Kennesaw State (14) – 67
Xavier (3) – 72
Pitt (11) – 59
Iowa State (6) – 41
Game 1 Kennesaw State v Xavier
After the first day if play in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, just about everyone’s brackets got busted by 15-seed Princeton’s win over 2-seed Arizona and 4-seed Virginia’s last-second loss to 13-seed Furman.
That’s what happened to me anyway.
After giving up my dreams of bracket glory, I’m pulling for the underdogs here at the Greensboro Coliseum, which is really what this tournament is all about. And the first game in Greensboro this week showed us all the best this tournament has to offer, with an uneven matchup that came right down to the last seconds.
We had 14-seed Kennesaw State, up against perennial Big East powerhouse Xavier in the first game on Friday. This is Kennesaw State’s very first trip to the NCAA Tournament; Xavier has been here 28 times and has gone to the Elite 8 three times, most recently in 2017.
A lot of Kennesaw State fans made the trip from Atlanto to be here, while Xavier’s fan presence was more muted, and seemed limited to the better seats in the rather full arena.
No one was surprised when Xavier came out hot, running up a 7-0 lead in the first 2 minutes. But people seemed plenty surprised when they caught up. The Owls fell behind as far as 9 points in that first half, but they tied it up 23-23 with a 3-pointer by Simeon Cottle and then took their first lead of the day at 9:32. Early foul troubles for Kennesaw State put Xavier at the free-throw line early in the half — they’d score 9 on free throws before halftime. But Kennesaw kept fighting, overcoming another point deficit and benefiting form an Xavier scoring drought to end the half in the lead, 43-36. Three-pointers made the difference in the first half, five for Kennesaw State and just one for Xavier, but also relentless pressure from the Owls against the bigger, stronger team and 13 points from the bench.
The Owls pressed this advantage in the first minutes of the second half, racking up an 8-0 run that built to a 13-point advantage at the halfway point of the second half as Xavier kept missing shots and opportunities.
But Xavier showed their seasoning at the 9-minute mark, going on a 15-point run that lasted 5 minutes in which they regained the lead and the momentum of the game. It went down to the final seconds, with Kennesaw State pulling ahead at the 2-minute mark. But unlike during the regular season, when the Owls were able to convert a lot of their close games into wins, they couldn’t close the deal.
Xavier squeaked by in a game that was closer than the final score implied: 72-67. The Owls got 14 points apiece from their top scorers, Chris Youngblood and Terrell Burden, with 19 points from the bench. Xavier prevailed on 24 points by Jerome Hunter and a double-double — 10 points, 11 rebounds — from 7-foot grad student Jack Nunge.
Game 2: Pitt v Iowa State
In their last game, 11-seed Pitt was thrashed upon in the quarterfinals by Duke on their road to the ACC championship. It happened right here in this building, so one might induce that they felt comfortable here, and would relish a shot at a win ere against 6-seed Iowa State. Maybe that’s why Barack Obama picked them in an upset on his bracket.
Far from home and devoid of meaningful fan presence in the Greensboro Coliseum, Iowa State seemed out of sorts from the tipoff. Pitt quickly opened up a 10-0 lead that bloomed into a 22-2 run that lasted 10 minutes, during which Iowa State shot 0 percent from the field and 50 percent from the free-throw line.
What followed was some messy basketball: Missed shots, loose balls, bad passes, fouls, scoring droughts. But the ugly fray favored Iowa State, who were able to shrink their point deficit to 6, for a halftime score of 30-23, with Iowa State shooting a dismal 29 percent from the floor, Pitt just 35.
Those percentages would deprecate even further as the second half began, with two scoreless minutes before Iowa State dropped 2. The rest played out slowly and painfully. Iowa State went 5-29 in the second half, for an overall shooting percentage of 23 percent. Pitt didn’t fare much better at 34 percent. Both teams had more turnovers than assists. And neither one of them looked like a contender. With 5 minutes left in the game, most of the people left in the stands were watching the NC State game on their devices.
Final score for Pitt, 59-41, in a less-than-thrilling contest.
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