March Madness 2014: Examining Key Players in Early NCAA Tournament Upsets

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March Madness 2014: Examining Key Players in Early NCAA Tournament Upsets
Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

If you needed more proof that the playing field in college basketball is becoming more even, the early part of Thursday's second-round action in the NCAA tournament served as a prime example.

By the early evening, No. 12 Harvard and No. 11 Dayton had punched their respective tickets to the third round with victories over favored opponents. Meanwhile, No. 16 seed Albany gave No. 1 overall seed Florida a bit of a scare, hanging tough until the Gators finally pulled away in the second half.

Here's a look at the early upset victories and the key contributors for the Crimson and Flyers on Thursday afternoon.

 

All Your Bracket Essentials:

 

(12) Harvard 61, (5) Cincinnati 57

Coach Tommy Amaker has cultivated a strong basketball program at Harvard in recent years, something almost unheard of from Ivy League schools in the past. Hired in 2007, Amaker has led the Crimson to the tournament in each of the past three seasons, ending an NCAA tournament drought that dated back to 1946. 

Last year, Harvard stunned the basketball world by beating No. 3 New Mexico as a No. 14 seed, but Harvard was a popular upset pick heading into this matchup. On Thursday, the Crimson (27-4) was able withstand a hounding Cincinnati defense while limiting the Bearcats (27-7) to 36.8 percent shooting in a 61-57 victory.

"I've heard this before where there really aren't upsets anymore," Amaker said, via Tim Booth of the Associated Press. "There may be some surprises, but I just think when you're looking at seeds and if you're playing this time of year, you're probably a pretty good basketball team."

Up next, Harvard will have to take on a talented No. 4 Michigan State squad in the third round in Spokane, Wash.

 

Siyani Chambers

Steve Dykes/Getty Images

With three minutes left in the second half and the clock winding down, sophomore guard Siyani Chambers was mired in a bad game.

He was 1-for-9 from the field, including 1-for-5 from three-point range and had just six points. But in the final stages, Chambers hit a key jumper to put Harvard up 56-53, before nailing 3 of 4 free throws to keep the Crimson in front for good.

Throughout the course of the season, the sophomore guard developed a leadership role on the team, as detailed by Julian Benbow of The Boston Globe. On Thursday, Chambers showed why he can be such a big player for this team despite being listed at 6'0", 170 pounds.

Testing his abilities against a talented backcourt like Michigan State's should be a nice barometer for Chambers in the third round.

 

Wesley Saunders

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Fellow guard Wesley Saunders also had a productive game for the Crimson, adding to his resume after winning Ivy League Player of the Year honors.

Not only did Saunders score a team-high 12 points (4-of-9) for Harvard, but he dished out a game-high four assists. The junior also iced the game with a pair of free throws with 12 seconds remaining, putting Harvard up 61-55.

Jay Bilas of ESPN spoke highly of the 6'5", 215-pound Saunders following the Crimson victory on Thursday.

Saunders has established himself as a solid all-around player the past two years. This season, he's averaging 14 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.7 per game, and now he has two tournament wins under his belt in two years.

 

(11) Dayton 60, (6) Ohio State 59

In an intrastate clash of Ohio basketball powers, the underdog Dayton Flyers knocked out the Ohio State Buckeyes on Thursday afternoon with a 60-59 victory in Buffalo, N.Y.

From the get-go, you could tell it was going to be a close game as the teams exchanged blows. The final stages featured a flurry of buckets from both sides, but the Flyers stood tall against the the Buckeyes, the heralded program from the Big Ten.

It was an emotional scene in the locker room following the game with players dancing around. John Wawrow of the Associated Press shared the sentiment from Dayton players following their momentous victory.

"I guess they called us the little brother, or whatever," Flyers guard Jordan Sibert said. "We can't be called that anymore."

Sibert has seen it from both sides after transferring to Dayton following two seasons at Ohio State.

"To be able to go out there and play with this group of guys, to be able to come up with this win, it's unbelievable," Sibert said.

The Flyers are used to playing top-level competition after holding their own in the competitive Atlantic 10 Conference. Now they're set to face Syracuse on Saturday in what should be a tough, on-the-road environment in upstate New York.

 

Vee Sanford

There was no doubting the hero on Thursday in Buffalo.

With 10.8 seconds left, and his team trailing by one, Vee Sanford took the ball for Dayton near midcourt, before driving to his right and shaking Ohio State's Aaron Craft. With a running floater that bounced off the backboard and in, Sanford gave Dayton a 60-59 lead.

"No, I wasn't nervous," said Sanford, per Wawrow. "We've drawn up a play like that, and I messed it up previously. But (coach Archie Miller) just kept his trust in me, and I'm just thankful that the shot went in."

Just moments earlier, Craft converted a wild, spinning layup in traffic to give the Buckeyes a one-point lead. Craft tried to answer Sanford's big shot with a desperate runner of his own, but it clanked out and he lay on the floor as his storied career ended and Dayton celebrated.

Sanford finished with 10 points in 21 minutes off the bench for Dayton, and it couldn't have been a more fitting ending. As Dan Greene of Sports Illustrated detailed, Sanford has been practicing those types of shots his whole life while practicing against his 6'6" father and former college player Vince Sanford.

 

Dyshawn Pierre

Bill Wippert/Associated Press

The 6'6" forward was a consistent force on the boards throughout the contest, pulling down a game-high eight rebounds.

And even though he only took two field-goal attempts on the afternoon, converting both of them, Dyshawn Pierre finished with 12 points. That's because he played a starring role in the entertaining final minute, hitting three of his seven free throws after being fouled behind the arc.

But Pierre will have to be safer the next time he and his teammates celebrate a victory. Nate Scott of USA Today noted how Pierre was nearly leveled as he jumped up in the player mob at midcourt after the game.

Syracuse has a big, physical front line, so Pierre will have to continue to be a big rebounding force for the Flyers to keep advancing.

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