NCAA Tournament – First Four Play-In Round Overview, Wednesday Session
(11) Virginia Commonwealth 59, (11) USC 46
In the days leading up to this “at-large” First Four fistfight, most of the talk-show noise and chatter focused on the controversial nature of Virginia Commonwealth’s selection to the NCAA Tournament. The Rams were pilloried by the press and questioned to a considerable degree after becoming one of the last teams to make the field of 68.
Perhaps that anger was misdirected. All the commotion devoted to VCU should have been reserved for the Southern California Trojans instead.
In a game that was ugly from start to finish but decisive in the final stages of the second half, Virginia Commonwealth powered past USC to reach the first round of the NCAA Tournament (it’s the first round; don’t let the NCAA’s official jargon fool you). VCU will take on the sixth-seeded Georgetown Hoyas late Friday night in Chicago. Tip time for that tussle is approximately 9:50 p.m. Eastern time.
The game was a virtual stalemate with seven minutes left in regulation time, but that’s when VCU put its foot down. Coach Shaka Smart’s Rams thrashed coach Kevin O’Neill’s Trojans, limiting USC to just three points in those seven decisive minutes.
USC was simply a mess as the Trojans took to the court just five days after O’Neill, their coach, was suspended for a verbal altercation before the semifinals of the Pac-10 Conference Tournament. Off-court controversies are never good for any team, and since USC basketball has had more than its share of problems thanks to the stormy tenure of previous coach Tim Floyd, this was a team that did not need any distractions heading into the NCAA Tournament. Verily, USC played like a team that had other things on its mind.
VCU, though, while unable to shoot well (the Rams hit just 34 percent of their shots), did everything else with distinction. The Rams committed only eight turnovers, hit nine threes, and pounded the Trojans on the offensive glass, 15-5. VCU proved its worth to the nation, which is a lot more than anything that can be said for a USC team that didn’t show up.
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(16) Texas-San Antonio, (16) Alabama State 61
Yet, it always was over.
Texas-San Antonio led by 27 points at halftime, 48-21, but Alabama State pulled within nine points on two occasions late in the second half before the Roadrunners won on Wednesday night in the First Four of the 2011 NCAA tournament. UTSA will play overall No. 1 seed Ohio State in the first round of the tournament on Friday at approximately 4:40 p.m. Eastern in Cleveland.
Alabama State could have folded the tent in the second half at University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio, but the lesser of these 16-seeds didn’t quit, and in many ways, that was one of the most impressive parts of Wednesday night’s game. There was never a sense that ASU had a chance to win, but when the underdogs crept within nine points before the 2:30 mark of regulation, at least a little intrigue was injected into the proceedings. That’s a lot more than many casual observers expected when UTSA rolled to a 27-point halftime bulge against the shellshocked Hornets.
The victorious Roadrunners were led by guard Melvin Johnson III with 29 points; he hit 9-of-17 field goals.
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