By Troy A. Sparks
Cinderella made it to the ball on the first day of the NCAA Tournament. Five of the games were upsets. A sixth team almost bit the dust, and they needed overtime to pull it off.
Three of the contests favored the lower seeded teams. Old Dominion, Murray St. and Ohio, No. 11, 13 and 14 respectively, threw off the office bracket pools by winning in the first round. Villanova needed an extra session to beat tiny Robert Morris College.
Washington’s win over Marquette as an 11th seed didn’t surprise too many people. But as a sixth seed, the Golden Eagles blew their chance to advance to the second round when they squandered a 15 point lead in the second half. Notre Dame, Vanderbilt and Georgetown deserved to lose because they weren’t ready to play.
But here at the Bradley Center last Friday, Cinderella remained in the background in first round games here. Xavier was up to the challenge from Minnesota in the early matinee game. Jordan Crawford is known for more than his highly-publicized poster dunk over LeBron James last summer at James’ summer basketball camp. His 28 points led all scorers in the Musketeers’ 65-54 win.
“That’s something that we’re sort of used to,” Xavier center Kenny Frease said on Crawford carrying the team. “He’s unbelievable. Some of the things he does you can never get used to.”
Added Minnesota’s Ralph Sampson III: “He is a good player. He definitely hit a lot of shots. At one point it seemed like he couldn’t miss.”
In the second game, Pittsburgh found themselves behind against Oakland (MI) before going on a 12-0 run late in the half to lead 39-26 at the break.
The Grizzlies faded in the second half, losing 89-66. “They’re a really strong team,” Oakland forward Drew Valentine said. “Give them credit. They came out and played harder than us.”
Georgia Tech gave Oklahoma State a run for their money in the third game with a 64-59 win. “That was a really good team we just beat,” Tech coach Paul Hewitt said.
It was amazing that Tech didn’t make a field goal in the final 8 minutes and 19 seconds of the game and still pulled off the win with their free-throw shooting down the stretch.
“We have several different free-throw games that we play,” Hewitt said. “We’re a good . . . Our guys can make free-throws. We just don’t happen to make them sometimes in the game.”
Ohio State had no trouble with UC-Santa Barbara, winning 68-51 in the final game that ended a little after 11:00 p.m.
Xavier, Pittsburgh, Ohio State and Georgia Tech had closed practices last Saturday. Crawford was asked about the dunk in the post-practice press conference. “I ain’t heard too much about it,” he said. “Most of it is about the NCAA Tournament and wondering how far we can go in it. That’s all people have been talking about.”
Pitt’s Gilbert Brown was asked about his take on Crawford. “He’s a tough player and an A-10 All Conference first team player,” he said. “I think with the type of defense that we play, we’ll be able to manage him.”
Ohio State coach Thad Motta said they wanted to challenge the Yellow Jackets in their second round matchup. “One of the big things we don’t want to give Georgia Tech is easy baskets. We want to try to make them earn as much as they possibly can.”
Georgia Tech’s Iman Shumpert was asked if he was getting tired of defending every conference’s player of the year. “No, No,” he said. “It’s tiring, but I’m not going to get tired of it. I’m starting to kind of like it.”
The Buckeyes overcame a slow start by Turner as they led at the half 28-26 in the first game of the second round on Sunday. Turner had 16 points at the break and 24 in the game. Ohio State led by as many as 14 in the second half before Tech made a late run but came up short in a 75-66 loss. The Buckeyes claimed one of the two Sweet Sixteen spots from the Bradley Center.
“We weren’t nearly as aggressive as we wanted to be,” Hewitt said after the game. “I thought we were very tentative for some reason. We had the eight point lead instead of continue to push the ball and attack.”
Crawford had a coming out party in their second round game against Pitt. He scored 27 points in the second game. The Panthers couldn’t stop him in a 71-68 loss. The Musketeers claimed the other Sweet Sixteen spot and avenged a defeat to Pitt when they met last year in the tournament.
“A guy like Jordan, he can do everything,” Xavier’s Dante Jackson said. “And I know coach (Chris Mack) talks about sharing the basketball, and he does a great job of that.”
Crawford felt it was a long time coming for people to finally see what he could do on the court. “I could always do it,” he said. “I just wasn’t able to play. I was sitting out a couple of years, so it was just the first time people are getting to see it. I’m taking advantage of it.”
You might as well watch Crawford now because he might leave college and take his game to the NBA.
Throw the brackets away because they’re all messed up with some of the upsets from the first weekend.
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