By Arnie Leshin
It was Saturday night, the final game of the men’s first round of the NCAA basketball tournament when 14th seeded Abilene Christian rocked the Lone Star State by getting past 3rd-seeded, Big 12 champion Texas, 53-52, and advancing to the Sweet 16.
Sunday morning, Loyola of Chicago’s chaplain, Sister Jean, all of 101 years old, returned after the Ramblers disposed of Georgia Tech on opening day and again sat in her wheelchair decked out in her trademark maroon and gold scarf, and looked around at Lucas Oil Stadium Unity. Then she said a pre-game prayer, a little longer then this, but this meant more.
“As we play the Fighting Illini,” she said, “we ask for special help to overcome this team and get a great big win.”
From her mouth to the ears, and the players, three years after the program made it to the Final Four, responded, handed No. 1 seed Illinois a 71-58 exit, and the first No. 1 eliminated. The 8th-seeded Ramblers (26-4) never trailed, they arrived as a 7-point underdog and led by nine (33-24) at halftime, which answered half of her prayer.
Not long after, another stunner made the March Madness upset list when 15th-seeded Oral Roberts followed up its sendoff to 2nd-seeded Oho State in day one, by doing the same to 3rd-seeded Florida, 81-78, in a back-and-forth game that brought eight lead changes and five ties until the Golden Eagles (18-10) made good on 6-of-7 free throws in the final minutes and the Gators (15-7) missed a game-tying deadlock as the final buzzer sounded and Oral Roberts again celebrated.
In other games, it was red-hot Syracuse, the 12th-seed that about two weeks ago was unwanted, ruled one of the first four out, but bounced back in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament by turning back Virginia Tech, North Carolina, and then lost to defending national champion Virginia on a buzzer shot that broke a tie.
Well, It hasn’t lost a beat, following up the dominating 19-point win over 7h-seeded San Diego State in day one, by getting another stellar effort from 6-foot-7 junior Buddy Boeheim, son of Jim Boeheim now in his 46th year as head coach at his alma mater, 75-72, after almost losing a 16-point lead in the final minutes, .
After scoring 30 against San Diego, young Boeheim tallied 25, brought down eight rebounds and dished out five assists. The surprising, rejuvenated Orange is now 17-9 and West Virginia’s season ended with a 19-9 mark. .
Top-seeded, undefeated Gonzaga (25-0) broke away from an early challenge from16th-seeded Norfolk State’ by scoring the first 16 points of the second half, and won going away, 98-55 and clearing the bench with six minutes remaining.
Then there was 1st-seeded Baylor pulled away from 5th-seeded Wisconsin, and from a 2-point Bears’ halftime lead, increased it to 12 after three quarters and moved on 72-61. Arkansas, a 4th-seed, had a tough one with 10th-seeded Texas Tech before breaking a
58-all tie and outscoring Tech 10-8 down the stretch.
Houston, a 3rd-seed, trailed 10-seeded Rutgers, 38-32, at halftime, but in a tight contest that went down to a failed 3-point by the Scarlet Knights that would have tied the score in what became a 63-60 Houston triumph to up its record to 26-3. Villanova, a 6th-seed, had no problem ousting 11th-seeded North Texas, 84-61, and advancing to 18-6.
Some interesting games on Monday’s menu sends Iowa against Oregon, Kansas versus Southern California, Creighton facing Ohio.