NCAA Men's Tournament 2021: Saturday's Sweet 16 Winners and Losers
After a wild opening weekend of the 2021 NCAA men's basketball tournament, play resumed on Saturday with Sweet 16 action.
The 12th-seeded Oregon State Beavers continued their Cinderella run with a 65-58 victory over No. 8 Loyola-Chicago in a Midwest region that has featured one upset after another.
The second game of the day saw No. 1 seed Baylor survive its toughest test of the tournament with a 62-51 win over fifth-seeded Villanova.
The third game saw No. 15 seed Oral Roberts' unlikely Cinderella run come to an end in a thrilling 72-70 loss to No. 3 seed Arkansas. And the fourth saw the second-seeded Houston Cougars get a decisive win over No. 11 Syracuse.
Let's take a quick run through the biggest winners and losers of the day.
Loser: Squandered Late Opportunities for Loyola-Chicago
Not many teams can shoot 17.4 percent from the floor in the first half and still have a chance to win.
Despite those early struggles, the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers were right in the thick of things late in the second half, and a Tate Hall layup with 6:56 remaining trimmed the deficit to 45-39.
The Ramblers defense stepped up from there, holding the Beavers scoreless for the next two-and-a-half minutes, but their own offense was also silenced during that stretch as precious seconds ticked away.
An alley-oop to Aher Uguak made it a three-point game with 3:30 remaining, but the lead swelled back to seven points in less than a minute. A Keith Clemons three-pointer with 2:24 remaining again put the Ramblers on the cusp of coming back with the lead trimmed to four points, but they just couldn't get over the hump.
When an open three-point look from Braden Norris missed the mark with 49 seconds to play in a 56-51 game, it was clear the Ramblers were officially out of opportunities.
Their undoing proved to be a 5-of-23 shooting performance from beyond the arc against the Oregon State zone. Credit the Beavers for making it an uncomfortable game from start to finish, but the Ramblers had their chances to claw back into the game.
Winner: Effective 2-3 Zone Defense from Oregon State
An unexpected offensive explosion helped propel Oregon State to a surprise Pac-12 tournament victory and a win over No. 5 seed Tennessee in the first round.
Defense has extended the Beavers' tournament run.
They limited Oklahoma State to just 27.7 percent shooting in an 80-70 upset victory, mixing and matching defensive looks to keep the Cowboys from settling in offensively.
It was the 2-3 zone that shined against Loyola-Chicago, helping the Beavers punch their ticket to the Elite Eight for the first time in 39 years.
The Ramblers were limited to 4-of-23 shooting in the first half, and while they picked it up a bit in the second half, they still finished just 33.3 percent from the floor and 21.7 percent from beyond the arc. The Beavers also managed to pull down 34 rebounds despite leaning heavily on the zone approach.
If nothing else, the victory proved that Oregon State doesn't necessarily need to catch fire from downtown to continue its unlikely March run, as a disciplined defensive squad can be equally disruptive.
Loser: A Season-High in Turnovers for Villanova
Protect the basketball and pour in three-pointers.
That's what Villanova Wildcats teams coached by Jay Wright have done for years, and this season's team was no different with just 8.8 turnovers per game and 9.4 made threes per contest at a 35.8 percent clip.
Both strengths were negated on Saturday.
They set a season-high with 16 turnovers, and the Baylor Bears turned those giveaways into 22 points on the other end of the floor.
When they managed to get off a shot, they buried just three of 17 attempts from beyond the arc, and a 16-point game from Jermaine Samuels and 15-point showing from Justin Moore were not enough to overcome their lack of success with the deep ball.
Many had the Wildcats on upset watch in the first round after senior point guard Collin Gillespie was lost for the year with a torn MCL, so a tip of the cap to Villanova for reaching the Sweet 16. The Baylor defense was just too much for a team without its best ball-handler.
Winner: Surviving Disaster on a Cold Night for Baylor
The Baylor Bears are the most accurate three-point shooting team in the nation.
If you were watching them play for the first time, you might find that hard to believe, but they were shooting 41.5 percent from beyond the arc entering play against Villanova. They connected on just three of 19 from distance on Saturday.
Why are we mentioning this in the "winner" section of the article?
The Bears had previously shot below 30 percent from deep just three times this season. They were 1-2 in those games, with losses to Kansas and Oklahoma State and a scare against Big 12 doormat Iowa State.
Finding a way to win when their offensive bread and butter escaped them was a major statement for a team with title aspirations.
Davion Mitchell was the only starter in double figures with 14 points, and Adam Flagler provided a spark with a team-high 16 points and a pair of threes off the bench, but it was the defense that carried the day for the Bears.
They didn't have their best and still avoided disaster.
Loser: The Clock Strikes Midnight for Oral Roberts
The tournament's most compelling Cinderella story finally came to an end when a three-point attempt at the buzzer from Oral Roberts star Max Abmas narrowly missed its target.
The Golden Eagles gave No. 3 seed Arkansas everything it could handle in a 72-70 thriller, with postseason stars Max Abmas (25 points) and Kevin Obanor (12 points, 11 rebounds) again impressing.
A defense that had looked like the team's biggest weakness limited the Razorbacks to 37.7 percent shooting and 1-of-9 from beyond the arc, but a lack of effectiveness on the defensive boards proved to be their undoing.
Arkansas hauled down 18 offensive rebounds, and all of those second chances allowed them to overcome a mediocre shooting night.
So what's next for Oral Roberts?
The starting lineup on Saturday was three sophomores (including Abmas) and two juniors (including Obanor), so they could conceivably return the bulk of their rotation provided there are no transfers or early NBA aspirations.
The Cinderella run has ended, but expect them to be heavy favorites in the Summit League next season.
Winner: Davonte Davis with the Game-Winner for Arkansas
Oral Roberts forward Francis Lacis split a pair of free throws with 32 seconds left to tie the game at 70-70, giving Arkansas the opportunity to play for the last shot.
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman opted against calling a timeout, entrusting senior Jalen Tate to set up the final look.
He dribbled down the clock, then drove the lane and found Davonte Davis on the right wing. Davis dribbled around the closeout defender and buried a short jumper with four seconds remaining to put the Razorbacks up for good.
Davis, a 4-star recruit who was the No. 119 prospect in the 2020 recruiting class, played his way into the starting lineup around midseason and steadily developed into a reliable scorer for the Razorbacks.
He had 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting on Saturday, and it speaks volumes that he was entrusted with that final go-ahead attempt.
With seniors Justin Smith and Jalen Tate both set to move on and freshman star Moses Moody ticketed for a spot in the draft lottery, Davis will step into a prominent role next season. This clutch shot could be the start of a big career at Arkansas.
Loser: A Red-Hot Offense Is Extinguished for Syracuse
The Syracuse Orange were arguably the hottest offensive team in the nation entering the Sweet 16.
They hung 78 points on an excellent San Diego State defense in the opening round (the most any team had scored against the Aztecs this season), then eked out a 75-72 victory over West Virginia to reach the Sweet 16 as a No. 11 seed.
Buddy Boeheim scored 55 points in those two games, and entering play on Saturday, he was averaging 26.0 points per game on 54.0 percent shooting overall and 48.5 percent from beyond the arc in March.
However, the Houston Cougars defense was the superior group in the quest for a spot in the Elite Eight.
The Orange were held to a season-low 46 points on 14-of-50 shooting (28.0 percent) from the floor and 5-of-23 (21.7 percent) from beyond the arc.
Boeheim tied for the team-high with 12 points, but he did it on 3-of-13 from the field and 1-of-9 from long range in 36 minutes of action.
It was simply a dominant performance from one of the nation's elite defenses, extinguishing what had been a red-hot offensive squad.
Winner: A 10-0 First-Half Runs Seals Things Early for Houston
Three free throws from Syracuse star Buddy Boeheim tied the game at 20-20 with 4:56 remaining in the first half in what was shaping up to be a low-scoring, back-and-forth battle.
A Quentin Grimes three-pointer with 2:50 left on the clock sparked a flurry of offensive activity for Houston, and when the halftime buzzer sounded, the Cougars had ripped off a 10-0 run to take a 30-20 lead into the break.
The two teams didn't know it at the time, but the game was over.
A three-pointer by Kadary Richmond with 12:42 remaining in the second half trimmed the Houston lead to four points, but that's as close as things would get.
The lead had swelled back to double figures by the 6:51 mark and the Cougars cruised to victory behind another stellar game defensively and a well-balanced offensive attack that saw 15 assists on 23 made shots on the night.
A matchup with No. 12 seed Oregon State awaits in the Elite Eight, and after the Beavers conquered the Loyola-Chicago defense in the early game on Saturday, they can't be taken lightly.