NCAA Tournament recap: Sweet 16, Day 2

The regional final matchups are set following Friday night's Sweet 16 games

Jon Simon
March 30, 2019 - 2:04 am

Photo: Geoff Burke - USA TODAY Sports


The Sweet 16 wrapped up on Friday night with four more teams advancing to their respective regional finals.

The tournament’s No. 1 overall seed avoided a buzzer-beating loss, again, while another 1-seed was eliminated. A second team from the Big Ten clinched a spot in the Elite Eight, and the return of a team’s leading scorer helped propel them into the next round.

Check out a full recap of Friday’s games below: 


East Region (Washington, D.C.):

(2) Michigan State – 80, (3) LSU – 63:

The second-seeded Spartans had an almost surprisingly easy time defeating the third-seeded Tigers to advance to their first Elite Eight since 2015. Michigan State came sprinting out of the gates, got an early lead, and never trailed at any point during the 40 minutes of play.

Michigan State opened the game on an 8-0 run and was up double-digits before the under-12 media timeout. The Spartans shot the ball well to start, hitting five shots from behind the arc in the first 10 minutes. Michigan State finished 31-for-66, good 47-percent from the field; they also shot 41-percent from three (13-for-32). Michigan State’s 13 three-pointers were the most in a tournament game in school history.

The Spartans crushed LSU on the glass. Michigan State pulled down 41 rebounds to the Tigers’ 34. At halftime the Spartans had as many offensive rebounds as the Tigers had total. Michigan State’s defense had a solid showing as well; they held LSU to 39-percent shooting from the field and just 28-percent from three (6-for-21).

The Spartans led by a dozen after the first 20 minutes, but LSU cut the deficit to four early in the second half with a 13-0 run that stretched back to the last few minutes of the first period.

Michigan State responded with a 16-5 run over the next three minutes in which they hit four shots from behind the arc. At that point, the Spartans led 56-41 with 14:45 to go and were in complete control.

Spartans forward Nick Ward landed awkwardly on his wrist bracing a fall after he was bumped by LSU’s Naz Reid in mid-air. Ward had injured the same wrist earlier in the season and was wearing a brace. The junior went to the locker room for a few minutes but was cleared to play before the game ended. He came back out to the bench for the final few minutes but never went back into the game.

The Tigers went on a brief run after Ward’s exit. LSU got back within single digits and trailed 70-61 with 3:06 to go

Matt McQuaid drilled a three-pointer on the next play to put Michigan State back up by 12; it was the senior’s first basket of the night. A minute later, McQuaid drew a foul while driving to the basket for a layup, which he hit. After letting out an “and one” call, McQuaid nailed his free throw and put Michigan State up 76-63 with 1:32 to go.

Aaron Henry had the best game of his career to date. The freshman led the Spartans with 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting to go with eight rebounds (five offensive) and six assists. Fellow rookie Gabe Brown, who averaged just two points per game in the regular season, finished second in scoring with 15 points and went 4-for-6 from three for Michigan State.

Cassius Winston led the Spartans with eight assists and scored 17 points. Xavier Tillman added 12 points for the Spartans and Kenny Goins scored six to go with a team-high 11 rebounds.

Tremont Waters scored a game-high 23 points for LSU and finished 4-for-9 from three. Kavell Bigby-Williams and Reid were the only other Tigers to finish in double figures, scoring 11 and 10 points respectively.

Michigan State will face the top-seeded Duke Blue Devils in the Elite Eight. The Spartans will look to make it back to the Final Four for the first time since 2015 and for the eighth time under head coach Tom Izzo. The last time Michigan State met Duke in the tournament was the 2015 Final Four, where the Blue Devils eliminated the Spartans and went on to win the National Championship.


(1) Duke – 75, (4) Virginia Tech – 73: 

For the second straight game, the Duke Blue Devils escaped with a win thanks to a missed shot at the buzzer. Similar to their meeting in the regular season, the 4-seed Virginia Tech Hokies played the top-seeded Blue Devils close the entire way.

Down 75-73, Virginia Tech had three looks in the final 10-seconds to either tie or win the game. The first two attempts were from behind the arc but neither hit the rim. However, Duke knocked the ball out of bounds twice, giving the Hokies an extra chance.

It wasn’t exactly a déjà vu, but the final play was eerily similar to the final seconds of Duke’s win over UCF last Sunday.

With 1.1 seconds left on the clock, Justin Robinson lobbed a ball from the baseline towards the rim, where Ahmed Hill leaped up with nothing but space between him and the basket, but tipped the ball just a bit too lightly; as it nicked the left side of the rim and went out. Zion Williamson was there for the rebound as the horn sounded, and Duke could breathe another monumental-sized sigh of relief.

Williamson was out with an injury when the Blue Devils and Hokies met in Blacksburg, VA during the regular season, and he proved to be the difference maker Friday night.

Zion finished with a game-high 23 points, six rebounds and three blocks to lead the Blue Devils. Fellow freshman RJ Barrett finished with 18 points and a career-high 11 assists along with four rebounds. Tre Jones scored 22 points and dished-out eight assists.

Duke was without freshman Cam Reddish, who at the last minute ended up not dressing due to a bad knee. But, Williamson picked up the slack. The consensus No. 1 NBA Draft pick was everywhere on the court and had a number of eye-popping dunks.

Virginia Tech was the better team in the first 20 minutes and led 38-34 at halftime; but Duke quickly tied it up early in the second half. The Blue Devils would later use a 9-0 run to take a 60-52 lead with 8:47 to go. The eight-point advantage was the largest lead either team held in the second half. The Hokies were able to cut the deficit to two after being down 75-69 with 1:21 left, but couldn’t finish the job.

Kerry Blackshear Jr. led Virginia Tech in points and rebounds with 18 and 16 respectively. The junior forward also finished with five assists, two blocks and a steal. Hill finished second in scoring with 15 points to go with six rebounds and Wabissa Bede added 10 points.

With the win Duke advances to their second consecutive Elite Eight and third in the last five years. It will also be the Blue Devils’ 16th Elite Eight appearance under head coach Mike Krzyzewski. 


Midwest Region (Kansas City, MO):

(5) Auburn – 97, (1) North Carolina – 80:

It was expected that this game, a matchup between two high-tempo teams, would be high scoring. However I don’t know how many people expected the fifth-seeded Tigers would come out and put up almost 100 points on the top-seeded Tar Heels. North Carolina became the first 1-seed to be eliminated from this year’s tournament. Auburn clinched a trip to the program’s second-ever Elite Eight with the win. The Tigers’ first and only previous appearance was in 1986.

Auburn shot their way past the Tar Heels, finishing 36-for-66 from the field (55-percent) and 17-for-37 (46-percent) from three. North Carolina shot an abysmal 25-percent from behind the arc (7-for-28) and finished 43-percent (28-for-65).

The first half was pretty back-and-forth but Tigers managed to hold a 41-39 lead after 20 minutes. Auburn scored the last six points of the first half and the first eight of the second, taking a 10-point lead just 90-seconds into the second frame.

North Carolina cut it to 60-54 with 13:41 to go but would never come any closer as Auburn went back up double-digits and pulled away down the stretch, leading by as much as 21 in the final minute.

Chuma Okeke had an outstanding game for the Tigers, finishing with a game-high 20 points and 11 rebounds. Unfortunately for Auburn, the sophomore went down with a knee injury late in the game and eventually was helped off the court by two trainers.

Five other Tigers finished in double figures. Senior Malik Dunbar was second on Auburn with 13 points, while Bryce Brown and Danjel Purifory each finished with 12. J’Von McCormicj and Samir Doughty finished with 10 points apiece and Jared Harper scored nine points to go with a team-high 11 assists.

Coby White and Cameron Johnson each scored 15 points to lead the Tar Heels. Luke Maye finished with 13 points and seven rebounds in his final game for UNC. Fellow senior Kenny Williams finished with 10 points, five rebounds and three assists.

Auburn has now knocked-off two of college basketball’s “blue bloods” in North Carolina and Kansas on their run to the Elite Eight. If the Tigers want to advance to the program’s first-ever Final Four, they’ll have to get passed another legendary program and an SEC rival, the Kentucky Wildcats.


(2) Kentucky – 62, (3) Houston – 58: 

The second-seeded Wildcats and third-seeded Cougars capped-off the Sweet 16 with an absolute thriller. Both sides brought great defenses to the table, so it wasn’t exactly a shootout, but Kentucky and Houston each got their punches in and it turned out to be a classic.

Kentucky closed the first half strong and led 37-26 at the break but Houston made a run early in the second half to get back in the game. The Cougars took a 51-49 lead with 3:38 to go following a jumper from Corey Davis Jr., it was the first time they were ahead since the score was 10-8 with 13:30 to play in the first half.

Another jumper from Davis put Houston up 58-55 with 1:15 left, but the Cougars would fail to score over the final 75-seconds.

PJ Washington, who had missed Kentucky’s first two tournament games due to a foot injury, nailed a shot to make it 58-57 with under a minute to go. Washington was the Wildcats’ leading scorer in the regular season, but he came up big a the defensive end, blocking a layup attempt from Davis Jr. with 36 seconds left to keep the deficit at one. Following Washington’s rejection, Tyler Herro sunk a three at the other end to put Kentucky in front 60-58 with 25 ticks on the clock.

After Davis Jr. missed the possible tying layup at the other end, Herro would put the Wildcats ahead by four with a pair of free throws with 14 seconds left, sealing the win for Big Blue Nation.

Herro led Kentucky with 19 points while the returning Washington finished second in scoring with 16. They were the only two Wildcats to finish in double figures, but Reid Travis grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds to go with six points.

Armoni Brooks led Houston with 20 points and Davis Jr. finished with 14. Galen Robinson Jr. was the only other Cougar to finish in double figures, he finished with 10 points and a team-best five assists.

Houston made their first Sweet 16 appearance since 1984 and finished the season with a record of 33-4.

Kentucky will be making their 38th Elite Eight appearance, an NCAA record (North Carolina is second with 28). It will also be the fourth regional final appearance in the last six years for the Wildcats, and their seventh under head coach John Calipari, who is in his 10th season with the team. Kentucky has also now won their last 10 Sweet 16 games. 

The Wildcats will face SEC rival Auburn in the Elite Eight, the Tigers first since 1986. Not only does Kentucky have more playoff experience than Auburn, they also might have a mental edge, having beaten the Tigers twice during the regular season.

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