NCAA men's tournament: First Four games deliver excitement


March Madness and the NCAA men's tournament entered the chat on Thursday, with all the games from the First Four round bringing excitement, thrilling finishes, and more.

The Drake Bulldogs (26-4) waited a long time to add another victory to their NCAA tournament win total. And for a while, it looked like they were well on their way to a quick exit in 2021.

In the end, the Bulldogs narrowly escaped with a 53-52 victory after a missed three-point attempt by Wichita State's Alterique Gilbert just before time expired. This after Drake's Joe Yesufu missed the front end of a 1-and-1 free throw with just under six seconds left, allowing for the Shockers final attempt.

This was Drake's first victory in the tournament in 50 years, stretching back to a 79-72 victory over Notre Dame on this date in 1971. 

Wichita State (16-6) actually led for most of the game. Drake took an early lead but then went 10 minutes with a point. The Shockers, with a swarming and tenacious perimeter defense, kept Drake at bay but weren't able to generate much offense, taking a 21-20 lead at halftime.

Drake was able to tie the score at 23 but then went another seven minutes without a point and Wichita State built a nine-point lead.

Slowly, the Bulldogs chipped away before finally retaking a 46-45 lead on a Darnell Brodie layup with 4:16 remaining.

Yesufu led Drake with 21 points and Brodie had 9 points and 10 rebounds despite being in foul trouble.

Morris Udeze had a career-game for the Shockers, dropping 22 points and securing 4 rebounds. Leading scorer Tyson Etienne was held to one point, a free throw with 8:19 left in the second half. Etienne was 0-6 from the field.

Though they committed only eight turnovers, Wichita State was 3-18 from three-point range and shot 33.9 percent from the field. Drake shot 37.7 percent and committed 13 turnovers. 

Drake will play the USC Trojans (22-7) in West region action on Saturday (3/20).

The Bulldogs picked up a huge victory and so did the Texas Southern Tigers and Norfolk State Spartans. Representing the SWAC and MEAC, it marked the first-time that schools from these conferences won a NCAA tourney game in the same year.

Two of the three other games came down to the wire, including the marquee matchup in the East region.

Michigan State Spartans vs UCLA Bruins

A big early lead for Michigan State. A furious rally for the UCLA Bruins. And it still wasn't enough for the game to be decided in regulation.

The game between storied programs and current 11-seeds lived up to the billing, with the Bruins prevailing in overtime, 86-80. 

Michigan State (15-13) built an early first-half lead as big as 14 and was still up 44-33 at the half. 

UCLA came out with a bang, however, with a quick 9-2 run. The Spartans shook off the rust but UCLA kept scrapping, finally taking a 67-66 lead. 

The Spartans scored seven straight points before again letting UCLA back in it. Michigan State and UCLA each had a shot at the end of regulation but neither could convert as they headed to overtime tied at 77.

From there, it was all UCLA.

Jaime Jaquez Jr. led the Bruins with 27 points and Johnny Juzang added 21. Juzang suffered what appeared to be an ankle injury in overtime and may not be available for Saturday's matchup with no. 6 seed BYU (20-6).

Three players were in double figures for Michigan State, led by Aaron Henry's 18. Henry also added seven assists.

Norfolk State Spartans hang on

Norfolk State was on cruise control headed into halftime. The Spartans built a lead as large as 19 and went into the break with a 36-20 lead.

Perhaps they already had the Gonzaga Bulldogs (26-0) on their minds.

The Spartans went cold and ran into an Appalachian State buzz saw, scoring only 18 points in the second-half. The final two, however, were two free throws that turned out to be enough as Norfolk State (17-7) held on for a 54-53 victory in a battle of the West region's 16-seeds.

Appalachian State (17-12) had two chances after Norfolk State's Devante Carter hit the free throws but both three-point attempts missed.

Coming off the bench, Jalen Hawkins led the Spartans with 24 points and 5 rebounds.

Justin Forest led Appalachian State with 18 points.

The Mountaineers managed to shoot only 25.8 percent from the field, including only 6-36 from three-point range. Norfolk State managed to go 34.5 percent on field goal attempts, knocking down 7-18 from deep.

Texas Southern Tigers huge second-half

For one half, everything was going right for the Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers (12-11). Then, a lid was placed on the basket.

The champions out of the Northeast Conference, Mount St. Mary's held a 30-20 halftime lead. 

Texas Southern (17-8) took control and then some in the second half, outscoring the Mountaineers 40-22 to pick up a 60-52 victory. 

Both these 16-seeds in the East region were evenly matched throughout the game, making the eight-point victory seem larger than it actually was. Each team shot 38 percent from the field and the Tigers only held a plus one advantage on the boards.

It was also nearly flawless game, however, in controlling the ball that gave Texas Southern the advantage, committing only five turnovers to the Mountaineers nine.

John Walker III led the Tigers with 19 points and 9 rebounds. Jordan Gilliam added 12 points.

Damian Chong Qui led Mount St. Mary's with 14 points while Mezie Offurum had 10 points and 16 rebounds. 

Texas Southern will now meet the East's top-seeded Michigan Wolverines (20-4) on Saturday.

photo credit: Flickr