NCAA Men's Tournament 2021: Friday's First-Round Winners and Losers

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 20, 2021

NCAA Men's Tournament 2021: Friday's First-Round Winners and Losers

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    Robert Franklin/Associated Press

    The first full day of action in the 2021 NCAA men's basketball tournament did not disappoint.

    For just the ninth time in tournament history, a No. 15 seed pulled off an upset of a No. 2 seed, and that was the tip of the iceberg on a day that delivered on the promise of March Madness.

    No. 15 Oral Roberts stunned No. 2 Ohio State in the South Region, and that was not the only upset of the day as college basketball fans everywhere were quickly reminded why these first two days of the NCAA tournament are the most exciting 48 hours in sports.

    Let's run through some winners and losers of the day's action before turning the page to another jam-packed slate of Saturday games.

Loser: An Ice-Cold Stretch by the Colgate Offense

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    Jack Ferguson
    Jack FergusonAssociated Press

    The second game of the day looked like it might produce the first big upset of the 2021 NCAA tournament.

    The high-scoring Colgate Raiders, who averaged 86.3 points per game coming into March Madness, came out firing against No. 3 Arkansas to build a 33-19 lead with five minutes, 27 seconds remaining in the first half.

    Then, the offense went ice cold.

    The Raiders didn't score again before the break and wound up trailing 36-33 at the half. By the time they finally got back into the scoring column with a three-pointer from Tucker Richardson at the 18:10 mark of the second half, their early momentum had evaporated entirely.

    Arkansas outscored them 49-35 in the second half en route to a commanding 17-point victory, with forward Justin Smith leading the way with a 29-point, 13-rebound effort.

    However, credit goes to the Razorbacks defense for forcing 22 turnovers that resulted in 34 points on the other end of the floor.

Winner: Supporting Players in the Florida vs. Virginia Tech Matchup

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    Colin Castleton
    Colin CastletonAssociated Press

    Tre Mann hit a huge three-pointer with 23 seconds left in overtime to give the Florida Gators a 74-70 lead, but he was not the story of the game.

    Junior post man Colin Castleton paced the Florida attack with 19 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks, tallying five points and three rebounds in overtime to wrap up arguably his best all-around game of the season.

    For a Florida team that has been without star Keyontae Johnson for most of the year, complementary players filling the void are nothing new.

    "It just shows who we are as a team, our character," Castleton told reporters. "We went through a lot of other stuff off the court, and this game today we went through a lot on the court."

    Virginia Tech leading scorer Keve Aluma finished with just seven points on 3-of-6 shooting, well below his season average of 15.6 points per game.

    Sophomore guard Nahiem Alleyne picked up the slack, pouring in 28 points on 8-of-18 shooting and 4-of-10 from beyond the arc, including the game-tying three-pointer with two seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime.

    Alleyne averaged 10.3 points per game during the regular season, and he kept the Hokies in the game with a career-high performance.

Loser: Georgia Tech Without ACC Player of the Year Moses Wright

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    Georgia Tech senior forward Moses Wright tallied 17.4 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game to emerge as a surprisingly dominant force while claiming ACC Player of the Year.

    A matchup with No. 8 seed Loyola of Chicago and well-rounded big man Cameron Krutwig was shaping up to be one of the best individual head-to-head battles of the first round before Wright was sidelined following a positive COVID-19 test.

    In his absence, the Yellow Jackets lost the rebounding battle 30-17 overall and 13-1 on the offensive boards, and the Ramblers made the most of those second chances.

    They connected on 11 of 27 from beyond the arc, helping offset an efficient offensive game from Georgia Tech, which shot 57.4 percent from the floor but went just 3-of-10 from distance.

    Krutwig was relatively quiet with 10 points and five rebounds, but he was one of four players in double figures for the Ramblers, led by Lucas Williamson with 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting.

    The reward for Loyola-Chicago? A second-round matchup with No. 1 seed Illinois in the Midwest Region.

Winner: Underdog Oral Roberts Joins Exclusive Company

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    Max Abmas
    Max AbmasAssociated Press

    Oral Roberts is not your average No. 15 seed.

    Sophomore guard Max Abmas led the nation with 24.4 points per game, knocking down 91 three-pointers at a 43.8 percent clip.

    He was complemented by a stellar Robin to his Batman in junior forward Kevin Obanor, who chipped in 18.2 points and 9.5 rebounds per game to earn All-Summit League honors for the second time.

    They were both at the top of their game against Ohio State on Friday.

    • Abmas: 29 points, 5 rebounds, 5-of-10 3PT
    • Obanor: 30 points, 11 rebounds, 5-of-12 3PT

    The result was a shocking 75-72 victory over the No. 2 seed Buckeyes in overtime, putting Oral Roberts on a short list of No. 15 seeds that have pulled off the first-round upset.

    It was just the ninth time in NCAA tournament history that a No. 15 seed has survived the opening round and the first since Middle Tennessee upset Michigan State in the 2016 tournament.

    Don't sleep on this Oral Roberts squad as a Sweet 16 threat.

Loser: The Cade Cunningham Hype (For Now)

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    Cade Cunningham
    Cade CunninghamAssociated Press

    First things first: Oklahoma State held off a dangerous Liberty team to avoid a first-round upset, so the Cowboys by definition were winners Friday.

    However, freshman phenom Cade Cunningham failed to impress.

    In what was the first opportunity for many to watch the projected No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA draft, a first-team All-American and Big 12 Player of the Year, the general consensus was a resounding "meh" from the couch critics.

    The dynamic 6'8" guard averaged 20.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists while shooting 45.4 percent from the floor and 41.2 percent from beyond the arc.

    He had just six points with three minutes left to play Friday, and while he closed strong with six free throws and a three-pointer down the stretch to help seal a 69-60 victory, the final stat line was still something of a clunker:

    • 15 points, 3-of-14 FG, 2-of-8 3PT, 1 assist, 4 turnovers

    The Cowboys advance to face Oregon State in the second round after the Beavers upset No. 5 Tennessee in another game worth a deeper dive...

Winner: Streaking Oregon State Stays Hot with Another Upset

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    Ethan Thompson
    Ethan ThompsonPaul Sancya/Associated Press

    With a 17-12 record on the year and a 10-10 record in conference play, Oregon State was well outside the NCAA tournament field when the Pac-12 tournament began.

    Three straight wins over a trio of tournament teams in UCLA, Oregon and Colorado earned the Beavers a conference tournament title and an automatic bid, and with a 6-1 record in their last seven games heading into Friday's matchup with No. 5 seed Tennessee, momentum was on their side.

    The two teams traded baskets to start the game before a Jarod Lucas three-pointer with 18:01 left in the first half gave Oregon State a 5-2 lead.

    That lead stood the rest of the game.

    Roman Silva led four players in double figures with 16 points, Ethan Thompson had a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, and the Beavers shot 48.2 percent from the field while connecting on 10 of 21 from beyond the arc.

    Meanwhile, the Volunteers were limited to just 33.3 percent from the floor and 5-of-26 from deep in a game that was never in doubt.

    The Beavers built a 33-19 halftime lead and cruised to a 70-56 victory.

Loser: A Lopsided Loss for North Carolina in the 8 vs. 9 Game

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    D'Mitrik Trice
    D'Mitrik TriceRobert Franklin/Associated Press

    On a day that featured multiple overtime games and several double-digit seeds keeping pace with major conference schools, one of the most lopsided scores came in what was expected to be a tight No. 8 vs. No. 9 battle between North Carolina and Wisconsin.

    It was an up-and-down year for the Tar Heels, but they finished the regular season on a high note with a 91-73 blowout victory over rival Duke before winning a pair of games in the ACC tournament and falling by just three points to Florida State in the semifinals.

    When the brackets were released, North Carolina looked like an intriguing dark horse to potentially give No. 1 seed Baylor a run for its money in the South Region.

    Instead, UNC was absolutely demolished by a Wisconsin Badgers team that staggered into the tournament with a 2-6 record in their last eight games.

    The Badgers used a 20-6 run to build a 40-24 lead going into halftime, and they didn't take their foot off the gas in the second half en route to an 85-62 win.

    Brad Davison and D'Mitrik Trice combined for 50 points, and the Badgers shot 50.8 percent from the floor, while the Tar Heels connected on just 38.5 percent of their attempts and struggled to find any consistent offensive flow.

Winner: Second Chance Realized for North Texas and Javion Hamlet

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    Javion Hamlet
    Javion HamletDarron Cummings/Associated Press

    What might have been for North Texas in the 2020 NCAA tournament.

    The Mean Green won the Conference USA regular-season title last year with a 14-4 record in conference play, while freshman Javion Hamlet won CUSA Player of the Year with 14.6 points and 4.7 assists per game.

    However, they were robbed of a chance to make a Cinderella run when the 2020 season was canceled.

    They slid down the standings this year, finishing with a 9-5 conference record before winning four games in four days and three straight against higher-seeded teams to claim the automatic bid.

    The Mean Green made the most of that second chance Friday with a 78-69 victory over No. 4 seed Purdue in overtime.

    And it was Hamlet who was the star of the night, finishing with 24 points, 12 rebounds and five assists while helping slam the door with an 8-of-8 showing at the free-throw line.

Loser: San DIego State Torched from Beyond the Arc

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    Buddy Boeheim
    Buddy BoeheimAJ Mast/Associated Press

    A stingy San Diego State defense entered the NCAA tournament with one clear weakness.

    "The Aztecs have the talent to reach the Elite Eight, provided they can avoid having an early opponent catch fire from downtown," wrote B/R's Kerry Miller, noting that opponents averaged more than 24 attempts per game from beyond the arc against them during the season.

    You can probably guess where this is going.

    On the strength of a red-hot 15-of-27 night from downtown, Syracuse hung 78 points on the Aztecs in a 16-point blowout win—the most they allowed all season.

    Junior guard Buddy Boeheim led the charge with 30 points on 11-of-15 from the field and 7-of-10 from deep, and No. 11 Syracuse sent No. 6 San Diego State packing in the Midwest Region.

    It's a disappointing end for a San Diego State team that was out to avenge the 2019-20 squad, which was destined for big things in the 2020 NCAA tournament that never was.

Winner: A Long-Awaited Tournament Win for Rutgers

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    The Rutgers Scarlet Knights have come a long way in five years under Steve Pikiell.

    When the former Stony Brook head coach made the jump to the major-conference level following the 2015-16 season, he inherited a 7-25 team that had won just three conference games in two years as a member of the Big Ten.

    Three more losing seasons followed before the team finally turned a corner last year with a 20-win season and an appearance in the AP poll for the first time since the 1978-79 campaign.

    A 15-11 overall record and a 10-10 showing in the gauntlet that was Big Ten play this year was enough for the Scarlet Knights to finally punch their ticket to the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 1990-91 season.

    In a back-and-forth game with No. 7 seed Clemson, the two teams were knotted at 55-55 with 4:12 remaining in the second half.

    Geo Baker hit a three-pointer to break the tie, and after both teams clamped down defensively, Baker came through again with a basket with 11 seconds remaining to seal the 60-56 victory and give Rutgers its first tournament win in 38 years.

    Up next is No. 2 seed Houston, which cruised to a 31-point victory over Cleveland State.


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