The first day of March Madness was everything we hoped for.
Well, at least the early games were.
Four of the first five finishes ended with a shot made with less than five seconds on the clock. One of a certified buzzer beater. Another came with 0.4 seconds left on the clock. All told, seven of the 16 games were decided by five points or less, and even Michigan State’s disappointing first round exit featured a comeback from 23 points down and a shot to win the game.
There may have been some snoozers later in the day — I’m looking at you, UConn — but all in all is was an eventful and exciting first day of hoops.
Here’s a recap of everything the folks that celebrated St. Patrick’s Day missed. Or forgot…
Game of the Day: Butler 60, Old Dominion 58
This game was just as good as we all hoped it would be. Neither team led by more than six points. The lead changed hands 21 times. It’s only fitting that a game between two grind-it-out, blue collar teams was decided when a 50-50 ball ended up in Matt Howard’s hands, who layed it in only tenths of a second before the buzzer went off.
The Monarchs came in with the reputation as one of the country’s best rebounding teams, but it was the play of Butler’s frontcourt that made the difference. Matt Howard and Andrew Smith combined for 26 points, while Khyle Marshall and Garrett Butcher had 12 boards, eight of which came on the offensive end. Butler advanced to play Pitt in the second round.
Team of the Day: Morehead State Eagles
With Kenny Faried and Demonte Harper struggling — they combined to go 7-28 from the floor for just 20 points — it was the play of Terrance Hill and Ty Proffit that made the difference. They combined for 36 points on 8-12 shooting from beyond the arc to keep Morehead State within striking distance.
In the clutch, however, coach Donnie Tyndall relied on his stars. Harper drilled a three at the top of the key with 4.5 seconds left that gave Morehead State a 62-61 lead with 4.5 seconds left, and Faried blocked Mike Marra’s shot — it looked like close to being a foul, but looking at replays Faried made a clean defensive play — that sealed the win. Morehead State will play Richmond in the second round.
Player of the Day: Marquise Carter, Gonzaga
Carter has really come on late in the season. He averaged 13.1 ppg in the Zags’ last seven games, combining with David Stockton to solidify the point guard spot. But easily his best game of the season came against the Johnnies, as Carter exploded for a career-high 24 points, six assists, and six boards in an 86-71 win.
Gonzaga has desperately needed a playmaker all season. The knock on this team was that they haven’t been able to replace Matt Bouldin’s production. Expecting this kind of performance out of Carter for the rest of the tournament is too much, but if he can become a consistent playmaker in the tournament the way he was down the stretch of the season, Gonzaga becomes a much more dangerous team.
– Temple 66, Penn State 64: The Owls survived a tough test against a scrappy Penn State team. The started slow — neither team is known for their potent offense or exciting style of play — but the finish was classic. The two team traded baskets over the last five minutes, with Temple opening up a three point lead in the final minute. But the Owls lost track of Talor Battle, who drilled a deep three to tie the game. At the other end of the floor, Juan Fernandez — who had 23 points, which tied for the team-high with Ramone Moore — hit a tough, leaning 15 footer with 0.4 seconds left for the win.
– Kentucky 59, Princeton 57: Brandon Knight struggled, but John Calipari put the ball in his hands on the final possession, and Knight delivered. He scored on a driving layup that gave Kentucky a 59-57 lead with 2.0 seconds left, he first points of the game. Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb also struggled, but Kentucky’s veterans stepped up. Josh Harrellson had 15 points and 10 boards while Darius Miller went for 17. Kentucky will face West Virginia Saturday.
– Richmond 69, Vanderbilt 66: Kevin Anderson hit three threes in a 1:41 span during the second half as the Spiders’ 12-0 run to erase a 48-39 deficit. Down the stretch, Vandy could not execute offensively. They missed three free throws in the final minute, turned the ball over with a chance to tie, and then failed to get a good look on an out-of-bounds play with 2.5 seconds left. The Spiders, behind 25 points from Anderson, advance to play Morehead State.
– UCLA 78, Michigan State 76: UCLA didn’t win as much as it survived. The Bruins opened up a 64-41 lead with 8:30 remaining. When the Spartans finally woke up — and, more importantly, finally started defending — they were able to make their run. A Keith Appling three with 4.4 seconds left cut the lead to one, but after the Bruins went 1-2 from the line, Kalin Lucas traveled and was unable to get off a potentially game-winning heave. Draymond Green led the comeback charge with 23 points, 11 boards, and 10 assists. Tyler Honeycutt led four players in double figures with 16 points, five boards, five assists, three steals, and three blocks.
– West Virginia 84, Clemson 76: Clemson looked great early, jumping out to a double-digit lead. But the Mountaineers used a 15-1 run that spanned both halves, eventually taking a 46-41 lead and pushing that out to double digits. The Mountaineers allowed Clemson to cut the lead to 74-71 with 90 seconds left, but Dalton Pepper, playing the top of the Mountaineer’s 2-3, picked off three consecutive passes — two of which led to layups — as WVU used a 6-0 run in the span of about 15 seconds to put the game away. The Mountaineers advance to face Kentucky.
– Kansas State 73, Utah State 68: Jacob Pullen overcame a bout with the flu to score 22 points and hand out five assists as the Wildcats knocked off the Aggies. Don’t be fooled, this was an impressive win. Utah State is a senior-laden team that is tough defensively with a couple of offensive weapons. The final score was only five, but Kansas State controlled the second half. It should be fun to see the Wildcats take on the Badgers on Saturday.
– BYU 74, Wofford 66: The Cougars struggled early against Wofford, allowing the Terriers to take a six point lead midway through the first half, but the Jimmer and company were just too much. Fredette finished with 32 points and seven assists, but it was the fact that BYU held Wofford, who was 42nd in the nation in offensive efficiency coming in, to under 40 percent shooting from the field while grabbing nine steals.
– Wisconsin 72, Belmont 58: It turns out that Wisconsin was just too much for Belmont. Jon Leuer had 17 of his 22 points in the second half and Jordan Taylor added 21 points as the Badgers pulled away in the second half.
– Cincinnati 78, Missouri 63: After falling behind 9-2 in the first few minutes, Cincinnati asserted its will on this game. The Bearcats handled Missouri’s press and obliterated the Tigers in the paint and in the halfcourt. Yancy Gates led four players in double figures with 18 points and 11 boards.
– San Diego State 68, Northern Colorado 50: Devon Beitzel scored 25 points to keep this thing close for a while, but in the the Aztecs were too much. Kawhi Leonard had 21 points and 10 boards while Billy White added 12 and 13. The Aztecs advance to face Temple.
– Pitt 74, UNC-Asheville 51: Pitt was Pitt. They dominated the offensive glass and Ashton Gibbs scored 26 points on 6-9 shooting from deep. Pitt gets Butler next.
– Florida 79, UC Santa Barbara 51: Florida was the first team of the day to flex their muscles over an inferior opponent. Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton combined for 31 points on 11-17 shooting.
– UConn 81, Bucknell 52: Beat. Down. The final score doesn’t do it justice. Kemba finished 18 points, 12 assists, and eight boards.