Thursday's NCAA roundup: Florida State upends Gonzaga, faces Michigan
Los Angeles — Florida State’s upset run in the NCAA Tournament has stretched all the way to the brink of the Final Four.
Terance Mann scored 18 points and the ninth-seeded Seminoles advanced to the Elite Eight for just the third time in school history with a 75-60 victory over fourth-seeded Gonzaga on Thursday night in the West Region semifinal.
C.J. Walker and Braian Angola added nine points for the Seminoles (23-11), who knocked out a third straight higher-seeded opponent in a surprising run out West for a team that went 9-9 in ACC play and lost its conference tournament opener.
Coolly maintaining a lead down the stretch at Staples Center, Florida State ended Gonzaga’s 16-game winning streak and halted the pursuit of a second straight Final Four berth for last year’s tournament finalist.
“It’s not any time to start celebrating right now,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “These guys are working hard. We’ve worked hard all year. Not very many people think we have a chance to be where we are.”
Hamilton’s best postseason run in his 16 years at Florida State is extended to Saturday, when the Seminoles will face third-seeded Michigan for a trip to the Final Four in San Antonio. The Wolverines advanced with a 99-72 rout of Texas A&M.
Florida State followed up its stunning comeback against top-seeded Xavier last weekend with a steady, dominant second half against Gonzaga. The Seminoles jumped to a 13-point lead early in the second half and never let their margin dip below four, with Mann providing the biggest buckets along the way.
Rui Hachimura scored 16 points and Zach Norvell Jr. added 14 for the Zags (32-5), who hadn’t lost since Jan. 18. Already playing without injured forward Killian Tillie, the Zags struggled when forwards Johnathan Williams and Hachimura got into early foul trouble.
After a season of running away from West Coast Conference opponents, Gonzaga played from behind for much of the night at Staples Center, even trailing at halftime for only the sixth time all season.
The Zags fell behind by 13 early in the second half while the Seminoles defended the perimeter well and moved the ball fluidly. Florida State was even more dominant than usual around the rim, and Mann led a parade of scorers from all spots on the court.
Kansas State 61, Kentucky 58: Xavier Sneed scored 22 points and Bobby Brown Jr. came through with the shot of the game, banking one in with his left hand before he sprawled out on the court to give gritty K-State a victory over Kentucky in the South Region semifinals in Atlanta.
Demeaned by many pundits as the worst team still alive in the NCAA Tournament, ninth-seeded K-State got the last laugh against a program that holds eight national titles.
Next up: the regional final against No. 11 seed Loyola, which continued its stunning run in the tournament with a victory over Nevada.
Yep, it’s 9 vs. 11 in the Elite Eight for the first time in tournament history, with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
Just the way it should be in a regional that became the first in NCAA history to have the top four seeds knocked out the very first weekend, including No. 1-ranked Virginia.
Sneed wasn’t around at the end – he was among three players from Kansas State (25-11) to foul out – but Brown seized the moment with 18 seconds remaining.
Brown’s basket made it 60-58, but Kentucky still had a shot. Two of them, in fact.
Quade Green put up an airball from beyond the arc and Kansas State rebounded, drawing a foul that sent Amaad Wainright to the line for two free throws. He made only one, giving Kentucky (26-11) one more chance to force overtime.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander got a decent look at the basket. His shot rimmed out as the horn sounded.
“I just see a lot of grit, a lot of guys that love each other,” Brown said. “We play defense the right way and just play for each other.”
John Calipari was denied a shot at his fifth Final Four in nine seasons as Kentucky’s coach. Fears that his young players would “drink the poison” – the belief that they had an easy path to San Antonio thanks to all the upsets – turned out to be well-founded.
“We didn’t play particularly well for us but still had a chance to win,” Calipari said. “The game was physical. … It kind of got us a little out of rhythm and it wears you down. I think Shai got a little worn down “
P.J. Washington led Kentucky with 18 points. Gilgeous-Alexander was just 2-of-10 shooting, scoring most of his 15 points at the foul line.
With a predominantly blue-clad crowd cheering on Kentucky at Philips Arena – yep, it was definitely “Cat-lanta” – Kansas State raced out to a 13-1 lead before the game was 4 minutes old.
Kentucky finally woke up, closing the gap to 33-29 by halftime. But both teams struggled offensively, and every time it looked like the perennial powerhouse might be on the verge of taking control, K-State had a response.
Chicago Loyola 69, Nevada 68: With Loyola clinging to a one-point lead and only 6.3 seconds remaining, Marques Townes nailed the decisive 3-pointer to help clinch a win over Nevada in the NCAA South Region semifinal in Atlanta. “I’ll probably remember it for the rest of my life,” Townes said. “I mean, it doesn’t really get any better than that.”
Following a timeout, Nevada’s Caleb Martin answered with a 3, but this time the Wolf Pack couldn’t extend their string of second-half comebacks in the tournament.
The win leaves the No. 11th-seeded Ramblers, the biggest surprise in a regional that has lost its top four seeds, one victory from a Final Four appearance. Loyola (31-5), which has won three tournament games by a combined four points, awaits the winner of the Kansas State-Kentucky game in Saturday’s regional final.
Not bad for a program that hadn’t been in the Sweet 16 in 33 years.
On a team that shares the spotlight, this was Townes’ moment. He made each of his two 3s and led Loyola with five assists. He said he was fine after banging knees with Nevada’s Jordan Caroline at the end of the game.
“I think Marques Townes is the best player on the court tonight,” said Loyola guard Clayton Custer. “I don’t even think it was close, either. … This is unbelievable. Feels like a dream.”
Martin led Nevada (29-8) with 21 points. Twin brother Cody Martin had 16. Jordan Carolina added 19.
“We get a stop on the 3 they shot at the buzzer and maybe we’re sitting up here with a win,” said Nevada coach Eric Musselman.
NCAA Tournament: Friday’s games
Duke (28-7) vs. Syracuse (23-13)
What and where: Midwest Region semifinal; Omaha, Neb.; 9:37 p.m.
Zone vs. Zone: It’s a rare meeting of two teams that play zone defenses. The 2-3 long has been Syracuse’s staple under Jim Boeheim. The Blue Devils went to the 2-3 in mid-February after their lineup of four freshmen and one senior struggled defensively.
Last time: Duke won the regular-season meeting 60-44 at home on Feb. 24. The teams combined to miss their first 24 3-pointers, and Duke didn’t reach 30 points until 131/2 minutes remained. Duke has won six of 11 all-time meetings.
Short bench: The zone defense and slow-paced offense allow Syracuse’s starters to play almost the entire game, barring foul trouble. The Orange have three of the nation’s top six players in minutes logged. Tyus Battle ranks first with an average of 38 minutes, 58 seconds per game; Frank Howard is second at 38:25 and Oshae Brissett is sixth at 38:05.
Kansas (29-7) vs. Clemson (25-9)
What and where: Midwest Region semifinal; Omaha, Neb.; 7:07 p.m.
Bottom line: The Jayhawks are the top seed and will have what should amount to a home game on a neutral floor. But Clemson raised eyebrows with a 31-point thrashing of Auburn to reach the Sweet Sixteen, and the Tigers have the kind of deep and experienced backcourt that can lead a tourney run in March.
A basketball school? Clemson has made three consecutive College Football Playoff appearances and won it all following the 2016 season. But the Sweet Sixteen is a rarity for the Tigers, who haven’t been here in 21 years.
Did you know: The Tigers and Jayhawks have never played each other, and Clemson has only played once in Omaha. The Tigers lost to Creighton 87-67 in 1962. … Kansas has been in the NCAA Tournament 47 times and reached the Final Four 14 times. Former Michigan forward Mark Donnal — a graduate transfer — is a reserve for Clemson.
West Virginia (26-10) vs. Villanova (32-4)
What and where: East Region; Boston; 7:27 p.m.
Bottom line: Villanova is one of two top seeds left in the tournament. West Virginia has been one of the best-looking teams in the field, with wins of 17 and 23 points in the first two rounds.
Friendly confines: Villanova had good luck the last time it played in the East regional in Boston. The Wildcats were a No. 3 seed in 2009 when they reached the Final Four.
Offense vs. defense: West Virginia shot over 50 percent in both of its tournament wins. Villanova held its first two opponents — Radford and Alabama — to 40 of 107 shooting from the field (37.4 percent) and 59.5 points per game.
Texas Tech (26-9) vs. Purdue (30-6)
What and where: East Region; Boston; Friday at 9:57 p.m.
Bottom line: The Boilermakers are in the Sweet 16 for the second straight season. The Red Raiders are in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005 and are hoping to make the Elite Eight for the first time in program history.
Evans show: Texas Tech senior guard Keenan Evans comes in averaging 17.8 points per game and has posted 23 and 22 points in their first two tournament wins.
Stats watch: Purdue is ranked second nationally in 3-point percentage (42 percent). The Boilermakers’ offense is ranked second in KenPom’s offensive efficiency ratings, behind Villanova. Two of Texas Tech’s top scoring threats are freshmen Jarrett Culver and Zhaire Smith, who have combined for 798 points this season.