INDIANAPOLIS – This time Cinderella was late. The clock had, literally, already struck midnight at Lucas Oil Stadium by the time No.14 seed Abilene Christian seriously showed up for the dance, as junior forward Joe Pleasant made his way to the foul line. . Somewhere in a chaotic scramble that followed a Texas three clutch and a Texas key block, Pleasant found himself in the middle of the fray enough to draw a foul from Longhorns guard Matt Coleman with 1.2 seconds left, a drop by one. The stake, of course, also lay in the fact that Pleasant had only made 58.5% of his free throws in the year.
Abilene Christian has only been a Division I team since 2013-14, when she finished 348 out of 351 teams in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency measures. So of course, after a brief visualization, a breath, and a calm concentration on the edge, Pleasant sank the two, as March does. “It’s a mental thing,” he would later say. I work so hard on it. It’s no different than when there is no one in the gym. “
What he couldn’t see coming was his own leaping flight of the ensuing desperate abundance of Brock Cunningham. Abilene Christian had turned Texas’ worst run-and-gun inclinations against him, resulting in a 53-52 fight that the Wildcats controlled for the better part of 40 minutes. It was, arguably, the most fun anyone could have shooting 29% from the field as a team. The Wildcats became the first group in the past decade to win a tournament game with scores below 30%. They were led in minutes by tenacious senior Reggie Miller, (this is of course Indianapolis), who set the tone early in the night with physical play.
“Little old Abilene Christian in West Texas built a program and faced off with Texas,” head coach Joe Golding told reporters after the game. “It’s an incredible story.”
Abilene overcame a huge athletic disadvantage with ferocity and very little, forcing 23 turnovers to just 11. Six-foot guards Miller and Coryon Mason and 5-foot-7-inch Damien Daniels worked in tandem for the most part. Match. Six-foot-five, 264-pound Airion Simmons was pitted against future NBA first-round pick Kai Jones (6’11 “, 218) and Jericho Sims 6’10”, 245 pounds for long stretches. But the Longhorns, despite 45% of their shots, were never allowed to be comfortable. Abilene clawed at 50–50 bullets and marched past finicky pilots as early Texas confidence turned to nerves. The intensity demanded concentration from the veteran, so much so that Shaka Smart played first-class first player Greg Brown for just six minutes, and never used him in the second half.
By the last minute of the game there was literally blood on the floor, and with Abilene up two, Texas guard Andrew Jones hit a three with 13.8 seconds left. Brief as it was, it was a moment the junior richly deserved after a battle with cancer that could have derailed his career. Remember that the Longhorns were this close to victory, Kai Jones’ critical block on Daniels nearly saving the game.
Pleasant, the newly created hero, then wrapped his left arm lovingly around the shoulder of Golding, who had been the head of the program for 10 years, before his time as a Division I program. It took five years. to the Wildcats at the Southland conference to finish .500. Their first stop at the NCAA Men’s Tournament was in 2019, where their 27-7 team received a wake-up call from Kentucky. They were in second place in the league when COVID-19 hit a year ago. It was a long time coming, and Pleasant pumped his other arm with a smile to greet the few hundred very vocal fans who had gathered at Indy for this moment. They’ll also stick around, as Abilene Christian takes on the UCLA No.11 seed on Monday for a very accessible trip to Sweet 16.
This game deserved more witnesses than there were, but of course there’s a lot going on right now. The night was supposed to end with Oregon-VCU, before news broke that the Rams would lose their first-round game due to positive COVID-19 tests in the program. VCU coach Mike Rhodes had the right outlook on the matter at the moment – the global COVID-19 toll has far exceeded the outcome of a basketball game.
Teams have been preparing for the unexpected all year round. But at the micro level, that’s exactly what the NCAA must have been afraid of, although no one will admit it. The question was simply a question of scale, which, for now, remains relatively small. The 32 teams that remained in Indianapolis can only hope that was the scale of the impact. But there are still five rounds and two more weeks.
“COVID is a real thing,” Golding said. “We had social injustice. We had a presidential election that divided our country. We needed March Madness. We needed people filling in hooks. “
Need? Maybe not. Yet, in a sense, Golding was right. There shouldn’t be to lose sight of what is really important. The teams and players gathered at Indy under quarantine certainly don’t have that luxury either. We can agree, however, that the basketball was a welcome respite. –Jeremy woo
Just as suddenly as last year, the season ended in heartbreaking fashion for VCU men’s basketball. (By Pat Forde)
Ohio continues to dance after upsetting Virginia, but the Bobcats’ victory on Saturday is very special for Ben Vander Plas and his family. (By Ross Dellenger)
Meet Leslie Thomas: Army Veteran, Perfectionist, and Mother / Personal Trainer of LSU Freshman Star Cameron Thomas. (By Ross Dellenger)
The weird bubble requests at the NCAA Men’s Tournament, a ukulele and five tons of laundry. (By Ross Dellenger)
The unique hyperlocal setting of the NCAA Men’s Tournament provided a fascinating return of March Madness. (By Pat Forde)
Missing something from the men’s action on Saturday? Let us catch up with you.
The best thing we have seen
Drew Timme’s mustache just keeps getting better. It’s championship-level facial hair.
Choose them: women and men:
SI’s Molly Geary makes her picks for eight of Sunday’s first-round women’s games:
# 5 Iowa of # 12 Central Michigan: Expect it to be an explosive, high-scoring affair to kick off the women’s tournament, but American Hawkeyes rookie Caitlin Clark will make the difference.
# 4 Kentucky on # 13 Idaho State: Rhyne Howard will lead the way beyond the Bengals’ balanced attack.
N ° 11 FGCU on N ° 6 Michigan: Kierstan Bell vs. Naz Hillmon is a dynamite first-round scoring scenario. The Wolverines have lost four of six; give me the Eagles to wrath.
N ° 1 UConn on N ° 16 High Point: No Geno Auriemma, no problem for the top ranked Huskies.
# 12 Stephen F. Austin on # 5 Georgia Tech: The Ladyjacks’ suffocating defense will pave the way in the second round.
Oregon State # 8 over Florida State # 9: Despite a loss to Stanford in the Pac-12 title game, the Beavers click at the right time.
N ° 3 Tennessee on N ° 14 Middle Tennessee: Anastasia Hayes can help the Lady Raiders fight a bit, but Rennia Davis and the Vols will prove too much.
# 8 Oklahoma State on # 9 Wake Forest: Natasha Mack and Ja’Mee Asberry will propel the Cowgirls to a date with first seed Stanford.
IS’s Kevin Sweeney makes his picks for Sunday’s men’s second round matches:
N ° 1 Illinois on N ° 8 Loyola Chicago: The Ramblers will make life difficult for Ayo Dosunmu and Co., but the Illini will outlast a tough, well-trained group of Loyola.
N ° 1 Baylor on N ° 9 Wisconsin: Wisconsin haven’t won back-to-back games since January and it’s hard to believe they will shoot it as well as against UNC. The bears roll.
# 11 Syracuse out of # 3 West Virginia: Never bet against Syracuse once they get to the NCAA tournament… especially with Buddy Boeheim putting on his best JJ Redick impersonation this month.
N ° 3 Arkansas on N ° 6 Texas Tech: Arkansas’ combination of pace, space and scoring depth make it a tough cover for a Texas Tech team looking to win possessions in the half court.
# 2 Houston on # 10 Rutgers: Expect this one to be a defensive brawl, but the Cougars have a little more firepower and will end Rutgers’ dream season.
# 7 Florida out of # 15 Oral Roberts: Abmas and Obanor are special, but it’s hard to find magic twice. Gators at Sweet 16.
# 13 North Texas on # 5 Villanova: Mean Green’s defensive effort was incredibly impressive against Purdue. The Wildcats are very different stylistically, but Grant McCasland’s club will be ready.
State # 4 of Oklahoma over State # 12 of Oregon: Oregon State suddenly looks elite, but they haven’t seen a player like Cade Cunningham this season.
In a widely open women’s college basketball season where every team on the 64-court begins the tournament with at least one loss, only one of four No.1 seeds (Stanford, UConn, NC State, South Carolina) will reach the final. Four. –Molly geary
At the buzzer
Lisa Byington made history as the first woman to compete in a national play-by-play for an NCAA men’s tournament game on Friday. On Saturday night, she was on call for Abilene Christian’s thrilling shake-up in Texas, to deliver the words that will be replayed on the reels of the upcoming March Madness 2021 tournament –MG
“Brock Cunningham is going to take it off the backline… the pass from the baseball field… Believe the Amazing! Abilene Christian with the biggest win in school history! The first tournament win in school the NCAA in school history! ”
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