Editor’s note: Review-Journal sports reporter — and college basketball guru — Adam Hill chronicles the #WhatIf Tournament that he began in Monday’s print edition with his Selection Sunday unveiling of the 68 teams. Friday: the first half of the round of 64
Rick Byrd built Belmont basketball into an elite power in the Atlantic Sun Conference and that success has continued since moving to the Ohio Valley in 2012.
He made the Bruins tournament regulars, but never got over the hump and won a game in the round of 64 during his 33-year run as head coach.
Casey Alexander changed that in his first year on the job, leading No. 13 Belmont to an 86-85 upset of fourth-seeded Seton Hall in the East Region of our What If Tournament.
It was the highlight of the first full day of action to start what under normal circumstances would be the best 48 hours in sports.
The Bruins started the game hot, making their first four attempts from 3-point range and then burning the Pirates on several backdoor plays when they tried to get out on the shooters.
All of the success behind the arc paid off in the final seconds. Seton Hall double-teamed Belmont’s Adam Kunkel, who was 5-for-7 on 3-pointers, when he caught an inbounds pass on the right wing with the clock ticking down and the Bruins trailing by one.
Kunkel spotted Nick Muszynski running free and hit him with a bounce pass for a layup just as time expired.
The Pirates had lived and died with star Myles Powell all year and it was no exception in the upset loss.
Powell struggled from the outside, hitting just 1 of 9 from beyond the arc. The 80 percent free-throw shooter also had a chance to put the game away with 6.2 seconds remaining only to miss the front end of a 1-and-1. Belmont grabbed the rebound and pushed it to half court before calling timeout and setting up the final play.
It was the best finish of the day, but not the only close game:
(1) Dayton 86, (16) Winthrop 67 — Superstar Obi Toppin had 14 points and eight rebounds in just 22 minutes as the Flyers pulled away early. Jalen Crutcher had 17 points and eight assists for Dayton in the win.
(8) Florida 66, (9) Colorado 64 — Evan Battey had three good looks inside in the final six seconds. He grabbed his own misses twice, but couldn’t convert as the Buffaloes dropped their sixth straight game to close the season. Neither team scored in the final 3:14 as they combined for four turnovers and eight missed shots.
(5) Ohio State 79, (12) Yale 75 — The Bulldogs led nearly the entire game before an 11-2 run for the Buckeyes over the final 3:27 helped them advance. Kaleb Wesson struggled for much of the day only to take over when Jordan Bruner and Paul Atkinson fouled out for Yale on questionable calls with under four minutes remaining.
(11) Xavier 61, (6) West Virginia 58 — The Musketeers stayed hot after advancing with a First Four win. KyKy Tandy’s 3-pointer gave Xavier the lead with 24 seconds remaining and Taz Sherman’s game-tying attempt at the buzzer came up short.
(3) Louisville 92, (14) Hofstra 84 — The Cardinals didn’t at all resemble the team that dropped four of its last seven games. They raced to a 27-point lead early in the second half. Jordan Nwora had 26 points in the win. Desure Buie closed out his illustrious career for the Pride with 31 points, though most came in garbage time.
(7) Arizona 78, (10) Indiana 74 — After winning the Pac-12 tournament, the Wildcats stayed hot and eliminated the Hoosiers on the strength of a 23-point, 10-assist performance by Nico Mannion. Indiana coach Archie Miller goes off on an epic tirade against the committee for the difficult draw after the loss.
(2) Michigan State 75, (15) Northern Kentucky 57 — The Spartans finally looked like a team ready to live up to lofty preseason expectations. Cassius Winston had 16 points and six assists—in the first half. He finished with 19 and eight in the win.
(1) Kansas 91, (16) Robert Morris 68 — Udoka Azubuike made all of his 11 shots and finished with 25 points and 15 rebounds for the Jayhawks. The Colonials looked like a tired team after getting through a wild First Four matchup.
(9) USC 75, (8) Providence 73 — Jonah Mathews hit a pair of 3-pointers in the final minute, including the game-winner with 12 seconds remaining. The Trojans elected to foul with a 3-point lead and 2.1 seconds on the clock. David Duke made the first, then missed the second intentionally and nobody could secure the rebound before the clock expired.
(5) Virginia 54, (12) Liberty 47 — Any hope Liberty had of winning an NCAA Tournament game for a second consecutive year was extinguished by Virginia’s suffocating defense. The Flames managed to shoot just 22 percent from the field in the first half and never got within four points in the second half.
(13) Vermont 65, (4) Wisconsin 61 — The world got to meet Anthony Lamb as the Catamounts’ senior star put up 28 points to go with his eight rebounds and seven assists. The Badgers stayed close throughout the second half, but Lamb went 7 of 8 from the line in the final minute.
(11) Utah State 78, (6) Houston 75 — Everyone in the building and watching on TV around the world knew Sam Merrill was going to get the last shot with the Aggies tied and less than 15 seconds to play. Merrill, however, opted to pass out of a double-team to a wide open Diogo Brito for a 3-pointer from the corner that went in for the victory.
(3) Kentucky 79, (14) Bradley 61 — The Braves got an automatic bid by winning a wild Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. The magic was gone on this day. Nick Richards dominated in the paint with 22 points and 12 rebounds against a Bradley team with no answer as the Wildcats won for the 10th time in 11 games.
(7) Michigan 65, (10) Arizona State 61 (OT) — Kimani Lawrence, a 52 percent free-throw shooter, knocked down a pair from the line with 1.6 seconds remaining to force overtime. The Wolverines took over from there. Jon Teske scored eight of his 18 points in the extra session to give Juwan Howard his first postseason victory as a head coach.
(2) Creighton 81, (15) North Dakota State 74 — Social media lit up with excitement as the Bison held a 68-64 lead with five minutes left and appeared on the verge of a massive upset. Marcus Zegarowski and Ty-Shon Alexander each made a pair of 3-pointers during a 12-3 run to help the Bluejays survive and advance.
(1) Dayton 86, (16) Winthrop 67
(8) Florida 66, (9) Colorado 64
(5) Ohio State 79, (12) Yale 75
(13) Belmont 86, (4) Seton Hall 85
(11) Xavier 61, (6) West Virginia 58
(3) Louisville 92, (14) Hofstra 84
(7) Arizona 78, (10) Indiana 74
(2) Michigan State 75, (15) Northern Kentucky 57
(1) Kansas 91, (16) Robert Morris 68
(9) USC 75, (8) Providence 73
(5) Virginia 54, (12) Liberty 47
(13) Vermont 65, (4) Wisconsin 61
(11) Utah State 78, (6) Houston 75
(3) Kentucky 79, (14) Bradley 61
(7) Michigan 65, (10) Arizona State 61, OT
(2) Creighton 81, (15) North Dakota State 74
(1) Baylor vs. (16) Boston University
(8) Saint Mary’s vs. (9) Marquette
(5) Auburn vs. (12) Stephen F. Austin
(4) Maryland vs. (13) North Texas
(6) BYU vs. (11) Connecticut
(3) Villanova vs. (14) Ball State
(7) Illinois vs. (10) Texas Tech
(2) Florida State vs. (15) Texas State
(1) Gonzaga vs. (16) Siena
(8) LSU vs. (9) Rutgers
(5) Butler vs. (12) East Tennessee State
(4) Oregon vs. (13) New Mexico State
(6) Iowa vs. (11) Richmond
(3) Duke vs. (14) Northern Colorado
(7) Penn State vs. (10) Oklahoma
(2) San Diego State vs. (15) UC Irvine