Tourney Opening Weekend Recap
From buzzer-beaters to upsets, a look at the first two rounds.
Keeping the Status Quo: Nolan Smith, Duke and Kemba Walker, Connecticut.
Both of these sharpshooting guards maintained high profiles over the weekend. After blowing out Hampton on Friday, Smith heightened his game on Sunday, scoring 24 points as Duke outlasted a feisty Michigan team. Smith started the second half with ferocity and at one point, engineered a 10-0 run all by himself. He showed some skill by delivering a vicious crossover on Tim Hardaway Jr. before hitting a pull-up jumper.
For Walker’s part, he averaged 25ppg over the first two games and went for 33 in UCONN’s win against Cincinnati on Saturday night. The junior guard’s tenacity paid dividends as he went 14-14 from the stripe. He also hit a triple with just under four minutes to seal the win.
Smith and Walker are definitely in the running for the Naismith Player of the Year award and they showed everyone watching why.
The “Can I Get Some Help Please!” Performance: Jacob Pullen, No. 5 Kansas State vs. No. 4 Wisconsin
Talk about a heartbreaking loss. Jacob Pullen nearly shot his team into the Sweet Sixteen on Saturday night, scoring 38 points on 13-22 shooting including 6-8 from behind the arc. Unfortunately, the rest of his team went 9-26, leaving the senior guard with no choice but to hoist up a late three-pointer as the Wildcats trailed 68-65. The shot was blocked by Jordan Taylor and that was all she wrote for Kansas State. For the Pullen, it was his final college game and was understandably emotional after the loss, shedding some tears during the postgame press conference.
Dime Dropper Extraordinaire: Kendall Marshall, North Carolina
Marshall set a UNC NCAA Tournament record by handing out 14 assists on Sunday against Washington. The freshman point guard also added 13 points and was a key cog in the Tar Heels 86-83 victory. Dishing to great finishers like Harrison Barnes and Tyler Zeller, Marshall also recorded 10 assists in the blowout win over LIU on Friday. To outdo notable guards such as Ty Lawson and Raymond Felton is quite an accomplishment in itself.
Unlikely Hero: Dalton Pepper, West Virginia
While Darryl Bryant and Kevin Jones deserve most of the credit for West Virginia’s first round win over Clemson, there’s one man who put the nail in the coffin and that’s’ Dalton Pepper. Clemson had cut the lead to five late but Pepper, who averages just 3.8 ppg, made two huge steals late in the game, converting a dunk and a layup in the process to seal the win. To put into perspective just how big of an impact this role player made, consider that he made just six steals in total on the season but had three on Thursday. He also matched his season-high with 10 points.
Near Perfect Game: David Lighty of Ohio State vs. George Mason.
Just one shot from the field and two measly free throws prevented Lighty from throwing up a perfect shooting performance on Sunday against George Mason. The forward hit 9-10 shots including 7-7 from deep on his way to a game-high 25 points as the Buckeyes cruised past the Patriots. Lighty is a fifth year senior but hits just over one three per game, making this explosion extra special.
Random Extremely Impressive Stat: Kenneth Faried’s Double-Double Mark
Morehead State’s Faried tallied his 85th career double-double on Thursday, surpassing Virginia’s Ralph Sampson for second all-time in NCAA Division 1 history. He added another to his tally on Saturday and will finish his collegiate career just one behind Tim Duncan. Faried passed some big names this year, including Derrick Coleman and Lionel Simmons.
Matthew Braine is a Freelance Writer and Production Assistant who covers basketball and soccer. He writes a weekly column for Goal.com and has contributed to several websites and magazines including SLAM. As a Hofstra University alumnus, he’s hoping Charles Jenkins will make the NBA so he can buy his jersey. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MatthewBraine.