When the North Carolina-Marquette Sweet 16 game mercifully hit halftime, studio analyst Greg Anthony summed up Marquette's performance perfectly: "You cannot play the game of basketball worse than they played the first half."
The Golden Eagles were down 40-15 and were probably less competitive than the score indicated. But Anthony's quote could have been attributed to the other regional semifinal, which was equally as ugly.
Richmond was pounded 41-22 in the first half by Kansas and didn't hit double digits until there was 6 minutes and 20 seconds remaining in the first half.
Fellow studio analyst Charles Barkley stayed quiet as Anthony chastised Marquette's play so he could comply with Turner/CBS' positivity mandate, which basically tells the analysts not to be too critical of the college athletes. But there was no doubt he was thinking the same thing.
While both Kansas and North Carolina were favored in their respective games, their opponents failed to live up to the expectations that had been set by the first weekend of play and even the first collection of Sweet 16 games Thursday night. With the exception of a few games, most of the underdogs have come out scrappy against their higher-seeded opponent and that's what got Marquette and Richmond to the Sweet 16 in the first place.
"You know, we just got down and it was a big lead and we fought and fought and fought in the second half and tried to cut it down as much as possible, but we dug ourselves a hole," Marquette guard Darius Johnson-Odom said.
But somehow those teams that fought their way into the Sweet 16 forgot to show up in the first half. North Carolina and Kansas to put Marquette and Richmond in such a deep deficit that even when they started to play better in the second half, it was impossible to make up the difference.
Now, credit Marquette and Richmond for not giving up. Both teams could have easily caved and let the game get more out of hand than it already was. But the Golden Eagles and the Spiders showed that fighter's spirit that has gotten them through most of the tournament.
Unfortunately, it was too little, too late. Marquette still lost 81-63, its worst loss since Louisville defeated it in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament. Richmond's 77-57 loss was the Spiders worst loss since losing by 20 to Temple back on Feb. 17.
It's unfortunate that Kansas and North Carolina actually faced more spirited competition in their first two games and even more unfortunate for fans who had become spoiled by the rousing down-to-the-wire action that has defined this year's NCAA tournament.
"We just let them dictate the tempo tonight and I think that's what it was," Richmond guard Kevin Anderson said. "They came out real aggressive on us, and we let them stay aggressive and never dictated the tempo."
- North Carolina