Usually, it doesn't take a brain to pick the No. 1-vs-16 and No. 2-vs-15 games in the NCAA tournament—this year, it was different.
Somehow, Missouri and Duke both fell short against Norfolk State and Lehigh, respectively, ending their NCAA tournament runs early. Norfolk upset Missouri by two points and Lehigh prevailed by five.
And both teams wrote a new chapter in the NCAA tournament book.
Lehigh and Duke went back and forth, trading leads and runs throughout the game. In the end, however, it was Lehigh who came out on top, moving on to the Round of 32 to face either Notre Dame or Xavier.
C.J. McCollum scored 30 points, grabbed 7 rebounds, and dished out 6 assists in a huge game for the Mountain Hawks. When the Hawks needed a big shot, McCollum provided it.
Neither team had a significant advantage on the stat sheet, but in a game of runs, Lehigh had one at the best time. Both were trading leads, but with two minutes left, Lehigh grabbed a seven-point lead, forcing Duke to go into fouling mode.
Duke failed to put the game away at the free throw line earlier, and while they were clutch at the end, Lehigh made enough free throws to hold off the Blue Devils. Twice, the Mountain Hawks broke the press, and as a result, Jordan Hamilton and Gabe Knutson finished with dunks—which proved to be enough for Lehigh.
As a second seed, Duke was expected to cruise. Instead, they weren't able to outplay the Mountain Hawks, and when a team like Duke doesn't dominate the stat sheet against Lehigh, you know they're in trouble.
Duke turned the ball over eleven times, and Lehigh controlled the ball very well, losing the ball just seven times. Seth Curry, the brother of tourney hero Stephen Curry, made just one of nine shots from the field, and thanks to his and Austin Rivers' struggles (Rivers scored 19 and made just 5 of 14 shots), McCollum was able to shut down the guards and help Lehigh control the tempo.
In case you didn't know, controlling the tempo against Duke and the high-flying Plumlee brothers is crucial to Lehigh's success. However, what set Lehigh apart from Duke was their clutch ability.
About three and a half minutes remained, and Lehigh led by two. The Mountain Hawks took the ball up the court, and they were able to set up McCollum for an open three. He knocked the shot down, and after a John Adams dunk, Lehigh took control of the game and became one of six fifteen-seeds to win a tourney game.
Another one of those teams is Norfolk State.
Most predicted Missouri to run by Norfolk State and land in the Final Four, but Norfolk State had other plans. Kyle O'Quinn became the player every team needs to pull an upset, by scoring 26 points and grabbing 14 rebounds.
Since the Tigers are mostly composed of talented guards, the Spartans had a size advantage. They used it wisely, out-rebounding Missouri 35-23, and 14 of those 35 were offensive rebounds.
O'Quinn controlled the boards and occupied the paint, and by getting second chances, the Spartans were able to stay in the game. With the score tied at 81, Kyle O'Quinn snatched an air-balled shot out of the air, and sent it flying off the backboard and into the hoop.
O'Quinn was fouled on the shot and made his free throw, which put the Spartans up by three. Missouri had a chance to win the game, but Phil Pressey's shot hit the back rim and bounced away, which gave Norfolk State the huge win.
Now, the first-time tourney team is headed for the Round of 32.
Three players on Norfolk State scored 20 or more, and the Spartans proved they could handle Missouri and their fast-paced basketball. Pendarvis Williams and Chris McEachin scored 20 points, and they held Marcus Denmon to 5-of-12 shooting.
More importantly, they held senior guard Kim English, who averaged about 15 points per game, to just two points.
Everyone assumed that Missouri's star guards would overpower Norfolk State's, but the Spartans came out strong, controlled the tempo, and got just enough from O'Quinn, Williams and McEachin to survive the Tigers.
Lehigh and Norfolk State had never won a tournament game, and no one expected that to change. But both teams believed, and they worked their magic.
And look what came out of that.
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