The Southern University Jaguars put up an admirable fight, but again, the Cinderella story didn't pan out for a No. 16 seed in the NCAA tournament as they lost to the No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs, 64-58, in Salt Lake City on Thursday.
Forward-center Kelly Olynyk led the way for Gonzaga with 21 points and 10 rebounds, dominating the undersized Jaguars both inside the paint and on the outside. The Bulldogs' leading scorer was critical to keeping their lead in the second half, including a run where he scored 15 of the team's first 17 points to begin the final 20 minutes.
Olynyk's greatness was able to make up for a mostly benign performance from Elias Harris. Gonzaga's second-leading scorer on the season was only 2-of-10 from the field, scoring five points and grabbing eight rebounds.
Southern was attempting to become the first No. 16 seed to advance past the Round of 64 in the Big Dance. Derick Beltran, who matched Olynyk's game-high 21 points, led the Jaguars with a sterling performance.
In spite of Beltran's great showing, Gonzaga was able to escape by the skin of its teeth. The Bulldogs will play Wichita State on Saturday in the Round of 32 West Region matchup.
Starting the game on a 7-0 run, it felt like Gonzaga was going to have a walk in the park early on. Olynyk and Harris both got early buckets, and the Bulldogs' bigs looked like they could overpower the undersized Southern squad.
But as it would all half—and all game—Southern bounced right back. The Jaguars chipped away instantly at the lead with two Malcolm Miller three-pointers and a Brandon Moore jumper, and within two minutes had captured their first lead of the game.
That opening sequence would tell the story for the whole first half. Gonzaga continually tried to break the low-scoring affair open by taking two- and three-possession leads, but Southern would not back down against the monolith staring them in the face.
The two sides battled up and down the court, each going on mini scoring spurts before faltering. For each Kevin Pangos three-pointer that gave Gonzaga a 28-21 lead, there was another shot from long distance by Beltran to bring the game back within one score. Southern got as close as a one-point deficit in the first half's waning moments before walking into the second half down 34-31.
After the halftime break, many expected the Bulldogs to pull away in the second half as many top-seeded teams have in the past. But Southern was no typical No. 16 seed on Thursday.
Gonzaga started out the second half strong. Olynyk took over as a one-man wrecking crew, scoring those aforementioned 15 quick points to put the Bulldogs ahead, 52-41, midway through the second half.
With their backs against the wall, Southern once again battled back. It went on a 13-2 run capped off by two Brandon Moore free throws that brought the score to 54-54 with 4:08 remaining.
But despite the valiant effort, a tie was as close as Southern could get. A George Bell Jr. three-pointer gave Gonzaga its final lead of the game with 3:22 remaining and the team held on from there.
Despite pulling for Gonzaga, ABC's Josh Elliott could not deny how entertaining Southern's performance was on Thursday:
Oh...this is just so good. And I'm pulling for Gonzaga. But...yep. Good.— Josh Elliott (@JoshElliottABC) March 21, 2013
ESPN's Stats & Information Twitter feed offers a jarring stat on how historic this near-upset was:
Southern's 6-point loss is the closest by a 16-seed against a 1-seed since 1996, when Western Carolina lost by 2 against Purdue.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 21, 2013
Though he had a strong game, Oakland Athletics pitcher Jarrod Parker was apparently unimpressed with either Olynyk's performance or hair style:
Who goes first in WNBA draft?... Griner or Olynyk #LotteryPicks— Jarrod Parker (@JarrodBParker) March 21, 2013
Bleacher Report NBA lead writer Jonathan Wasserman's thoughts on Olynyk were more complimentary—kind of:
Kelly Olynyk is gracefully awkward. If that makes any sense.— Jonathan Wasserman (@NBADraftWass) March 21, 2013
ESPN's Jay Williams wonders whether being scared this early will be a good or bad thing for Gonzaga:
Is this a good sign or a bad sign for Gonzaga??? @espncbb— Jay Williams (@RealJayWilliams) March 21, 2013
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