It was a day to remember in Thursday’s first-round March Madness action. Let’s break down what we saw from Furman, Princeton, Sir’Jabari Rice and more.
The madness of March came roaring back in a big way on Thursday. The 16-game slate featured three wins by double-digit-seeded teams and several close calls and finishes along the way.
The Heat Check CBB staff will be reviewing the day’s action throughout the NCAA Tournament, highlighting major news, notes and storylines to watch. Let’s dive into our first March Madness notebook.
Facing a 16 ain’t always sweet
A pair of 16-seeds put up bigger fights than we’re used to seeing on the tournament’s opening day.
First, Howard gave Kansas all it could handle in the first half. Behind Steve Settle’s hot shooting and Elijah Hawkins’ savvy floor game, the Bison led 32-31 with under seven minutes in the first half. However, the Jayhawks leaned on their transition game and offensive rebounding to re-capture the momentum and take a 13-point advantage into halftime. Kansas pulled away in the second half, winning 96-68 and ending Howard’s historic season.
Meanwhile, Northern Kentucky got a little bit closer in the second 1-16 game. The Norse frustrated Houston for most of the game with its amorphous zone, forcing the Coogs into 17 turnovers – their highest mark since Dec. 13th. In an uncharacteristically sloppy performance, Houston trailed for over five minutes of game time, and Northern Kentucky tied the game three times in the second half.
Ultimately, though, clutch buckets from Jamal Shead and Emanuel Sharp made the difference. The Coogs pulled out the victory, 63-52. It was the lowest margin of victory in a 1-16 matchup since Virginia lost to UMBC in 2018.
Houston may have gotten caught looking ahead to Saturday – but that might not be its most pressing problem. Instead, Marcus Sasser’s groin injury, which he reaggravated against the Norse, will cause plenty of anxiety among Coogs’ fans between now and their showdown with Auburn. Jamal Shead also dealt with a knee injury that has Kelvin Sampson “very concerned.”
Furman stuns Virginia after Clark ‘just freaking threw it’
The first shocker of the day took place in Orlando where the 13th-seeded Furman Paladins stunned Virginia for their first NCAA Tournament win since 1974.
Bob Richey’s squad trailed UVA by as many as 12 and by four with 19 seconds to play. But when Virginia inbounded with 12 seconds remaining up 67-65, chaos ensued. Veteran point guard Kihei Clark was corned by the Furman press and opted to fling an errant pass toward midcourt, which eventually led to Virginia’s demise.
The ridiculous finish marked another early exit for the Cavaliers, which still have yet to win an NCAA Tournament game since their national championship in 2019. Tony Bennett has now had a first-weekend March Madness exit in six of his nine tournament appearances at Virginia.
After the game, Furman’s Jalen Slawson expressed what we were all thinking about Clark’s untimely mistake:
Arizona’s backcourt woes bite again as Wildcats fall to Princeton
In what has become a near-annual tradition, the 2-seed Arizona Wildcats fell to the 15-seed Princeton Tigers in an uncharacteristically low-scoring game. The Wildcats’ top-10 offense was held to just 55 points — it was their first time scoring under 60 all season — while getting outrebounded by a team with just one player over 6-8.
The frontcourt for the ‘Cats was relatively strong, with Azuolas Tubelis dropping 22 points and Oumar Ballo recording his 12th double-double. However, the guard play, which had been inconsistent all season, was what ultimately sank Tommy Lloyd’s squad. The backcourt scored 20 total points, and Kerr Kriisa was particularly cold, shooting 1-of-7 from deep.
This wasn’t all about Arizona having an off night, though. When the Wildcats went cold, Princeton took over, outscoring Arizona 18-6 over the final 10 minutes of the game. Princeton played tough defense on Tubelis in the paint and forced Arizona’s hesitant guards to carry the load. The Tigers also blocked six shots, compared to just one blocked shot for Arizona’s front line.
The Tigers will look to continue their Cinderella run when they take on Missouri in a battle of Tigers. Arizona, on the other hand, will enter its offseason at a crossroads. With Tubelis likely going pro, and Courtney Ramey out of eligibility, the team will have at least two key pieces to replace and plenty of questions to answer before next season begins.
Sir’Jabari Rice continues to shine
Colgate caused a major sweat for higher-seeded teams in each of its previous three NCAA Tournament appearances.
And while Colgate had a valiant effort against 2-seed Texas on Thursday, the Longhorns continued to keep the Raiders at bay every time Matt Langel’s team made a push.
Sir’Jabari Rice continues to shine for Texas and prove his worth in the Texas rotation. The New Mexico State transfer was expected to be a depth piece behind Marcus Carr, Tyrese Hunter and star freshman Arterio Morris. Instead, Rice was an all-Big 12 honoree during the regular season and led Texas with 23 points, including seven 3-pointers, in Texas’ 20-point win over Colgate.
Rice rediscovering his perimeter shot after a rough outing in the Big 12 tournament could be a significant boost for the Longhorns’ offense moving forward. Texas is set to take on Penn State in the second round, which is shooting a ridiculous 66-of-165 (40 percent) on 3-pointers this month. Texas needs its shots to fall against Penn State, and Rice may be the difference-maker if Thursday’s momentum carries over.
SDSU ends Mountain West drought
At long last, the Mountain West is off the schneid in the NCAA Tournament. Following Nevada’s First Four loss Wednesday night to Arizona State and Utah State’s Thursday defeat against Missouri, San Diego State finally answered the bell in a narrow win over 12-seed Charleston.
Prior to SDSU’s win, the Mountain West had suffered 11 straight March Madness defeats. The most recent MWC victory came in 2019 when Eric Musselman’s Nevada squad made a dramatic Sweet 16 run.
Since 2012, the Mountain West has sent 30 teams to the NCAA Tournament (including four this year), and only two — 2014 San Diego State and 2019 Nevada — have reached the second weekend. Of course, San Diego State was set to likely earn a 2-seed in 2020 before the NCAA Tournament cancellation.
The Aztecs will see 13-seed Furman on Saturday, which pulled off a thrilling upset over Virginia thanks to JP Pegues’ game-winner. At long last, the Mountain West could be represented again in the Sweet 16.