68 teams started the “big dance” and now only 8 teams remain. March Madness has lived up to the hype it generates every season. From almost historic comebacks to buzzer beaters, the madness of March has been present this year.
With just the Elite 8 teams left, there were very few upsets that many expect this year. The games have been definitely been competitively thrilling, to say the least. As the Sweet 16 concludes, we will take a look at some of the big games of the Sweet 16 and preview the Elite 8 matchups.
#2 Tennessee vs. #3 Purdue
The wildest game of the Thursday matchups. Purdue started the game on fire and opened up a 12 point halftime lead. Tennessee, who came off a crazy overtime victory over Iowa, were down by as many as 18 points in the second half and battled all the way back to tie the game.
Purdue, however, would force overtime from the charity strike. In overtime, it was all Purdue. Purdue outscored Tennessee 17-12 in the 5 minutes of overtime to advance to the Elite 8 for the first time since 2000. Ryan Cline led Purdue with 27 points, including seven 3-pointers. Cline was huge for them down the stretch. Purdue will now face top-seeded Virginia on Saturday, March 30.
#2 Michigan vs. #3 Texas Tech
Starting with a defensive battle from tipoff, the two teams combined for 12 points just 10 minutes into the game. Both teams had difficulties scoring the basketball, resulting in a 24-16 halftime score in favor of Texas Tech. In the second half, the scoring drought would continue for Michigan, and Texas Tech took advantage of this.
Big 12 Player of the Year, Jarrett Culver took the game into his owns hands in the second half and ended the game with a game-high, 22 points. Texas Tech opened up the game with 10 minutes left and cruised to victory, winning 63-44. They face #1 seed Gonzaga on Saturday Match 30.
#1 North Carolina vs. #5 Auburn
After a closely contested first half, Auburn led North Carolina 41-39. The Tigers were led by sophomore forward Chuma Okeke. Okeke scored a game-high 20 points and had 11 rebounds for the game. However, in the closing minutes of Auburn’s 97-80 upset victory, Okeke would leave the game after seriously injuring his left knee.
”It’s a bittersweet accomplishment because of Chuma getting hurt,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl admitted. ”In a game full of guys that have a chance to play at the next level, I thought he was the best player.” The difference between the two sides was Auburn’s hot three points shooting in the second half. Auburn would finish with 17 out of 37 (45.9%) made threes which outscored North Carolina by 30 points in this category.
The Tiger’s defense was also the name of the game to close out top-seeded Tar Heels as Auburn had more steals and blocks. Something Auburn needs to work on especially when having their best player unavailable is their free throw shooting. Only making 8-17 (47.1%) from the charity strike won’t cut it when they face #2 Kentucky in the Elite 8 Sunday, March 31.
#1 Duke vs. #4 Virginia Tech
In another thrilling finish for the Duke Blue Devils, they survived the Hokies, as in back to back games the last possession went in their favor. As a result, Duke advances to the Elite 8 by beating Virginia Tech 75-73. Duke freshman guard Tre Jones stepped up in the absence of key freshman Cam Reddish who was out due to a knee injury.
Jones who is the younger brother of 2015 Final Four Most Outstanding Player former Duke guard Tyus Jones, contributed career highs of 22 points and had five 3-pointers. Freshman Duke phenom sensation Zion Williamson had a game-high 23 points, and the other Duke freshman star RJ Barrett added 18 points to go with 11 assists.
Barrett’s playmaking abilities are what led Duke to come back after trailing 38-34 going into the half. Duke’s defense, especially in the crucial stages of the second half was one of the main differences between the two sides despite giving up more three-pointers and free throws to Virginia Tech.
In the last possession of the game, Virginia Tech had three opportunities to push the game into overtime but missed a crucial alley-oop tip-in from a pass coming from the inbound. Duke will now face #2 Michigan State on Sunday, March 31.