Two of the more under the radar teams who pulled off thrilling upsets in the first round of the NCAA tournament saw their runs reach an end on Sunday. Both No. 12 seed Stephen F. Austin and No. 14 seed Mercer were knocked off two days after both squads took the college basketball world by storm.
Stephen F. Austin, the Southland Conference champions, had its 29-game winning streak snapped after being overmatched by UCLA 77-60. The Lumberjacks, who won its first tournament game in school history and reached the round of 32 following an improbable win over VCU that included a miraculous four-point play in the game’s final seconds, ran out of magic against the balanced scoring attack of the Bruins.
Led by Jordan Adams with 19 points, the Bruins shot 54.7 percent from the field and dished out an impressive 22 assists as a team to overpower the Lumberjacks. Thomas Walkup scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to keep the Lumberjacks in it, but ultimately, aside from 17 points from Desmond Haymon, Walkup did not get the usual help from his teammates to keep up with the high-powered Bruins.
After Wichita State fell to Kentucky earlier in the day, Stephen F. Austin briefly had the longest winning streak in the country. That only lasted about three hours.
For Mercer, the Bears could not keep the momentum going following Friday’s huge upset over Duke. Tennessee jumped on the Bears early, using a balanced scoring attack and absolutely dominating the glass. The rebounding differential was so one-sided that Volunteers forward Jarnell Stokes was out-rebounding Mercer as a team for the majority of the game.
Stokes finished with 18 rebounds (and 17 points). Mercer grabbed just 19.
The Vols were led offensively by Josh Richardson. The senior came into the game averaging 9.6 points per game, but Sunday he dropped a career-high 26. Richardson has picked up his play considerably in tournament play as he notched 17 and 15 points against Iowa and UMass before Sunday’s 26-point outburst. In addition to Richardson, Antonio Barton hit four threes and put up 18 points while Jordan McRae scored 14.
Langston Hall scored 15 to lead the Bears, who coincidentally ended Tennessee’s season in the NIT last year.
The Bears, the champions of the Atlantic Sun conference, gave fans glimpses of Florida Gulf Coast, last year’s tournament darlings. Mercer actually won the Atlantic Sun last year but fell to FGCU in the tournament final, allowing “Dunk City” to take the tournament by storm with high-flying wins over Georgetown and San Diego State.
With Stephen F. Austin and Mercer’s seasons reaching an end, three double-digit seeded teams, including Tennessee, remain alive. No. 10 seed Stanford and No. 11 seed Dayton will square off in the bottom half of the south region while the Volunteers will face a tough task in No. 2 seed Michigan on Friday.
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