March 21, 2015
Villanova lost, but the NCAA Tournament rolls on. Matt wrote about the day's first five third-round (nee second-round) contests, so that leaves two games in the PhillyVoice sports staff's artificially constructed night session. Here's what happened in North Carolina-Arkansas and Notre Dame-Butler, besides all of those awesome commercials for "Furious 7":
For a long time this season, UNC looked like a bunch of talented individual players rather than a collectively strong and unified team. As long as you can put everything together by the time the tourney rolls around, none of that matters. After an 87-78 victory over Bill Clinton's favorite team, the Tar Heels now find themselves in the Sweet 16, and that's a daggum good accomplishment for this guy:
One of the major subplots of this game was the ridiculously high foul total. The Heels and Hogs combined for a whopping 48 fouls, and it was understandably difficult for either team to get into a flow with so many whistles. Do less, refs, do less. One of the players that did some major damage from the free-throw line is smooth lefty point guard Marcus Paige, scored a team-high 22 points for UNC. He good.
Arkansas received another strong performance from athletic guard Michael Qualls, who poured in 27 points and pulled down 10 boards. He also performed some trick shot magic of the highest order. Look at ol' Roy going all daggum on us in the background:
North Carolina advances to the Sweet 16, where they'll face the winner of Wisconsin and Oregon. If I were Roy and the UNC coaching staff, I would start trying to figure out Bo Ryan's swing offense on the flight home. Frank the Tank Kaminsky is what probably awaits them on the West Coast.
The folks in Pittsburgh sure got their money's worth. Great game, albeit a bit of a slog at times. Check this out: Neither team scored for the final 2:55 of regulation, as the score remained deadlocked at 55. There were some very tense moments late.
Even though he only scored seven points, I thought Notre Dame star swingman Pat Connaughton was the enduring story from this game. After Fighting Irish center Zach Auguste double dribbled with two seconds left in regulation and gift-wrapped Butler with another opportunity to win the game, television cameras showed Connaughton consoling his teammate immediately. As fate would have it, Connaughton thwarted the Bulldogs' second chance by sending Kellen Dunham's shot into the fourth row (if there were rows where he blocked the shot, of course):
Connaughton was the first to console Auguste and then picks him up with the overtime forcing block. That's a great teammate.— Rich Eisen (@richeisen) March 22, 2015
There's nobody who pooh-pooh's blowing intangibles like LEADERSHIP and TOUGHNESS out of proportion more than me, but even I can admit that was a cool moment. Connaughton, who is currently sporting an unseemly pattern of hair on his chin, is also a pitcher in the Baltimore Orioles organization. He's basically Jeff Samardzija, minus nobody knowing who he is.
The Irish were led in scoring by Saint Joe's Prep product (woot, woot) Steve Vasturia, who poured in 20 points. With the ND win, the ACC moves to 9-0 in the tournament, and Mike Brey finally is getting to silence some of his critics. Good for him, because I enjoy watching college teams that actually can play offense.