Lone Star State Teams Provide Most Exciting NCAA Games
Joe Kazmar – For The Record
College basketball fans were treated to some entertaining contests during last week’s first and second rounds of the 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, better known as March Madness.
And topping that list of games with exciting finishes were three of the Lone Star State’ five teams that qualified for this year’s 68-team field—the Texas Longhorns, Texas Aggies and the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks.
Unfortunately, whenever the dust settled, only one Texas team—the A&M Aggies—survived the weekend action and advanced to the tourney’s Sweet Sixteen.
No. 8-seeded Texas Tech was the first one of our state’s teams to get bounced from this year’s first-round of the tournament on Thursday, losing to No. 9 Butler 71-61. It wasn’t really an upset because Butler was a five-point favorite.
Shortly thereafter the five-point favored and No. 5-seeded Baylor Bears were outplayed by Ivy League champion Yale and ended up being ousted from the tourney 79-75.
All week long the media built up a Sunday second-round meeting between former arch-rivals Texas and Texas A&M.
The Aggies had no problem living up to their end of the bargain, walloping Wisconsin-Green Bay 92-65 and advancing to the second round. The 27-point difference was the largest margin of victory in the Aggies’ NCAA post-season history
However the Longhorns, who were a prohibitive favorite to beat Northern Iowa Friday night, got off to a slow start and trailed the Panthers 44-36 at halftime.
Texas first-year coach Shaka Smart made some adjustments and corrections during the intermission and the ‘Horns played better in the second half and finally tied the score at 72-72 with less than a minute left in regulation.
The Longhorns worked for a last shot but missed and the Panthers rebounded with 1.7 seconds left, fired the ball to Northern Iowa’s Paul Jesperson who banked in his shot from half-court to give the Panthers a stunning 75-72 win and ended the season for the dejected Longhorns with an 20-13 record for Smart’s initial season in Austin.
The East Regional’s No.14-seeded Lumberjacks of SFA quickly became the Darlings of Brooklyn’s Barclay’s Center as they overwhelmed third-seeded West Virginia in every phase of the game 70-56 and advanced to the second round for the second time in the last three years.
SFA, who was a seven-point underdog, was led by 6-4 senior Thomas Walkup, who scored 33 points including a phenomenal 19-of-20 from the free-throw line. Walkup was the Most Valuable player of the Southland Conference last year and repeated that honor at the end of this season.
So with only two Texas teams left in the second-round field of 32, the next ultimate goal was this week’s Sweet Sixteen.
The Lumberjacks’ second-round opponent was the sixth-seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish, but the Brooklyn crowd still was cheering loudly for scrappy SFA.
The score rocked back-and-forth with neither team leading by more than seven points. The Lumberjacks never lost their focus and held a slim 75-74 lead with less than 10 seconds left in regulation.
The Irish set up a final shot that missed its mark and was rebounded by star player Zach Auguste, who missed the follow-up but the loose ball was then tapped in with 1.7 seconds left by reserve freshman guard Rex Pflueger, who hadn’t scored a bucket since March 5, giving the Irish a stunning 76-75 victory.
Notre Dame advanced to the Sweet Sixteen and on Friday and will face No. 7-seeded Wisconsin, which upset No. 2-seeded Xavier 65-63.
The Lumberjacks, who saw their nation’s leading 21-game winning streak come to and end, finished the season with a 28-6 record. Walkup, who got into early foul trouble and sat out half of the game, still led SFA with 21 points to close out his brilliant career at the Nacogdoches school.
But Sunday’s game between Texas A&M and Northern Iowa that many media members rated as “one of the most astonishing comebacks in NCAA Tournament history” was by far the most exciting game of the two days.
Although it was the first day of spring, the Aggies were ice cold with their shooting in the first half, scoring only 22 points on 22 per cent shooting, and trailed Northern Iowa by 10 points at the half.
The Aggies’ leading scorers this season, Daniel House and Jalen Jones, had a combined 0-for-14 to start the game. The team converted only two of its first 16 3-point attempts.
Everyone waited for the co-SEC champions to play better, but it just didn’t look like it was going to happen as the Panthers controlled the game for 39 minutes.
The Aggies trailed Northern Iowa 69-57 with just 44 seconds left when they finally caught fire and outscored the Panthers 14-2 as regulation ended with the two teams tied at 71-71.
Both teams scored 12 points in the extra five minute period, sending the game into a second overtime, where the Aggies finished the Panthers off 92-88, making the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2007. Texas A&M will meet Oklahoma Thursday in the opening round of the Sweet 16.
Texas A&M’s great late comeback prevented Northern Iowa—only the fourth best team in the Missouri Valley Conference—from doing a “Texas Two-Step” over both the Longhorns and the Aggies in the tournament.
KWICKIES…Despite floodwaters creeping into the rough on holes 17 and 18 at Sunset Grove Country Club last week, the golf course got plenty of action. Men’s Golf Association member David Bridges recorded a hole-in-one Friday on the Par-3, 133-yard No. 12 hole. He used a seven iron that was witnessed by Roddy Richards and Dean Priddy. He will receive $200 in cash and credit for being an MGA member getting an ace.
Australian Jason Day, after receiving a text message from Tiger Woods giving him advice on how to best protect a 54-hole lead, made a 12-foot birdie putt and then saved par from a bunker 100 feet away from the hole to win the PGA Tour Bay Hill-Arnold Palmer Invitational by one stroke over Kevin Chappell Sunday at Orlando, Fla. The win earned Day $1.134 million and moved him up to the No. 2 golfer in the world behind Jordan Spieth, who he has a chance to overtake in this week’s Dell Match Play.
ESPN announced Monday that an NFL game will be played in Asia (probably in China) within the next couple of years.
ESPN also said Monday that LSU freshman sensation Ben Simmons plans to hire an agent and declare for this year’s NBA draft. Simmons, the No. 1 prospect on ESPN’s Big Board, led all major conference players with 23 double/doubles this season.
JUST BETWEEN US…After two rounds of play in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, all No. 1 seeds (Kansas, North Carolina, Virginia and Oregon) made it to this week’s Sweet Sixteen Round while Oklahoma and Villanova were the only No. 2-seed survivors. And of the 52 tournament games played last week, there were 17 upsets. Three of my picks for the Final Four (Kansas, North Carolina and Texas A&M) are still alive and well along with three of my long shots (Maryland, Texas A&M and Wisconsin). But the Midwest Region really did me in.