NCAA Tournament 2021: Winners and Losers of First Four
The 2021 men's NCAA tournament is officially underway.
While the first Thursday of March Madness wasn't the usual cornucopia of basketball action with everything pushed back a day, it did feature some entertaining play-in action to kick off this year's festivities.
Texas Southern started the night with a 60-52 victory over Mount St. Mary's, and that ended up being the most lopsided game.
In a matchup of No. 11 seeds, Drake beat Wichita State 53-52 in the second game of the night, followed by another one-point game when Norfolk State held on for a 54-53 win over Appalachian State.
The final game of the night between Michigan State and UCLA went to overtime, and after trailing by 11 points at halftime, the Bruins came away with an 86-80 victory to send the Spartans packing.
Let's put a bow on Thursday's action with a a quick rundown of some notable winners and losers.
Winner: Texas Southern Starts Second Half on Fire
It must have been a rousing speech from Texas Southern coach Johnny Jones at halftime after the Tigers put together a disappointing first half and trailed 30-20 in the opening game of the 2021 NCAA tournament.
The Tigers looked like a different team when they came back out onto the floor.
In a little over three minutes, they flipped that deficit into an advantage with an 11-0 run, seizing command of the game in the process.
John Walker lll scored six straight points during that run and 13 of his game-high 19 points after the break, finishing well above his season average of 12 points per game.
That sparked the Tigers to a 40-22 advantage in the second half and paved the way for them to move on to a matchup with No. 1 seed Michigan on Saturday.
With a nonconference schedule that included matchups against Oklahoma State, BYU, Auburn and Saint Mary's and a 15-1 record in their last 16 games, the Tigers won't be overwhelmed by the stage or quality of opponent.
Loser: Wichita State Squanders a Double-Digit Lead
A dunk from Dexter Dennis with 9:26 to play in the second half gave Wichita State a 41-31 lead over Drake, and the Shockers appeared to have the game well in hand.
Or so it seemed.
After nearly four minutes without a made field goal in which they settled for three shots from beyond the arc and a fourth jumper, their lead had evaporated to a narrow 43-42 margin when Trey Wade finally found the bottom of the net again with 5:28 to play.
That set up a back-and-forth finish that saw three lead changes before Drake finally took the lead for good with 2:23 to play, holding on for the victory despite the Shockers getting a fairly clean look for three that would have won it at the buzzer.
Wichita State had won 11 straight meetings between the two teams and holds a 104-48 advantage in the all-time series, but it was the Bulldogs who came out on top this time around.
Winner: Joseph Yesufu Shoulders the Load for Drake
With leading scorer ShanQuan Hemphill limited to 10 minutes in his return from a broken foot and point guard Roman Penn still sidelined, someone needed to shoulder the offensive load for the Drake Bulldogs.
Joseph Yesufu answered the call.
The Missouri Valley Conference Sixth Man of the Year had some big games on his resume during the regular season, including 36 and 32 points on back-to-back nights against Evansville and three other 20-point performances.
He added another 20-point night to the ledger on Thursday, tallying a team-high 21 points despite a high-volume 8-of-21 shooting night from the floor.
The 6'0" guard made them when it mattered most, scoring 12 points in the final 10 minutes as the Bulldogs closed the gap and took the lead.
He hit a pair of free throws with 22 seconds to play to make it a four-point game, and that ended up being the difference after Wichita State made a late three.
Winner: Jalen Hawkins Scores Career-High 24 Points for Norfolk State
Jalen Hawkins played just 16.9 minutes per game during the regular season for the Norfolk State Spartans, but he provided solid offense off the bench with 9.4 points per game.
He picked the perfect time for the best game of his career.
The 6'2" junior poured in 24 points on 8-of-13 shooting and 4-of-5 from beyond the arc, and he already had a career-high 20 points at halftime as the Spartans built a 36-20 lead while holding Appalachian State to 19 percent shooting from the field.
The Mountaineers stormed back in the second half before Norfolk State eked out a 54-53 victory after scoring just 18 points in the second half, but the story of the night was still the huge performance Hawkins turned in off the bench.
Norfolk State now has the privilege of playing No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga on Saturday.
Loser: A Head-Scratching End to Regulation for Michigan State
Even when things were going right en route to building an 11-point halftime lead, the Michigan State Spartans never quite seemed to all be on the same page on Thursday night.
The lead disappeared as the second half progressed and ultimately disappeared, but the Spartans still had a chance to win it with the score tied 77-77.
With 17 seconds to play, Tom Izzo called a timeout to draw up a play for the last shot of regulation.
That play ended up being nine seconds of dribbling and a contested long two-point shot from Aaron Henry that didn't come close to hitting the rim. The shot was partially blocked but out of bounds on Henry on the follow through of the shot, and the game went to overtime after UCLA missed a half-court heave.
Was that really the best play the Spartans could draw up?
The Bruins scored the first four points of overtime and held on for an 86-80 victory, and a Spartans team that finished with a flourish in Big Ten play saw its tournament run end before it even started.
Winner: The Dynamic Duo of Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Johnny Juzang for UCLA
The UCLA Bruins took 67 shots on Thursday night on their way to an 86-80 overtime victory, and 40 of them were uncorked by the frontcourt tandem of Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Johnny Juzang.
They connected on 50 percent of those attempts and both had huge nights offensively.
- Jaquez: 45 minutes, 11-of-20 shooting, 27 points
- Juzang: 41 minutes, 9-of-20 shooting, 23 points
It was a career high for the sophomore Jaquez, who had 25 points against Arizona earlier this year, while the Kentucky transfer Juzang had four 20-point performances this season and a career-high 32 against Washington in February.
Unfortunately, it wasn't all good news for that duo.
Juzang rolled an ankle in overtime and had to be helped off the court, and with a quick turnaround on Saturday against No. 6 seed BYU, recovery time is limited.
Nevertheless, it was a stellar comeback win for UCLA.
All stats courtesy of Sports Reference.