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Buzzer-beaters, beatdowns — Big Dance’s second weekend had it all

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As much as I love the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, I think that the second weekend — the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 rounds — are actually my favorite part of the dance.

The chaos, coast-to-coast madness, and desire to be able to watch and listed to all four games at once makes that first weekend wild and fun and entertaining, but the second weekend is when every game becomes a heavy weight battle. It only helps when the results are as memorable as they were this past weekend.

Six No. 1 and No. 2 seeds went down over the past four days. A No. 11 seed made the Final Four. A No. 8 seed out of the Horizon League made its second consecutive Final Four. Two of college basketball’s elite advanced to the Final Four despite what most assumed to be a down year.

There were buzzer beaters and there were beatdowns, all exciting and shocking and memorable in their own right. Here’s my attempt at recapping that madness:

Game of the Weekend: Butler 74, Florida 71 OT

This game was Butler basketball at its finest. The Bulldogs were outplayed fairly thoroughly in the first half, but thanks to some tough defense and timely shot-making, Butler was able to cut the deficit to 33-32 at the half. In the second half, Florida continued their terrific play, pounding the ball inside and flustering the Bulldogs with a zone that they switched to man with less than 10 seconds left on the shot clock.

But with the score 51-42 midway through the half, Brad Stevens put in Chrishawn Hopkins, a seldom-used freshman point guard that had played well in practice, and Hopkins delivered. On the first possession he was in the game, he threw a gorgeous, no-look pass for a layup. 30 seconds later, he drilled a three that cut the lead to four. He didn’t do much the rest of the game, but those five points were enough to tip the momentum into Butler’s favor. The game would eventually end up in overtime, where we had one of the most exciting four possessions of the tournament. Butler had opened up a 67-64 lead with Erving Walker found Kenny Boynton for a three with just over two minutes left. After Ronald Nored gave Butler the lead back with two free throws, Walker drilled a three to give the Gators the lead. But at the other end, Shelvin Mack — who had 27 points in the game — answered with a three of his own, and Florida was never able to get the lead back. Walker and Boynton both misfired on threes in the final minute.

Studs of the Weekend: VCU Rams

What the Rams did this weekend cannot be understated. Hell, what they have done in this tournament deserves massive amounts of credit. On Friday, VCU took on a Florida State team that was a terrible matchup for them. They were obliterated in the paint, to the tune of 21 offensive boards and 20 second chance points, but still managed to hit enough from beyond the arc to take the game to overtime. With 7.9 seconds left, Joey Rodriguez found Bradford Burgess for a layup to give the Rams the win.

On Sunday, however, is when the Rams made history. VCU played a nearly perfect game, knocking Kansas off-balance early, to beat Kansas and advance to the Final Four. VCU tied a season high (that they set in the tournament) with 12 threes, got 26 points and 10 boards from Jamie Skeen, and saw Rodriguez make three huge plays down the stretch as they beat the tournament’s most talented remaining team to advance to the Final Four. It was a perfect storm of opportunity and execution.

They showed out too:

  • Kentucky Wildcats: Believe it or not, the Wildcats were a bit of a cinderella story in this tournament. Not in the way that Butler and VCU are, but because this team was not supposed to be Final Four good this year, especially with Enes Kanter sitting out. But Josh Harrellson and DeAndre Liggins stepped up to play their best basketball of the season while Coach Cal’s trio of talented freshmen combined to hit some timely shots as the Wildcats played their way to the Final Four.
  • Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb, UConn: Kemba was just as good as he has been all season long. He had 36 points in the Sweet 16 win over San Diego State and followed that up with 20 points and seven assists in the win over Arizona. But UConn woudl not be where they are right now without Jeremy Lamb. The freshman averaged 23.0 ppg in the two games, but it was his play down the stretch in both that made the difference.
  • Derrick Williams, Arizona: Despite losing in the West Regional Final, Williams may have been the most impressive player of the tournament. He had 25 first half points against Duke, finishing with 32 and 13 boards, as the Wildcats knocked off No. 1 seed Duke. Against UConn, he got into foul trouble early, but his strong second half gave Arizona a chance to win. Unfortunately, his decision to hoist a couple of threes late in the UConn loss will be what he is remembered for in this tournament.
  • Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard, Butler: Howard was the hero against Wisconsin, scoring 20 points and grabbing 12 boards while shutting down Jon Leuer as the Bulldogs dominated the Badgers. Against Florida, it was Mack’s 27 points that carried Butler to the overtime win.

Dud of the Weekend: Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar, Kansas

Its tough to place the blame for a loss on any one player, especially when a team combines to go 2-22 from three and 15-28 from the free throw line. But its also difficult to ignore just how poorly Reed and Morningstar played in the loss to VCU. The two senior started combined for just 11 points in the loss to the Rams, shooting a combined 2-16 from the floor and 1-10 from three. There were multiple other factors in the loss, but that shooting performance — many of those misses came late in the game as Kansas was trying to make a comeback — may as well have been the nail in the coffin.

They didn’t show up:

  • Nolan Smith, Duke: You can blame it on team chemistry if you want, but there is no denying that Smith struggled mightily in Duke’s Sweet 16 loss to Arizona. He finished just 3-14 from the floor for eight points while turning the ball over six times.
  • Chandler Parsons, Florida: In the Gator’s overtime loss to Butler, Parsons disappeared. He finished with just five points on 2-9 shooting with just two assists and not a single free throw. He didn’t score in the final 34 minutes of the game.
  • Derwin Kitchen, Florida State: I really don’t want to pile on the kid, but his late game blunders probably cost Florida State a trip to the Elite 8. He dribbled out the clock with a chance to win the game in regulation and overtime, and as also the guy that got beat by Brad Burgess for the game-winning layup.
  • Marquette Golden Eagles: Known for being a scrappy team that is never out of a game, the Golden Eagles picked the absolute worst time to have their worst performance of the season. Against North Carolina in the Sweet 16, Marquette allowed the Tar Heels to go on a 38-5 run that turned a 10-8 lead with just under 12 minutes left in the first half to a 46-15 deficit a minute into the second half.
  • Jon Leuer, Wisconsin: Leuer was downright awful in Wisconsin’s 61-54 loss to Butler. He finished the game shooting 1-12 from the floor and was a non-factor on either end of the floor.

Biggest Shot: Brandon Knight vs. Ohio State

After Jon Diebler hit a three with 20 seconds left in the game to tie it at 60, Brandon Knight hit a ridiculously tough pull-up over Aaron Craft, who had held him to just seven points on 2-9 shooting prior, for his second game-winner of the tournament.

Biggest Shot Part Deux: Bradford Burgess vs. Florida State

With VCU down 71-70 in overtime and just 7.9 second left on the clock, Burgess managed to lose Derwin Kitchen on an out-of-bounds play under the basket.

Biggest Shot Redux:

  • DeAndre Liggins, Kentucky: UNC had just made a run to cut what was once an 11 point lead down to a single point. With the shot clock winding down, Liggins got a pass in the corner and knocked down arguably the biggest shot of his career, a three to give Kentucky a three point lead less than 30 seconds left in the game.
  • Jeremy Lamb, UConn: Lamb hit a shot that was almost exactly the same in nature. SDSU had just gone on an 8-0 run to cut the UConn lead to 65-64 when Lamb knocked down a three with less than a minute to go. On the ensuing possession, he stole a pass and finished with a dunk at the other end that all but sealed UConn’s win.

Safe Travels: Jimmer Fredette, BYU

On Thursday night, Florida knocked off the Cougars in overtime, ending the career of one of the most entertaining players in the recent history of college basketball. And as only The Jimmer can do, he went out with a 32 point performance which drew criticism from the experts.

That criticism was probably fair. Fredette was just 11-29 from the floor and 3-15 from beyond the arc, missing a number of shots that he has hit all season long. But that one poor performance should not sully the reputation of the guy that became college basketball’s hero this season. Jimmer lit up scoreboards all season long. He hit jumpers from 30 feet on a consistent basis. He scored 29 points a night and carried a BYU team that was thoroughly mediocre without him all the way to the Sweet 16.

Fredette was going to lose at some point. He simply did not have the supporting cast to make a run at a national title. The shame is that immediately after his career ended, the talk started about what kind of pro he would become. The kid was a hero this season. Before we go discussing what he’ll be at the next level, let’s all sit back and remember just how good he was at this level.

Jimmer, it was a pleasure, my friend. You will be missed.

No. 7 North Carolina holds off Davidson

North Carolina's Isaiah Hicks (4) dunks against Davidson during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. North Carolina won 83-74. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Justin Jackson buried shot after shot from behind the arc in the best performance of his career for No. 7 North Carolina. Coach Roy Williams didn’t have much to feel good about otherwise.

Jackson matched his career high with 27 points and hit a career-best seven 3-pointers to help the Tar Heels beat Davidson 83-74 on Wednesday night, though they struggled both to slow down high-scoring Wildcats guard Jack Gibbs and find much of a rhythm with top point guard Joel Berry II sidelined by a sprained left ankle.

“Well it’s been a lot of fun watching this basketball team at certain times this year,” Williams said. “It was not fun tonight.”

The Tar Heels (9-1) didn’t get in any kind of groove offensively, with the 6-foot-8 Jackson largely carrying the offense on a night when they got little production from the front line. He had shot 30 percent from 3-point range through his first two seasons and was up to 35 percent coming in before matching his previous high of four 3s by halftime.

“Confidence and stepping into it — I think that’s all it was,” Jackson said. “I knew I had to step up more but then whenever I got my shots, I just stepped into it like it was another shot.”

 

But UNC shot just 38 percent, while only Isaiah Hicks (13 points) and reserve Luke Maye (career-high 10 points, all before halftime) reached double figures.

Gibbs — ranked seventh nationally by averaging 23.3 points — finished with 30 points for the Wildcats (5-3), who trailed by 16 midway through the second half before making a late push to get within three in the final 2 minutes.

But Kennedy Meeks answered with two free throws, then Hicks followed with two more after getting a big rebound in traffic with 52 seconds left to help UNC hang on.

“They made some good plays, they got some key rebounds,” Gibbs said of the final minutes. “They’ve got athletes and sometimes it’s tough to get those rebounds. Down the stretch, they made the plays and we didn’t.”

BIG PICTURE

Davidson: Gibbs is the kind of scorer that can scare any opponent when he gets hot, while Peyton Aldridge (22 points) provides his own matchup troubles. And with a veteran coach like Bob McKillop, this is the kind of team that scares big-name teams come tournament time.

“I loved the way they fought,” McKillop said.

UNC: The Tar Heels got a glimpse of life without arguably their top player in Berry. Nate Britt got the start and had six assists but missed all eight of his shots, while Seventh Woods and Stilman White (career-high six points) saw plenty of minutes at the point. But the Tar Heels missed Berry’s finish-through-contact toughness, leadership and scoring ability.

DEFENSIVE HELP

Gibbs and Aldridge combined to make 17 of 35 shots, with Gibbs hitting five 3-pointers.

“As teammates, we ‘ve got to do a better job of helping off and helping out on players like Gibbs,” Meeks said. “Like (Williams) probably said in the press conference, either we’re going to be a mediocre team or we’re going to be a good team. We’ve got to decide before it’s too late.”

CONFETTI?

The game was 5 seconds old when there was a brief stoppage due to falling confetti-like material fluttering to the court from the rafters of the Smith Center. Arena staffers swept it up and the game resumed within a minute or two.Team spokesman Matt Bowers said at halftime it was believed to be pieces of a padding used to absorb leaks near the ceiling.

UP NEXT

Davidson: The Wildcats get a 10-day break before playing their fifth power-conference opponent this year, facing No. 3 Kansas on Dec. 17 in Kansas City, Missouri.

UNC: The Tar Heels begin a two-game set with Southeastern Conference opponents, first by hosting Tennessee on Sunday before facing No. 6 Kentucky on Dec. 17 in Las Vegas.

LATE NIGHT SNACKS: Indiana State, Colorado score upset wins

Indiana State guard Brenton Scott (4) celebrates a 72-71 win over Butler in an NCAA college basketball game in Terre Haute, Ind., Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Indiana State 72, No. 16 Butler 71

Don’t play road games against mid-majors in the Hoosier State, apparently. Two weeks after Indiana lost at Fort Wayne, Butler goes down in Terre Haute to the Sycamores. Yet another example of why such scheduling practices remain the oddity. Butler probably should have known better than to play at Indiana State on Larry Bird’s 60th birthday, though.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

No. 6 Kentucky 87, Valparaiso 63: In their first game back since losing to UCLA, the Wildcats carved up Valpo in a game that said much more about UK than the Crusaders.

No. 10 Creighton 77, Nebraska 62: The Bluejays jumped out to an 18-4 lead early, but led by just one at halftime. Then, Creighton’s offense went into overdrive and used a 15-4 run break the game open early in the second half and then cruise to a comfortable victory in Lincoln against the rival Huskers while showing off its potent offense.

Colorado 68, No. 13 Xavier 66: The Musketeers shot just 38.3 percent from the floor while Derrick White had 23 points, six rebounds and four assists to power the Buffaloes in the upset victory. Xavier has now dropped two-straight, with the losses coming in its only two true road games of the non-conference schedule.

SMU 74, TCU 59: The Horned Frogs were off to an 8-0 start to a season that signals its commitment to basketball, but fell short in their attempt to deliver a truly signature win after an otherwise relatively soft non-conference schedule. Winning at Moody Coliseum, with a presidential audience no less, probably won’t be the difference in wherever TCU lands this spring, but now their fate will rest almost exclusively in how they navigate the Big 12. SMU got its second Power 5 victory after dispatching Jamie Dixon’s previous employer, Pitt, earlier this season.

STARRED

Deng Adel, Louisville: Put up a double-double of 12 points and 12 rebounds for the Cardinals.

West Virginia’s defense: Maybe it wasn’t the 40 turnovers the Mountaineers forced against Manhattan, but Bob Huggins’ group tallied 34 takeaways from Western Carolina.

A.J. Astroth, Belmont: It happened in a losing effort, but Astroth had 16 points and 15 rebounds in 37 minutes in the Pirates’ 69-63 setback to Gardner-Webb.

STRUGGLED

VCU: The Rams dropped their second-straight game, this one at home, in an overtime setback, 76-73, to Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets’ previous best win was against KenPom No. 166 Sam Houston State – at home, no less.

San Diego State: The Aztecs lost their second straight game, this one coming on the road against Grand Canyon. It looks like the Mountain West is going to be a one-bid league again.

TOP 25

  • Davidson made them sweat, but No. 7 North Carolina held on late for an 83-74 win over the Wildcats.
  • No. 11 Louisville held Southern Illinois to 35.2 percent shooting in a 74-51 victory.
  • On top of forcing 34 turnovers, No. 15 West Virginia held Western Carolina to 26 percent shooting in a 90-37 victory.
  • Bronson Koenig went for 21 points and Ethan Happ had 12 points and 12 rebounds in No. 17 Wisconsin’s 78-44 win over Idaho State at the Kohl Center.

NOTABLES

  • George Mason won its sixth-straight game by thrashing Penn State in the second half to win 85-66. The Patriots outscored the Nittany Lions by 20 after halftime in Happy Valley. Marquise Moore had 25 points for George Mason.
  • Tommy Amaker became the winningest coach in Harvard history with a 74-66 win over Boston College in Chestnut Hill.
  • Seton Hall survived a half-court heave from Jabari Bird that just missed its mark to beat Cal, 60-57, at the Pearl Harbor Invitational.
  • JC Hampton hit 5 of 7 3-pointers to score 21 points and Texas A&M beat Denver, 80-58.

No. 13 Xavier’s cold-shooting continues in loss at Colorado

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 21:  Xavier Johnson #11 of the Colorado Buffaloes reacts against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the second half of the 2016 Legends Classic at Barclays Center on November 21, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Derrick White scored 23 points and Xavier Johnson chipped in with 18 points and seven boards as Colorado knocked off No. 13 Xavier, 68-66, in Boulder on Wednesday night.

The Musketeers got 25 points from Trevon Bluiett, but the rest of the roster struggled to score as Xavier once against had issues shooting the ball from the perimeter.

It’s been the Achilles’ heel for this team all season long. On Wednesday night, the Musketeers shot 38.3 percent from the floor and 7-for-26 (26.9%) from three. On the season, Xavier is 272nd nationally in three-point shooting at 31.3 percent. They’re ranked in the bottom-half of the country in effective field goal percentage, and that lack of perimeter shooting really limits what they are able to do on the offensive end of the floor.

Edmond Sumner is shooting 22.7 percent from three. J.P. Macura isn’t much better, checking in at 28.8 percent. Those are the two best ball-handlers and playmakers in Xavier’s perimeter attack right now, and with Myles Davis’ return unclear, the Musketeers haven’t exactly made themselves difficult to guard.

In the long run I think they’ll be fine, especially if Davis does eventually return to the country.

But they’ve now lost back-to-back games against the two best teams they’ve faced this season. Yes, both of those games came on the road, but that doesn’t change the facts here.

As of right now, Xavier is a perimeter shooting team, and until they get that fixed, their ceiling this season is limited.

Big men push No. 11 Louisville over Southern Illinois, 74-51

Southern Illinois' Mike Rodriguez (1) has his shot blocked by Louisville's Mangok Mathiang (12) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. Louisville won 74-51. Left is Louisville's Jaylen Johnson (10). (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville’s frontcourt led the way over an outmatched opponent.

Mangok Mathiang scored 15 points to help No. 11 Louisville to a 74-51 victory over Southern Illinois on Wednesday night.

The 6-foot-10 senior got the Cardinals (8-1) off to a hot start as he scored the team’s first seven points, and Louisville settled in from there, extending the lead 21-4 in the game’s first 8 minutes.

Sophomore Deng Adel, who finished with his first career double-double, said the team came out focused at the start.

“I think it was just our ball movement,” said the 6-7 forward, who finished with 12 points and a career-high 12 rebounds, besting the seven he grabbed against Boston College last February. “Guys were looking to run. A lot of it was easy points. We threw it into the bigs a lot. Mangok ignited that run got a couple day post-ups.”

In making six of nine shots, Mathiang finished two points shy of his career high in just 22 minutes.

As Southern Illinois (5-4) came to the Yum! Center with no one taller than 6-9, Louisville used its size to its advantage. The Cardinals blocked nine shots and outrebounded the Salukis 43-31.

Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson said he knew there would be a bit of a shock factor in play, and he thought his team got over that as they cut the Louisville lead to 37-26 at halftime, thanks to an 8-0 run over the final 1:32. However, in the first 4 minutes of the second half, Louisville built the lead back to 18 points.

“Their length, obviously, their size bothered us, specifically in the first half,” Hinson said. “You’ve got to give credit to coach (Rick) Pitino. They went down at us. We knew they were going to.”

Jaylen Johnson, a 6-9 junior, finished with nine points, 10 rebounds and six blocks. Mathiang, Johnson, 7-footer Matz Stockman and 6-10 Ray Spalding combined to shoot 15 of 20, with all the baskets coming inside the paint.

“We have size,” Pitino said. “We throw to the low post. If they’re not doubling, then we’re going to get easy shots.”

Sean O’Brien led the Salukis with 15 points and 11 rebounds while Mike Rodriguez added 15 points.

BIG PICTURE

Southern Illinois: For the third time this season, the Salukis fell to a Power Five foe on the road and all of the losses have been by double digits. Not only could the Salukis not deal with Louisville’s size, they also failed to stretch out the Cardinals’ defense as they made just 5 of 24 3-point shots.

Louisville: For a team that has struggled at times on offense, the Cardinals looked strong in the first half. Even without Anas Mahmoud, their main big man who missed his second game because of a concussion, Louisville’s frontcourt more than held its own against the smaller Salukis. Four Cardinals who stand 6-9 or taller combined to go 8 of 10 from the field in the first half, helping the team shoot 55.2 percent in the first 20 minutes.

HE SAID IT

“I don’t think we’re great at anything. I think we’re good at a lot of things. I don’t think we’re great at anything, but we hope to get there, though . in a hurry.” Pitino, assessing his team in the post-game news conference. Two weeks from tonight, the Cardinals will host No. 6 Kentucky, starting a three-game, 10-day stretch against teams currently ranked 14th or higher.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Louisville got out to a hot start, and while the shooting cooled to just 36.7 percent in the second half, the Cardinals still built the lead to as many as 25 points in the second half. The Cardinals did as most expected, enabling them to stay on the fringe of the Top 10, ready to re-enter should a higher ranked team fall this weekend.

UP NEXT

Southern Illinois returns home to play Sam Houston State on Saturday.

On Saturday afternoon, Louisville hosts Texas Southern, which lost 74-70 to the Salukis on Saturday.

No. 17 Wisconsin routs Idaho State for 4th straight win

Wisconsin's Ethan Happ (22) dunks over Idaho State's Hayes Garrity (0) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)
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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Bronson Koenig scored 21 points, Ethan Happ had 12 points and 12 rebounds, and No. 17 Wisconsin rolled past Idaho State 78-44 on Wednesday night.

The Badgers (8-2) scored the first 10 points and opened up a 21-3 lead as the Bengals (1-8) could only muster a single 3-pointer in the opening 11 1/2 minutes. Wisconsin led 35-16 at halftime.

Nigel Hayes added 11 points for the Badgers, who had a 44-14 edge in points in the paint and outscored Idaho State 23-5 in points off turnovers. Wisconsin won its fourth straight game.

The Badgers held Bengals leading scorer Ethan Telfair (19.8 ppg) to two points on 1-of-9 shooting, with his only basket coming with 5:57 left in the game.

It was the second game this season the senior guard did not score at least 10 points after failing to reach double figures in only two games last season.

Balint Mocsan had 10 points to lead Idaho State, which was outrebounded 47-21.

BIG PICTURE

Idaho State: The Bengals had their first winning record last season under coach Bill Evans in his fourth year at the helm, but with only one victory so far in the non-conference season, that feat will be hard to duplicate. Idaho State never threatened to earn its first victory over a Power 5 conference opponent in 30 years.

Wisconsin: The Badgers were coming off a stretch of four games that included three against teams that played in last season’s Final Four, and they showed no signs of a letdown against the outgunned Bengals. No starter played more than 25 minutes as Wisconsin used a 10-man rotation for most of the game.

UP NEXT

Idaho State: Hosts Bristol, a third-year California program that plays all its games on the road, to begin a stretch of four games in 11 days.

Wisconsin: Will be tested by two in-state rivals, playing at Marquette on Saturday and hosting Wisconsin-Green Bay on Dec. 14, before a break for final exams.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.