The men’s NCAA Tournament second round started in exciting fashion on Saturday, with one No. 1 seed going down and another barely avoiding an upset.
North Carolina built a 25-point lead against No. 1 Baylor, only to watch it wither away play-by-play in the game’s last 10 minutes, before the defending national champions finally forced overtime. UNC showed its resolve by gutting it out in the extra frame to advance to the Sweet 16.
“I’m so proud of these guys,” UNC coach Hubert Davis said afterward. “This is a group that shows toughness, resiliency. One of the things I wanted them to do was have their own testaments, their own March Madness moments.”
A look at all the winners and losers from Saturday’s slate of games.
The Tar Heels were exhaling after nearly blowing a 25-point lead in their 93-86 overtime win against Baylor. While much of the storyline will center on the Bears’ comeback – nearly the biggest comeback in NCAA Tournament history – two takeaways to note from coach Hubert Davis’ team: The resolve to pull out the win in overtime and how incredible the Tar Heels looked for the first 30 minutes of this game. If Brady Manek doesn’t get ejected for a flagrant foul, he may have kept draining threes and UNC could have won by 30-plus – against a No. 1 seed. North Carolina is the real deal this March, and this upset is proof.
The Jayhawks (30-6) won at the free-throw line, where they shot 19 for 20 (95%), dispatching No. 9 seed Creighton 79-72 to advance to the Sweet 16 in Chicago. That was a difference-maker in a close game that saw Creighton get within one point in the final minute. Coach Bill Self didn’t always utilize Arizona State transfer Remy Martin (20 points off the bench) throughout the year, but Martin’s first-half offensive flurry positioned KU to pull this one out.
The final 10 minutes of regulation were arguably the most inspired basketball coach Scott Drew’s group played all season, willing their way back to tie the game at 80 in regulation and force overtime. Yet after coming back from 25 points down, with all the momentum in the Bears’ favor, they shot 1 for 11 from the floor in overtime. That finish, along with the ugly start, showed that this Baylor squad isn’t in the same stratosphere as last year’s national title team. Still, Adam Flagler (27 points) James Akinjo (20 points), Matthew Mayer (10 points, three charges) and Co. fought in a way they should be proud of.
“Never underestimate the heart of a champion,” Drew said afterward, getting emotional. “They can put their head on their pillow knowing they gave it their all. The perseverance they showed. …We didn’t win on the court. But we win in life.”
The Bluejays (23-12) had the top-seeded Jayhawks on the ropes but crumbled on their last three possessions late in the game. Credit Kansas’ defense in Creighton’s loss and poor playmaking in crunch time, but a key turnover by Trey Alexander with 1:01 left proved most costly when the Bluejays were within striking distance (down 73-72). Freshman Arthur Kaluma (24 points, 12 rebounds) was excellent in the paint vs. KU and has a bright future ahead.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.