It was an action-packed and highly entertaining return to normalcy Thursday at the NCAA men’s tournament and the biggest buzz came from a little-known Cinderella: Saint Peter University’s Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
Saint Peter’s made NCAA tournament history on Thursday night and did so at the expense of Kentucky.
The Peacocks entered the tournament as the No. 15 seed in the East region and massive underdogs to the mighty Wildcats, who had the third-best odds to win the national championship. But Shaheen Holloway’s team had no fear.
The Peacocks, who were underdogs by 18 points, pulled off a big upset by beating No. 2 seed Kentucky 85-79 in overtime.
In the first half, Saint Peter’s was led by Daryl Banks III, who scored a career-high 27 points. Down the stretch, however, the Peacocks leaned on sharpshooter Doug Edert. Edert hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:26 left in regulation and then sent the game into overtime with a driving layup with 24 seconds left.
In overtime, Edert sank another game-tying 3-pointer before Banks knocked down free throws that gave the Peacocks the lead for good. Edert finished the night with 20 points in 25 minutes off the bench.
There must be superpowers in that mustache. How else do you explain Kentucky losing in the first round for the first time in John Calipari’s tenure in Lexington?
With the victory, Saint Peter’s became the 10th No. 15 seed to defeat a No. 2 seed in the first round. It is a rare occurrence. Between 1991 and 2011, there were only four 15-2 upsets. But with the triumph of San Pedro, there are already six that have happened in the last 10 seasons.
In 2012, there were two on the same day. Lehigh stunned Duke and Norfolk State knocked down Missouri.
“Dunk City” burst onto the scene the following season. Florida Gulf Coast edged out Georgetown and then became the first No. 15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16.
In 2016, it was Middle Tennessee that upset Michigan State before Oral Roberts came along in 2021 and upset Ohio State. ORU then beat Florida to join Florida Gulf Coast as the second No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16.
Does San Pedro have what it takes to become the third? The Peacocks will face Murray State in the Round of 16 on Saturday. The Racers, the No. 7 seed in the East, outscored San Francisco 92-87 in exciting overtime.
Iowa shocked by Richmond
Saint Peter’s massive win over Kentucky overshadowed an upset earlier in the day: Richmond’s 67-63 victory over Iowa.
Iowa, the No. 5 seed in the Midwest, was one of the best teams in the country entering the NCAA tournament. The Hawkeyes were riding high after winning the Big Ten tournament, but then quickly delivered one of their worst shooting performances of the season and lost to a Richmond team that had no chance of bidding overall without winning the tournament. Atlantic 10.
And to the Spiders’ credit, they did just that. And they were able to carry that momentum forward while the Iowa screeched to a halt. The Hawkeyes shot a measly 6-for-29 from 3-point range. That is only 20.7%. Iowa wasn’t much better from the field, going 24-for-66 (36.4%).
Richmond didn’t shoot the lights, but he made the plays he needed in the second half to build and ultimately hold the lead. Jacob Gilyard scored 24 points in the win, outscoring Iowa All-American Keegan Murray (21 points) in the process.
Iowa has made it to the NCAA tournament six times in Fran McCaffery’s 12 years as head coach and has never made it past the Round of 32.
Gonzaga survives scare, Baylor and Kansas cross
Three of the four No. 1 seeds were in action Thursday. While Baylor and Kansas posted dull wins, Gonzaga broke a sweat.
The Bulldogs, the tournament’s No. 1 seed overall, found themselves in a battle with No. 16 seed Georgia State, the Sun Belt champions. In fact, Gonzaga’s lead was just 56-54 in the U-12 timeout. However, a few minutes later, the Bulldogs switched to a higher gear.
GU went on a 24-1 run to turn what was a close game into the blowout we’ve all been hoping to see. The end result was a 93-72 victory.
While the Bulldogs struggled with their outside shooting, Georgia State had no answers for Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren below. Timme led all scorers with 32 points and 13 rebounds. Holmgren, the potential No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA draft, posted 19 points, 17 rebounds, seven blocks and five assists.
Providence holds off popular South Dakota state surprise team
One of the most popular upset first-round picks was the No. 13-seeded South Dakota State in the Midwest region over No. 4-seeded Providence.
Despite not having players from all conferences on the first team, Providence managed to win the Big East regular season title. The Friars had a notable penchant for putting up close games during the regular season, but many thought they’d run into a troublesome matchup in the first round.
South Dakota State, the Summit League champions, had not lost a game since Dec. 15. Until Thursday.
The Jackrabbits, the best 3-point shooting team in the country, battled it out against the beefy Friars. Providence held SDSU to just 38.6% from the field and 7-of-23 (30.4%) from beyond the arc in a hard-fought 66-57 victory. The win was Providence’s first in an NCAA tournament since 2016.
Providence wasn’t the only No. 4 seed to find itself in a battle Thursday. In the West region, Arkansas was able to pull off a 75-71 victory over Vermont to advance to the Round 32. And in the East, UCLA trailed Akron for most of the second half but was able to escape with a 57-53 win despite shooting just 35.2% from the field.
UCLA went to the Final Four in 2021. In 2022, the Bruins almost got eliminated in the first round.
Another first-round exit for UConn
The UConn program’s track record has improved under Dan Hurley, no doubt. But a second straight season with a first-round exit from the NCAA tournament is hard to swallow.
Last year, the Huskies lost in the first round to Maryland as the No. 7 seed. This year, UConn lost 70-63 to WAC champion New Mexico State as the No. 5 seed.
The Huskies trailed by 10 at halftime and tied the score twice in the final minutes. However, they had no answers for New Mexico State star Teddy Allen. Allen exploded with 37 points, including his team’s last 15, to give the Aggies their first NCAA tournament win since 1993.
The 4 Mountain West teams already eliminated
The first full day of the NCAA tournament has come to an end and all four Mountain West teams have already been eliminated.
Wyoming lost to Indiana in the First Four and then Colorado State, Boise State and San Diego State lost on Thursday. The three Mountain West teams that played Thursday were also the highest seeds.
Colorado State, the No. 6 seed in the South, had a seven-point halftime lead over Michigan but ended up losing, 75-63. San Diego State, the No. 8 seed in the Midwest, also blew a sizable lead. The Aztecs led Creighton 62-53 with 3:51 left and ended up losing 72-69 in overtime. Boise State, the No. 8 seed in the West, lost 64-53 to Memphis.
The Mountain West is now 1-11 in NCAA tournament play since 2016.
Tennessee, Saint Mary’s turn in impressive performances
Two of the best submissions of the day came from Tennessee and Saint Mary’s.
UT coach Rick Barnes’ history in NCAA tournaments is not a positive one, but the Vols completely demolished No. 14 seed Longwood 88-56 in the South region game. Tennessee shot 60% from the field in the win, including 14 of 24 (58.3%) from 3-point range.
Meanwhile, Saint Mary’s had a similarly strong offensive performance. The Gaels, the No. 5 seed in the East, defeated Indiana 82-53. Saint Mary’s shot 51.7% from the field and shot down 10 3-pointers while limiting Indiana to just 34% shooting and just two 3-pointers made.