Even without Anthony Davis, John Henson and the Zeller brothers in action, games were won and lost in the paint Thursday night.
It's where Michigan State ran into Gorgui Dieng, Louisville’s 6’11” roadblock.
Dieng led a dominant defensive performance from the Cardinals by tying the school tournament record with seven blocked shots. The sophomore also pulled down nine rebounds, and held Michigan State star Draymond Green to just 31 percent shooting from the field.
It's where C.J. Fair, Kris Joseph, and Baye Keita stepped up for the Orange to challenge the naysayers who wrote them off without Fab Melo.
The trio of post players combined for 40 percent of the scoring for Syracuse. Fair played his best game in weeks, shooting seven-of-nine for 15 points (his highest point total in over a month) with seven rebounds and four steals. The Syracuse frontline also held Wisconsin’s Jared Berggren to just two field goals in the second half, and none in the final 11 minutes.
It's where Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas shut down Yancy Gates and combined to score 49 of Ohio State’s 81 points in the double-digit win.
Cincinnati’s four-guard set never found an answer for Sullinger and Thomas, who together shot well over fifty percent and brought down as many rebounds (18) as Cincinnati’s entire starting five.
It's where Bradley Beal challenged Marquette’s physical frontline by driving straight to the basket.
ESPN writer Gene Wojciechowski described Marquette’s win over Murray State as “part MMA, part football, and all big-boy basketball.” Florida, however, was unfazed. Beal was a perfect five-of-five inside the three-point line, including twice driving past Marquette’s Todd Mayo for layups. Add in 19 boards and four blocks from forwards Erik Murphy and Patric Young, and the Gators sealed an early exit for the Golden Eagles.
With higher profile big-men set to tip off Friday, it’ll be a tall order to one-up the night frontcourt players had Thursday. But with names like Davis, Robinson and Zeller playing to stay alive, expect more tournament fates to be determined...in the paint.