With no giant killers or buzzer beaters in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, viewers in other parts of the country might have considered it boring.
Not in Las Vegas, where tens of thousands of bettors who have made their annual pilgrimage have exulted over countless shining moments in the city’s sports books.
The biggest moment and loudest roar of the tournament thus far took place at the end of Friday’s opening game when Jawun Evans buried a 3-pointer at the buzzer for Oklahoma State in its 92-91 loss to Michigan, a 2½-point favorite. The otherwise meaningless shot covered the spread for Cowboys backers and dealt a brutal bad beat to Wolverines bettors.
“That was like an Espresso shot for everybody. It woke everybody up, for the good or the bad,” Westgate sports book director Jay Kornegay said. “It definitely got everybody into it.”
D.J. Wilson made two free throws with 3.7 seconds left to put Michigan ahead 92-88 and seal the win. But the cover was still in doubt. As Evans went up for a 3, the standing-room-only crowd at the Westgate held its collective breath before exploding when the ball swished through the hoop for a classic back-door cover.
“I knew that if Michigan made that second free throw, that Oklahoma State would cover, because there’s no reason to play defense,” Wynn sports book director Johnny Avello said. “They let him come right down and shoot the 3.”
Southern California, a 7½-point underdog to Southern Methodist, produced the biggest upset of the tournament in its 66-65 comeback win over the Mustangs. Elijah Stewart hit a 3-pointer to put the 11th-seeded Trojans ahead 66-65 with 36 seconds left. SMU had a chance to win at the buzzer, but Shake Milton’s layup attempt clanged off the front of the rim as time expired.
Wichita State, a 6½-point favorite over Dayton despite being a 10-seed, won but didn’t cover in a 64-58 win. After Scoochie Smith missed a 3-pointer for the Flyers with six seconds left, Dayton didn’t foul and most Shockers backers lost by the hook.
Favorites went 7-9 ATS on Friday and 15-17 ATS in the first round. No. 1 seeds North Carolina and Kansas each scored at least 100 points and easily covered big numbers. But big favorites Louisville, Kentucky and UCLA did not.
Kent State scored a late layup to cover in its 97-80 loss to the Bruins, who closed as 19½-point favorites after opening at 17.
The books needed underdogs South Carolina, Michigan State and Kent State to cover in the late games, and they did.
Oregon rolled to a 93-77 win over Iona as the game flew over the total that closed at 156½ after opening at 152.
“You can bet all these games over,” Avello said. “I don’t see any going under.”
Indeed. Overs went 13-3 on Friday and 23-8-1 in the first round.
The Ducks, who led by 26 in the second half, barely covered the 15½-point spread when Iona’s Sam Cassell Jr. missed a 3-pointer with 18 seconds remaining.
Duke covered in the first half and the game in dramatic fashion. A 12½-point favorite in the first half, the Blue Devils went ahead 52-38 when Grayson Allen hit a 3-pointer with 11 seconds left. Jeremy Hollimon then went hard to the hole for Troy, but Jayson Tatum emphatically swatted the shot away.
Duke, which closed as a 19½-point favorite, went ahead by 21 in the final minute and sealed the cover when Javin DeLaurier lost the ball on a breakaway but it sailed into the hoop anyway en route to an 87-65 win.
After Evans’ buzzer beater burned Michigan bettors, Kornegay heard a guy yell to his friends, “And that’s why you tease them!”
The silver lining from no major upsets in the first round is the fact that there are several stellar matchups set for the second round, starting at 9:10 a.m. Saturday with West Virginia-Notre Dame.
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at email@example.com or 702-383-0354. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.