Rushed Reactions: #5 West Virginia 69, #4 Maryland 59

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 23rd, 2015

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

West Virginia's pressure was too much for Maryland tonight. (Joe Maiorana/USA TODAY Sports)

West Virginia’s pressure was too much for Maryland tonight. (Joe Maiorana/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. West Virginia’s pressure finally wore Maryland down. Maryland was going to turn the ball over – everyone does against West Virginia – but in the first half, it didn’t let those miscues (nine of them) deter it from scoring. The Terrapins shot 54.5 percent from the field and knocked down six threes, breaking the press with enough regularity to stay in the game. Over the final 20 minutes, however, the Mountaineers’ bruising style of play started to wear down Mark Turgeon’s club. Errant passes, five-second calls, rushed possessions – even injury [see below]. Maryland coughed it up 14 times in the second half and only made two shots from behind the arc, clearly suffering from mental and physical fatigue. “They kept throwing a lot of bodies at us,” Terrapins senior Dez Wells said afterwards.
  2. Melo Trimble took a beating, and his absence spelled the end for Maryland. Already struggling with injury after falling victim to a hard screen earlier in the game, Maryland’s star freshman was knocked out for good around the seven-minute mark of the second half; a teammate accidentally kneed him in the back of the head as he was falling down in transition. That probably finished off the Terrapins. Trimble is the team’s best offensive playmaker and most accurate three-point shooter, the one guy who could have realistically helped Maryland regain momentum at that point in the contest (still only down by seven). But the team doctors decided he didn’t pass enough concussion tests, and that just about sealed the deal – a brutal end to an otherwise excellent season.
  3. West Virginia probably won’t beat Kentucky, but it could give the Wildcats hell. West Virginia’s entire M.O. amounts to this: force turnovers, offensive rebound and out-shoot the opponent. Tonight, the Mountaineers accomplished all of that, forcing 23 turnovers, securing 14 offensive rebounds and attempting 16 more shots than Maryland. It’s an extremely aggressive, extremely simple formula that’s predicated on toughness, energy and the ability to send bodies in waves. But can it work against Kentucky? Maybe so, at least to some degree. One of the Wildcats’ most glaring ‘weaknesses’ (if they have any) is on the defensive glass, where the SEC champs rank 196th nationally in defensive rebounding rate. If Huggins’ group can force more turnovers than Arkansas (which also likes to press) was able to against Kentucky, its ability to crash the glass – in conjunction with that unmatched relentlessness – might be enough to keep it in the game.

Star Player: Devin Williams (16 points, 10 rebounds). For the second straight game, West Virginia’s goggle-wearing forward was a beast on both ends of the court. He hammered the offensive and defensive glass, played great defense around the rim, and led the team in scoring. Williams must keep that going on Thursday night if West Virginia has any designs on a trip to the Elite Eight.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Oklahoma 72, #11 Dayton 66

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 22nd, 2015

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Oklahoma dominated Dayton in the final 10 minutes. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Oklahoma dominated Dayton in the final 10 minutes. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

  1. Oklahoma cranked up the defense. From about the midway point of the first half to the midway point of the second, Oklahoma’s defense simply wasn’t very good. Dayton found open perimeter look after open perimeter look and slashed to the rim at will, assembling two huge runs – 15-0 and 12-0 – that energized the crowd and put it ahead comfortably. Then the Sooners cranked up the heat. For over nine straight minutes of game time – virtually the entire last quarter – the Flyers did not muster a single point, enabling Lon Kruger’s bunch to overcome its deficit and come out on top. The prolonged stand – punctuated by Buddy Hield’s transition block at the 1:02 mark – showed why Oklahoma ranks among the 10-most efficient defenses in college basketball. The Sooners can lock down.
  2. Kendall Pollard’s airballed free-throw may have been a sign. With just under one minute to play and his team down five, Dayton forward Kendall Pollard stepped to the line for a 1-and-1… and promptly missed everything. Net, rim – everything. Maybe it was a sign that the Flyers had finally run out of gas. After playing with great energy against Providence on Friday and for the first 30 minutes tonight, it looked as if Miller’s short-handed group – taking the court for the sixth time in 10 days – just didn’t have the legs to finish. Make no mistake – Oklahoma won this game – but it’s hard to argue that that Dayton’s extremely short turnaround and utter lack of depth (342nd in bench minutes) didn’t play some kind of factor.
  3. Lon Kruger deserves some dap. With the victory, Kruger became the first head coach in the expanded NCAA Tournament era to take four different programs to the Sweet Sixteen. That feat is especially impressive when you consider how dire things looked at times tonight; not only did Oklahoma trail by multiple possessions in front of a hostile environment, but several Sooners’ players seemed heated and rattled during a few second half timeouts. Credit the veteran head man for rallying his guys and gutting out the historic win.

Star Player: Buddy Hield (15 points, five assists). Hield was not very efficient tonight (4-of-13 FG) nor did he ever go on a scoring tear, but the 6’4” junior came up with several big defensive plays – including the clutch block – that illustrated why he’s among the best players in the Big 12.

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Rushed Reaction: #7 Wichita State 78, #2 Kansas 65

Posted by Eric Clark on March 22nd, 2015

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

USATSI_8470978_168381137_lowres

The Shockers Are Living It Up Tonight (USA Today Images)

  1. Wichita State wanted it more. If you tuned in to the game at any point during the action today in Omaha, this was plainly obvious. Kansas, loaded with NBA-bound talent, simply acted like it didn’t feel like playing very hard today. A lot of that should fall on head coach Bill Self, who was unable to coerce any sort of fire or emotion from his guys. For a week now, the nation had anticipated this Sunflower State battle that the Selection Committee so generously mapped out for us, and still the Jayhawks had trouble amping up. But do NOT get caught up in thinking that an “underdog” Wichita State team somehow toppled a Goliath in Kansas today — it didn’t. Wichita State is incredibly talented and well-coached, which makes Kansas’ lack of total effort that much more disappointing. Fred VanVleet is one of the best point guards in the country. Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton are vastly underrated sidekicks, and the Shockers’ bench is more than formidable. Good luck getting on Kansas’ schedule now, Shockers, because this only furthers the notion that the Jayhawks have nothing to gain from playing their intrastate rivals from the MVC.
  2. If you know where Wayne Selden or Kelly Oubre are, give Bill Self a call. Kansas’ team is loaded with excellent players but it shouldn’t be a stretch to ask Selden and Oubre to perform like the future NBA players that they are. They were nearly nonexistent today. Selden was 0-of-5 from the field and committed two turnovers, with his only positive contributions coming in the form of one offensive rebound and one steal. Oubre found some life late in the game, as he finished with nine points and three makes from the free throw line. Still, he went 3-of-9 from the field and was hassled constantly by Wichita State’s wings, never finding a clean look at the rim. When Frank Mason fouled out of the game late in the second half, Self put in Svi Mykhailiuki over his future pro, Selden. Mason, Ellis and Devonte’ Graham carried the load for the Jayhawks, and we’ll never know just how different the game may have gone if Selden or Oubre had done anything.
  3. Excuse me if you’ve heard this one before: Fred VanVleet is a killer. There’s no question who the best point guard in Kansas is. VanVleet again gave way to a strong first half to his counterpart Frank Mason, giving up nine points and allowing Mason to routinely drive into the lane. But VanVleet shut him down in the second half, playing a heavy role in forcing him into five turnovers. VanVleet was only 4-of-12 from the field, but he consistently found his way to the rim, drawing fouls and defenders away from their primary assignments. Wichita State went 10-of-20 from three-point range, and while VanVleet only made a couple of those, he undoubtedly was the primary reason that the Shockers found so many good looks from three. It’s common knowledge that the Rockford, Illinois, product is the Shockers’ emotional leader – but it’s naive to think that the Shockers’ needed any more motivation than their false moniker of “little brother.”

Star of the game. Evan Wessel. The Shockers’ “garbage man” had to deal with former high school teammate Perry Ellis in the post all game long, conceding 17 points to the Jayhawks’ big man. Keep in mind that Ellis has more than four inches on him, though, and that Wessel still grabbed nine rebounds to Ellis’ total of eight. Wessel only scored 12 points, all of them coming from the three-point line, but each shot was a mini-dagger to the Jayhawks’ hopes of mounting any sort of comeback.

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Circle of March: Vol. XX

Posted by rtmsf on March 22nd, 2015

This is our 20th Circle of March, which means we’re getting there. After eight more eliminations in the first half of the Round of 32, we’re down to 24 total teams vying for the 2015 National Championship. Here’s today’s CoM.

2015_CircleofMarch_V20

Eliminations (03.21.15)

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Notre Dame 67, #6 Butler 64 (OT)

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 22nd, 2015

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways:

Notre Dame is going to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2003. (Gene J. Puskar / AP)

Notre Dame is going to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2003. (Gene J. Puskar / AP)

  1. Mike Brey’s mother passed away this morning. How did he coach through that? Directly following one of the better games of the NCAA Tournament, Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey announced that his 84 year-old mother died of a heart attack on Saturday morning. The news came as a true shock to everyone in the room, a heartbreaking announcement in the midst of an otherwise joyful moment for the Irish. He cited her competitiveness, the fact that she tried to turn Brey and his siblings into swimmers growing up – she was an Olympic swimmer in 1956 – and reflectively noted “she had a great run.” You have to wonder how the heavy-hearted coach managed to muster enough positive energy to lead his team to victory.
  2. The seniors put Notre Dame over the hump. Sophomore Steve Vasturia led the way with 20 points. Junior Zach Auguste secured a team-high 13 rebounds. Second-year point guard Demetrius Jackson made a serious of big plays to re-establish momentum in the second half. But it was the senior guards – Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton – who finally got Notre Dame over its postseason hump. Connaughton swatted Kellen Dunham’s game-winning three-point attempt to send the game into overtime, then drilled a big triple in the extra period to break a 59-59 tie. A few minutes later, his team up three, Grant made a slashing layup with 21 seconds left to season the Irish victory. Entering the night, Brey hadn’t reached the Sweet Sixteen since 2003 – the victim of six first-weekend exits over the past 11 years. His seniors weren’t going to let it happen again.
  3. The Irish were hellbent on shutting down Kellen Dunham, and it worked. Even if it meant surrendering buckets to Roosevelt Jones (who scored 23 points), Notre Dame was not going to let Butler sharpshooter Kellen Dunham beat it from behind the arc – especially not after his 20-point performance against Texas on Thursday. Irish defenders were draped all over the junior from opening tip to final buzzer, holding him to just 2-of-13 shooting and eight total points, well below his season average (16.7 PPG). The Bulldogs were never able to extend their second-half lead far enough to take firm control, and their leading-scorer’s lack of scoring may have been the reason why.

Star of the Game: Pat Connaughton (seven points, nine rebounds and a huge block). Forget about the statistics; Connaughton was the star tonight. His toughness and confidence and massive swat to end regulation carried Notre Dame to victory.

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Rushed Reactions: #8 North Carolina State 71, #1 Villanova 68

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 21st, 2015

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

North Carolina State upended the top-seeded Wildcats in Pittsburgh. (Associated Press)

North Carolina State upended the top-seeded Wildcats in Pittsburgh. (Associated Press)

  1. North Carolina State’s defense was exceptional. It was going to take a complete 40-minute defensive effort for North Carolina State to pull this off, and that’s exactly what it got. The rotations were crisp. The guards did an excellent job of taking away the three-point line, holding Villanova to just 9-of-28 from behind the arc – crucial against a team that relies on the long-ball for over 35 percent of its offense. The frontcourt was rarely out of position, routinely collapsing on Wildcat big men Daniel Ochefu and JayVaughn Pinkston each time they worked the ball in the paint. All told, Mark Gottfried’s bunch held Villanova – the fourth-most efficient offense in college basketball – to just 1.06 points per possession and 31.1 percent shooting from the field, its second-lowest mark of the season.
  2. Yet again, the Wolfpack forwards were integral to its success. Despite no frontcourt players averaging more than 6.8 points per game entering the weekend, North Carolina State received massive contributions from its big guys for the second time in three nights. Lennard Freeman recorded an 11-point, 12-rebound double-double and couple big blocks. Freshman Abdul-Malik Abu also finished with a double-double – 12 points and 13 rebounds – coming up with critical offensive rebound after critical offensive rebound to keep the Wolfpack ahead throughout the second half. As good as its backcourt has been this season (and they were certainly vital again tonight), North Carolina State’s front line was the difference between a huge second-round upset and a “meh” exit from the Tournament.
  3. More disappointment for Villanova. For the second straight year, Villanova rolled through the regular season, earned a top-two seed in the NCAA Tournament and failed to reach the second weekend. “This will not define us,” head coach Jay Wright said after the game. But with arguably his best team ever – at least on paper – it’s hard not to view tonight’s outcome as an enormous disappointment, the kind of “what if?” defeat that lingers for several years to come. Two nights ago, the Wildcats looked capable of winning the whole thing; tonight, they are going home.

Star Player: Trevor Lacey (17 points, six rebounds). The Alabama transfer came up with big shot after big shot every time North Carolina State needed it, including a behind-the-back dribble, step-back three as the first half buzzer sounded, giving the Wolfpack a four-point lead at the break.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Arizona 73, #10 Ohio State 58

Posted by rtmsf on March 21st, 2015

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

All Smiles at Arizona as the Wildcats Outlasted the Buckeyes Today (USA Today Images)

All Smiles at Arizona as the Wildcats Outlasted the Buckeyes Today (USA Today Images)

  1. TJ McConnell Has Great Poise and Intangibles. And blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. That’s code language for “white point guard” in college basketball. And even if it’s completely 100 percent true, the bigger truth is that McConnell also has a spectacularly well-developed skill set. When Arizona couldn’t figure out the Ohio State zone at all in the first half, it was McConnell’s repeated breaking down of the defense that kept the Wildcats from digging themselves a substantial early hole. When the Arizona frontcourt was shooting itself into obliviion, it was his four steals that led to the majority of Arizona’s 10 first-half points off of turnovers — the only offense that was really working for the ‘Cats at the time. McConnell ended the game with 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting, six rebounds, six assists and five steals in an all-around performance befitting a senior leader.
  2. Battle of the Freshmen. Yeah, so about that. What was billed as a chance for star freshmen D’Angelo Russell and Stanley Johnson to do battle in a heated Round of 32 game didn’t really work out as planned. Russell never looked comfortable as he had trouble shaking the length of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and the relentlessness of TJ McConnell on his way to a rough 3-of-19 (1-of-7 from three) shooting performance. Johnson wasn’t any better in shooting the ball, throwing up a horrific 1-of-12 shooting night of his own. Both players contributed in other ways, however, which proves that they’re more than one-dimensional scorers — Russell grabbed seven boards and dropped six dimes (a few of which were drop dead gorgeous) while Johnson collected 10 rebounds and a couple of steals. Luckily for Arizona
  3. The Upside of Arizona. Nothing changed opinions about the potential upside of Arizona after seeing them win twice here in Portland this weekend. Texas Southern was an obvious mismatch, but Ohio State’s athleticism and length created an interesting Round of 32 matchup for a team that can sometimes struggle to put the ball in the basket. The Arizona frontcourt ended up shooting a terrible 9-of-37 from the field, but the backcourt of McConnell and York ensured that the Wildcats were able to pull away in the second half. One reason Miller’s bigs were able to take (and miss) so many shots is because they were also relentless on the offensive glass, grabbing 18 rebounds on that end (vs. Ohio State’s entirety of 26) and giving themselves multiple extra chances to convert. This was especially true in the second half as the Buckeyes’ frontcourt players clearly got gassed with the continuous pressure. Arizona didn’t play great today, but it still looked Final Four good. We’ll see whether Los Angeles has any trouble in store for the Wildcats.

Player of the Game: Gabe York. York’s instant offense off the Arizona bench ensured that Arizona was going to win today’s game. Arizona’s legion of forwards could not figure out the Ohio State zone until York entered the game in the first half and hit a three. He added four more bombs during a seven-minute stretch in the second half when Arizona built its lead from two to 13 points, essentially never looking back from there. He finished the game with 19 points and a career-high five threes. Arizona fans will love this assessment — McConnell was definitely the more valuable player today, but York was the bigger star.

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Circle of March: Vol. XIX

Posted by rtmsf on March 21st, 2015

And just like that, we’re down to 32 teams still standing. In about 36 hours, we’ll have only 16. Enjoy the Round of 32!

2015_CircleofMarch_V19

Eliminations (03.20.15)

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Dayton 66, #6 Providence 53

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 21st, 2015

rushedreactions

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Dayton gave Providence fits on Friday night. (Paul Vernon, Associated Press)

Dayton gave Providence fits on Friday night. (Paul Vernon, Associated Press)

  1. Dayton had home-court advantage, and it clearly mattered. After beating Boise State on Wednesday in Dayton, the Flyers barely had to trek one hour east for tonight’s game in Columbus. Same went for their fans, who showed up in full force to Nationwide Arena. When the shots starting falling and the lead began to build, so did the volume, helping Archie Miller’s undermanned and undersized club maintain its level of energy and confidence against the bigger, deeper Friars. And the story should be much the same against Oklahoma on Sunday, which begs the question: Has a #11-seeded, First Four participant ever been in a better situation?
  2. The Flyers are impervious to fatigue. This was Dayton’s fifth game in eight days, which might not be so bad were it not for the fact that it ranks 343rd nationally in bench minutes. Unlike last year, when Miller played 11 guys a night, only six or seven Flyers see significant time on the court this season. Moreover, none of those players stand taller than 6’6”, meaning their effort and activity on the defensive end – especially against a frontcourt as massive as Providence’s – must to be at a maximum on every possession in order to compete. And yet they never seem to tire, routinely overcoming mismatches and attacking opposing defenses like it’s the middle of November instead of the third week of March. Conventional logic and scouting reports don’t seem to apply to this group, which is why it could wind up in the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row.
  3. Providence’s Ed Cooley should not have received a technical foul. Cooley is a smart, level-headed coach who was clearly trying to motivate his team when he tipped over a chair during the under-4 timeout in the second half. But he received a technical for it, which John Adams, the NCAA’s national coordinator of officials, said was supported by Officiating Manual Rule 10, Section 3, Article 2 – “Bench personnel committing an unsportsmanlike act.” – and further supported by another section pertaining to “a negative response to a call/no-call.” I understand that rules are rules, but considering the situation – 3:42 left in an eight-point game – it seemed completely unwarranted.

Star Player: Kyle Davis (six points, nine rebounds, five steals). Dyshawn Pierre led the team statistically with 20 points and nine rebounds, but Davis – the quick-handed sophomore guard – was a force on the defensive end, beating Providence’s Kris Dunn at his own game (swiping the basketball) and using his speed for a few timely buckets.

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Rushed Reactions: #8 San Diego State 76, #9 St. John’s 64

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 20th, 2015

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

All Smiles for San Diego State Tonight -- We Can't Score? (USA Today Images)

All Smiles for San Diego State Tonight — We Can’t Score? (USA Today Images)

  1. San Diego State was just too deep and tough. This was not the best of matchups for a shorthanded St. John’s team. With San Diego State’s depth and the tough defense that the Aztecs play, the Red Storm would have faced a tough challenge even before they lost center Chris Obekpa to suspension. The Johnnies battled hard, and to their credit, they made an effort to push the ball in transition (16 fast break points) rather than face the molasses-thick half-court defense of the Aztecs. Tired legs probably caught up with them in the second half as St. John’s only shot 1-of-6 on their second half threes. We saw this coming when the halftime box score showed that four of Steve Lavin’s group had played the entire half while eight San Diego State players had logged at least nine minutes.
  2. Rebounding was a huge concern for St. John’s but San Diego State didn’t dominate the glass. The Red Storm were a terrible rebounding team (-6.6 RPG) in Big East play this season even with Obekpa in the lineup. But for the first 20 minutes, the undersized Johnnies battled San Diego State evenly on the glass. After intermission, though, the deeper frontline of the Aztecs eventually won the day, leading them to a +13 advantage in second chance points for the contest.
  3. The Aztecs were actually good offensively. San Diego State came in with the nation’s 172nd-best offense but came out hot tonight, scoring an efficient 1.21 points per possession in a surprisingly potent 40-point first half. St. John’s is no Virginia defensively, especially without Opekpa in the paint, but the Red Storm had no answer when the Aztecs attacked. The real surprise was that San Diego State was so hot from distance, making 9-of-22 threes in tonight’s game.

Star of the Game.  Dwayne Polee II, San Diego State. The balanced Aztecs had many candidates for this award, but we will select Polee II for getting his team off to a fast start. The senior who had missed 15 games earlier this year for health reasons hit 4-of-6 threes on his way to 12 first half points, getting the Aztecs off and running.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Oklahoma 69, #14 Albany 60

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 20th, 2015

rushedreactions

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

It wasn't a blowout, but Oklahoma did enough to win. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

It wasn’t a blowout, but Oklahoma did enough to win. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

  1. Albany had its chances but couldn’t capitalize. Although the #3 seed Oklahoma never trailed, this game was far from lopsided. Albany limited Oklahoma’s transition opportunities (for the most part), and the Sooners shot just 7-of-24 from behind the arc against the Great Danes’ zone. At various points throughout the contest, Will Brown’s team pulled within striking distance, just two or three possessions away from tying things up. But it was never able to capitalize. A missed shot here, an ill-advised miscue there – the America East champs cut the deficit to six points five different times in second half, but never got over the hump. “I wish we would have shot the ball a little bit better,” Brown said, knowing full-well his group left opportunities on the court.
  2. TaShawn Thomas needs to keep playing big. Despite those missed perimeter jumpers, Oklahoma stayed comfortably ahead thanks in part to the stellar play of forward TaShawn Thomas. The Houston transfer led all scorers with 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting, dominating Albany’s undersized big men at various points in the game and forcing Brown to commit extra attention on the block – which in turn freed up opportunities for teammates. The Sooners are now 7-0 when the senior scores at least 15 points, and his presence down low will become even more crucial as Oklahoma advances in this tournament. Especially with Providence and its massive front line possibly looming on Sunday.
  3. Lon Kruger exorcises his recent NCAA Tournament demons. The veteran head coach entered tonight 0-4 in his last four NCAA Tournament appearances, including the last two with Oklahoma. So while he didn’t make a big deal of it in the postgame presser, you can bet that Kruger – bounced by non-power conference schools in both 2013 and 2014 – was relieved after tonight’s victory. Sooners faithful might not put the pressure on like Duke or North Carolina fans do, but it’s always nice to put questions about your postseason coaching chops to rest.

Star Player: TaShawn Thomas (18 points, five rebounds). Again, Thomas came up big on a night when the perimeter shooters weren’t exactly scorching the nets. He needs to continue dominating – or at least reliably producing – for Oklahoma to go deep into this NCAA Tournament. The seventh-tallest team in America, Providence, might be up next.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Duke 85, #16 Robert Morris 56

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 20th, 2015

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Jahlil Okafor and Duke were too big for Robert Morris to handle in the paint. (AP Photo)

Jahlil Okafor and Duke were too big for Robert Morris to handle in the paint. (AP Photo)

  1. Duke says “not this year.” After well-documented Second Round clunkers in two of the last three years, Duke came out blazing tonight — hitting nine of its first 10 shots on the way to a 17-point halftime lead. The Colonials made a run midway through the second half to cut the Duke lead to 10, but after a Mike Krzyzewski timeout, the Blue Devils responded with a run of its own to put the game away. When Duke’s balanced offense is clicking, it’s very hard to stop. Tonight they made threes and dominated inside with a +12 rebounding edge. The only negatives were a 50 percent performance at the foul line, and the tendency to get casual with the ball, as Duke committed 11 mostly unforced turnovers.
  2. Robert Morris looked like a #16 seed tonight. The Colonials were impressive in their First Four win over North Florida on Wednesday but looked physically overmatched against Duke tonight. While few teams can match up with freshman All-American Jahlil Okafor, the Colonials’ overall lack of size anywhere in the lineup gave them virtually no chance. Even Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee were too much for Robert Morris to handle in the post. For the game, Duke outscored its opponent in the paint by a huge margin (+24) and the undersized Colonials only got to the free throw line four times.
  3. Duke’s freshmen performed well in their NCAA Tournament debut. Part of the worry for Duke fans coming into today’s game was that those two Blue Devils squads that suffered recent early NCAA exits were so reliant on freshman stars. With this year’s team suiting up a trio of great rookies, the question of experience in an NCAA Tournament setting was on everyone’s minds. It didn’t seem to matter. Okafor had his way inside, going 9-of-11 from the floor and suffering some sharp scolding from Krzyzewski after missed a reverse dunk in transition. Tyus Jones ran the team well, finishing with 10 points, seven assists and committing only one turnover. Justise Winslow came alive in the second half and was the player who facilitated Duke fighting off Robert Morris’ second half surge. After the lead was cut to 10, Winslow hit a three, grabbed a rebound and took it coast to coast for a layup, and then grabbed another board that he turned into an assist on a Tyus Jones three. Ballgame.

Star of the Game. Quinn Cook, Duke. Duke’s senior leader made sure that his team got off to a great start with his early play tonight. He hit four first-half threes on the way to 16 points and finished the game with a team-high 22. Cook also dished out five assists and had three steals in a very good all-around performance.

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