to go along with six boards, three assists, two steals and a block as Iowa State defeated Iona 94-81. It took Iowa State less than six minutes to build a nine-point lead. From there, it was smooth sailing as the lead grew to as much as 18 and never got below seven. The Cyclones have recovered nicely from having finished their regular season with an 85-78 loss to #1 Kansas before getting bounced by Oklahoma in the first round of the Big 12 tourney 79-76.
#9 Butler Bulldogs (22-10, 10-8 Big East) @ #1 Virginia Cavaliers (27-7, 13-5 ACC) (7:10pm ET Saturday, TBS)
Kellen Dunham stepped up again for Butler, scoring a game-high 23 points as the Bulldogs defeated the Texas Tech Red Raiders Thursday in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Texas Tech tied it at 48-48 with 9:12 to play on a Zach Smith layup, but Butler slowly pulled away with the Bulldogs’ Kelan Martin draining a pair of three-pointers in the ensuing two minutes to make it a 54-48 game.
How amped was Virginia head coach Tony Bennett for his team’s opening round game against Hampton? The dude fainted during the closing seconds of the first half – he would later blame dehydration. “I’ve had more Powerade than I’ve ever had in my life right now,” Bennett joked afterward. The Pirates trailed by two at the 5:54 mark of the first half, following a Quinton Chievous layup. The Cavaliers went on a 20-3 run that essentially shut the door on the Pirates’ dreams. It was more of the same in the second half as Virginia won 81-45 and the Cavs’ Anthony Gill led all scorers with 19 points, to go along with seven rebounds and four assists.
#11 Gonzaga Bulldogs (27-7, 15-3 WCC) @ #3 Utah Utes (27-8, 13-5 Pac 12) (8:40 ET Saturday, TNT)
You didn’t really think Seton Hall was going to beat the ‘Zags, did you? Star forward Kyle Wiltjer took a backseat to Gonzaga’s Domantas Sabonis as the Lithuanian big man scored 21 points, pulled down 16 boards and even dished out four assists. On the defensive end, the Bulldogs shut down Seton Hall’s Isaiah Whitehead, who managed just 10 points on four-of-24 shooting, including going zero-for-10 from three-point land. This marks the eighth year in a row the ‘Zags have won their opening round game.
The Utah Utes overwhelmed the Fresno State Bulldogs with a four-pronged attack. Jakob Poeltl, Jordan Loveridge and Jorrand Taylor each scored 16, while Lorenzo Bonam scored 17, and the team collectively shot 54% from the floor and 86.4% from the line, more than making up for the 20 turnovers they committed.
The seven-foot, 230-pound Poeltl was a beast in the Pac-12 this season, finishing second in points per game with 17.6 and fourth in rebounds at 9.2 – watching him battle Sabontas and Wiltjer should be fun.
#9 Providence Friars (24-10, 10-8 Big East) @ #1 North Carolina Tar Heels (29-6, 14-4 ACC) (9:40pm ET Saturday, TBS)
As the Friars’ Drew Edwards sought to inbound the ball from under the basket, he eyed his teammate Rodney Bullock, who was inexplicably all alone in the paint. A bounce pass and a layup later, the Friars had taken a 70-69 lead over the USC Trojans with just 1.5 seconds left to play, leaving USC with just enough time to inbounds the ball and heave a fruitless Hail Mary from beyond half court. The Friars managed to win despite an off night from two-time Big East Player of The Year Kris Dunn, who scored 16 points on five-of-13 shooting with four rebounds and four assists.
After leading by as much as 10 points in the first half, the Tar Heels allowed the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles to close within a pint at halftime. But, North Carolina came out of the locker room with renewed vigor, opening the second half with a 25-6 run that put the game out of reach. Brice Johnson led all scorers with 18 on seven-of-11 shooting and added seven rebounds and eight – count ‘em: eight! – blocks, tied for the seventh-most in NCAA tournament history.