The official narrative at the NCAA men’s basketball tournament this season is “Upset Mania.”
The perennial basketball powers of March are dropping at a startling rate, and others are coming within a hair’s width of joining them. On Friday, Duke reprised its lackluster 2012 second-round loss to 15-seed Lehigh University by losing to 14-seed Mercer University, 78-71. It’s the second “one-and-done” for the Blue Devils in the past three seasons, this time falling at the hands of Mercer – a small, liberal arts college in Macon, Georgia. Mercer hails from the Atlantic Sun Conference in the southeastern US – the same conference that gave birth to last year’s bracket busters, Florida Gulf Coast. It is also the fifth time that Duke has lost in their opening round of play.
Jakob Gollon scored 20 points, had three assists and two steals to lead the balanced Bears’ attack, which featured five players in double figures, including teammates Daniel Coursey (17 points), Langston Hall (11 points), Anthony White, Jr. (13 points) and Ike Nwamu (11 points). At one point, Mercer went on a 20-5 scoring run – while shooting 56 percent from the floor – which the Blue Devils couldn’t find any defensive answers for. They also hit 12 of 14 free-throws in the closing minutes, while Duke had no success playing through a noisy and raucous collection of Mercer fans who had made the long trip north to Raleigh, N.C., Duke’s proverbial “backyard.”
Later on Friday night, No. 5 seed Virginia Commonwealth University also fell, due to a four-point play in the game’s waning seconds, to the Lumberjacks of Stephen F. Austin, 77-75. The epic upset came in the wake of the Lumberjacks blowing a ten-point second half lead and giving up a 24-3 scoring run by the Rams. But with ten seconds remaining, VCU’s Jordan Burgess missed free throws. Sprinting down the floor, Stephen F. Austin’s Desmond Haymon caught an outlet pass on the right wing beyond the three-point arc―which he hit falling away―while also being fouled by VCU’s JaQuan Lewis, to tie the game at 67 at the end of regulation. In the extra session – a record fifth overtime game in this tournament – a seemingly deflated Rams squad surrendered the victory to SFA – their 29th in a row, a winning streak second only to Wichita State’s current 35 consecutive victories in Division 1.
And in yet another upset, but one which was a “trendy” pick at the beginning of the tournament, No. 11-seed Tennessee defeated the sixth-seeded University of Massachusetts Minutemen by a decisive 86-67 score. The Volunteers (23-12) got 26 points and 14 rebounds from their anchor, big-man Jarnell Stokes – the Minutemen were completely stymied by him on the inside. And his teammate Jerome Maymon also had a double-double, with 11 points and 11 rebounds – nine of those off the defensive glass. Jordan McRae also added 21 points for the Volunteers, including two three-pointers.
No. 10-seed Stanford University got into the action as well, defeating the seventh-ranked Lobos of the University of New Mexico, 58-53, despite 24 points contributed by New Mexico’s star player, strong forward Cameron Bairstow. The Cardinal took the lead early and never allowed the Lobos to get into a rhythm and get back into the game late.
And in another game that had potentially wide-ranging, bracket-busting implications, the Friars of Providence College nearly nipped the University of North Carolina Tarheels, but lost in the final seconds, 79-77. A close third behind the Duke and VCU upsets, this was a hard-fought game with a number of lead changes throughout. The Tarheels overcame a seven-point deficit in the last four and a half minutes, as well as a career high 36-point performance by Friars guard Bryce Cotton to advance to the third round. With the score tied at 77 and with 3.5 seconds remaining, North Carolina’s Mike McAdoo was fouled inside and made the front end of two free-throws. He then missed the second but the ball did a seemingly “seeing-eye” back into his outstretched hands, whereupon he was again fouled. A 54% free-throw shooter on the season, McAdoo calmly hit both shots from the stripe and sealed the victory of the Tarheels, who have overcome a two-game losing streak before the tournament, and secured not a little momentum going into their third-round game with #3-seed Iowa State, who blew out N.C. Central last night, 93-75.
Who should you watch Saturday? Check out the NCAA 2014 tournament TV schedule.