Sunday’s March Madness: South Carolina Trails Early but Then Rolls

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Kentucky became the latest college basketball blue blood to be ousted from the N.C.A.A. men’s tournament in its first weekend.

One day after Duke and Kansas, the reigning champion, were knocked out in the second round, No. 6 seed Kentucky was beaten by Kansas State, 75-69. Though Kansas State was seeded No. 3, Kentucky had been favored in the game, by 3 points.

Kentucky’s loss mirrored another on Saturday by Duke, which was seeded fifth and lost to No. 4 seed Tennessee by 13, despite odds that reflected its popularity and betting support.

Markquis Nowell, Kansas State’s 5-foot-8 point guard, had a brilliant game with 27 points and nine assists, carving up the Kentucky defense with timely passes, big 3-point shots and clutch free throws.

“They were playing me for the pass because I dropped a lot of dimes in the first half,” Nowell said. “I tried to look for my own shot a little bit more and be more aggressive, and I wanted to go to New York.”

Nowell, a Harlem native, will return home for his next game: Kansas State (24-9) will play in the round of 16 on Thursday at Madison Square Garden against the winner between No. 2 seed Marquette and No. 7 seed Michigan State.

Ismael Massoud and Florida transfer Keyontae Johnson hit back-to-back 3-pointers to put Kansas State up 67-62 after it trailed by 1. Nowell made six foul shots in the final seconds.

The loss was the latest stinging defeat for Kentucky Coach John Calipari, the highest-paid coach in college basketball, and is likely to spur further unrest among the rabid Kentucky fans known as Big Blue Nation.

Calipari led Kentucky to the national championship in 2012 and to three other Final Four appearances. But last year, the Wildcats were stunned as a No. 2 by the No. 15-seeded St. Peter’s in the first round, and they missed the tournament altogether in 2021.

“There’s a high expectation level, and it is Kentucky,” Calipari said. “You put that on. The other team is going to play out of their minds, and they’re going to play like they have nothing to lose.”

Under its first-year coach, Jerome Tang, Kansas State was picked to finish last in the Big 12 Conference but has enjoyed its first winning season since 2018-19. It last made the round of 16 in 2018, under its previous coach, Bruce Weber, who retired after last season.

For Kentucky, Oscar Tshiebwe, the national player of the year last season, was dominant in the paint with 25 points and 18 rebounds, while freshman Cason Wallace notched 21 points and 9 rebounds before fouling out in the final seconds. — Adam Zagoria

Second-seeded Iowa and its star shooter, Caitlin Clark, are heading to the women’s round of 16 after just holding off Georgia in a tightly contested game.

The teams traded blows and exchanged the lead nine times, but the Hawkeyes took a lead at the end of the third quarter that they wouldn’t relinquish. Iowa managed enough elbow room in the fourth quarter to hold off the Bulldogs, 74-66, even as they pulled within 2 with just over 2 minutes left on Audrey Warren’s 3-pointer, her only basket of the game.

From there, Clark spent much of the rest of the game trying to weave between Georgia defenders as they attempted to foul her, hitting the floor several times. Clark hit a jumper and four free throws in the final minute, perhaps her most important moments in a game in which she never left the floor and tallied 22 points and 12 assists despite shooting only 35 percent.

Georgia, which hasn’t made the round of 16 since 2013, tried to stifle Clark with quick defense, which caught the Hawkeyes off guard for much of the first half. Diamond Battles kept things close with her outside shooting and finished with 21 points.

Still, it was no match for Clark’s wizardry and ball control, especially in the final minutes.

The Hawkeyes will meet the winner between Duke and Colorado, which play Monday night, on Friday in Seattle. — Remy Tumin

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Seventh-seeded Michigan State upset second-seeded Marquette, 69-60, on Sunday in a ruthless, tit-for-tat matchup, claiming an unlikely spot in the round of 16 against Kansas State at Madison Square Garden.

Tom Izzo, M.S.U.’s combustible, emotional 28-year coach, fought back tears on the bench with under 30 seconds remaining, then broke down after the final buzzer as he raised his fists in celebratory relief. As he prepared for a radio interview across the court minutes later, he put his hands on his knees, bending down and shaking his head. He then wiped away tears.

Marquette well-surpassed low expectations this season. The Golden Eagles had been picked to finish ninth out of 11 teams in the Big East Conference before the season, but won the competitive league behind plucky point guard Tyler Kolek, who scored just 7 points on Sunday.

Marquette’s luck (and a 10-game win streak) ended in a packed, noisy, tense Nationwide Arena in Columbus, where its fans appeared to outnumber M.S.U.’s despite the greater distance from Milwaukee.

Izzo said Sunday’s game was as intense and difficult as any he had coached in his career, mentioning the many times his teams had played deep into N.C.A.A. tournaments. “That was a war. That was a 2000 game. I felt like Mateen Cleaves,” a reference to his national championship-winning team and its star point guard.

M.S.U., which beat Southern California in a first-round game on Friday, appeared to have cleverly scouted Marquette’s offensive playbook, repeatedly cutting off passing lanes and generating nine steals.

“They took us out of our rhythm,” Kolek said after the game.

The game was tight until the end, with the teams separated by a single point with under four minutes left. But Michigan State guard Tyson Walker delivered 9 of the Spartans’ final 13 points, including a critical contested layup, to help seal the game.

A Long Island native, Walker said that he was eager to compete in Madison Square Garden, his home state’s most famous basketball venue. — Noah Weiland

BATON ROUGE, La. — Coach Kim Mulkey had said her Louisiana State team would not “live and die by the 3.” But the long-range shot came in handy for the Tigers on Sunday against Michigan.

The Wolverines had cut into the Tigers’ double-digit halftime lead before Angel Reese made a layup and got fouled. She did not convert the and-one, but L.S.U. got an even better result: LaDazhia Williams secured the offensive rebound and Kateri Poole made a 3-pointer for a 5-point trip down the floor.

Third-seeded L.S.U. would go on to push its lead back to double figures and easily beat sixth-seeded Michigan, 66-42, in the second round of the women’s N.C.A.A. tournament. The Tigers will face second-seeded Utah on Friday in Greenville, S.C. It will be their first round-of-16 game since 2014.

Sequences like Poole’s third-quarter 3-pointer buoyed L.S.U., which shot just 35.3 percent but was able to take 22 more attempts than the Wolverines because of its offensive rebounding advantage, 22-5. L.S.U. had 18 second-chance points to Michigan’s 2.

Three-pointers had helped L.S.U. build its lead. Guard Jasmine Carson came off the bench to make three 3-pointers as part of an 11-0 run early in the second quarter.

Reese led the Tigers with her 30th double-double of the season, fighting hard for 14 offensive rebounds and scoring 25 points with putbacks, post moves, dribble-drives to the basket and free throws.

She was also key to the Tigers’ defensive effort, like when she switched onto Michigan guard Laila Phelia at the end of the third quarter and forced a shot-clock violation. She punctuated the performance by blocking an Emily Kiser 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter and making an X motion across her chest.

Phelia scored 20 points for Michigan, but its other two leading scorers — Leigha Brown and Kiser — who each had averaged more than 16 points per game, combined for just 7 points. The loss ends Michigan’s bid to make a third straight appearance in the round of 16.

L.S.U. guard Alexis Morris knew it would be her last home game no matter what. She ended it with a win, a leap into the student section and a trip to the round of 16. — Evan Easterling

It looked, for a few early moments, like women’s college basketball was in for a seismic upset.

South Carolina, the overall No. 1 seed and odds-on favorite to win the N.C.A.A. tournament, was trailing eighth-seeded South Florida, 16-12, after one quarter. The Gamecocks were hitting less than 36 percent of their shots and had committed five turnovers. South Florida was playing like it wasn’t afraid of the reigning champion.

But the game is 40 minutes, not 10.

After the rocky start, more of South Carolina’s shots started falling, and the Gamecocks raised the defensive pressure considerably on the Bulls. South Carolina pulled ahead by 4 points at halftime and then hit the gas in the second half, running away with the 76-45 victory.

Forward Aliyah Boston said in a postgame TV interview that the slow start was a product of South Florida’s defensive intensity.

“We were just trying to figure them out a little bit,” she said.

And they did. South Carolina moved the ball freely in the second half and committed just four turnovers, while holding South Florida to just 7 points in the third quarter and 9 in the fourth.

Elena Tsineke led the early charge for South Florida with 7 points in the first. She finished with a team-high 20.

Guard Zia Cooke paced South Carolina with 21 points. Boston added 11 points and 11 rebounds for her 81st career double-double. The team’s depth was also on display, with 14 players hitting the floor and 11 of them scoring.

The Gamecocks pushed their record to 34-0 and will play in the round of 16 for the ninth consecutive tournament. — Sara Ziegler

ALBANY, N.Y. — Dan Hurley is in his fifth season as the men’s coach at Connecticut, but before this year, his Huskies had never won an N.C.A.A. tournament game.

Now they’ve won two, and they’re hungry for more.

Behind another dominant performance from 6-foot-9, 245-pound big man Adama Sanogo, who went for 24 points and 8 rebounds, the fourth-seeded Huskies fended off No. 5 seed St. Mary’s, 70-55. On Thursday in Las Vegas, they will meet No. 8 seed Arkansas, which upset Kansas, a No. 1 and the reigning champion, on Saturday.

It is the first round-of-16 appearance for the Huskies since 2014, when they won their fourth national championship.

“They’ve got all the metrics to win a national championship,” Iona Coach Rick Pitino said of the Huskies, after Sanogo tallied 28 points and 13 rebounds against the Gaels on Friday. The ESPN analyst Jay Bilas also picked UConn to win the national title.

The decidedly pro-Connecticut crowd at MVP Arena included the actor Bill Murray, whose son Luke is a Connecticut assistant. After taking a 1-point halftime lead, the Huskies opened the second half with a 20-10 run. The crowd chanted “Let’s go, Huskies,” and let out a roar when Jordan Hawkins hit three key 3-pointers during a stretch midway through the second half that UConn used to pull away. He finished with 12 points, while point guard Tristen Newton scored 13.

Hurley is the brother of Bobby Hurley, the Arizona State coach and former Duke star whose team lost in the first round, and the son of Naismith Hall of Fame high school coach Bob Hurley Sr. Hurley said he knows he has a team capable of making a deep run.

“This is the pressure business,” Hurley said this week. “I’m fortunate that the way I was raised, my upbringing in the game, I’ve been around this my whole life.” — Adam Zagoria

One element of the N.C.A.A. tournaments that emerges with so many teams playing simultaneously and in rapid succession: No program wants to end up a cautionary example in their bracket, and sometimes a team takes out that sentiment on its opponent.

That was how No. 3 seed Xavier approached Pittsburgh, a No. 11 seed that had come into the Sunday matchup looking like it had a fresh mandate after sneaking into the field, then winning a play-in game and dispatching Iowa State with ease in the first round.

Ultimately that was all just fodder for the Musketeers, who got spooked by Kennesaw State in a first-round game early Friday afternoon and then watched over the next 48 hours as so many big programs — Purdue, Duke, Kansas — faltered.

They took that out on the Panthers, running up the score by playing well down low, passing skillfully and steeling themselves for a run, much like a tennis or boxing mismatch in which one side wants to dominate by directly rattling and outmaneuvering their opponent.

So when Pitt had its one good run late, to get within 8 points with less than two minutes left, it was too little too late to stop Xavier from advancing to the round of 16, 84-73, and looking strong while doing it. — Oskar Garcia