Comebacks, heads of state dominate first day of March Madness

Tyler Whetstone Contributor
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Maybe it was President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron’s presence, or maybe it was nerves subsiding, or maybe it was just luck.

Regardless, both games that Obama and Cameron witnessed Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio were record-breakers.

The second of two NCAA opening tip-off games went down to the wire, and the Brigham Young University Cougars set an NCAA tournament record by coming back from 25 points down to beat fellow 14th-seeded Iona University 78–72, The Washington Post reported.

Iona (25–8, 15–3 MAAC), which came into the game leading the nation in points per game and assists per game, and was second in field goal percentage per game, had no trouble going up early on BYU (26–8, 12–4 WCC).

Iona opened up a 25-point lead in the first 16 minutes, dominating almost every single possession. But they were held scoreless for the final 4:30 of the first half and went to the halftime break up by 15.

In the second half, BYU took control.

Leading BYU scorer Noah Hartsock scored 16 of his game-high 23 points in the second half, and the Cougars scratched and clawed their way back into the game.

The Cougars cut Iona’s lead to 62–61 with a 17–0 run that spanned 9:20 in the second half. The run-and-gun approach that had worked in the first half was being slowed by BYU.

“Coming back from 25 points down is really satisfying now that we’ve won,” said BYU head coach Dave Rose. “But I don’t think that any of us, especially the coaching staff or our players, doubted the fact that we could chip into that lead.”

Iona’s Mike Glover, MAAC’s second leading scorer with 18.3 points per game, was held to just 13 points, and the Gaels had no answer.

With 2:26 remaining in the game, Hartsock hit the go-ahead 3 for the Cougars first lead of the game.

“It’s going to be one that we have to live with the rest of our lives,” Gaels coach Tim Cluess said. “It’s a tough one we let get away. No excuses.”

The Cougars will play third-seed Marquette on Thursday in Louisville.

History was also made in a matchup of two 16-seeds vying for a chance to limp into the second round of the tournament to face overall No. 1 seed Kentucky on Thursday.

The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers overcame an NCAA tournament record 16-point deficit in the final five minutes Tuesday night against the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils (21–13, 17–1 SWAC) for a 59–58 win.

The Hilltoppers (16–18, 7–9 Sun Belt) came into the 68-team NCAA tournament as the only team with a losing record after surprising the Sun Belt Conference and winning the conference tournament a week ago.

Western Kentucky rallied back from double-digit deficits in each of its last three games, but the comeback against MVSU was clearly the biggest.

“We’re used to doing it,” said the Hilltoppers leading scorer, Derrick Gordon. “We did it all throughout the Sun Belt tournament. No matter how much we were losing by, we were just going to keep on fighting until the buzzer went off. That’s something that teams don’t know about us.”

WKU’s 28 turnovers and 30-percent shooting from the floor coincided with its regular season offensive woes. The team scored just 65.1 points per game, good for 238th in the nation.

But like they have done for much of the season, the Hilltoppers found a way. After a midseason coaching change and several losing streaks, the Hilltoppers ended the season winning nine of 12.

The Delta Devils succumbed to Western Kentucky’s full court press in the final minutes, and couldn’t make the shots to close the game out.

“I thought it was just our guys got rattled, got excited, and got a little bit beside themselves,” coach Sean Woods said. “Normally in a situation like that, maybe it’s one guy or two. But when it’s all five, it was like a snowball effect.”

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