As we wrap up the 1st and 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament in Nashville, Tennessee we also enter the delirium of March Madness taking in all its triumph and disappointment for these young athletes. Here, we recap the NCAA First and Second Rounds in Nashville and look ahead at the surviving teams.
On Friday, as the first game of tournament weekend commenced, the south region hosted the formidable no. 2 seeded Cincinnati Bearcats vs. the no. 15 seeded Dark Horse Georgia State. The bearcats were the heavy favorites in this matchup, and proved to be exactly that, rallying behind the unanticipated hero of the game Jarron Cumberland. Cumberland ended up scoring a game high 27 points. Georgia State held their own earlier in the game, playing their offense through D’Marcus Simonds, who scored all of his team's first 16 points. Georgia State led 16-9 halfway through the first, but Cumberland retaliated with his own offensive spurt scoring 10 straight UC points and giving the Bearcats a slight edge as the score totaled 26-25 with 4:46 left in the first half. UC only led by 5 points at halftime, 35-30. The tenacious Georgia State team was determined to pull this upset off, grasping a convincing 47-36 lead with 9:30 left. In the face of an upset, the Bearcats responded by capturing the lead at the 9 minute mark. They never trailed again during the game by controlling the glass in a dominant way outrebounding Georgia State 46-26 and 20-6 on the offensive glass. The Bearcats wore Georgia State down with their size and defense and won in a comfortable fashion, finishing with a final score of 68-53.
The second game of the South Region featured a highly competitive game between no.7 seeded Nevada, and the no. 10 seeded Texas Longhorns. The Longhorns led through their younger players all season with Mo Bamba as the standout freshman big man. Bamba had been dealing with a toe injury that plagued him towards the end of this season, and his health would play a significant factor in the outcome of this game. Coming into this game Nevada also had its own core of elite scoring members with Caleb Martin averaging 19.1 points per game, Jordan Caroline averaging 17.9 PPG, Cody Martin averaging 13.6 PPG and Kendall Stephens averaging 13.2 PPG. This game surely lived up to hype as a classic college basketball tournament game. Nevada fought from behind for the majority of the game, facing a 14 point deficit at halftime. Texas led 20-46 at halftime playing through an aggressive Kerwin Roach who had a team high 27 points. Nevada shot a sub- par 39.3 percent and scored 26 points in the first half. After the quiet first half the wolf pack came alive shooting 60 percent and scoring 61 points in the second half and overtime. Mo Bamba had a quiet game, fouling out with 3.8 seconds left in regulation. The Wolfpack offensively had their way in the 2nd half putting them in a position to steal the game in overtime. Caleb Martin, the leading scorer for Nevada, gave the Wolfpack its first lead making a pivotal three pointer with 2:26 left in overtime. After a Longhorn missed three by Matt Coleman, Martin then drained another big three pointer giving Nevada an 88-71 lead with 53 seconds. The Wolfpack successfully completed their comeback, keeping their tournament run alive with the final score of 87-83.
In the west region, No. 1 seed Xavier faced off with the no. 16 seeded Texas Southern in a physical, gritty game. Texas Southern came into this game with the ultimate confidence despite not being favorited in the matchup. Their team was led by their confident sophomore guard Damontrae Jefferson. The talented Xavier team came into the first half of the game with complete control. J.P Macura scored 18 of his career high 29 points in the first half of this game, making his impact be felt early on in the game. The Musketeers went on to win this game in a blowout of 102-83.
The last game of Friday was headlined by the highly praised freshman Michael Porter and the no. 8 seeded Missouri Tigers vs. the seasoned no. 9 seeded FSU Seminoles. It was on up and down the entire game, but the Seminoles seemed focused throughout the its duration. The Seminoles grabbed the lead early in the first half and never let go, overcoming the tigers in a 67-54 win.
After a competitive 1st round on Friday evening, the journey for these young athletes continued on Sunday where the Nevada Wolfpack would face off against Cincinnati Bearcats for the first game of the day, followed by the Xavier Tigers against the Florida Seminoles.
In the height of March Madness, the arena was filled with energy and emotion, as the Wolfpack prepared to take on the bearcats. Cincinnati, as expected, attacked early with their physicality and scored the game's first 10 points propelling them to a comfortable lead of 44-32 at halftime. For the 5th straight time the Wolfpack was down at halftime and were faced with elimination. The bearcats maintained a 65-43 lead on Jarron Cumberland's basket with 11:37 left. After that basket, Nevada started to rally unimaginably formulating a 32- 8 run for the rest of the game. Cody Martin led the onslaught racking up a much needed 25 points, six rebounds, and seven assists with no turnovers. It was another magical comeback for the Wolfpack, who moves onto the sweet 16.
The last game of the second round headlined the Xavier Tigers vs. the FSU Seminoles. The Tigers came into this game as heavy favorites, but that didn’t bother the Seminoles as they came to this game ready to play. As Xavier was trying not to be the 2nd no. 1 seed knocked out of the tournament before the sweet 16, they got big contributions offensively from their scoring core J.P. Macura with 17 points, Kerem Kanter with 15 and Scruggs with 11. However, their scoring wasn’t enough as the Seminoles, who have a solid 10 man rotation, never backed down from the challenge. Five Seminoles scored in double figures this game, and Braian Angola led the pack with 16 points, followed by Trent Forrest with 13, Savoy with 11, and Phil Cofer and Mann each with 10. The Seminoles depth proved to be too much for the Tigers as they overcame them in a 70-75 victory.
It was a very exciting weekend for Nashville and the Nashville Sports Council as we jumped right into March Madness. We were glad to be able to apart of this event and the energy that the tournament brings to the city and its fans.