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Tourney Tracker: The first weekend

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The Appalachian Online

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, March Madness finds a way to make you believe what you just saw didn’t actually happen. I had that moment on Thursday when the Sun Belt champion Arkansas Little-Rock came roaring back to beat Purdue in double overtime. I had that moment again the next day, when Northern Iowa hit a half-court game-winner against Texas. Not to be outdone, Sunday night’s game between Xavier and Wisconsin topped both of them.

Although the NCAA tournament is home to many memorable last second shots, Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig may have hit the most deadly game winner I have seen. Down three with 13 seconds left on the clock, Koenig (you may remember him from the Badgers postseason title run last March) hits a three off the dribble from NBA range with a defender hanging all over him to tie the score. It was an incredible shot that is now forgotten.

That’s because Xavier turned the ball over on a controversial charge call with five seconds left, allowing Wisconsin to advance the ball up the floor and call a timeout with two seconds to go. First year Badger head coach Greg Gard draws up a beautiful out of bounds play that sees Koenig wheeling from the elbow down to the corner 3-point line. With another Musketeer guard right behind him, Koenig takes one dribble, sets his feet and fires a fadeaway three as time expires. Nothing but the bottom of the net, and No. 10 seed Wisconsin stuns No. 2 Xavier to advance to the Sweet 16. It felt cerebral.

And how about No. 11 seed Northern Iowa? This has been an impressive Panthers team all year long, one that boasts victories over tournament teams North Carolina, Wichita State and Stephen F. Austin. In control for much of the game against No. 6 seeded Texas before the Longhorns came rumbling back and put the Panthers on their heels and in a dogfight. A tie game after Texas guard Isaiah Taylor hits a layup with 2.1 seconds left on the clock, UNI forward Paul Jesperson heaves a half-court shot that banks in as time expires. Ballgame. Northern Iowa advances and plays the three seed in the west, Texas A&M.

Remember at the start of this column when I said March Madness finds a way to make you believe what you just saw couldn’t possibly be reality? Put yourself in UNI head coach Ben Jacobson’s shoes. His team knocked off the higher-seeded Longhorns on a half-court shot as time expired on Friday. Sunday, the Panthers are in cruise control against the SEC’s Texas A&M. Northern Iowa was destined to reach the Sweet 16. There is simply no other way to say it– Surely Texas A&M is going home. The Panthers were up 69-57 with 35 seconds left.

Wrong.

Poor decision making and bad passing led to a plethora of turnovers for UNI, and the Aggies of Texas A&M clawed back to make it 69-71 with eight seconds left. Instead of fouling, A&M trapped UNI point guard Wes Washpun and cleanly stole the ball, dribbling in for a game-tying layup that forced overtime.

UNI played well over the next five minutes (despite their star point guard Washpun fouling out) and forced a second five-minute period, but everyone watching the game knew Texas A&M was going to win. You can’t blow a 12 point lead in under 40 seconds and bounce back like nothing happened. You could see it in the Panthers’ faces.

According to the NCAA, this was the biggest final-minute comeback of all time, with the previous record belonging to a February 2005 game when San Diego State came back from 11 down with 59 seconds to go. The Aggies managed one more point in 24 fewer seconds. According to NumberFire, a website who calculates in-game win probabilities, UNI had a 99.9 percent chance to win late in regulation according to ESPN.

Elsewhere, the No. 2 seed in the Midwest region, Michigan State, found a way to lose to No. 15 Middle Tennessee State. In fact, Michigan State trailed for the entire game and never once took the lead. The Blue Raiders jumped out to a 15-2 lead and never looked back, before No. 10 seed Syracuse ended MTSU’s upset hopes in the next round.

No. 8 seed St. Joseph’s, led by two fantastic players in Isaiah Miles and Deandre Bembry, held off No. 9 seed Cincinnati in yet another last-second controversial call. Miles nailed a great 3-pointer for St. Joe’s with nine seconds left that saw the Hawks regain the lead, 78-76. With no timeouts left, Cincinnati drove the length of the court and actually got as great a look as any coach could ever ask for: a dunk. However, replays appear to show the ball on the tips of Octavius Ellis’s hands as he flushed the ball into the basket, and time expired a fraction before Ellis had cleanly let go of the ball. Ballgame St. Joe’s, 78-76.

St. Joseph’s lost to top-seeded Oregon in the next round. Oregon advances to play Duke in the Sweet 16.

Here’s the schedule you need for next week’s games as we continue this historic and memorable tournament.

Thursday, March 24

No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 3 Miami (7:10 p.m., CBS)

No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 3 Texas A&M (7:37 p.m., TBS)

No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 5 Maryland (9:40 p.m., CBS)

No. 4 Duke vs. No. 1 Oregon (10:07 p.m., TBS)

Friday, March 25

No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 4 Iowa State (7:10 p.m., CBS)

No. 6 Notre Dame vs. No. 7 Wisconsin (7:27 p.m., TBS)

No. 10 Syracuse vs. No. 11 Gonzaga (9:40 p.m., CBS)

No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 5 Indiana (9:57 p.m., TBS)

 

Story by: Nick Joyner, Sports Reporter

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