Kragthorpe: 'Majerus Miracle' highlights NCAA's crazy day

Published March 21, 2014 5:03 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Never mind that the opening day of the NCAA Tournament produced blowouts of 40, 29, 24, 20, 19 and 17 points.

Thursday will be remembered for four overtime games, three significant upsets and a buzzer-beating victory.

My personal highlight: The Majerus Miracle.

Saint Louis University's 83-80 overtime defeat of North Carolina State was a product of a steady, relentless comeback in regulation, after SLU trailed by 16 points with 8:13 remaining. It took some cooperation from the Wolfpack, who made 8 of 19 free throws in the last 3:09, after still leading by 10.

Yet the Billikens, known for their defense, certainly did their part by somehow scoring 31 points in the last eight minutes — after producing 39 up to that point.

This is the third year in a row that SLU has delivered an NCAA Tournament victory in the round of 64, in 2012 with Majerus and in '13 and '14 under coach Jim Crews, after Majerus died of heart failure at age 64. The Billikens feature five senior starters, including four players who were in the rotation as freshmen when the former University of Utah coach endured the only losing season of his career.

He knew the program was on the verge of a breakthrough in the coming years, and those guys have delivered. SLU almost became the third No. 5 seed to lose Thursday, but came through in the end.

Having visited Majerus' team in 2011, I've closely followed SLU for the past three seasons, and the growth of the program has been fun to witness.

The Billikens now have to play defending champion Louisville on Saturday, but those seniors already have a capstone moment.

Other notable elements of Thursday's 16 games:

• In addition to SLU, the other overtime winners were UConn over St. Joseph's, North Dakota State over Oklahoma and San Diego State over New Mexico State.

No. 13-seeded NMSU, of the Western Athletic Conference, never led the Aztecs but rallied from 14 points down to force overtime, before losing 73-69.

There almost was a fifth OT game, but Texas' Cameron Ridley grabbed an offensive rebound at the buzzer and scored to give the Longhorns an 87-85 win over Arizona State.

• The tradition of a No. 12 seed upsetting a No. 5 seed continued with wins by Harvard over Cincinnati and NDSU over Oklahoma, while SLU narrowly escaped. In Friday's action, No. 12 Stephen F. Austin will try to upset No. 5 Virginia Commonwealth. Or should that be phrased the other way, at this point?

And in the day's most dramatic finish, No. 11 Dayton edged No. 6 Ohio State 60-59 as OSU guard Aaron Craft's driving, last-second shot hit too hard off the backboard and fell off the front rim.


Twitter: @tribkurt

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