NCAA Tournament 2019: Winners and Losers of Wednesday's First Four Games

Sean Highkin@highkinFeatured ColumnistMarch 21, 2019

NCAA Tournament 2019: Winners and Losers of Wednesday's First Four Games

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    With the conclusion of Wednesday night's First Four games, the full field of 64 teams is set for the 2019 NCAA men's basketball tournament.

    The North Dakota State Bison pulled out a 78-74 win over the North Carolina Central Eagles to advance and will face the top-seeded Duke Blue Devils on Friday.

    In the second half of the First Four doubleheader between a pair of No. 11 seeds, Arizona State defeated St. John's 74-65. The Sun Devils will face No. 6 Buffalo in the round of 64.

    Here's everything you need to know about the second night of First Four games.

Winner: Tyson Ward, North Dakota State

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    Junior guard Tyson Ward led all scorers with 23 points to power the Bison to a victory over the Eagles. Eleven of those points came in the first half, in which NDSU outscored NC Central 40-34, building a cushion at halftime that allowed them to hang on for the win.

    Ward's performance comes on the heels of the best statistical season of his college career. Over 32 contests, he averaged 12.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game.

    Now, Ward and the Bison are in line to face a star-studded Duke team led by freshman phenom Zion Williamson in the round of 64.

Loser: NC Central's Bench

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    If there was one glaring difference between North Dakota State and North Carolina Central on Wednesday night, it was their bench play. The Bison got 17 points from their reserves, while the Eagles got zero.

    Junior forward Jibri Blount was the only NC Central reserve who played a significant amount of time, but he missed his only field-goal attempt and both free throws in those 11 minutes. NDSU got much more from its bench players: Tyree Eady and Cameron Hunter contributed seven points apiece, and Deng Geu added three.

    This depth allowed the Bison to keep their starters fresh down the stretch, which contributed to their ability to hold NC Central at bay and earn a spot in the first round.

Winner: NDSU's Three-Point Shooting

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    In addition to its bench players, North Dakota State won the game from the three-point line. The Bison connected on 45.0 percent of their attempts Wednesday night, shooting 9-of-20 from beyond the arc as a team.

    Junior guard Jared Samuelson led the way with three triples, but their outside shooting attack was balanced. Each of their five starters made at least one, and junior guard Tyson Ward hit two. Tyree Eady contributed a triple of his own off the bench as well.

    The Eagles' own three-point scoring was much less balanced in comparison. Only three players in total made at least one trey, and the team as a whole shot 42.9 percent from deep. 

Loser: NC Central's Tournament Record

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    Neither of the schools in the first Wednesday matchup have an extensive NCAA tournament history. Both teams have just four March Madness appearances apiece, and all have come within the past 10 years.

    North Carolina Central is now 0-4 in the tournament and ended Wednesday night still looking for its first March Madness win as a school. This was the Eagles' third consecutive year being eliminated in the First Four; they lost to Texas Southern last year and UC Davis in 2017.

    North Dakota State, meanwhile, picked up its second NCAA tournament win in program history and will look to build on that momentum against No. 1 Duke on Friday.

Winner: Luguentz Dort, Arizona State

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    Arizona State freshman guard Luguentz Dort took a hard fall early in the second half of Wednesday night's game. He drew a flagrant foul on St. John's guard Mustapha Heron while going up for a rebound but had to head to the sideline shortly after to receive medical attention.

    However, he returned a few minutes later and ended his night with an impressive 21-point performance in which he shot 6-of-11 from the field. ASU forward Zylan Cheatham provided reinforcements on the offensive end, posting a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, but this game was won by Dort's resilience.

Loser: St. John's Tournament Drought

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    In the 1990s, St. John's was a relatively consistent presence in the NCAA men's tournament, advancing to the Elite Eight in 1991 and 1999 and making three more appearances in between.

    Since then, successes have been few and far between, at least as far as March Madness is concerned. The Red Storm haven't won a tournament game since 2000, when they took down No. 15 Northern Arizona in the first round before being upset by No. 10 Gonzaga in the round of 32.

    Since then, St. John's has only made three tournament appearances, including this year. In the previous two trips, they lost in the first round both times. They'll have to wait at least another year to end that drought.

Winner: Arizona State's Defense

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    Arizona State's physical defense has been a calling card all season, and it paid off for the Sun Devils in the First Four on Wednesday. They held St. John's to 31.9 percent shooting from the field and played them tough all night.

    Despite that physical play, the ASU defense was also successful in keeping St. John's off the foul line. The Sun Devils allowed just 23 free-throw attempts while getting to the line 33 times themselves. It was a recipe for success that resulted in a trip to face the Buffalo Bulls on Friday.

Loser: St. John's from Beyond the Arc

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    The Red Storm were letting it fly from three-point range all night, with 31 of their 69 shot attempts coming from beyond the arc. It would have been a formula for success if they had made more of them, but they connected on just eight for a 25.8 percent success rate.

    St. John's guard Shamorie Ponds scored nearly half of his game-high 25 points on three-pointers, hitting four of 12 attempts. Sophomore guard L.J. Figueroa shot 3-of-5 from deep as well. The rest of the Red Storm players combined to go just 1-for-14 from three. Against a defense like Arizona State's, that isn't going to get it done.