Georgia State vs Baylor
Baylor came out making a statement quickly going up 6-16 over Ga State. However, Ron Hunter and his crew were not phased. They decided to let Baylor know that they weren’t afraid to play a 3 seeded team, and leaned heavily on the press to get them back in the game. Baylor hit a huge three to end the 1st half 30-33, but still Ga State wasn’t phased. At the end of the half, all Ga State players had scored at least 1 point, while Baylor was relying heavily for production from 5 main players, including Royce O’Neale, Taurean Prince and Kenny Chery.
The second half started much of the same way that the first half began, and Baylor eventually went up by 10 points with less than 4 minutes to go. It seemed that Bears would take the win, but not so fast. RJ Hunter said he recalled being in a similar situation last year trying to get into the tournament, and they didn’t finish the job. They were not going to let it happen two years in a row.
“Well, I think with 2:54 left, I said that. I said at this time last year, we gave up this 10-point lead, so anything can happen. And right after that, we went on that run. Just going through that and going through all types of basketball situations, you see everything, so I don’t think we were rattled, and we just made plays when we had to.”
Baylor coach Scott Drew addressed the team’s lackluster performance down the stretch. His main thing is that the team that played today was not the Baylor team we’ve seen all year.
“The thing I’ve been disappointed with is all year long we’ve executed down the stretch. We’ve been a tough team and I feel bad the way that the last five minutes went from the standpoint, 21 turnovers for us all game. That’s not who we are, and yet I know that’s what will be dwelt upon and talked about is how we didn’t finish the game, and that’s on me as a coach.”
The victorious Ron Hunter summed up the experience best:
“First of all, it was a great game. But I’m not going to be coach, I’m going to be dad right now. Proud as hell of this guy. This is my son. Proud of him, so I wanted to say that. I haven’t been able to do that for three years so I wanted to say I’m proud of him. Now to the game. These kids are so resilient, really resilient. It’s been like this all year. We kind of laugh because nothing has been given to us. It’s been hard everything we’ve done this year. We played without 20 points in our lineup of course with Ryan Harrow, and this is like the tenth time we’ve played without Ryan and we’ve won all of them. This group is just unbelievable. We never gave up….I said yesterday if you got to the five-minute mark and we were within a couple possessions, we would win the game. We would win the game. And so the kids believed, and my offspring here hit an unbelievable shot. I thought the way he finished the game was terrific.”
And so it goes that March Madness is all about the underdogs believing. The Panthers believed they could win today, and they did just that. Ron Hunter and the Panthers will face a tough Xavier team on Saturday at 6:10pm. Xavier clicked on all cylinders on Thursday, so it will be interesting to see what game plan Hunter devises to attack a team that rolled over Ole Miss on both sides of the ball.
Ole Miss vs. Xavier
Ole Miss’ forward MJ Rhett picked up two quick fouls in the first two minutes of the game, and it seemed some of the energy went with him off the court. Having one of your best players sit out 18 minutes in the first half of the game is very unforgiving, and it proved to do just that for the Rebels. Xavier attacked all sides of the court. The Rebels had no answer for Xavier’s interior or perimeter game. Whenever the Rebels would get a spark going, Xavier quickly answered back.
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy agreed that the pace of the game was entirely determined by Xavier’s offense and defense.
“We certainly did not play well today. All credit goes to Xavier. They had complete control of the tempo from the start, and we were never able to wrestle it away from them.”
Xavier did an excellent job of controlling the tempo of the game, and not allowing the sudden bursts of energy from the Rebels to sidetrack them from the fact that they were leading all the way. They secured the lead early, and made sure they held it from start to finish. The team was great at doing things that weren’t the usual for them as Xavier coach Chris Mack says.
“A lot of their shots were flat, short, and I thought our guys did a really good job in both halves of really playing a defense that is a secondary defense for us. And then offensively, I thought our guys did a really good job of adjusting to changing defenses, handling Ole Miss’s zone looks without turning it over. We turned it over a few times down the stretch, but you know, held on enough to be able to seal the game.”
Not many people picked Ole Miss to win, and some can say that fatigue may have been a factor coming off a quick turnaround from playing BYU. Rebels players refuse to let that be an excuse, but something just seemed to be off throughout the game. At one point when the Rebels were down by 15 points, they tried to showboat with a failed alley-oop. Alex Kennedy just laughed when asked about it.
“What in the world are you doing? That’s what I was thinking, but I see it every day. You guys just see it every once in a while.”
That single play was a microcosm of the entire game for Ole Miss, and so their dance ended on Thursday in Jacksonville.
Harvard vs. North Carolina
Throughout most of the matchup between Harvard and North Carolina, the Tar Heels maintained the lead, usually 10 or more points. However, you never felt as though Harvard was ever out of the game. The Tar Heels felt it too. They played somewhat tentative throughout the game, allowed Harvard to outscore them 40-31 in the second half. Tar Heels coach Roy Williams could only express how thankful and lucky he felt for coming out victorious.
“I feel like I’ve won the lottery because Tommy Amaker did a much better job with his team than I did with mine. We were extremely lucky. It’s the luckiest I’ve ever felt after a basketball game in my entire life. In saying that, I’m thrilled that we’re still here and we’re still playing.”
Roy Williams is right. There was never a point in the game where anyone at Veteran’s Memorial Arena felt that the Tar Heels had the game under control, and Harvard captured an equal amount of offensive rebounds as UNC. Mainly, the Tar Heels looked as though they had no game plan for Harvard’s Wesley Saunders.
“Well, we thought we had a strategy for him but it didn’t work….But he was a load, and we knew that. Last year he was Player of the Year in the league. We tried to focus on him with our team. J.P. really did a pretty doggone good job, but he was really, really hard to guard, and he had 15 at half. I think we did a little bit better job in the second half. He finished with 26, so not that much better.”
It looked as though it would be another March Madness upset in Jacksonville, but two important missed shots by Harvard down the stretch sealed the game for the Tar Heels.
Harvard has nothing to be ashamed of, however. They came in as the underdog coming from the Ivy League to play a tough ACC team and gave them the scare of a lifetime. Though Tommy Amaker and company is losing senior Wesley Saunders, they have much to look forward to and build upon with the fiery Siyani Chambers.
“I anticipate that he’s going to continue to show his leadership and all the things that he knows how to do in terms of being a winner. That’s what he knows, that’s what he’s done his whole life, that’s what he’s been able to contribute to our program, and I anticipate that he’s going to do that and then some for his senior year with the returning guys and incoming guys. I have all the confidence in the world having our team and our program in Siyani Chambers’ hands.”
Survive and advance is the name of the game in March, so UNC lives to fight another day in the round of 32 on Saturday against Arkansas.
Arkansas vs. Wofford
The main thing you should remember about the matchup between Arkansas and Wofford is that no one, including the players and coaches, knew how this game was going to end until the final buzzer sounded to signal the end of the second half. For Arkansas, it was Michael Qualls and Bobby Portis providing the spark that kept the team going. Ports finished with a double-double, while Qualls’ offensive production seemed unstoppable. Though the game was close throughout, the Razorbacks never seemed phased, and coach Mike Anderson felt this to be true as well.
“We’ve got some guys that bring good leadership to our basketball team. They don’t get rattled. They don’t panic. So the experiences of playing in so many close games, and people call us the Cardiac Kids.”
Wofford may have actually played a better team game overall, as they saw production come from the starters, as well as off the bench. Jaylen Allen gave 12 bench points, while Spencer Collins and Karl Cochrane combined for 28 points. However in the end, a few rimmed out threes from Wofford prevented an attempt at overtime. Arkansas’ size and athleticism may have proved the difference in the game, as it became just too much for Wofford to overcome.
Arkansas moves on to face North Carolina on Saturday. Tip off is scheduled for 8:40pm.