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Mike Lopresti | | March 19, 2021

23 telltale numbers from the first night of March Madness in 2 years

Watch Joseph Yesufu's incredible poster dunk vs. Wichita State

INDIANAPOLIS — Some start, hey? As appetizers go, the First Four was even better than the famous shrimp cocktail at St. Elmo down the street from the NCAA bubble.

“March Madness is back, right?” said Norfolk State coach Robert Jones after his Spartans skipped past Appalachian State 54-53.

Oh yeah. Some of Thursday’s numbers tell us so.

10: The combined scoring margin in regulation of the four games, making it the closest First Four in history. Three of the games had would-be winning shots in the air in the last five seconds of regulation. None happened to go in.

19, 14, 12, 10: The leads held by Norfolk State, Michigan State, Wichita State and Mount St. Mary’s. All of them were blown. Norfolk State recovered to survive, the other three didn’t. “There’s heartbreak, there’s buzzer-beaters, that’s it right there,” Appalachian State coach Dustin Kearns said of being a one-point victim in the tournament. “That’s why everybody loves it.”

12:45 a.m.: What the clock said at the end of UCLA’s 86-80 overtime win over Michigan State at Purdue. Given the fact that, per this year’s NCAA decree, the early game losers had to leave town Thursday night, Mount St. Mary’s might have been back in Maryland before the Bruins were back in their Indianapolis hotel. No wonder the post-game music in Mackey Arena was Closing Time.

25: Thursday’s total scoring output of Appalachian State’s Adrian Delph, Drake’s ShanQuan Hemphill, Wichita State’s Tyson Etienne, Norfolk State’s Devante Carter and Texas Southern’s Michael Weathers. Why should that matter? They all came in as their teams’ leading scorers for the season, averaging a combined 76 points a game. Etienne, defended by Drake’s D.J. Wilkins, scored one point, missing all six shots. He was American Athletic Conference co-player of the year. Hemphill is coming back from a broken foot and played only 10 minutes.

17.3: The shooting percentage of those five players, going 8-for-46.

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10-71: Combined NCAA tournament record of the current membership of the SWAC and MEAC conferences going into Thursday. Both their representatives — Texas Southern and Norfolk State — won their opening games. That had never happened before in the tournament. “Just amazing,” Jones said.

107: UCLA’s updated NCAA tournament victory total.

93: Combined NCAA victories of the other seven teams who played Thursday night.

3-0: UCLA’s all-time record in Mackey Arena. The Bruins helped open the place in 1967 when Boilermaker alum John Wooden brought Lew Alcindor and the guys east and barely won by two points. Now Wooden’s statue is outside the arena. UCLA coach Mick Cronin went searching for it the other night after practice but found out had hard it is to get from A to B in a COVID-restricted environment. “Only allowed down certain hallways. There’s people with signs, can’t go here, can’t go there,” Cronin said. “I understand it all. I think we’re done playing here so I’ve got to try to see that statue before I leave.”

500: Limited attendance at IU’s Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. “Honestly, that’s probably the most people we played in front of all year,” Jones said.

50: It had been 50 years, to the exact day, since Drake last won an NCAA tournament game. “It’s been a long time,” coach Darian DeVries said after a 53-52 win over Wichita State. “And our guys knew that.”

24: Points off the Norfolk State bench scored by Jalen Hawkins.

25: Points scored by the entire Norfolk State starting lineup.

31-7: Appalachian State’s scoring spree against Norfolk State over 13 1/2 minutes in the second half.

0-for-10: Appalachian State’s shooting after that, over the last 5:47.

77: Points by Michigan State in the first 38:31 against UCLA.

3: Points by Michigan State the final 6:29 against the Bruins. The Spartans went more than seven minutes without making a shot.

23.0: Nation-leading average victory margin for unbeaten Gonzaga, Norfolk State’s next opponent Saturday. “We know we’re playing the Lakers of college basketball,” Jones said.

8: Positive test results as of Thursday at the NCAA Tournament, out of more than 9,000 tests collected from players, coaches, traveling party members, NCAA staff and local workers.

19,000: Chicken wings delivered to teams in the bubble hotels in one night. And they’re hungry for more. After Thursday night, so is the college basketball audience.

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