Western Kentucky University’s record late-game comeback to win the men’s college basketball national tournament opener was trumped by Brigham Young University, which orchestrated the biggest rally in tournament history in the game that followed.
Western Kentucky beat Mississippi Valley State 59-58 in the first game at Dayton, Ohio, as U.S. President Barack Obama and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron watched from the front row.
The Hilltoppers rallied from a 16-point deficit with 4 minutes, 51 seconds remaining, marking the biggest margin overcome by a team in the final five minutes in the tournament’s history, according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
BYU then played Iona College, and the Cougars rallied from 25 points down in the first half to win 78-72. It was the biggest reversal in tournament history, topping Duke’s 22-point comeback against Maryland in a national semifinal game in 2001.
Obama and Cameron left University of Dayton Arena between games, taking in only half of the record-setting night.
“It’s a crazy feeling,” Derrick Gordon, who had 11 points and 11 rebounds for Western Kentucky, told reporters. “That’s the president of the United States coming to watch our game. We wanted to put on a show. Things didn’t work our way for the first 35 minutes, but we came away with the W.”
The Hilltoppers (16-18) trailed 53-37 before starting their charge. Their reward for winning is a matchup tomorrow against the top-seeded University of Kentucky (32-2). Western Kentucky is the only school with a losing record in the 68-team field.
Kevin Burwell had 20 points for the Delta Devils (21-13), who are winless in five NCAA appearances. Western Kentucky hit just 30 percent of its shots and was 2-for-16 on 3-pointers.
“Both teams are shooting terribly,” Obama said in a televised halftime interview.
Obama and Cameron, who was watching his first basketball game, flew to Dayton on Air Force One before returning to Washington for meetings and a state dinner today at the White House.
“It’s pretty fast and furious,” Cameron said of basketball. “It’s hard to follow sometimes exactly who’s done what wrong. He’s giving me some tips. He’s going to help me fill out my bracket.”
Obama has selected Kentucky, Ohio State, Missouri and North Carolina as his Final Four men’s teams. His women’s picks for the national semifinals are Baylor, St. John’s, Connecticut and Notre Dame. The president’s pick for the men’s national championship will be revealed today on ESPN, and for the women’s title two days later.
Noah Hartsock scored 16 of his 23 points in the second half for BYU (26-8), which trailed 49-24 with just over six minutes left in the first half and 55-40 at halftime. Scott Machado had 15 points and 10 assists for Iona (25-8), the New Rochelle, New York-based school that led the nation in scoring this season by averaging 83.3 points per game.
BYU next will play Marquette University.
There are two more first-round games tonight. Lamar University faces the University of Vermont for a spot against the Midwest Region’s No. 1 seed, North Carolina, while the University of California-Berkeley plays South Florida for the 12th seed in the Midwest and a matchup against Temple University.
Full NCAA tournament play begins tomorrow. The Final Four is scheduled for March 31 at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, with the title game two days later.