Those kids from Harvard are getting a passing grade when it comes to the first game of the NCAA tournament.
Ask New Mexico last year. Ask Cincinnati now.
“I’ve heard this before where there really aren’t upsets anymore,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “There may be some surprises, but I just think when you’re looking at seeds and if you’re playing this time of year, you’re probably a pretty good basketball team.”
Siyani Chambers scored 11 points, including five straight in the final 2 minutes, and 12th-seeded Harvard won its second NCAA tournament game in history, upsetting Cincinnati 61-57 on Thursday.
Wesley Saunders led the Crimson (27-4) with 12 points as Harvard proved last year’s upset of New Mexico as a 14 seed was no fluke. The Crimson became the first Ivy League school with NCAA tournament wins in consecutive years since Princeton in 1983-84. They will play either Michigan State or Delaware in the third round.
Harvard never trailed after the opening moments. They played with confidence and scrap against the fifth-seeded Bearcats, who shared the American Athletic Conference regular season title. Sean Kilpatrick led Cincinnati (27-7) with 18 points, but the Bearcats failed to win a tournament game for the second straight year.
There was a reason Harvard was a popular pick on bracket sheets around the country. Even President Barack Obama was on Harvard to take out the Bearcats.
“Getting a victory in this kind of environment and this kind of setting is very exciting,” Chambers said. “You can never describe it, no matter how many times you do it.”
But don’t call it an upset. At least not in the eyes of Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin or Amaker. Last year’s win over New Mexico was the time for celebration. This victory — as evidenced by the subdued locker room — was expected by the Crimson.
“In my mind, today’s game was anything but an upset,” Cronin said. “They’ve got a great team. Tough draw for us. In my opinion, they’re one of the best teams we played all year.”
The reason Harvard was a popular pick: defense and balance. All five starters averaged in double figures for the season and that balance was needed against Cincinnati’s aggressive defense. Laurent Rivard, the Crimson’s 3-point specialist, finished with 11 points, while Steve Moundou-Missi and Brandyn Curry both scored nine.
Harvard improved to 15-0 this season when holding its opponent to 60 points or less. They entered the tournament with the 13th-best scoring defense in the country. That defense helped overcome a shaky performance at the free throw line where Harvard was 17 of 28.
“We definitely want to make a statement that we can compete at the national level,” Moundou-Missi said. “I think we showed up today and we did a good job. Now we get to move on.”
Cincinnati had its chances. Justin Jackson finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds, but the Bearcats shot only 37 percent from the field and missed a number of shots around the rim.
“We had way too many empty trips,” Cronin said.
Leading by seven points at halftime and having withstood Saunders spending 10 minutes of the first half on the bench with foul trouble, Harvard withstood the early second-half push from the Bearcats. Jackson’s dunk while being fouled and subsequent free throw pulled Cincinnati within 42-39 and Titus Rubles’ driving layup later trimmed the margin to 45-43.
The Crimson then forced turnovers on three straight possessions. Saunders flipped in a driving finger roll to push the lead to five. As Harvard went to the bench for a timeout, Chambers grinned and Amaker pumped his fists in approval.
Harvard was not going to be denied another moment. They got second and third chances at their own misses. They littered the court scrounging for loose balls.
Cincinnati went more than 5 minutes without scoring.
But the Bearcats fought back and cut the lead to one before Chambers stepped up. He hit a pullup 17-footer with 1:57 left for a 56-53 lead. Kyle Casey then drew an offensive foul against Kilpatrick with 1:33 left.
Chambers hit three free throws in the final minute and Saunders sealed it hitting two more with 11 seconds left, setting off the celebration that included the giant Harvard flag waving at midcourt.
“We all talked about just living up to our values and our standards and doing the things that have gotten us to this point,” Saunders said. “We felt as though if we were able to do that, that we would have a great chance of coming out with a victory. Luckily we were able to do that.”
MICHIGAN ST. 93, DELAWARE 78
SPOKANE, Wash. – Adreian Payne scored a career-high 41 points to get Michigan State off to a solid start in the NCAA tournament.
Payne, a 6-foot-10 senior, scored 12 straight points in the first half to help the fourth-seeded Spartans (27-8) to an 18-point lead.
He set an NCAA tournament record by making all 17 of his free throws and broke the program’s tournament scoring record, set previously by Greg Kelser in 1979.
Devon Saddler had 21 points and Davon Usher added 20 for the 13th-seeded Blue Hens (25-10).
Travis Trice scored 13 of his 19 points in the second half for the Spartans.
UCONN 89, SAINT JOSEPH’S 81, OT
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Shabazz Napier shook off a miss at the second-half buzzer to score nine of his 24 points in overtime and lead seventh-seeded Connecticut.
DeAndre Daniels scored 18 while freshman center Amida Brimah forced overtime by completing a three-point play in the final minute for UConn (27-8). The Huskies won their first tournament game under coach Kevin Ollie, who took over two years ago after Jim Calhoun stepped down due to health issues.
With the game tied at 70 entering overtime, Daniels opened the scoring by completed a three-point play with 3:47 left during a 5-minute period the Huskies never trailed.
Langston Galloway scored 25 points for Saint Joseph’s (24-10). The Hawks wore down because of a lack of depth, and then lost their top forward Halil Kanacevic, who fouled out early into overtime.
UConn faces Villanova next.
VILLANOVA 73, MILWAUKEE 53
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Darrun Hilliard scored 16 points, JayVaughn Pinkston added 13 for second-seeded Villanova.
No. 15 seed Milwaukee (21-14), the surprise champion of the Horizon League, made it a game all the way, leading much of the first half before fading late.
Villanova (29-4) was eager to get back on the court after being upset last week by Seton Hall in the Big East tournament quarterfinals, but the effect of that loss seemed to linger.
A 12-point run spanning halftime gave the Wildcats a nine-point lead early in the second half and they held on. Hilliard’s long 3-pointer from the top of the key with 8:10 left gave them a 53-42 lead, and the Panthers couldn’t recover.
DAYTON 60, OHIO ST. 59
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Vee Sanford scored on a layup with 3.8 seconds left to lift 11th-seeded Dayton.
Sanford finished with 10 points, while Dyshawn Pierre led the Flyers (24-10) with 12 points in a matchup of Ohio schools separated by about 75 miles.
The sixth-seeded Buckeyes (25-10) had one last chance to pull out the victory, but Aaron Craft’s driving 10-footer hit off the backboard and rolled off the rim as the buzzer sounded.
Sam Thompson scored 18 points and Craft added 16 for Ohio State, which was eliminated after one game for only the third time in its 26 tournament appearances.
SYRACUSE 77, W. MICHIGAN 53
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Syracuse’s backcourt of Trevor Cooney and Tyler Ennis combined for 34 points and the Orange defense clamped down.
Western Michigan (23-10), the Mid-American Conference champion, had won 14 of 16 games and was in the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade.
The third-seeded Orange (28-5) forced 11 turnovers in the opening half and scored 13 points off them in running out to a double-digit lead before the midpoint of the period.
Cooney led the Orange with 18 points, hitting 4 of 8 from beyond the arc, and Ennis had 16 points and six assists with one turnover.
The Orange used an 18-4 spurt over 10 minutes to take control and led 40-21 at halftime.
Shayne Whittington and Tucker Haymond led Western Michigan with 11 points apiece.
PITTSBURGH 77, COLORADO 48
ORLANDO, Fla. — Talib Zanna scored 16 of his 18 points in the opening half, helping ninth-seeded Pittsburgh build a 28-point lead.
The Panthers (26-9) shot 51 percent and played stifling defense.
Colorado (23-12) was eager to make amends for an early exit from the tournament a year ago, but had no answers for the 6-foot-9 Zanna. The Pitt center made six of seven shots in the first half, and the Panthers didn’t have any difficulty finishing off the overwhelmed Buffaloes.
Josh Scott led the eighth-seeded Buffaloes with 14 points, however Colorado couldn’t overcome a subpar performance from Askia Booker.
FLORIDA 67, ALBANY 55
ORLANDO, Fla. — Dorian Finney-Smith scored 16 points, most of them on dunks, and top-seeded Florida used a second-half surge to beat 16th-seeded Albany.
The Gators (33-2) showed some vulnerability, though, while extending their school-record winning streak to 27 games.
Coach Billy Donovan’s team sleepwalked through the first half, swapping the lead back and forth with the pesky Great Danes, but Florida’s bench provided a much-needed spark.
Finney-Smith, the Southeastern Conference’s sixth man of the year, was 6-of-10 shooting. Freshman guard Kasey Hill, who wasn’t sure he would be able to play because of turf toe, chipped in 10 points.
Patric Young finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds, his first double-double of the season. Casey Prather (16 points) and Scottie Wilbekin (10) also reached double figures for Florida.
DJ Evans led Albany (19-15) with 21 points and seven rebounds.
WISCONSIN 75, AMERICAN 35
MILWAUKEE — Ben Brust scored 17 points and second-seeded Wisconsin devastated American with a 22-5 run to close the first half.
The second-seeded Badgers (27-7) recovered from a brief first-half rut and seven-point deficit to extinguish the dreams of the 15th-seeded Eagles (20-13).
After Wisconsin was ousted in the first round last year as a No. 5 seed, Brust made sure his senior season didn’t end the same way. He attacked the glass for baskets on consecutive possessions, ending with a three-point play with 3:33 left in the first half to give Wisconsin a 23-20 lead.
The Badgers shot 57 percent from the field in the second half.
John Schoof had 11 points for American.
OREGON 87, BYU 68
MILWAUKEE — Elgin Cook scored a career-high 23 points for seventh-seeded Oregon.
Joseph Young had 19 points for the Ducks (24-9), who had to stage a big comeback to beat the Cougars 100-96 in overtime in December. There was no comeback needed this time, with Oregon turning away every charge by BYU in the second half.
Cook, a native of Milwaukee, is the son of former NBA All-Star Alvin Robertson.
Tyler Haws scored 19 points for 10th-seeded BYU (23-12), which returned to the NCAA tournament after a one-year absence. Matt Carlino added 15 points
NORTH DAKOTA STATE 80, OKLAHOMA 75, OT
SPOKANE, Wash. — Lawrence Alexander hit a 3-pointer with 11 seconds left to force overtime and freshman Carlin Dupree scored four points in the final 75 seconds for No. 12 seed North Dakota State.
The Bison (26-6) picked up their first NCAA tournament win by rallying in the final minute and then outlasting the No. 5 seed Sooners in overtime. Alexander finished with a career-high 28 points, but it’ll be his falling-down, fist-pumping celebration after the tying 3-pointer that will be replayed in Fargo for years.
Dupree came on in the closing seconds of overtime after Taylor Braun fouled out. He hit two free throws and scored on a difficult baseline leaner with 41 seconds left.
Cameron Clark led Oklahoma (23-10) with 25 points.
MICHIGAN 57, WOFFORD 40
MILWAUKEE — Glenn Robinson III scored 14 points and second-seeded Michigan started their quest for a second straight trip to the Final Four.
The Wolverines (26-8) capitalized on their decisive edge in athleticism on the undersized and No. 15 Terriers (20-13) but still had some nervous moments after missing 15 of their first 18 shots in the second half.
Karl Cochran’s 3-pointer with 9:25 left whittled an 18-point deficit to 40-33.
But the Wolverines regrouped, and Caris LeVert’s 3 with 4:17 left gave them a 15-point lead to deflate Wofford’s dreams of an upset.
Cochran finished with 17 points, while Robinson hit big shots in the same arena his father played in as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1990s.
Michigan will play No. 7 seed Texas.
TEXAS 87, ARIZONA STATE 85
MILWAUKEE — Cameron Ridley’s buzzer-beating layup lifted Texas into the third round.
Jonathan Holmes missed badly on a long 3-pointer for the seventh-seeded Longhorns in the final seconds, but Ridley emerged from the scrum with the ball and banked it in as time expired over the outstretched fingers of an ASU defender.
The call stood after a video replay, giving Texas its first win in the NCAA tournament since 2011.
Ridley finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Longhorns (24-10).
Jordan Bachynski scored 22 points for No. 10 seed Arizona State (21-12), which was making its first tournament appearance since 2009.
SAINT LOUIS 83, N.C. STATE 80, OT
ORLANDO, Fla. — Rob Loe scored 22 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, helping St. Louis wipe out a late 14-point deficit and pull away in overtime.
Jordair Jett overcame a slow start to score 18, doing most of his damage while the fifth-seeded Billikens (27-6) were making their comeback in the last five minutes of regulation.
Both teams shot horribly from the free-throw line, with Saint Louis shooting 12-for-26 and No. 12 seed NC State shooting 20-for-37.
T.J. Warren scored 28 points for the Wolfpack (22-14), but the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year made just six of his 14 free throw attempts, including one that could have tied it in the final minute of OT.
LOUISVILLE 71, MANHATTAN 64
ORLANDO, Fla. — Luke Hancock hit two huge 3-pointers in the final 1:19 to help Louisville finally shake free from tenacious Manhattan, 71-64 in the NCAA tournament Thursday night.
The defending national champion Cardinals were down 58-55 with less than 4 minutes to play before coming alive from the 3-point line.
Silky smooth guard Russ Smith, who finished with 18 points, got things going with a game-tying 3 from the wing. Hancock delivered the knockout blows. He stole an inbound pass, got fouled and made both free throws. He hit the first dagger with 1:19 remaining and sank a wide-open look from behind the arc with 28 second left.
Hancock finished with 16 points.
Behind those shots, fourth-seeded Louisville (30-5) advanced to face fifth-seeded Saint Louis on Saturday in the Midwest Region.
Ashton Pankey led 13th-seeded Manhattan (25-8) with 16 points.