The San Juan Daily Star
Kansas, the reigning champion, is out. But Princeton made the round of 16.
By Adam Zagoria
Kansas, the reigning national champion, is out of the NCAA men’s tournament.
Playing without their head coach, Bill Self, for a second straight game, the top-seeded Jayhawks were stunned by No. 8 seed Arkansas 72-71 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa.
Kansas was bidding to become first the repeat men’s champion since Florida won the tournament in 2006 and 2007. Instead, the Razorbacks advanced to the Sweet 16 in Las Vegas against the winner of Sunday’s game between Connecticut and St. Mary’s in Albany, New York. Arkansas (22-13) finished tied for ninth in the Southeastern Conference, while Kansas (28-8) was the Big 12 regular-season champion.
The Jayhawks became the second No. 1 seed to get bounced from the tournament in less than 24 hours, after No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson toppled No. 1 seed Purdue on Friday night. Six consecutive defending champions have now been eliminated before the Sweet 16.
Just two No. 1 seeds remained after the loss: Alabama in the South and Houston in the West. Both teams won their matchups Saturday night.
The last time only two No. 1 seeds made the Sweet 16 was in 2018; it also happened in 2004, 2000 and 1981.
After the upset, Arkansas coach Eric Musselman climbed on a table and pulled off his shirt to celebrate in front of the Razorback fans.
“That’s just an unbelievable win for our program,” Musselman said in a television interview. “I keep telling people that we’re getting better. Not many teams can get better this time of year. I’ve never been prouder of a team like tonight.”
The game came down to the wire, and Arkansas took a 67-65 lead with 47 seconds left on a putback layup by Kamani Johnson. Jalen Wilson of Kansas made two free throws to tie it at 67, but then his teammate Kevin McCullar Jr. fouled out on the other end.
Ricky Council IV then made three of four free throws to push Arkansas ahead for good, following a back-and-forth trade of free throws and tightly contested shots. Council finished with 11 of the last 15 points for Arkansas, including 7 of the last 9.
Kansas, which led by 8 at halftime, lost for the first time this season after leading at the break.
Davonte Davis, who scored 21 of his game-high 25 points in the second half for the Razorbacks, fouled out with 1:56 remaining.
Princeton follows up its NCAA surprise with a stroll to Sweet 16
Blake Peters, a sophomore guard for Princeton, plays Spanish classical guitar, speaks fluent Mandarin and, it turns out, is tough as nails when his Tigers have a chance to advance to the Sweet 16.
After playing only two minutes of the first half, Peters came off the bench to torch Missouri on Saturday, swishing five 3-pointers to stem every bit of momentum Missouri appeared to muster during Princeton’s 78-63 win in the NCAA men’s tournament in Sacramento.
Peters finished with a season-high 17 points, teammate Ryan Langborg had a game-high 22, and the Tigers did not have to work to the game’s final horn, unlike during their astounding unseating of second-seeded Arizona on Thursday.
Instead, as Princeton put the final flourishes on its commanding performance, the chant coming from the Tigers’ cheering section in Golden 1 Center was loud and clear: “Sweet 16! Sweet 16!”
“Blake Peters has been making shots coming off the bench for us for weeks,” Princeton coach Mitch Henderson said. “This is a very, very confident group.” He added: “They just grit their teeth and do it.”
From underdogs seeded 15th to the bullies on the block in two days, Princeton dominated No. 7 seed Missouri for most of the 40 minutes played in their second-round game. The school advances to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1967.
The rare opportunity was made real by dazzling shooting, especially in comparison with the struggles Princeton overcame against Arizona. The Tigers tripled their 3-point output from that game — making 12 total against Missouri, compared with four against Arizona — and played with poise and presence throughout the game.
Princeton outrebounded (44-30) and outshot (44% to 41%) Missouri. Princeton matched its 3-point total from the Arizona game well within the confines of the first half.
Their steady backbone again was Tosan Evbuomwan, a senior forward from Newcastle, England. Though he finished with what seemed in the box score like a mediocre statistical line, many of his passes set up the passes that did go for assists, exemplifying his fluidity and presence.
Princeton opened a 14-point lead at one point in the first half and continually blunted Missouri’s full-court pressure.
Then, in the second half, just when Missouri threatened, Peters took over. His first four 3-pointers of the second half helped Princeton push its lead to 62-45.
— SCOTT MILLER
Houston rallies past Auburn, in Alabama
When Houston’s players surmised that Legacy Arena would be filled 90% Saturday night with fans of Auburn, whose campus lies just 110 miles to the southeast, Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson laughed.
“Ninety percent? I’m hoping 90” percent, he said — and not more.
Houston is trying to become the first men’s team in more than a decade to play in a Final Four in its hometown, but even though the Cougars have a No. 1 seed, their path home for a championship is hardly a stroll along a primrose path.
After the Cougars struggled to stave off 16th-seeded Northern Kentucky in the first round, they had to rally from a 10-point halftime deficit Saturday night to defeat ninth-seeded Auburn 81-64 in a decidedly hostile neutral-court environment in Birmingham, Alabama.
Houston’s victory and Alabama’s win later Saturday ensured that two top seeds would advance to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, after Purdue was shocked by Fairleigh Dickinson on Friday night and Kansas was upset by Arkansas on Saturday. Never have fewer than two top seeds failed to reach the men’s Sweet 16.
Houston seemed in grave danger after a first half in which Auburn, urged on by a rousing partisan crowd, carved up what had been billed as one of the nation’s top defenses, racing out to a 41-31 lead.
But after halftime, the Cougars ratcheted up their defensive pressure. They made sure that if Auburn got to the basket, it was going to have bumps and bruises to show for it, and that the Tigers would have to win the game at the free-throw line.
It was there that the game turned. The Tigers, a reasonably proficient free-throw shooting team, at 70%, failed miserably, clanking shot after shot off the rim.
Auburn managed only one field goal — a breakaway layup by Wendell Green Jr. — in a nearly 15-minute stretch, by which time Houston was comfortably ahead 70-57.
— BILLY WITZ