Pair of 1-point games highlight ‘First Four’ at March Madness

Devante Carter made two free throws with 8.6 seconds remaining, and Norfolk State held on to beat Appalachian State 54-53 in the First Four on Thursday night after blowing an 18-point second-half lead.

The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion Spartans completed a sweep by historically Black colleges and universities on the first day of NCAA Tournament play, joining Southwestern Athletic Conference champion Texas Southern, which beat Mount St. Mary’s earlier Thursday. Norfolk State advanced to face top overall seed Gonzaga on Saturday.

Jalen Hawkins scored 20 of his 24 points before halftime for the Spartans (17-7), who earned their first tournament win since upsetting No. 2 seed Missouri in 2012.

Justin Forrest had 18 points for App State (17-12), which shot 27 per cent and missed its final 10 attempts.

The Mountaineers pushed ahead 51-45 on Forrest’s layup with 5:48 remaining, but its only points after that were two free throws by Adrian Delph with 1:03 left that made it 53-52. Carter, who shot 1 of 10 from the field, answered by making his only two free-throw attempts of the game. App State missed two late shots on its final possession.

NORTH COURTS | Breaking down the Canadians in March Madness:

It’s March Madness time and with a record number of Canadians in the NCAA, we’re dedicating this episode to the stars from north of the border, and Jevohn catches up with Gonzaga’s own 6 man of the year Andrew Nembhard. 17:17

Drake scoots past Wichita State

Drake’s small, energetic contingent of fans sounded like it had waited forever to let loose.

The several hundred blue-clad supporters who got to see the Bulldogs in person on Thursday night ended up witnessing the team’s first NCAA Tournament win in a half-century.

Joseph Yesufu scored 21 points and Drake held on to beat Wichita State 53-52 in a tense First Four matchup between former Missouri Valley Conference rivals.

Drake’s last tournament victory had been 50 years ago to the day —- March 18, 1971, against Notre Dame.

“To get a win for our program that hasn’t happened in 50 years — it’s really exciting,” Bulldogs coach Darian DeVries said. “These guys have fought through so much, and for them to be the ones to get us one, I think is really deserving.”

Attendance was limited because of the coronavirus pandemic, leaving most of the seats at Mackey Arena empty, and the Drake crowd finally made some noise at the end of a game that deserved a much bigger audience.

“Perseverance,” Yesufu said. “We’ve been doing that all year.”

The Bulldogs were hardly overmatched in this year’s tournament field — they came in with 25 wins, second most of the 68 teams behind top overall seed Gonzaga. The win was extra validation for DeVries, who was rewarded this week with a contract extension through 2028-29.

Tremell Murphy added 11 points for 11th-seeded Drake (26-4), which advanced to play sixth-seeded Southern California in the West Region on Saturday.

Texas Southern tops Mount St. Mary’s

Texas Southern forward John Walker III celebrated the program’s second NCAA Tournament win the way he always envisioned — hooting, hollering and just having fun.

Nothing, not even a small, mostly quiet arena, could dampen his enthusiasm.

After scoring a season-high 19 points, grabbing a career-high tying nine rebounds and leading the Tigers back from a 10-point halftime deficit to beat Mount St. Mary’s 60-52 in the first tourney game in nearly two years, Walker let loose.

“I feel like I’m on top of the world,” he shouted. “I just wanted it so bad, it wasn’t even about me. It was about going out there and beating a good team and getting it done.”

The Tigers (17-8) have won 10 straight overall and improved to 2-0 in First Four games. Their win over North Carolina Central in 2018 was the program’s first in the NCAA Tournament. Next up for the No. 16 seed in the East Region is top-seeded Michigan (20-4) on Saturday.

For at least a few moments, the Tigers soaked up their victory. Coach Johnny Jones’ players doused him with a cooler of water.

“They drenched me,” he said. “I’m sitting here all wet, but I’ll tell you what — it’s one of the best feelings I’ve had in cold water in a long time.”

At least that part sounded like the usual March Madness — full of excitement and emotion.

But it wasn’t the same.

In the first NCAA Tournament game since Virginia beat Texas Tech in overtime to win the national championship on April 8, 2019 — a span of 710 days — the atmosphere felt alien at Indiana University’s Assembly Hall. Only players, coaches and staff members were permitted on the court level and an estimated 150 people sat in the cavernous lower bowl. There were no concession stand lines, no pep bands playing music, no raucous cheers, not even boos.

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