Michigan State ended Harvard University’s run at the National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball tournament, joining defending champion Louisville and top-ranked Florida among the final 16 teams while Villanova and Syracuse were eliminated.
Michigan State, which along with Florida is a co-favorite of oddsmakers to win the championship, blew a 12-point halftime lead and trailed the Ivy League champions with just over seven minutes left yesterday before pulling out an 80-73 victory.
Louisville pulled away for a 66-51 win against Saint Louis and Florida beat the University of Pittsburgh 61-45 to extend its school-record winning streak to 28 games. Also reaching the round of 16 with wins were Michigan, Wisconsin, San Diego State, Dayton and Connecticut.
Connecticut, the seventh seed in the East Region, knocked off No. 2 seed Villanova 77-65, making the Wildcats the highest-ranked team ousted from the NCAA tournament.
Dayton upset Syracuse, the third seed in the South, 55-53 in Buffalo to earn a trip back to the round of 16 for the first time since 1984. The 11th-seeded Flyers held on for a 60-59 win over Ohio State in their tournament opener as the Buckeyes’ Aaron Craft had a driving shot roll off the rim as time expired. Yesterday, Dayton survived as Tyler Ennis missed a 3-pointer for Syracuse with four seconds remaining.
“Buffalo has been good to us the last couple of days on the buzzer shots,” Dayton coach Archie Miller said.
Eight more third-round games are scheduled for today as the NCAA tournament’s 68-team field is reduced to the final 16. Top regional seeds Wichita State, Virginia and Arizona are among those in action.
Michigan State trailed Harvard 62-60 with seven minutes, 11 seconds remaining before going on an 8-0 scoring run to regain the lead for good in Spokane, Washington.
The Crimson trailed 73-69 with about a minute left when Wesley Saunders forced a Michigan State turnover. The Ivy League Player of the Year, who had a team-high 22 points for Harvard, then missed a contested layup and the Spartans sealed the victory with seven free throws in the final 49 seconds.
“With the parity there is now, if I could take five or six one-point wins and keep moving on, I would take those any day of the week,” said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, who’s in the final 16 for the 12th time in 17 years. “As I said about Harvard, that’s not a 12 seed. It just isn’t. They’re legit. So it was a good win for us.”
Michigan State (28-8), the fourth seed in the East, advances to the regional semifinals to face the winner of today’s game between No. 1 Virginia and No. 8 Memphis.
Harvard finishes the season 27-5 and falls short of becoming just the second Ivy League school to win two NCAA tournament games in the same year since the field expanded in 1985. Cornell did it in 2010.
“We just came out and fought our hardest and that’s really all you can ask sometimes, no matter what the scoreboard says,” said Saunders. “We showed some people that we have the heart of a champion out here.”
Villanova was ousted as former Big East Conference rival Connecticut held the Wildcats to 35 percent shooting and had 11 steals. UConn moves on to the regional semifinal in New York’s Madison Square Garden on March 28, when the Huskies will face the winner of today’s game between No. 3 Iowa State and No. 6 North Carolina.
Syracuse’s season ended with its sixth loss in nine games following a 25-0 start. It was the second time in four years the Orange were eliminated as a No. 3 seed by an 11th seed.
Dayton (25-10) next plays the winner of today’s game between No. 2 Kansas and No. 10 Stanford in the South Region semifinals on March 27 in Memphis.
Louisville, the fourth seed in the Midwest Region, used a 12-2 second-half scoring run to pull away from fifth-seeded Saint Louis. The Cardinals (31-5) next meet No. 1 Wichita State or eighth-seeded Kentucky on March 28 in Indianapolis.
Florida (34-2) reached the round of 16 for the fourth straight year and will face either South Region No. 4 seed UCLA or No. 12 Stephen F. Austin on March 27 in Memphis.
Second-seeded Michigan, which reached the final last year, moved into the Midwest Region semifinals with a 79-65 defeat of seventh-seeded Texas. The Wolverines get the winner of today’s game between No. 11 Tennessee and No. 14 Mercer.
Wisconsin, the No. 2 seed in the West, beat seventh-seeded Oregon 85-77 yesterday after erasing a 12-point halftime deficit in Milwaukee. Next up for the Badgers is No. 3 seed Creighton or No. 6 Baylor, who play today.
Also in the West, fourth-seeded San Diego State advanced to the regional semifinal by winning 63-44 against 12th-seeded North Dakota State. Arizona or eighth-seeded Gonzaga is the next opponent for San Diego State, which made its only previous trip to the final 16 in 2011.
“The nice thing about our group is they listen and they buy into we can be special, we can be better than expected, we can accomplish things that have never been accomplished,” said San Diego State coach Steve Fisher, who won a national title at Michigan in 1989. “That’s been our theme. We have been quiet about it and we still want to be quiet about it, but we’re not surprised that we’re still playing.”
The Final Four begins April 5 in Arlington, Texas, with the championship game scheduled for April 7.