MINNEAPOLIS — In the end Monday night, there was One Shining Moment for Virginia. And epic overtime ending to what had become an epic tale of redemption. But there were actually dozens of shining moments for somebody the past three weeks. The NCAA Tournament is a drama in 67 acts. Here’s something to remember from each of them.
Fairleigh Dickinson 82, Prairie View A&M 76.
In the spring of 2018, coach Greg Herenda of Fairleigh Dickinson nearly died from sepsis. A year later, he was back to lead his team to its first NCAA Tournament win in school history. Nice way to start to the party, don’t you think?
Belmont 81, Temple 70.
All Rick Byrd wanted was for his Belmont team to play well enough to validate the supporters who had argued for its tournament bid. “I feel a responsibility to those folks for standing up for us,” he said. Nobody felt bad about doing that after this game.
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North Dakota State 78, North Carolina Central 74.
Why did the winning head coach come to work in a T-shirt that read Landon’s Light? “It’s a cause near and dear to me,” David Richman said, supporting an 11-year-old boy who goes to his daughter’s school, and is now fighting brain cancer.
Arizona State 74, St. John’s 65.
No such thing as an ugly win in the NCAA Tournament, especially for a school without a victory for 10 years. But this came close. The two teams combined for 37 turnovers and 56 free throws.
Sun devil nation, THANK YOU! Made my senior year so special, memories I’ll have forever! Sundevil for life! pic.twitter.com/NE8OZQ1Doa— Zylan Cheatham (@1KingZ4) March 24, 2019
Minnesota 86, Louisville 76.
The chatter was about Richard Pitino beating his father’s old school. But the Gophers getting 24 points from freshman Gabe Kalscheur, who was averaging under 10, was notable, too.
LSU 79, Yale 74.
Yale was 4-for-30 in 3-pointers the first 39 minutes, but then made things interesting by hitting four in 32 seconds. The big assist for this game in Jacksonville came from the North Florida band, playing for Yale, since its band didn’t come.
Auburn 78, New Mexico State 77.
Will AJ Harris go to his grave wishing he hadn't passed the basketball? With New Mexico State down two in the final seconds, Harris had a layup to tie, but instead passed out to Terrell Brown for an open 3-pointer to win. Brown was fouled, but hit only one of three free throws, and then Trevelin Queen – part of the New Mexico State bench that provided 51 points -- missed from the corner at the buzzer. Auburn escaped to go on to . . . well, you know. “They call it March madness for a reason,” Tigers coach Bruce Pearl said.
Florida State 76, Vermont 69.
No game anywhere had the emotional swing of this one. How could it? The Seminoles won, ran back to their happy locker room to celebrate, and then Phil Cofer got the phone call telling him his father had died.
Michigan State 76, Bradley 65.
It was a struggle for the Spartans – 18 lead changes – and the TV cameras did not miss Tom Izzo’s wrath with freshman Aaron Henry that became a topic of national conversation. But Cassius Winston cooled down his coach, and the situation, with 26 points.
Maryland 79, Belmont 77.
Down a point, Belmont didn’t call timeout but went for the winner. It was to be a back door play to Dylan Windler – the guy with 35 points – but Maryland got a hand on the pass. The Terrapins moved on, but Belmont had answered every last question about whether it belonged.
Kansas 87, Northeastern 53.
Gee, Kansas didn’t look like a team with so many doubters. Not with 56 percent shooting and 25 points from Dedric Lawson.
Murray State 83, Marquette 64
In case anyone was still wondering, this is why everyone has been talking about Ja Morant. His triple double of 17 points, 16 assists and 11 rebounds – the tournament’s first in seven years – wowed even the coach he beat. “I’ve been in this for a while,” Marquette’s Steve Wojciechowski said. “He’s as good as any guard I’ve coached against, or played against, and I’ve coached against and played against some outstanding ones.”
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Kentucky 79, Abilene Christian 44
Abilene Christian coach Joe Golding stuck with his lucky suit, rip in the pants and all. It didn’t help much.
Florida 70, Nevada 61.
Nevada’s all-senior lineup came to an abrupt end of the road, running into the wall of the Florida defense. The Wolf Pack rallied from 18 points down to two. Valiant, but not enough.
Villanova 61, Saint Mary’s 57.
And so the title defense began. Villanova was up to its usual efficiency – 49 percent shooting, seven turnovers – and needed to be.
Gonzaga 87, Fairleigh Dickinson 49.
Business as usual for the Zags. The most fun was watching Fairleigh Dickinson coach Greg Herenda hug senior Nadi Beciri, who got to play a couple of minutes and score a basket after missing nearly all season with a back injury. “That was kind of our victory tonight,” Herenda said.
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Wofford 84, Seton Hall 68.
Fletcher Magee set the NCAA career 3-point record early in the second half. The bad news for Seton Hall was he kept making more, until he had shot Wofford – a school of 1,850 — to its first NCAA Tournament win ever.
Michigan 74, Montana 55.
How best for Michigan to forget the sting of losing for a third time to Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament? Crunch its first round opponent and keep moving.
Baylor 78, Syracuse 69.
The past is filled with tournament teams undone by their first look at the Syracuse zone. Baylor ain’t one of them. The Bears shot 53.8 percent. The two teams combined for 28 3-pointers, the most ever in a non-overtime tournament game.
Purdue 61, Old Dominion 48.
Yeah, Carsen Edwards’ 26 points were nice, but a team wants to talk about its defense when the opponent shoots 27 percent.
Iowa 79, Cincinnati 72.
An 18-5 lead, the Columbus, Ohio crowd mostly on its side – everything seemed so right for Cincinnati. But it wasn’t. Not once Iowa went to the zone and shot 65 percent the second half.
Oklahoma 95, Mississippi 72.
Proud of our team and what we accomplished this year.— Ole Miss Men’s Basketball (@OleMissMBB) March 22, 2019
Picked to finish last in @SEC ➡️ NCAA Tournament Bid
8 game improvement from last year 🔄
@RebelCoachDavis @SEC Coach of the Year 🏀
WE WILL BE BACK! 👊#HottyToddy #WAOM pic.twitter.com/cYLAnXfngn
By halftime, Oklahoma had 50 points, a 17-point lead, 58 percent shooting and one turnover. Poor Ole Miss had run into the wrong opponent.
Texas Tech 72, Northern Kentucky 57.
Watching Big 12 player of the year Jarrett Culver own the game with 29 points, eight rebounds and seven assists for Texas Tech, it was easy to forget he wasn’t even on the preseason all-conference team.
UC Irvine 70, Kansas State 64.
One of those March moments: Max Hazzard scoring 19 points to lead a UC Irvine upset, then paying homage to his late grandfather, UCLA star Walt Hazzard. “I know my grandfather is looking down on me and the rest of the squad, smiling, and that means a lot to me.”
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Tennessee 77, Colgate 70.
Colgate had enough things to fight, but pink eye? That’s what limited the playing time and production of Patriot League player of the year Rapolas Ivanauskas. Still, Jordan Burns and his 32 points were never going to let Tennessee get comfortable. But then, uncomfortable favorites are what make the tournament tick.
North Carolina 88, Iona 73
No. 16 seed Iona led 38-33 at halftime. Can you spell U-M-B . . . Never mind. Roy Williams was not a happy man at halftime, but the Tar Heels awoke with 55 points in the second half and ended up outscoring Iona in the paint 48-10.
Virginia 71, Gardner-Webb 56.
When Gardner-Webb went up by 14 points in the first half, it was as if the entire nation gasped, What, again? Tony Bennett’s halftime order to his Cavaliers: Don’t panic. They didn’t. Unimaginable crisis passed.
Buffalo 91, Arizona State 74.
The Bulls led by as many as 25, shot nearly 52 percent and pounded the Sun Devils on the boards 42-26. Buffalo was for real, but then, everybody knew that already.
Oregon 72, Wisconsin 54.
Really, how did the Ducks go from 10th place in the Pac-12 to the NCAA Tournament? The word going around was their defense. After seeing the Badgers shoot only 33 percent, anyone watching understood.
Washington 78, Utah State 61.
Washington had gone eight years since its last NCAA Tournament. You could tell the Huskies were glad to be back, rolling over a team that had won 17 of 18 games.
Houston 84, Georgia State 55.
Wonder how Houston came to be 31-3 going into the tournament? Two big reasons were on display against Georgia State. Corey Davis Jr., who scored 26 points. Defense, which forced 30 percent shooting.
Liberty 80, Mississippi State 76.
By then, No. 12 seeds upsetting No. 5’s had become as common a sight in the tournament as cheerleaders. It happened again, even with a 10-point Mississippi State lead with seven minutes left. This made No. 12 seeds 3-1 against No. 5s, and they came within a basket of going 4-0.
Duke 85, North Dakota State 62.
RJ Barrett with 26 points, Zion Williamson with 25, making 12 of 16 shots. The freshmen didn’t exactly wade into their first NCAA Tournament as if it were a cold swimming pool, did they?
UCF 73, VCU 58.
If college basketball in 2019 had a list of seven natural wonders, Tacko Fall might have been included. He’s 7-6. The tallest VCU starter was 6-8. You do the math. With 18 rebounds and five blocks, he was the tower the Rams could rarely see over.
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Ohio State 62, Iowa State 59.
The Buckeyes got one of the last invitations to the tournament. How to validate that decision? Be a No. 11 seed and outmuscle a No. 6. Kinda killed the mood of Iowa State’s Big 12 tournament title.
Virginia Tech 66, Saint Louis 52.
Two pieces of great news for the Hokies. The final score, of course. And star guard Justin Robinson was back on the court after a long injury absence. He wasn’t in prime form, but figured it’d come. “It was like riding a bike.”
LSU 69, Maryland 67.
The final seconds of a tie game were winding down, and all that stood between LSU’s Tremont Waters and the basket was most of the Maryland defense. When he wove through the trees and scooped up the winning bank shot, the tournament had its first buzzer-beater.
Michigan State 70, Minnesota 50.
Michigan State rolled back into the Sweet 16, where the Spartans figure they belong. But it was impossible not to feel sympathy for Minnesota senior star Jordan Murphy, who had been a relentless and never-miss-a-game battler his entire career, but could hardly play this last day because of injury.
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Gonzaga 83, Baylor 71.
Brandon Clarke had cheese, eggs, bacon, pancakes and fruit for pre-game breakfast. We know this because someone asked him in the post-game press conference, apparently wondering if it was his diet that turned him into Superman. This after 36 points, an entire highlight reel of dunks and three misses in 18 shots -- or two fewer shots than he blocked. Teammate Josh Perkins had the perfect word afterward. Wow.
Florida State 90, Murray State 62.
The night before the game, Florida State’s Terance Mann – who the next day would take the lead in defense – Googled information on the career of Mike Cofer, the father his teammate Phil had lost two days before. Mike Cofer had been a fierce competitor and Mann took that example to the court with him to help close the Ja Morant Show. “I played my heart out for that,” Mann said.
Michigan 64, Florida 49.
Just another day at the office for the Michigan defense. It made the Wolverines 30-3 against anyone not named Michigan State
Purdue 87, Villanova 61.
This is the way Villanova’s title defense ended, not with a bang but a thud — and 42 Carsen Edwards points. “The game’s humbling,” Jay Wright said in defeat. “When you win, you’ve got to realize that there’s guys on the other side that are working just as hard as you, and you’ve got to be respectful of them and understand you could be on the other side of it, and today we are.”
Auburn 89, Kansas 75.
So what was more stunning, to see Kansas behind in an NCAA Tournament game by 27 points, or Auburn storm into the Sweet 16? Neither has happened very often.
Kentucky 62, Wofford 56.
The number is there for all time, never to leave the box score in the archives, nor probably Fletcher Magee’s memory. The most prolific 3-pointer shooter in NCAA history went 0-for-12 from beyond the arc. The pain of March was in every one of his words. “I feel like if I make three of those shots, we win the game. A lot of them were good shots, and just… they didn’t go in.”
Duke 77, UCF 76.
So many images to remember. Zion Williamson taking the ball against Tacko Fall, RJ Barrett’s rebound basket to give Duke the lead, and most of all, Aubrey Dawkins’ tip rolling arounnnnnd the rim and falling out. That’s how close UCF came to being inducted into the NCAA Tournament Upset Hall of Fame. “It breaks your heart,” Dawkins said.
Virginia Tech 67, Liberty 58.
Put up your forefinger. That’s how many times Virginia Tech had ever gone to the Sweet 16. Until now.
Texas Tech 78, Buffalo 58.
Add Buffalo to the list of teams who found out about the power of the Texas Tech defense. The Bulls came into the game as one of the five highest scoring teams in the nation, and labored to get to 58.
Virginia 63, Oklahoma 51.
No first-week disaster for Virginia this year, and coach Tony Bennett knew just what to do. Walk into the post-game locker room with a stuffed monkey on his back, and ceremoniously yank it off. Every Cavalier who felt the sting of UMBC understood.
Oregon 73, UC Irvine 54.
A team might be a 12th seed, but it certainly doesn’t look like one when the other team can’t score. Oregon had become Cinderella, fancy power league pedigree or not.
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Tennessee 83, Iowa 77, OT.
Oh, what might have been. Iowa rallied from 25 points behind and was all ready to take a spot in the history books, matching the greatest tournament comeback victory ever. But Tennessee owned the overtime and won the right to advance, not to mention exhale.
North Carolina 81, Washington 59.
For a year, the Tar Heels had burned to atone for getting knocked out of the second round by Texas A&M. “We talked about it all summer,” Luke Maye said. You could tell. Washington was behind to stay just 22 seconds into the game.
Houston 74, Ohio State 59.
Welcome back to the bright lights, Houston. It had been 35 years since the once-mighty program had seen a Sweet 16, fading into irrelevance in the meantime. “I saw a lot of proud Cougars up there behind us tonight,” Kelvin Sampson said.
Gonzaga 72, Florida State 58.
The operative number was 75-60. Every Gonzaga player knew what that meant – it was the score of last year’s Sweet 16 game, when the Zags were booted from the tournament by Florida State. This was their response. “Just trying to be physical with them, and trying not to let them bully us, kind of like what they did last year, sort of,” Brandon Clarke said.
Purdue 99, Tennessee 94, OT.
The Tennessee rally from 18 points down in the second half was breath-taking and seemingly unstoppable. But there to save the day for Purdue was Ryan Cline with 27 points, including a series of make it-or-else 3-pointers in the final minutes of regulation. And Carsen Edwards to get fouled with 1.7 seconds left, making two free throws to send the game into overtime. For a Tennessee program starving for its long, long, long-awaited first Final Four, it couldn’t get more crushing.
Texas Tech 63, Michigan 44.
Just look at the mess the Texas Tech defense made of Michigan’s offense – 16 points the first half, 1-for-19 for the game in 3-pointers. “The scouting reports we heard from different people that played them during the year,” Michigan coach John Beilein said, “ was that you’re going to be amazed at how quick they are, how good they are at staying in front of you and how they rally to the ball.” Amazed, and suffocated.
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Virginia 53, Oregon 49.
With defenses as unyielding as these two, everyone knew what was coming. The quintessential first-team-to-50-wins. The Cavaliers shot 36 percent and matched their season low in scoring, but it was a reminder that Virginia doesn’t need much offense to work with.
Michigan State 80, LSU 63.
Freshman Aaron Henry went from Tom Izzo’s nationally-televised doghouse to leading the Spartans to yet another Elite Eight with 20 points. It’s a well-traveled path at Michigan State.
Some numbers from the Tigers’ season.— LSU Basketball (@LSUBasketball) March 31, 2019
🏀 80.4 points per game is the most from a LSU team since 1991-92
🏀308 steals most since 1999-00
🏀28 wins is the second most in program history
📄 https://t.co/fHeHwR4VxO pic.twitter.com/sLpr3pKJP8
Auburn 97, North Carolina 80.
Auburn’s 3-point blitz – the Tigers hit 17 of them – was impressive enough. But the good stuff was how both teams huddled in support and concern around the Tigers’ Chuma Okeke after a grievous knee injury. Roy Williams expressed the same thoughts to Bruce Pearl, the coach who had just blown him out of the tournament. “I will remember and appreciate that forever,” Pearl said.
Duke 75, Virginia Tech 73.
Another night, another case of Duke being chased to the wire by an underdog that wouldn’t go away. And another last-second shot that could have gone in and rocked the bracket and the college basketball world - but didn’t. Somebody Up There must like Duke. At least for the moment.
Kentucky 62, Houston 58.
So the player who makes a tie-breaking 3-pointer for the biggest shot of the night and keeps Kentucky alive has the last name of Herro? Yep. Tyler Herro. You couldn’t make that up.
Texas Tech 75, Gonzaga 69.
Texas Tech in the Final Four. That’s a sentence that’s never been said before. And this by a team picked to finish seventh in the Big 12, and led by a coach whose career path has wound through nearly every level of basketball, at a dozen places.
Virginia 80, Purdue 75, OT.
Mamadi Diakite’s game-saving basket at the buzzer to force overtime, and the Kihei Clark pass that led to it, become the instant stuff of Virginia legend. But the night in so many ways belonged to Carsen Edwards, whose 42 points for Purdue – some from the next zip code -- will rank as one of the tournament’s all-time losing efforts.
Auburn 77, Kentucky 71, OT
Everything changed just before halftime. There suddenly behind the Auburn bench, was Chuma Okeke, who had ignored the pain to come from the hotel and show up at crunch time. The Tigers weren’t about to let that gesture be in vain. The sight of confetti pouring down upon Okeke in his wheelchair was the very vision of a Final Four dream come true.
Michigan State 68, Duke 67.
Nobody gets away with going to the brink again and again and again. Not even Duke. The parable of experience over glittering one-and-done talent in March was impossible to miss. Cassius Winston provided the leadership, and former walk-on and redshirt senior Kenny Goins hit the biggest shot. Maybe much of the nation was sorry to see a Zion-less Final Four, but not East Lansing.
Virginia 63, Auburn 62.
Virginia’s season took a turn into the mystical. For the second consecutive game, the Cavaliers trailed by two points with a second left, and ended up winning. As Tony Bennett said, “Survive and advance, I guess that’s taking on a new meaning.” Auburn fans will forever hear the sound of the whistle that called the last foul – even though it was correct, Virginia fans will forever remember Kyle Guy standing at the line with the season in his hands and 70,000 people watching and wondering if the moment was too big for him, and then calmly making three free throws. “I was terrified, but it was a good terrified,” he said later.
Texas Tech 61, Michigan State 51.
Defense, will, toughness. Michigan State’s DNA. Only this night, the Spartans ran into a team made of similar stuff, not to mention a hard-rock belief that it belonged. “Why not us?” asked coach Chris Beard afterward, and nobody had a good answer to the contrary. Texas Tech held Michigan State 11 points under its previous season low, and suddenly, the championship game matched two teams who had never been there before. The last time that happened, Magic Johnson was facing Larry Bird 40 years ago.
Virginia 85, Texas Tech 77 OT.
No normal ending would have done for the Virginia saga. From Kyle Guy leaping the rail to hug his family, to Dick Bennett beaming at son Tony holding the trophy, to the Cavaliers winning two of their last three games in overtime and the other by one point, it was storybook, and nothing but. The pain from UMBC was like old soldiers -- it might never die, it would simply fade away. But one team’s dream to savor is another team’s nightmare to bear. Of all the words spoken the last night of the season, somehow those of Texas Tech coach Chris Beard about his players gave the best insight to the fragile fate that is the NCAA Tournament.
“I’ll be at those guys' weddings one day and hopefully when their kids get born, and I can talk them out of getting into coaching so they don’t ever feel like this."