Mercer & Stephen F. Austin pull thrilling upsets

Published on Saturday, 3/22/14, at 2:22 a.m. Eastern.

By Brian Edwards

–Iowa St. won outright and covered the number against North Carolina Central on Friday night. Georges Niang scored a game-high 24 points for the Cyclones, but he suffered a broken foot when he landed on it awkwardly late in the second half. Niang, a stretch four who is an excellent 3-point shooter who averages 16.5 points per game, is out for the rest of the Tournament. This is a monster loss for Iowa St., which had an excellent chance of making it to the Final Four with a healthy Niang. Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane will have to step up their play even more (and stay out of foul trouble). Fred Hoiberg’s squad doesn’t have much depth.

–Mercer took out third-seeded Duke 78-71 thanks to a 20-8 run to end of the game. The Bears won outright as 13-point underdogs, hooking up money-line supporters with a nasty +850 return (paid $850 on $100 wagers). Duke’s Jabari Parker made only 4-of-14 shots from the field, while Rodney Hood was just 1-of-7 from the floor before fouling out. After the game, Mercer coach Bob Hoffman said, “I don’t know who is going to beat us.” The Bears won their league’s regular-season championship last year, only to lose to Florida Gulf Coast in the conference tournament. Therefore, Florida Gulf Coast became the story of the 2013 NCAA Tournament. One year later, Mercer is the story as it moves on to the Round of 32 to face Tennessee.

–Tennessee has won eight of its last 10 games and is playing its best basketball of the season at the perfect time. The Volunteers, who are 6-1 ATS in their last seven games with the only non-cover coming in a wrong-side winner (for UF in the SEC Tourney semifinals), blasted UMass from the opening jump in a 86-67 win as six-point favorites. Jarnell Richardson dominated the paint with 26 points and 14 rebounds against the Minutemen. UT senior slasher Jordan McRae added 21 points. Most books have installed UT as an 8.5-point favorite vs. Mercer.

–In Creighton’s 76-66 win over Louisiana-Lafayette, Doug McDermott had the following stat line: 30 points, 12 rebounds, two assists, one blocked shot and zero turnovers.

–Baylor smashed Nebraska by a 74-60 count as a 3.5-point favorite. The Bears won by 14 points despite making only 2-of-13 attempts from 3-point range. Brady Heslip, perhaps the best 3-point shooter in the entire field, missed all six of shots from beyond the arc. He did make all 10 of his free throws, though. The Bears went to the charity stripe three times more than Nebraska, attempting 48 compared to 16. As of early Saturday morning, most spots had Creighton favored by three for Sunday’s game vs. Baylor.

–Tim Miles has done a masterful job at Nebraska and in just his second season at the school, he had the Cornhuskers in the NCAAs for the first time since 1998. However, he was ejected midway through the second half against Baylor, as Nebraska fell to 0-7 all-time in the Tournament.

–Kevin Pangos scored 26 points to lead Gonzaga into the Round of 32 for the first time since 2011. The Bulldogs took out Oklahoma St. and ended the career of Marcus Smart. They will take on top-seeded Arizona on Sunday.

Ashley Judd had to be pleased to see the 'Cats advance to the Round of 32 with a win over K-St.

Ashley Judd had to be pleased to see the ‘Cats advance to the Round of 32 with a win over K-St.

–Kentucky won a 56-49 decision over Kansas St. late Friday night as a 6.5-point favorite. Before the game even started, the referees issued a technical foul against Kansas St. for dunking during warm-ups. However, replays showed that the rim wasn’t even touched on the alleged dunk. Seriously, how in the hell does an official have the audacity to make such a brutal call to start off an NCAA Tournament game?! Anyway, UK made one of the two free throws and that was the difference in who covered the number.

–Tulsa made a second-half run to pull to within five points of UCLA in the second half. But the Bruins responded and pulled away to win comfortably and cover the spread as 8.5-point ‘chalk.’ They will face Stephen F. Austin on Sunday.

–Stephen F. Austin still hasn’t lost since November. It can thank VCU’s JeQuan Lewis for that. Look, this wasn’t the stage Chris Webber was on when he called a timeout late in the 1993 finals against North Carolina when Michigan didn’t have any left. Therefore, it won’t be remembered as much, but this play was much worse in terms of utter stupidity. The Rams led by 10 with 3:16 remaining and by four with eight ticks left with Jordan Burgess going to the charity stripe to shoot two. Burgess missed both free throws. Stephen F. Austin then dribbled into the front court and Desmond Haymon buried a triple with 3.6 second left. This would normally be fine, but Lewis fouled Haymon, who made the subsequent free throw to force overtime. Kids at home: When your team is up by four with less than 10 seconds left and an opponent is going up for a 3-pointer, don’t even go anywhere near him! You hear me? You do not — under any circumstances — contest the shot. You do not get close enough to the shooter for the referee to even consider calling a foul. The Lumberjacks would end up winning 77-75 in the extra session. Shaka Smart’s career record in the NCAA Tourney fell to 7-4. SF-Austin will face UCLA on Sunday for the right to play in Memphis next Thursday against the Pitt-Florida winner.

–Speaking of Memphis, I’ll be flying in Wednesday afternoon for the South Region semifinals. And speaking of my Gators, they are 5.5-point favorites for Saturday’s 12:15 p.m. Easter tip against the Panthers in Orlando.

–We already saw a mediocre program make a great coaching hire earlier this week when Auburn signed Bruce Pearl. It happened again Saturday when Buzz Williams decided to leave Marquette to take the Va. Tech job. That’s a really good get for the Hokies, who fired James Johnson after he won 22 games in two season since replacing Seth Greenberg. “It’s never easy to leave a great school like Marquette, where I spent seven wonderful years, six as the head coach,” Williams said in a statement released by Virginia Tech. “I’ve heard tremendous things about this terrific institution and this is an outstanding opportunity to build a program.”

–Many in the industry believe that Marquette will target Ben Howland to be its next head coach. Howland took UCLA to three Final Four before getting fired after last season.

–ESPN’s Jeff Goodman reported Saturday that former UConn coach Jim Calhoun is interested in the vacant Boston College job. Calhoun is 71 but claims to be in good health.

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