Heroes and Heartbreak in Big 5 First Round

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

#2 Villanova 86, #15 UNC Asheville 56

Villanova avoided a similar fate to fellow #2 seed Michigan State, leaving no doubt in a dominating victory over UNC Asheville. The Bulldogs kept it close for most of the first half, before a 12-2 run by the Wildcats heading into the locker room created a double-digit lead. Villanova did not look back from there.

Taking advantage of a Bulldogs roster without a roster taller than 6’6″, Daniel Ochefu was the dominating presence on both ends. The senior tallied an outstanding line of 17 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 blocks in only 26 minutes; even better, he showed no lingering effects from last week’s ankle injury.

As a team, the Wildcats shot 13-28 from behind the arc, a very impressive showing against a UNC Asheville squad that entered play as the top team in the nation at defending the three. Ryan Arcidiacono led the way in that area with 14 points on 4-6 shooting from three. He continues to look completely poised and in control of the action in the final days of his collegiate career.

Among non-seniors, freshman Jalen Brunson looked much more composed after a rough Big East tournament where he seemed a bit overwhelmed by the moment. Brunson recorded 10 points and 3 assists on Friday. He and the rest of the Wildcats will next face #7 Iowa Sunday at 12:10pm because…

#7 Iowa 72, #10 Temple 70 (OT)

The Owls lost a heartbreaker in a wild contest that featured a bone-headed mistake by the Hawkeyes at the end of regulation, and a somewhat controversial ending in overtime. In the closing seconds of the first 40 minutes of play, Temple trailed by three, but Iowa fouled Quenton DeCosey on the arm going up for a three-point shot attempt. To his immense credit, DeCosey stepped to the foul line and drained all three free throws in essentially the most pressure-soaked situation a player can face. As is often the case, DeCosey was the man all game long for the Owls, finishing with a game-high 26 points.

After a back-and-forth overtime, Iowa had the ball holding for the final shot. Not only did it look as though Iowa guard Mike Gesell traveled driving to the hoop, but after his off-balanced shot airballed, Iowa’s Adam Woodbury shoved Obi Enechionyia in the back under the basket. There was no whistle from the referees and Woodbury grabbed the offensive rebound and finished the putback to propel the Hawkeyes ahead as time expired. All in all, it really wasn’t the type of play that typically ever gets called at the end of a game, but it was still a brutal way to go out for a Temple squad that fought hard for 45 minutes.

For the Owls, Jaylen Bond did yeoman-like work inside with 14 points and 15 rebounds, while Josh Brown played the entire 45 minutes and accumulated 16 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists. Temple played a strong defensive game for the most part. Iowa star Jarrod Uthoff ended up with 23 points, but shot just 7-21 from the field and 2-10 from three in the process. Ultimately, the fact that Iowa only committed a total of 3 turnovers in 45 minutes was probably the difference.

All in all, heart-breaking defeat for the Owls, but they have a lot to be proud of this season after exceeding expectations to win the regular season AAC title, and returning to the NCAA tournament.

#8 Saint Joseph’s 78, #9 Cincinnati 76

Somehow, the Temple finish was not the wildest ending of the day involving a Big 5 team. After Jacob Evans (game-high 26 points) put Cincinnati ahead by one with inside of 20 seconds remaining, Coach Phil Martelli called timeout, a move I usually hate except in this case he drew up a terrific play. He had Isaiah Miles set a pick for DeAndre Bembry at the top of the key, but quickly slip the screen and flare out to the wing. Bembry dished it to Miles who canned the triple to put the Hawks up two. That play set the stage for one of the wildest endings in tournament history.

With three Hawks defenders surrounding Cincinnati guard Troy Caupain, he found big man Octavius Ellis under the basket for a game-tying dunk. Except…After reviewing the play, the referees determined that by dunking the ball, Ellis kept his hands on the ball just past the point where the red light outlining the backboard lit up, signaling the end of the game. If he had just let go of the ball one-tenth of a second sooner, the two teams would have been heading to overtime. As it stood, St. Joe’s escaped with the win and one heck of a place in tournament history.

Along the way, DeAndre Bembry was on fire in the first half, dropping 20 of his 23 points before halftime. As he cooled off, Isaiah Miles picked up the slack later on, finishing with 19 points and a team-high 7 rebounds, not to mention that eventual game-winning three. The Hawks will need both stars in top form when they face #1 Oregon Sunday night at 9:40pm.

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