MINNEAPOLIS – Devin Ebanks gets a lot of well-deserved attention, and the West Virginia freshman was impressive again with 14 points and 12 rebounds in 40 minutes Friday.
But it was a 6-foot-8 forward on the other team who stole the day. Dayton sophomore Chris Wright had a career-high 27 points, and many of them came on rim-shaking dunks that gave the Flyers the juice to upset the Mountaineers 68-60 in the first round of the Midwest Region.
"Those plays are heartbreaking to them," said Dayton forward Charles Little, who also was key with 18 points. "They think they are getting close, they are climbing back up and Chris drops the hammer. And that's deflating."
West Virginia couldn't disagree.
"Honestly, some of his dunks did change the game," said West Virginia's Darryl Bryant. "One of the and-one dunks changed the game."
West Virginia was within four, 41-37, when Dayton coach Brian Gregory drew up a play during a media timeout to get Wright the ball curling to the basket. The design and execution were perfect, and Wright found himself at the rim for a flush – plus the foul.
He hit the free throw, then got another slam on Dayton's next possession to push the lead to nine.
While at the line for the and-one, he also heard a voice in the Metrodome crowd imploring him to "put them in the hole, Superman." He was asked if it was his mother.
"That was actually [teammate] Mickey Perry's mom," Wright said. "I was kind of laughing in my mind, but I knew I had to focus and make the free throw."
Wright (12.9 points a game) may not quite be superhuman, but he looks like a pro with his powerful, 226-pound body and ability to get off the ground.
West Virginia had no answer for him, and now it's up to Kansas to find one. – Joe Rexrode
West Virginia stars contained
MINNEAPOLIS – Foul trouble was one issue for West Virginia, with Alex Ruoff picking up his fourth early in the second half and playing just 24 minutes.
Dayton's perimeter defense was the other issue, particularly against Ruoff and West Virginia's other big outside gun, Da'Sean Butler.
Those two shot 8-for-24 combined, with Butler missing all six of his 3-point attempts. The Mountaineers stayed in it because Darryl Bryant took advantage of his openings to score 21 points, going 4-for-6 from beyond the arc.
"I knew [Butler and Ruoff] weren't scoring too much so you just tried to play a little bit better and make open shots," Bryant said.
"I thought [Butler] had great looks," WVU coach Bob Huggins said. "I thought they probably did a better job on Alex than they did on [Butler], honestly. … Those are shots, you know, he has been making, he just didn't make them." – Joe Rexrode
McGee presses on for Louisville
DAYTON, Ohio – Andre McGee proved again why he's Louisville's most anonymous MVP.
His line in the box score didn't stand out, but he provided the impetus for the momentum swing that turned a two-point halftime lead into a double-digit advantage in a matter of minutes Friday night. No. 1 seed Louisville beat No. 16 Morehead State 74-54 in a Midwest Region first-round game thanks to McGee's presence in the Cardinals' swarming press.
Quick and tenacious, McGee bounced from Eagle to Eagle as Louisville scored the first eight points after halftime to start the onslaught. "It's like a dog smelling blood," said McGee, who finished with eight points, five steals and four assists.
At first glance, it appears Louisville has struggled early in games since the postseason began, trailing by eight in both of its Big East tournament games and leading by just two at halftime against the Eagles, a team it beat by 38 in November.
Cardinals coach Rick Pitino said those numbers don't trouble him, especially with McGee leading his press. "Press teams against good teams get their dividends in the second half," Pitino said. – David Fox
USC continues its late-season run
MINNEAPOLIS – Scary.
That's the first word that comes to mind when watching the USC Trojans play basketball. A team that has been plagued by injuries and that wouldn't have been in the field of 65 without its Pac-10 tournament run last weekend is now healthy – and looks like it could be going somewhere.
The Trojans got their sixth consecutive win by dismantling Boston College on Friday, 72-55. And they did it with a combined 62 points from stars Taj Gibson, Dwight Lewis and DeMar DeRozan – who collectively played 116 of a possible 120 minutes.
Length and athleticism accompany every spot in this lineup.
"We have guys on this team that want to step up at any time in the game," said Gibson, who hit all 10 of his shots for 24 points. "And between [DeRozan] and Marcus Simmons, those guys fought hard on the defensive end. They were relentless."
Michigan State-USC on Sunday should be an interesting battle of teams that like to run. – Joe Rexrode
No regrets for Boston College standout
MINNEAPOLIS – Tyrese Rice's tremendous career at Boston College ended on a somber note. The senior guard, who decided against an early jump to the NBA to return and refine his point-guard skills, had nine points on 4-for-11 shooting in a 72-55 loss to USC.
The Trojans' size and quickness on the perimeter did not let Rice get free.
"I mean, that's what most teams do on defense," Rice said of the Trojans' extra attention.
"I think coming back definitely helped me grow," said Rice, who had four assists but six turnovers. "It definitely helped me mature a little bit more as a person. And being able to change roles from basically a main scorer to being someone that gets everybody involved – I think it really helped me a lot." – Joe Rexrode
Michigan State's Green shines in expanded role
MINNEAPOLIS– When the season began, many expected Michigan State freshman forward Draymond Green to redshirt. At best, he appeared to be the 11th man on a deep team.
On Friday, in Green's first taste of the NCAA tournament, the 6-foot-6 forward came off the bench to score a career-high 16 points. He did it in 17 minutes, going 7-for-8 from the field and taking advantage of his team's relentless fast break.
"Draymond was a huge boost off the bench," said Raymar Morgan, who also had 16 points to share high honors with Green. "He's a great inside presence, a great rebounder. Whenever he's scoring points is a huge plus. He's just another dimension to the team."
Green's surge in minutes late in the season has come largely at the expense of senior Marquise Gray, who played 11 minutes Friday. They did play together some – with Gray finding Green during one sequence on a nice post feed, leading to a 3-point play. – Joe Rexrode
Repeat performance for Robert Morris
MINNEAPOLIS – Robert Morris came up well short in its quest to be the fifth No. 15 seed to win an opening-round game in the NCAA tournament, losing 77-62 to Michigan State in a game that looked awfully familiar to Robert Morris coach Mike Rice.
His team had some of the same issues in a 20-point loss to neighbor Pittsburgh this season.
Rice is a former Pittsburgh assistant, and there are unmistakable parallels between the Spartans and the Panthers.
"There are a lot of similarities," Rice said. "It's just Pitt plays [slower] because Levance [Fields] and Kalin [Lucas] play at different paces.
"The size off the bench [for Michigan State] is, you know, just – all the sudden they keep coming with guys that are bigger and stronger, more athletic. So they probably have that advantage [over Pitt].
"What Pitt has is that wing scorer [Sam Young] that can do a lot of different things. Maybe a little more versatility as far as that goes.
"But I think if [Michigan State] hits shots they can go as far as that takes them, because they play with such toughness and passion every second. It's mind-boggling, really, how much Tom Izzo gets out of this team." – Joe Rexrode