Round 2 of the First Four did not resemble Round 1. After a night of two tight games and one decided in the final seconds, the knockout punches came early Wednesday at UD Arena.
The 16 seeds were separated by 16 points at halftime, and Fairleigh Dickinson rolled to an 84-61 victory over Texas Southern. In the final game, Arizona State shot 66.7% in the first half to build a 27-point lead and rolled to a 98-73 victory over Nevada.
Here are five things to know about the games:
1. Sometimes the first half means everything.
Nevada coach Steve Alford knows about good shooting. He was an All-American sharpshooter for Bob Knight at Indiana. All he could do in the first half was stand on the sideline with his arms folded and watch Bobby Hurley’s Arizona State team light up the arena.
The Sun Devils (23-12) made 11 of their first 15 shots to build a 25-15 lead. Nevada (22-11) was 5 of 8, but six turnovers to none for the Sun Devils made the difference. When the score reached 41-22, ASU was shooting 70.8%. Ten more points concluded a 17-0 run to push the lead to 51-22.
For the half, ASU made 21 of 31 shots, including 8 of 14 from three-point range. Nevada made 6 of 12 3-pointers but scored only four points in the paint against the bigger Sun Devils and shot 33.3% overall.
2. Coaches who know the feeling of winning it all.
Arizona State’s Bobby Hurley won back-to-back national championships at Duke in 1991 (Kansas) and 1992 (Michigan). He was the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player in 1992.
In 1987, Alford led Indiana to Knight’s third championship. Keith Smart hit the winning shot in a 74-73 win over Syracuse.
Texas Southern coach Johnny Jones knows the feeling of reaching the Final Four. He did it in 1981 as a freshman at LSU and again in 1986 as one of Dale Brown’s assistant coaches at LSU. The Tigers lost in the semifinals both times.
3. Arizona State might be the latest First Four team to keep advancing.
If the Sun Devils shoot well again and continue to play the kind of defense they have all season, TCU will be on upset alert.
They shot 63.6%, including 52.4% (11 of 21) from 3-point range. During the season they were 15th in the country in field goal percentage defense at 39.8% and fifth among tournament teams. Maybe it was just one of those nights for both teams. Nevada shot 48.1%, including 52.4% (11 of 21) from three-point range and still lost.
4. Three-point shooting, as it often is in the NCAA, is a difference-maker for 16 seeds.
FDU made 7 of 15 three-point shots to roll to a 45-29 halftime lead while TSU missed all eight of its attempts. Ansley Almonor led FDU with 23 points and made 5 of 8 from three-point range. The Knights finished 11 of 27. TSU missed its first 14 3-pointers and finished 1 of 17.
“Hitting my first two, I felt like that helped my confidence a little,” Almonor said. “And defense started to realize that they had to change what they were doing because some of the screens I was using they were getting confused. In the second half they made an adjustment, but that adjustment wasn’t that good because I was getting even more open.”
5. Fairleigh Dickinson advances to face No. 1 seed Purdue on Friday in the East regional while Arizona State heads to Denver to face No. 6 TCU in the West regional.
FDU is the most fortunate of First Four teams when it comes to travel. They go to Columbus for their next game. But as the shortest team in Division I, according to kenpom.com, they face Purdue in a true David vs. Goliath test. Purdue is led by 7-foot-4 Zach Edey, the Big Ten player of the year.
“I never met anybody who was 7-4,” said FDU’s Almonor who is one of FDU’s biggest players at 6-6 and still 10 inches shorter and 85 pounders lighter. “I’ll try to get into his legs a little bit because tall guys don’t like when people get into their legs. We’re going to scout him and go from there.”
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