Regional semifinal action of the NCAA Tournament got started on Thursday and one of the two top seeds in action fell prey to an overachieving program.
The sophomore duo of Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack combined for 31 points, as fifth-seeded Butler rallied to post a 63-59 upset win over top-seeded Syracuse in the Midwest Region. While Mack scored all 14 of his points in the first half, Hayward carried the load in the second and finished with 17, including three free throws during the Bulldogs' 13-5 run to end the game. Willie Veasley chipped in 13 points and rattled in a huge three-pointer on the game-sealing flurry, as Butler (31-4), winners of 23 straight, advanced to its first ever regional final. Wes Johnson, the Big East Player of the Year, recorded 17 points and nine rebounds for the Orange (30-5), who turned the ball over 18 times and forced just seven Butler giveaways to fall short in the Sweet 16 for the second straight year.
The second game from Salt Lake City was quite memorable, as Jacob Pullen's three-pointer with 32.1 seconds remaining in the second overtime broke a tie game to help second-seeded Kansas State capture a 101-96 decision over sixth- seeded Xavier. Kansas State held a three-point lead in the final seconds of regulation and first overtime, but three Terrell Holloway free throws with five seconds left in the former and Jordan Crawford's late 28-footer in the latter allowed for more seminal moments from Pullen, who scored eight of his 28 points in the final 1:11 of the second OT. The wild win puts KSU (29-7) in the regional finals of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998.
In the East Region, Goliath reigned supreme over David, as top-seeded Kentucky brought an end to No. 12 seed Cornell's improbable run through the NCAA Tournament with a 62-45 victory. DeMarcus Cousins came up with 16 points and Eric Bledsoe got eight of his 12 at the free throw line for the Wildcats (35-2). The Big Red's (29-5) ability to knock down three-pointers, in large part, carried the team to the Sweet 16, but Thursday's 5-for-21 showing from beyond the arc ultimately did Cornell in.
Facing Kentucky on Saturday will be West Virginia, which overcame a rash of turnovers to pull away late for a 69-56 win over Washington. Kevin Jones had 18 points and Da'Sean Butler added 14, for the second-seeded Mountaineers (30-6), who stretched its winning streak to nine. Washington, the East's 11th seed, had a nine-game win streak stopped after committing 21 turnovers.
Paul Hewitt will remain the men's basketball coach at Georgia Tech after speaking with St. John's about its vacancy. Hewitt, who grew up on Long Island, has spent the last 10 years at Georgia Tech. Family issues were apparently an important factor in his decision to withdraw as a St. John's candidate. The Yellow Jackets finished the 2009-10 season with a record of 23-13. Tech reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament, losing to Ohio State after beating Oklahoma State in the first round. Hewitt, who previously was an assistant in the New York City area at Fordham and has Big East roots as an assistant at Villanova from 1992-97, has a mark of 177-144 at Georgia Tech with five trips to the NCAA Tournament. The Red Storm need a replacement for Norm Roberts, who was fired on March 19 after six seasons and a record of just 81-101.