On the eve of the first round of the NCAA tournament, Dayton, Ohio was the scene of a couple of hard court breaking hearts.
The prelude to the big dance was a dramatic double bill featuring a shot at redemption and one for the history books as two California universities muscled their way into the madness of March.
In a battle between two 16 seeds, UC Davis edged NC Central 67-63 to finally become a member of the Final Four family.
Led by the dazzling double-double display of Nigerian born Chima Moneke, (18 points/12 rebounds) the Aggies overcame 18 ugly turnovers for a trip to Tulsa, and the daunting task of facing number one seeded Kansas Jawhawks on Friday.
The Eagles made it interesting, pulling within one on a three pointer by Dajuan Graf with 1:49 remaining. But another Graf three point attempt with 37 seconds on the clock missed the mark, and a couple of forced fouls gave the Aggies a win for the ages.
Game two was a re-match made in Final Four heaven, albeit USC had to go through hell to avenge last year’s painful loss to Providence.
Fueled by Friar power forward Rodney Bullock’s buzzer beater that booted them out of the tournament, the Trojans did what’s been second nature all season long. They overcame a double-digit deficit, 17 points to be exact, to secure a date with SMU in the East Regional come Friday.
USC seemed poised to put Providence in it’s place early, scoring the first seven points via turnovers and the prowess of Jordan McLaughlin and Bennie Boatwright.
Friar’s head coach Ed Cooley was so rattled by the Trojans first two baskets, that he called a time out, seconds into the start of the game.
But when junior Jaylen Lindsey got a touch of three-point fever and Boatwright’s shooting went cold, Cooley calmed down while USC coach Andy Enfield started sweating bullets.
Providence’s Kyron Cartwright, playing with a heavy heart on the heels of his grandmother’s death, caught fire, and at the end of the first half with the score 44-29 in the Friar’s favor, everyone wanted a membership to their club.
After Cooley’s kids made the first bucket at the start of the second half, it appeared that the Trojan’s were not going to win this war, until Jonah Matthews, Jordan McLaughlin, and Boatwright made a bunch of threes.
Midway through the half, Providence unraveled and USC pulled within five. Nick Rakocevic, pretty in the paint, ignited his troops with a lay-up, a couple of free throws, and a steal that Chimezie Metu made into a one-point lead that the Trojans never relinquished.
USC has twelve wins this season when trailing by double digits – most in division 1 in the country. SMU may be a 6th seed, but with this epic come from behind victory over the Friars, the Trojans are ripe to be the dark horse.