Inside FDU’s historic upset over Purdue, Kentucky’s statement performance, and more from a wild Friday NCAA Tournament slate.
If you thought Thursday’s NCAA Tournament action was wild, Friday ticked things up another notch.
Fairleigh Dickinson pulled off an all-time shocker, Xavier survived a tough test from 14-seed Kennesaw State, Miami came back to beat Drake, and the nightcap featured a pair of go-ahead baskets in the final seconds with FAU’s Nick Boyd and TCU’s JaKobe Coles providing the fireworks.
Let’s recap Friday’s NCAA Tournament news and notes.
FDU stuns Purdue in biggest upset in tournament history
Princeton didn’t even own the national spotlight for 24 hours.
Fairleigh Dickinson, which entered the NCAA Tournament ranked 312th in KenPom, did the unthinkable Friday, upsetting top-seeded Purdue and Zach Edey.
It was the ultimate David vs. Goliath setup: FDU, the shortest team in D1 basketball, against the likely National Player of Year in 7-4 giant Zach Edey. Tobin Anderson’s Knights shut Edey out of the game and forced Purdue’s guards into mistakes and missed shots as the Boilermakers appeared rattled throughout the matchup.
The shocking victory highlights the absurd and growing trend of lower-seeded teams capturing the March magic.
It begs the bigger question: Are small-conference foes closing the gap on the power-holders of college basketball? Unlikely upsets are as common as they’ve ever been. The transfer portal was supposed to end the little guy’s success in college basketball. Instead, it’s been quite the opposite.
Kam Jones takes over for Marquette
Taking on a pesky 15-seed Vermont, Marquette used a massive second-half surge from Kam Jones to put the Catamounts away for good.
Marquette led 45-40 with 14 minutes to play before Jones took over. Over the next five minutes of action, Jones scored a 3-pointer, a layup, a free throw, a 3-pointer, a layup, another layup, another 3-pointer, and one more layup. In the blink of an eye, Jones sparked a blistering run to give the Golden Eagles a 17-point lead to put the game out of reach.
Jones continues his breakout development for Shaka Smart’s group. He came off the bench 24 times as a freshman last season and has since upped his playing time and usage rate substantially in Year 2. Jones has more than doubled his scoring average from 7.4 to 15 points per game, guiding one of the nation’s most efficient offenses.
Xavier erases deficit, wins first tourney game since 2018
If you had Sean Miller sweat jokes queued up, it’s best to save those in the drafts.
Xavier looked sluggish early, allowing Kennesaw State’s perimeter corps of Terrell Burden, Chris Youngblood and Spencer Rodgers to get in the lane and take open jumpers. The Owls built a seven-point lead at the half that ballooned to 13 just 10 minutes into the second period. But one small tweak allowed Xavier to climb back into the contest: assigning Colby Jones to Burden.
Jones pestered Burden with his length, successfully keeping him out of the paint and contesting his shots. After a hot first half, Kennesaw’s floor general connected on just two of his 10 field goal attempts.
One of those shots was blocked by Jack Nunge, which essentially sealed the 72-67 victory:
Still, Amir Abdur-Rahim gave Kennesaw State supporters a season to remember (and let me tell you, those fans travel; they greatly outnumbered the Xavier fans in Greensboro.) After winning just one game four seasons ago, the head coach could barely contain his emotion post-game.
Kentucky edges Providence, finds its “joy”
Xavier wasn’t the only program to get off the tourney schneid. The Kentucky Wildcats notched their first NCAA Tournament win since 2019, beating Providence, 61-53.
Oscar Tshiebwe scored just eight points but turned in a monster effort on the glass, grabbing 25 boards. It marked the most rebounds by a player in the NCAA Tournament since 1977 — a fact John Calipari couldn’t quite wrap his head around:
“That can’t be right. You know, that’s how old — when I watched The Waltons — that’s how old that is, so it’s about that old. I would tell you that he did something that hadn’t been done for 50 years,” Calipari told reporters after the game. “He gets held, grabbed, hold, and they call him for pushing off. He said one time this year he just had enough, but I’ve just enjoyed the heck out of coaching him and seeing him grow as a person, seeing him grow as a basketball player.”
The head coach continued, speaking into the emotions his team felt when reporters asked if it felt like a weight off their shoulders: “if in this tournament winning is a relief, what the heck are you doing here? This is joy. You winning this tournament, it doesn’t matter how you win. There are teams that have gotten knocked out. You just keep playing and have joy and enjoy.”
Pitt forces Iowa State into an offensive blunder
First Four winners continue to strike fear in first-round NCAA Tournament opponents. A First Four winner has now advanced to the second round in 11 of the last 12 Big Dances.
On Friday, Pitt joined the list, thanks to a resounding defensive performance against Iowa State. It took the Cyclones over 10 minutes of game time to record their first made field goal, trailing 11-seed Pitt 22-2 out of the gates.
While Iowa State closed the half on a run to pull within single digits, the offense hardly found life over the final 20 minutes. The Cyclones finished the game a measly 14-of-60 from the field, 2-of-21 on 3-pointers and 11-of-19 at the free-throw line. Only three Iowa State players scored more than five points. Through a pair of tournament games thus far, Pitt has allowed just 100 points combined to Mississippi State and Iowa State across 124 possessions.
The Panthers will take on 3-seed Xavier for a spot in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009. Despite being an offensive-led team throughout the season, Pitt’s defense could prove to be the difference moving forward. Xavier’s offense will be their first major test of the NCAA Tournament.