Missouri beats Utah State for first March Madness win since 2010

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Missouri used a second-half scoring spurt from Kobe Brown to win its first NCAA Tournament game in 13 years, beating Utah State 76-65 on Thursday.

Brown hit three 3-pointers in a span of just over three minutes to fuel a 13-2 run that turned a two-point deficit into a 62-53 lead.

“He’s our MVP. I can tell you that,” coach Dennis Gates said. “Ultimately when he started making some shots in that second half, he immediately made eye contact. He said he’s here. I said, ‘Yes, you are. We can see.’”

The seventh-seeded Tigers (25-9) held on from there, stopping a six-game tournament skid with their first win since beating Clemson in the first round in 2010.

Missouri advanced to play 15th-seeded Princeton in the second round of the South Region. The Tigers upset No. 2 seed Arizona 59-55.

The 10th-seeded Aggies (26-9) have dropped their last 10 tournament games since beating Ohio State in the first round in 2001. The loss was also the 11th straight for a Mountain West team in the NCAAs.

“It’s really, really, really, really, really hard to win in college basketball,” coach Ryan Odom said. “These guys did it. They won enough to get an at-large bid here. Even though we didn’t get what we wanted in terms of advancing in the tournament, the guys did what they have done all year and that’s continue to fight regardless of the circumstances.”

The game was close until Brown and D’Moi Hodge took it over midway through the second half by scoring 20 straight points for the Tigers.

“We don’t blink,” Brown said. “We felt them getting the momentum, but we couldn’t show that. If we would have showed that, things would have went a lot different.”

Brown started the stretch with a dunk, followed by three straight 3s. Hodge took over from there by hitting twice from long range around a dunk of his own.

Hodge scored 23 points for the Tigers. Brown had 19.

Taylor Funk scored 16 to lead Utah State and Steven Ashworth added 12. The Aggies shot 4 for 24 from 3-point range.

“There has to be some credit given to Missouri, their style of defense, what they like to do to teams,” Ashworth said. “At times, even if you’re getting open looks in those situations, you can be a little rushed into those shots. I think the first half we had a little bit of that. At the same time it was we just weren’t hitting the shots we normally make.”

The Aggies got off to a sloppy start with six turnovers in the first six minutes but still only trailed 35-31 at the half despite missing all 11 attempts from 3-point range.

They missed their first two from long range in the second half before Ashworth finally made a 3-pointer.


Utah State: The frustration for the Aggies was evident when they got called for a bench technical when one of the reserves argued a no-call midway through the second half. Odom heatedly argued the call before getting restrained by an assistant. Nick Honor missed both free throws for Missouri.

Missouri: The Tigers played without team captain Tre Gomillion, who injured his groin during the SEC tournament. If he is able to return next round, that would provide a big boost.


The Tigers will be looking to advance past the first weekend of the tournament for the first time since 2009 when they went to the Elite Eight.

Colorado State sorry for ‘Russia’ chant at Ukrainian player

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Colorado State apologized for a group of fans who chanted “Russia” at a player on an opposing team who is from Ukraine.

Utah State’s Max Shulga is from Kyiv and was shooting free throws when TV cameras picked up the chant from the student section during the game in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Russia invaded Ukraine nearly a year ago.

“On behalf of Colorado State, we apologize to the student-athlete and Utah State. This is a violation of our steadfast belief in the Mountain West Sportsmanship Policy and University Principles of Community,” Colorado State said in a statement.

“Every participant, student, and fan should feel welcomed in our venues, and for something like this to have occurred is unacceptable at Colorado State.”

Utah State beat CSU 88-79.

On Sunday afternoon, Shulga issued a statement through Utah State that thanked the Colorado State administration and Rams coach Niko Medved for their “immediate support and understanding following the disappointing events during last night’s game.”

Shulga added: “This has been an extremely difficult and challenging year with my family and loved ones so far away and living in constant danger. I pray daily for the conflict to come to a close and for peace to be restored for my people in Ukraine.”

To close his statement, Shulga said that while the chants were “extremely upsetting in the moment, I also know how emotions can run high during competition and people can do and say things they do not really mean. Colorado State and its fans have apologized and I accept and appreciate the apology.”

Utah hires Utah State’s Craig Smith as basketball coach

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports Images
1 Comment

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah has hired Utah State’s Craig Smith as its men’s basketball coach.

The school announced Saturday that Smith will replace Larry Krystkowiak, who was fired this month.

Smith turned Utah State into one of the nation’s best mid-major programs in a short span, leading the Aggies to the NCAA Tournament twice in three years. Utah State won the Mountain West Conference Tournament title in 2020, but didn’t get a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Utah State won the MWC Tournament again this season and won 20 games before losing 65-53 to Texas Tech in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

Smith has been an adept recruiter in Logan, bringing in players like Sam Merrill, now with the NBA’s Boston Celtics, and Portuguese big man Neemias Queta.

He previously coached four seasons at South Dakota before being hired by Utah State in 2018.

Utah State fired Krystkowiak on March 16 after he went 183-139 during 10 seasons in Salt Lake City.

Texas Tech uses second-half surge to get past Utah State 65-53

© Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Mac McClung scored 16 points in his first career NCAA Tournament game and Kyler Edwards added 12 to help sixth-seeded Texas Tech pull away from 11th-seeded Utah State 65-53 on Friday.

The Red Raiders snapped a two-game losing streak and made new memories in the tournament after their most recent appearance, a loss to Virginia in the 2019 national championship game. Texas Tech (18-10) can reach its third consecutive Sweet 16 with a win over third-seeded Arkansas on Sunday.

“We told our guys to play fearless, to play with courage and to let it rip,” Red Raiders coach Chris Beard said. “That’s our theme this year – we’re here, let it rip. We think we can win six games in this tournament.”

The Red Raiders listened – but they also faced a daunting challenge against Utah State center Neemias Queta. He finished with 11 points, 13 rebounds and six assists, and tied the school’s single-game school record with seven blocks. Justin Bean had 13 points and eight rebounds for the Aggies (20-9), who lost their final two games.

“Not many guys in the world – I mean college basketball, NBA, pro basketball, in the world – can do something like that,” Utah State coach Craig Smith said, referring to Queta’s numbers. “He’s a star player, and your star players have to deliver, especially when the pressure is on and he did.”

McClung, the high-scoring graduate transfer from Georgetown, managed to keep the Red Raiders close early, though they trailed most of the first half.

Terrence Shannon Jr. changed the game by scoring eight of his 10 points during the decisive 13-0 run early in the second half to make it 38-31. Texas Tech sealed it with a 9-2 spurt that extended its lead to 58-43.

Kevin McCullar had 10 points and seven rebounds for Texas Tech.

“We had to make some adjustments at halftime,” McCullar said. “We were trying to be more aggressive on defense. TJ (Shannon) started making shots and we just played better on the defensive end in the second half.”


Utah State: Queta, a junior, was impressive on a day the Aggies committed 22 turnovers and were far from flawless. If the junior returns next season, the Aggies could be back and might even get their first tourney win since 2001. He joins Baylor’s Ekpe Udoh, in 2010, as the only players in tournament history to finish with at least 10 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and five blocks since blocks became a recognized stat.

Texas Tech: Despite forcing 13 first-half turnovers, the Red Raiders stumbled offensively. Shannon helped the Red Raiders get back on track in the second half as they looked like a team that climbed as high as No. 7 in the rankings this season.


Perhaps Utah State guard Marco Anthony looked familiar to Beard and the Red Raiders. After all, the 6-foot-5 guard was on the opposing bench during Texas Tech’s title game loss to Virginia. Anthony didn’t play that night but the San Antonio prep star made an impact this time, scoring 11 points.


After being pulled off the floor during warmups for a first-round Big 12 Tournament game last March and learning on the flight home that the NCAA had canceled its tournament, Beard gave each player a ring to commemorate the lost season.


“I want to thank Mr. (Joe) Lunardi. He never picks us and our guys kind of feed off this,” Beard said in reference to ESPN’s longtime bracket analyst. “I tell our guys to stay off social media. It’s kind of hard this time of year but a couple of guys brought that to our attention. Not sure if he got a speeding ticket in Lubbock back in the day or whatever, but we made a run in the last tournament and we intend to make a run again.”

Big Ten-toughened Ohio State back on track after late skid

Ohio State basketball huddles
Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar

The late-season stumble was big enough to push Ohio State into fifth place in the loaded Big Ten, an ill-timed four-game losing streak they carried into the conference tournament that raised some questions about how equipped the Buckeyes were for a march through March.

Duane Washington Jr. and his schedule-toughened teammates made clear they’ll be a tough out the rest of the way. Oral Roberts is up first for second-seeded Ohio State on Friday in the South Region.

“I don’t know that we were shook maybe as much as people might’ve expected us to be shook during that closing stretch,” coach Chris Holtmann said. “I’ve never been one, honestly, to really read too much into a losing streak or a winning streak and necessarily what that guarantees going into tournament play, because I don’t think it guarantees much of anything.”

After losing in succession to Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa and Illinois – a quartet of NCAA Tournament teams including two No. 1 seeds and a No. 2 – the Buckeyes beat Minnesota, Purdue and Michigan in consecutive tight games at the Big Ten Tournament. They lost to Illinois in overtime for the title. A whopping 19 of Ohio State’s 30 games this season were against NCAA Tournament teams, with 12 wins.

Strength of schedule is often the golden ticket to a high seed, but it can be a double-edged sword.

“It can possibly mess you up, as we lost four in a row toward the end of the regular season, but we understand that we’re still the same team. We just executed poorly late, or whatever the case may be,” said Washington, who leads the team with 16.3 points per game and was second in the conference with a 3-point shooting percentage of 38.1.

The 91-88 loss to the Illini on Sunday hit hard, even though it didn’t hurt Ohio State’s seed, but staying in Indiana for what they hope is a multiple-week trip gave the Buckeyes a needed breather.

Third-leading scorer Justice Sueing celebrated his 22nd birthday on Monday, and players passed the time with card games, including Uno.

“We had a little fun,” Washington said. “It relaxed us.”

The Golden Eagles, who boast the nation’s leading scorer in guard Max Abmas, won’t be intimidated by stark difference in seed or the quality of the Buckeyes’ competition.

“We’re not going to let a number determine our vantage point,” coach Paul Mills said.

Hartford will need the same attitude and then some against No. 1 seed Baylor. Same goes for Colgate against No. 3 seed Arkansas.

There’s a Big Ten-record nine teams in this field, three of which were slotted in the South Region, which has all of its first-round matchups on Friday. The Oral Roberts-Ohio State and Wisconsin-North Carolina games will both be staged at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Indiana, the home of No. 4 seed Purdue. The Boilermakers are in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Field to play North Texas.

Other pairings are No. 5 seed Villanova against Winthrop, No. 6 seed Texas Tech against Utah State and No. 7 seed Florida against Virginia Tech.

Familiar surroundings sure won’t hurt for the No. 9 seed Badgers, and neither will that conference experience. They went only 4-10 against NCAA Tournament teams this season and lost six of their last eight games.

“You’ve just got to attack it head on and learn from it. Obviously we all wanted better results and more success, but I think the strength of our schedule has prepared us and gotten to this point,” coach Greg Gard said.

Wisconsin will also be well-prepped from Big Ten play for North Carolina’s size, which could change the way Gard handles the rotations. He has generally avoided having 6-foot-11 Nate Reuvers and 6-10 Micah Potter on the floor at the same time, though both seniors play an average of more than 20 minutes per game. Gard said he might put Reuvers and Potter together, given the Tar Heels often have two post players on the floor.

The Badgers need to do something to make sure they’re competitive on the glass. North Carolina has a plus-9.9 rebound margin that leads all NCAA Division I teams. Wisconsin has been outrebounded by an average of two boards per game.

“Obviously matchups throughout the year haven’t worked out the best that they could have when it comes to us both playing together, but it’s something that we’re excited about doing,” Potter said. “It’s something that we’re ready to do.”

2021 NCAA Tournament: Why Loyola-Chicago, Michigan St. are March Madness sleepers to watch


Cinderella runs are undoubtedly one of the best parts of March Madness, even if they have virtually no shot to win the national championship. The only team outside of a top-three seed to win it all in the last two decades was UConn in 2014, a No. 7 seed, but underdogs such as Florida Gulf Coast, George Mason and VCU made themselves household names by stringing together upsets in March.

And although Final Four and national title game appearances are exceedingly rare, it is commonplace for lower-seeded teams to make long runs. From 2010 to 2019, an average of three teams seeded No. 8 or higher made the Sweet Sixteen. One made it to the Elite Eight per year. Only one year, 2019, saw just one of these sleepers make the Sweet Sixteen, so it’s a good bet multiple low seeds will win at least two games.

Whether you’re trying to spice up your bracket or simply looking for potential upsets to watch, it’s good to get familiar with the underdogs who could pull off some shockers in the 2021 tournament. 

Here are the teams seeded No. 8 or lower that could make a run over the coming weeks, with insight from those who cover the squads to discuss what makes them dangerous.

Loyola-Chicago – No. 8 seed, Midwest Region

This is a familiar name, isn’t it? Many will remember the Ramblers’ magical run to the 2018 Final Four as an 11-seed — especially because it introduced the world to Sister Jean — on the back of stingy defense and incredibly timely shooting.

Well, as you can probably tell from the seeding, this year’s team is better. That is mostly driven by its dominant defense: Loyola is the top team in the entire nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. They also give up the fewest points and free throw attempts.

This shows two desirable traits in a sleeper:

First, they are elite on one side of the ball, defense in this case.

Second, they control the pace of the game. It doesn’t matter how talented or athletic its opponents are, Loyola won’t let teams run it out of the gym. 

Combine those positives with their pedigree, the momentum they have as a regular season and conference champion and Porter Moser’s experience coaching a lower-seeded team deep into the tournament, and the Ramblers feel like the best bet of any sleeper to go on a surprise tear.

Ask the Expert: Shannon Ryan, reporter at the Chicago Tribune

“Overall, it’s Loyola’s defense. They’re top in the nation, they hold teams to just 55 points a game, they’ve held tons of teams to under 50 points and really slow teams down and get to them. Lucas Williamson is the Defensive Player of the Year in the Missouri Valley Conference. They have a lot of the same qualities they had in 2018, but some people say they’re better. They’ve got maybe a little more size, and they’ve got some experience and some good shooters as well. So they could maybe surprise people yet again.”

Utah State – No. 11 seed, South Region

Eleven-seeds bring a lot of value to the table. They have won two or more of their Round of 64 matchups in eight of the last ten tournaments, and 11 of the last 40 made at least the Sweet Sixteen. There are a few reasons why Utah State may be the next team to continue this recent trend.

This is another team that wins with defense. The Aggies boast the eighth-best adjusted defensive efficiency in the nation. A huge part of that is their ability to finish possessions on the glass; Utah State outrebounds teams by 10.3 boards per game, second in the nation to North Carolina. They are well-rounded in this regard, too, winning both the offensive and defensive rebounding margin by around five per game.

Center Neemias Queta is a legitimately frightening presence at the rim. He stands seven feet tall with a 7-foot-4-inch wingspan and ranks third in the nation with 3.2 blocks per game. He’s also the Aggies’ leading scorer and playing his best as of late, averaging 18 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks per game in the Mountain West Conference Tournament.

The Aggies showed they can beat good teams when they took down a No. 6 seed in San Diego State twice during the regular season. Don’t be shocked if toppling Texas Tech is just the start of their tournament run.

Ask the Expert: Shawn Harrison, sports editor at The Herald Journal

“They have to have their complete game going, meaning offense and defense. They’ve got a known guy inside, a big guy that has been consistent all year. I think he will shine in the [2021] NCAA Tournament because he loves the big stage. So it really comes down to their guards. When Brock Miller can hit threes, they are a dangerous team, because it really opens up the court for the guys inside. I think they got better as the season went on, and they’re healthy.”

Michigan State – No. 11 seed, East Region

The First Four was solidified to two 11-seed and two 16-seed matchups in 2015. From that season through 2018, one 11-seed from the First Four won its Round of 64 game in each tournament. Call this a gut feeling, but I think the trend will return from a three-year hiatus.

This is a reputation and big-game results pick. Yes, Michigan State has Tom Izzo, and it’s always great to have a coach with a track record of success in the NCAA Tournament when trying to make a surprise run. 

But this is also a team that showed it can go blow for blow with the best teams in the nation down the stretch, scoring victories over No. 3 Illinois, No. 6 Ohio State and No. 4 Michigan in the final two weeks of the regular season.

Next to the murderers’ row of Big Ten competition they faced for much of the year, two games against a sputtering UCLA squad and the third-ranked No. 6 seed in BYU won’t look nearly as difficult to the Spartans. 

Led by older players in junior Aaron Henry, redshirt junior Joey Hauser and graduate student Joshua Langford, the Spartans have the experience to stay poised in critical situations. Izzo has led middling teams on tournament runs before, and the bracket is set up to give him an opportunity to do so again.

Ask the Expert: Chris Solari, Michigan State sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press

“It’s Tom Izzo and Aaron Henry. You’ve got the veteran experience as a coach, and you’ve got the type of player who does so many different things well when he’s playing within himself and can elevate guys around him to get to another level, as we saw over the last seven games of the regular season when they beat Illinois, Michigan and Ohio State. Ultimately, that’s it. When it comes down to it, those are gonna be the two guys that can get them into the second weekend of the tournament.”

Liberty – No. 13 seed, Midwest Region

This is a long shot that is entirely reliant on one thing: shooting. 

Liberty has the sixth-best mark from behind the arc in the nation and three players who shoot at least 40% from deep on 3.8 attempts or more per game in Darius McGhee, Chris Parker and Elijah Cuffey. If they get hot, the volume shooting could overwhelm a few higher-seeded opponents.

McGhee is certainly the type of player who could capture hearts in the “Big Dance.” He’s a 5-foot-9, 160-pound flamethrower who shoots 41.3% on eight 3-point attempts per game. Don’t be surprised if he has a few huge games on the biggest stage, as he did in leading the Flames to this year’s ASUN regular season and tournament championships.

Their 3-point shooting sounds like a great recipe for an upset or two, but there are a few reasons to be a bit skeptical of a run happening here. 

First: The likelihood of both first-round upsets and sustained runs goes sharply down after you look below No. 11 seeds

Second: Although the Flames do have good raw defensive numbers, playing in the ASUN doesn’t do their adjusted ratings any favors when projecting them against better opponents, especially in their matchup with Oklahoma State and likely top NBA Draft pick Cade Cunningham. 

But there is another factor in Liberty’s favor: The last time an NCAA Tournament was held, the Flames took down No. 5 seed Mississippi State by shooting 12-of-25 from three and limiting possessions. They did ultimately run out of gas against a No. 4 seed in Virginia Tech.

As was the case with Loyola-Chicago, this is a good approach for less talented teams looking to pull off a string of upsets. If you’re looking for a true dark horse, Liberty may be your team.

Ask the Expert: Jon Manson, founder of A Sea of Red

“I think it’s [coach] Ritchie McKay. His demeanor, the team really follows after him there. They have championship DNA, championship pedigree. They won’t be rattled when they’re down by two points with a minute left, you know that they’ve been there. McGhee’s the ultimate X-factor in my opinion, a five-nine guard who’s just been on a torid scoring pace the last month or so of the season. If he’s able to make five-plus 3-pointers in a game, they can beat anybody.”

Honorable Mentions: No. 8 LSU, No. 9 Wisconsin, No. 10 Maryland, No. 11 Syracuse, No. 12 Georgetown