The higher seeds had a good day and the blueboods — Kentucky and Kansas — won big, but on the first day of the N.C.A.A. tournament, no one won bigger than Gonzaga.
The Zags, the No. 1 seed in the West Region, backed up their top billing with an 87-49 thrashing of Fairleigh Dickinson in Salt Lake City on Thursday. Rui Hachimura, one of five Zags players in double figures, led Gonzaga (31-3) with 21 points.
Kentucky, a 35-point winner against Abilene Christian, and Kansas, which beat Northeastern by 34, were nearly as impressive, but then most of the higher seeds enjoyed the first round.
Of the 16 games played on the tournament’s first day, only four lower seeds — ninth-seeded Baylor, the No. 10s Minnesota and Florida and No. 12 Murray State — pulled anything close to an upset. Mostly it was a day of scares and teaching moments for coaches of favored teams; the biggest individual highlight was provided by Murray State’s sensational guard Ja Morant, who turned in a triple-double — 17 points, 11 rebounds, 16 assists — in an 83-64 win over Marquette.
Michigan Starts Fast and Never Looks Back
Last year mid-major Montana gave Michigan a brief scare in the first round, scoring the game’s first 10 points before the Wolverines regrouped and advanced. Michigan Coach John Beilein reminded his players of that repeatedly after learning the Wolverines were paired again with the Big Sky Conference champion Grizzlies.
This time, Michigan jumped to a 10-2 lead never looked back in Des Moines. Charles Matthews had 22 points and 10 rebounds in his best performance since coming back from injury, and No. 2 Michigan put away Montana early in a 74-55 victory. Ignas Brazdeikis added 14 points and 7 rebounds, and Jon Teske had 11 points and 9 rebounds for the Wolverines, who led by as many as 27 points in the second half.
The Wolverines (29-6) are in the round of 32 for the third straight year. They will play Florida on Saturday.
Baylor Beats Syracuse in Battle of 3-Pointers
Taking advantage of gaps in each other’s zone defenses, Syracuse and Baylor combined to make 19 shots from beyond the 3-point line — of 25 total field goals — in the first half of their West Region matchup in Salt Lake City, and then kept up that pace in the second half. Baylor won the 3-point battle, with 16 3s to Syracuse’s 12, and that was most of the difference in the Bears’ 78-69 victory.
Villanova lost four critical members of its championship team to the N.B.A. draft after last season, but the inexperienced Wildcats managed not only to capture the Big East title but also their opening-round game Thursday, outlasting Saint Mary’s by 61-57 in the South Region. The No. 6 Wildcats endured the 11th-seeded Gaels’ slow pace, playing at a tempo Coach Jay Wright called “excruciating,” to win for the 14th time in 15 N.C.A.A. tournament games. Villanova anticipated a close game against St. Mary’s, and coming off the conference tournament, where the Wildcats won their final two games by a combined 6 points, they felt comfortable in those circumstances.
“St. Mary’s is one of the best in grinding out like that in close games,” said guard Phil Booth, who led Villanova with 20 points. “You saw what they did against Gonzaga in their conference tournament. So the Big East really helped us for that.”
Villanova will face Purdue, a 61-48 winner over Old Dominion, in the second round. Purdue’s win capped a 5-0 day for the Big Ten, which has three more teams playing on Friday.
Wofford Earns First N.C.A.A. Win
Fletcher Magee led Wofford to the first N.C.A.A. tournament victory in school history.
A senior guard, Magee made seven 3-pointers and scored 24 points to lead the Terriers to an 84-68 victory Seton Hall in the Midwest Region. Wofford trailed by 54-53 with just over 10 minutes remaining but outscored the Pirates, 31-14, from there.
In the process, Magee became the most prolific 3-point shooter in Division I history, going past the mark of 504 set by Oakland’s Travis Bader in 2014. Magee has now connected on 509 shots beyond the arc.
Wofford (30-4) was 0-4 in the N.C.A.A. tournament before its win over the Pirates (20-14). Its reward is a date with second-seeded Kentucky on Saturday.
It’s all over in Jacksonville, where Kentucky has completed its thumping of Abilene Christian, 79-44. Keldon Johnson led the Wildcats with 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting.
Kentucky (28-6) will play Wofford, which beat Seton Hall by 84-68, on Saturday.
Gonzaga? They finished off poor Fairleigh Dickinson, 87-49. Rui Hachimura (21 points) and Killian Tillie (17) combined for 38 points — the exact margin of the Zags’ victory.
Nevada’s Experience Showing Up?
The Wolf Pack have one of the most experienced teams in the field, and they just cut their deficit against Florida to two points with 3:30 left. The twins Cody Martin (23 points) and Caleb Martin (16) have led the charge tonight.
UPDATE: Experience only goes so far. Poor shot selection and some Florida free throws and it’s all over: Florida wins, 70-61. Nevada will be bitterly disappointed — again. The Martin twins had 28 of Nevada’s second-half points. Their teammates had only five in the final 20 minutes.
Pray for Fairleigh Dickinson
It has been nine days since Gonzaga last played and apparently the long wait — with some saltiness built in after being upset by St. Mary’s in the conference tournament championship game — was just what the Zags needed.
They have overwhelmed Fairleigh Dickinson thus far, cruising to a 53-17 halftime lead.
The lopsided margin might not have been that unexpected for a No. 1 seed playing a No. 16, especially one that had to survive a play-in game in Dayton on Tuesday night, fly to Salt Lake City and adjust to the altitude.
But the most encouraging note for the Zags is the crisp play of Killian Tillie, their multiskilled but oft-injured big man. He scored 10 points, making both 3-pointers he attempted, and also kept the ball flowing with crisp passes and moved his feet well on defense.
Tillie has missed much of the season with a stress fracture on his ankle and then plantar fasciitis. But on Thursday night, he looks a picture of health. The Zags look even better. BILLY WITZ
Ja Morant Watch: Ja Morant Is Really, Really, Really Good
Morant finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds and 16 assists, and Murray State, the 12th seed in the West, closed out its first-round tackling dummy Marquette, 83-64. If you haven’t seen Morant play yet, make a point to clear some time Saturday to see him and the Racers take on No. 4 Florida State.
Three teammates joined Morant with double-digit point totals, led by the freshman Tevin Brown, who scored 19.
Marquette’s Markus Howard, one of the nation’s top scorers all season, led all players with 26 points, though he was only 4 for 14 on 3-pointers.
Murray State had other notable performers, including guard Shaq Buchanan and forward Darnell Cowart. But Morant was the undeniable star, making passes of unsurpassed creativity — to the point that his teammates could not always handle them. Any doubts about his N.B.A. draft stock were dispelled. If it weren’t for Duke’s Zion Williamson, he might be considered a possible No. 1 overall pick. MARC TRACY
Ja Morant Watch: Ja Morant Is Really, Really Good
Morant has a triple-double now: 15 points, 15 assists, 10 rebounds. Murray State’s leads over Marquette is 75-57 with 3:43 left.
Ja Morant Watch: Ja Morant Is Really Good
What was billed as a heavyweight fight within a basketball game did not disappoint through the first half in Hartford, as Murray State’s Ja Morant and Marquette’s Markus Howard traded baskets while their teams played largely to a draw, with Murray State up by 42-35 at halftime.
Each star was clearly his team’s best player. Marquette’s Howard, the 3-point-happy junior, led all scorers with 16 points, 9 of them off 3-pointers. Murray State’s Morant, who entered averaging 10 assists a game, was well on pace to best that, with eight already. He also had 10 points, on six shots, and 4 rebounds.
Near the end of the half, Morant slashed toward the hoop and, while underneath it, acrobatically leapt and squeezed a pass between two defenders to teammate Tevin Brown, who caught it and made a 3-pointer to put the Racers up 6. Later, Morant threw an alley-oop to a cutting Devin Gilmore. MARC TRACY
Kansas finished off Northeastern, 87-53, and believe us, it wasn’t that close. Dedric Lawson had 25 points and 11 rebounds, and Kansas dominated inside.
The fourth-seeded Jayhawks (26-9) had a big size advantage inside and took full advantage of it, outscoring the Huskies by 50-16 in the paint while grabbing 17 more rebounds. Kansas shot 56 percent from the field.
The Big Ten Is Celebrating
Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo had a right to be nervous. No. 15 Bradley, making its first N.C.A.A. tournament appearance in 13 years, hung with his No. 2-seeded Spartans throughout their first-round game Thursday, and Izzo was even more frenetic than usual dealing with his players and the officials.
Then Matt McQuaid hit a 3-pointer and Aaron Henry converted a floater from the lane on consecutive possessions in the final four minutes, spurring the Spartans to a 76-65 victory over the Braves. Michigan State (29-6) advanced to Saturday’s East Regional second round against fellow Big Ten Conference member Minnesota. The Spartans and the Gophers met only once during the regular season; Michigan State won by 24.
Bradley (20-15), the Missouri Valley Conference champion, led by 35-34 at halftime on the strength of six 3-pointers, then added the first two baskets of the second half on a layup and dunk by Elijah Childs (19 points, 6 rebounds). The lead went back and forth until two foul shots by Cassius Winston with 6:24 to play began a decisive run of nine consecutive points for Michigan State. Winston finished with a game-high 26 points.
Henry’s floater in the run made up for a thunderous dunk attempt that clanged high off the rim and out of bounds minutes earlier. Bradley never led again. Xavier Tillman added 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Spartans, who made 25 of 26 foul shots.
Around the same time, sixth-seeded Maryland, fifth in the Big Ten this season, rallied to beat No. 11 Belmont, 79-77. Belmont actually had the ball last, but turned it over on an ill-advised pass in the lane with only seconds left. Maryland (which faces L.S.U. on Saturday), Minnesota and Michigan State are all in the same corner of the East Region bracket. PAT BORZI
Florida State Holds Off Vermont, 76-69
Despite the right game plan and a virtual home crowd in Hartford, Conn., No. 13-seeded Vermont failed in its upset bid of No. 4-seeded Florida State in a long, grinding game that served as a reminder that, sometimes, many times even, Goliath wins.
The Seminoles will play the winner of Murray State-Marquette on Saturday.
Beginning the second half tied, Vermont broke out to a small lead, which Florida State slowly erased. Florida State, rather than attempt a bevy of 3-pointers, a strategy that backfired in the first half as they went just 2 for 8 from deep, instead pounded the ball inside again and again to big men like the 7-foot-4 Christ Koumadje and Mfiondu Kabengele, who led all players with 21 points.
When guard David Nichols hit Kabengele for a fast break dunk to give the Seminoles a 50-45 lead with around nine minutes left, the advantage seemed weirdly insurmountable. In the final minutes, Florida State drew a few fouls and went on a 7-0 run to put the game out of reach. MARC TRACY
New Mexico State, inbounding the ball under the Auburn basket with 1.1 seconds left, somehow stumbles into an open 3-pointer in the corner. But Queen’s rushed shot is an airball, and that’s that.
Auburn lives, 78-77.
Whew. What a finish. Best of the day so far. But not one Auburn will be especially proud of, no matter what Coach Bruce Pearl told his team.
“You won the basketball game,” he said in the locker room afterward. “They didn’t lose it.”
New Mexico State was left to rue all those chances, especially that last one to win the game. But Coach Chris Jans said he was proud of his team for making a game of it even when all seemed lost.
“We all understand this is big boy stuff and there’s no moral victories,” Jans said. “But at the same time, I think a lot of teams would have picked up their tent and went home. They were fighting and scratching and clawing and they finally put themselves in a position to have a chance to win the game.” BILLY WITZ
A Lifeline for the Aggies!
Auburn goes 1 for 2 at the line, and New Mexico State rushes the ball upcourt with six seconds left. Eschewing an open layup — and overtime — for a Terrell Brown 3-point attempt. Auburn, for some reason, FOULS HIM!
Brown missed the first attempt, made the second, missed the third on purpose — but the rebound goes out of bounds and New Mexico State will get one final chance!!
Auburn alum Charles Barkley, watching in the studio, is not handling the tension well.
New Mexico State Is Throwing a Real Scare Into Auburn
New Mexico State is scaring the heck out of Auburn. After forcing a turnover, Trevelin Queen hit a deeeeeep 3-pointer from the left wing to cut the Tigers’ lead to 1 in the final minute, but two Auburn free throws — and one N.M.S.U. miss at the other end — seemed to be the cushion No. 5-seeded Auburn needed to escape.
But New Mexico State just hit another 3 to cut the lead back to 1 with 6.8 seconds left.
Nervous moments coming up.
Yale Runs Out of Time, and L.S.U. Advances
The Bulldogs, who trailed by 9-0 and by 16 points at halftime, could not come all the way back against L.S.U., which made enough free throws down the stretch to win, 79-74.
Skylar Mays led the Tigers with 19 points, and Kavell Bigby-Williams (10 points, 10 rebounds) and Naz Reid (14 points, 10 rebounds) both had double-doubles.
What looked as if it would be a romp in this matchup of universities tainted by separate scandals in recent weeks became a taut affair in the waning minutes, as the 13th-seeded Bulldogs whittled an 18-point deficit to as few as 3 points before the No. 5 Tigers escaped.
L.S.U. overcame the absence of its coach, Will Wade, who is suspended after he was connected to a recruiting scandal, with balanced scoring. Yale featured one of Division I’s better offenses, ranking ninth in field-goal percentage, but the Bulldogs’ poor shooting doomed them. They shot 37.5 percent over all and, until drilling four in the final minute, made only four of their first 30 3-point attempts.
Alex Copeland paced Yale, whose athletic department was drawn into a massive admissions fraud scandal last week, with 24 points. BEN SHPIGEL
Minnesota Upsets Louisville, but Not The Usual Way
Amid all the drama over Minnesota, Louisville and Pitino family business, one telling statistic was easily overlooked.
While Rick Pitino’s teams made their name with effective 3-point shooting, his son Richard brought a Gophers team to the N.C.A.A. tournament that had struggled behind the arc all season. Minnesota took the court Thursday ranked 291st in the country in 3-point percentage.
And yet, as things unfolded, Minnesota won in the most Pitino way. The Gophers made 11 3-pointers, including five by the streaky-shooting freshman Gabe Kalscheur, in an 86-76 victory in Des Moines.
Kalscheur (24 points) led five Gophers in double figures, and the junior guard Amir Coffey added 18 points, three 3-pointers and six rebounds. Dupree McBrayer, Coffey and Kalscheur combined for five 3-pointers in one stretch of the first half to put Minnesota in front for good.
The N.C.A.A. Squad That Just Can’t Win
What’s black and white and tread all over? An N.C.A.A. tournament referee.
The referees, in fact, are the only one team guaranteed to make the Final Four every year, but the job isn’t getting any easier. They, and officials in a variety of sports, have become leading characters in the passion play of American sports, from the N.F.L. to tennis to even the Little League World Series.
Few places can match the high-speed pressure cooker of a college basketball arena, where the abuse comes from well-paid college coaches who scream and shout and preen, and from fans who follow their lead.
Read John Branch’s article about the officials here.
Syracuse Suspends Guard Frank Howard
When Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim sat down to speak with reporters on Wednesday afternoon in Salt Lake City, he took a deep breath, let out a long exhale and squinted into the T.V. lights at the back of the interview room, as if to say, “not again.”
Syracuse had just announced that the senior point guard Frank Howard had been suspended “for an indefinite period of time” and would not play in Thursday’s first-round West Regional game against Baylor.
“Very difficult to make that change now,” Boeheim said.
Boeheim knows this from experience. In 2012, Fab Melo, then the No. 1-seeded Orange’s starting center, was declared academically ineligible just before the tournament. In 2005, two reserves were suspended for failing drug tests just before Syracuse’s first game; the Orange were upset by 13th-seeded Vermont that year.
The loss of Howard is significant. He has a team-high 84 assists and had been playing well lately, scoring 28 points in an A.C.C. tournament loss to Duke — a game in which he appeared to try to trip the Duke star Zion Williamson. BILLY WITZ