Save the best for last.
The final game of the first round of the men’s NCAA tournament was, of course, an exciting bracket buster. Abilene Christian, a midsize program that only entered Division I in 2013, stunned number 3 in Texas – a Final Four contender – at 53:52 on Saturday.
The Wildcats (24-4) are the newest of Cinderella, following in the footsteps of Oral Roberts (angry Ohio State on Friday), No. 13 North Texas (angry Purdue on Friday), and No. 13 Ohio (angry Virginia on Saturday).
Abilene Christian’s forward Joe Pleasant – a 59% free throw shooter – made two free throws with 1.2 seconds remaining to seal the huge win.
Senior Guard Coryon Mason headed the charges for the Wildcats offensively, finishing on 11 points – including a crucial 4:29 comeback to tie the score at 47 and regain the game’s momentum. It was a collaborative effort for Coach Joe Golding’s team when Pleasant (11 points and seven rebounds) took on a more athletic team from Texas.
The Wildcats, the champions of the Southland Conference, did not defeat the Big 12 tournament winner Longhorns with a crime, but only went 3:18 out of the three-point range. But they beat Texas with frantic games, beating the Longhorns 39-32, forcing them to a season high of 23 sales. Abilene had 12 second chance points compared to zero for Texas.
These defensive stats should come as no surprise, however. Abilene Christian leads the country in return on sales and has a stifling defense that ranks seventh nationwide with 60.5 allowed points.
UCLA coach Mick Cronin told reporters after his team beat BYU in the first round, “Obviously they have a great coach. If someone is forcing 20 (plus) sales per game, that’s incredible Has sales. They have seniors. They have serious guards. That means Abilene Christian is really, really good. “
Andrew Jones led Texas with 13 points. The defeat brings a disappointing end to the season in Texas with a 19-7 win. Coach Shaka Smart’s job status was questionable earlier in the season, and now a disappointing exit from the NCAA tournament could restart that narrative.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.