Harvard University pulled off a historic upset at the men’s college basketball national tournament on the same day Gonzaga University avoided one in its first appearance as a No. 1 seed.
Harvard, champion of the Ivy League, won a National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament game for the first time, beating the University of New Mexico 68-62 last night in Salt Lake City. Harvard provided the biggest upset on the tournament’s first full day of play, as the Crimson were seeded 14th in the 16-team West region and New Mexico was a third seed.
“I’m exceptionally proud of our guys,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said in a televised interview. “We talked about preparation, we talked about passion and we talked about belief.”
Gonzaga got a scare from Southern University in the West region, needing an 8-2 scoring run in the final 3 1/2 minutes to pull out a 64-58 win and avoid becoming the first No. 1 seed to ever lose to a 16th seeded team. It was the closest such game at the tournament since 1996, when Western Carolina lost by two points against Purdue.
“That was a tough, hard-fought battle right down to the very end,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said at a news conference. “The more I watched film on them the more I thought, ‘Hey, this could be a real grinder.’ Then the crowd gets going and everybody wants to see that first 1-16 loss.”
Louisville, the top seed in the Midwest region, followed with a 79-48 rout of North Carolina A&T in Lexington, Kentucky, giving No. 1 regional seeds a 114-0 record against 16th seeds since the NCAA tournament field expanded in 1985.
Twelve of yesterday’s 16 games were won by the higher-ranked team, with Syracuse, Virginia Commonwealth, Butler, Marquette, Michigan State, Memphis, Saint Louis, Colorado State, Michigan and Arizona also advancing. A pair of 12th seeds from the Pacific-12 conference had upsets, as Oregon beat Oklahoma State 68-55 and California ousted Nevada Las Vegas 64-61, marking the 12th time in 13 years at least one No. 12 seed has ousted a fifth seed. Wichita State, a ninth seed in the Midwest, beat No. 8 Pittsburgh 73-55.
Kansas, the No. 1 seed in the South region, and Indiana, the top team in the East, are both in action today as 16 more games are scheduled in Philadelphia; Kansas City; Dayton, Ohio; and Austin, Texas.
The No. 2 seeds in all four regions also play their opening games today, with Duke facing Albany in the Midwest, Georgetown meeting Florida Gulf Coast in the South, Miami playing Pacific in the East and Ohio State taking on Iona College in the West.
Harvard became the second Ivy League school since 2000 to win a game at the NCAA tournament as Wesley Saunders scored 18 points and Laurent Rivard added 17 while going 5-of-9 on 3-point attempts. The Crimson shot 52 percent and held New Mexico to 38 percent shooting. It was the second time in seven years that a 14th seed has knocked out a No. 3 tournament seed.
With the win by the Crimson, Ivy League schools improved to 41-76 in NCAA tournament history. The Ivy League is now 3-13 since 2000, with the two previous wins coming when Cornell University upset Temple and Wisconsin to reach the final 16 in 2010.
Harvard (20-9) advanced to face sixth-seeded Arizona (26-7), an 81-64 winner against No. 11 Belmont, tomorrow in Salt Lake City.
Gonzaga (32-2) next faces Wichita State after Kelly Olynyk scored 17 of his 21 points in the second half to help the Bulldogs pull away from Southern.
Louisville never trailed in its rout of 16th-seeded North Carolina A&T, forcing 25 turnovers -- including a tournament-record 20 steals -- and shooting 56 percent in Lexington, Kentucky. Russ Smith had 23 points and seven steals for the Cardinals (30-5), who next play No. 8 Colorado State, which defeated ninth-seeded Missouri 84-72.
Marquette, the No. 3 seed in the East region, erased a seven-point deficit in the final two minutes to pull out a 59-58 win against Davidson College. The Golden Eagles hit three straight 3-pointers after missing 11 of their first 12 attempts and got a driving layup from junior guard Vander Blue with one second left to pull out the victory.
“That’s March Madness,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. “We’re thankful to still be standing.”
Marquette moves on to face No. 6 seed Butler, which beat No. 11 Bucknell 68-56 by outscoring the Bison 37-19 over the final 10 minutes in Lexington.
Michigan State, the third seed in the Midwest, defeated Valparaiso 65-54 to earn a matchup with No. 6 Memphis, which survived a last-second 3-point attempt by 11th-seeded Saint Mary’s to win 54-52.
Saint Louis, the No. 4 seed in the Midwest, topped 13th-seeded New Mexico State 64-44. The Billikens next face 12th-seeded Oregon, which beat No. 5 Oklahoma State 68-55.
California, the 12th seed in the East, followed with its three-point win against UNLV. The Bears’ next opponent is No. 4 Syracuse, which recorded yesterday’s biggest win with an 81-34 demolition of 13th-seeded Montana.
Michigan, which is seeded fourth in the South region, cruised past No. 13 South Dakota State 71-56 as Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III each scored 21 points. Next up for the Wolverines is No. 5 Virginia Commonwealth, which rolled past 12th-seeded Akron 88-42.
The NCAA championship game is April 8 in Atlanta.