Men's Basketball First Four Game Recaps

On-fire DJ Horne leads Arizona State to a 98-73 blowout against Nevada

For most of Wednesday’s First Four clash between two West Coast sides used to success, it seemed like one team had a firm grip on the game, and their basket seemed bigger than the sun. Arizona State, led by guard DJ Horner, jumped out to a 15-6 lead within the first four minutes and never looked back. With an opportunity to face #6-seed TCU on Friday, Arizona State seemed committed to their goal; getting to Denver for the round of 64.

“It was a complete performance for us. You want to be playing this way now. That’s what it’s all about. Our schedule and the games we’ve been in, especially late in the season, prepares you for these types of games. And it was across the board, everyone contributed. Our defense was outstanding in the first half,” Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley confided to the Dayton press.

The Sun Devils contorted past an ordinarily-solid defense with a myriad of tough shots. With back-door cuts, screens, and give-and-goes, the Sun Devils shot 35-55 (63%) from the field while shooting 11-21 from range.

Horne scored 20 points while making 4 three-pointers out of 5 attempts and Nevada transfer Desmond Cambridge added 17 from 5-10 shooting.

Nevada was outshot, outrebounded, and outscored as they ended their 2022-23 season 22-11. Although the Nevada offense seemed stifled and their defense porous, head coach Steve Alford looked for positives.

I’ve watched a bucket load of games on them, and I thought that’s as well as they’ve played all year,” Alford shrugged.

The win puts the Sun Devils at 23-12 in the season’s most important fixture. Arizona State is in perfect form. The 98 points they scored Wednesday was the most this season, and they look nothing like the Arizona State side that lost to their rivals Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals. It’s a fact that they were shooting like basketball would end tomorrow and their defense was great, but the question is whether Arizona State can bring that solid shooting to TCU on Friday.

Ansley Almonor’s FDU pulls past Texas Southern 84-61

Fairleigh Dickinson, runners-up in the Northeastern Conference and one of the best mid-majors, were powerful. They flexed their offensive muscles against a helpless Texas Southern, stunned by the New Jersey physicality FDU brought to them. Much like in Dayton, FDU pulled past Texas Southern early, ESPN’s BPI calculator estimated FDU’s chances of winning at 50.7% at tip-off, but when the Northeastern powerhouses had jumped out to a 14-2 lead in the first four minutes, the win probability had jumped up to 81.4%.

“Our press got us going, and then our half-court defense was excellent. We shared the ball. We played unselfish,” head coach Tobin Anderson said. “When you play that well, life’s pretty easy, so I thought we played very, very well.”

It was star sophomore and Northeastern Conference Most Important Player award-winner Ansley Almonor who led the way, putting up 23 points while securing 8 rebounds. His 6 '7' frame allowed him to make a big impact off the scoreboard, like the screens he put up, allowing his guards to get good looks or the space he brought when he put himself in the corner, letting his teammates penetrate open pockets of space. But Almonor is as lethal with the ball as he is without it. He shot 5-8 from range and made all 8 of his free throws.

The FDU offense was as smooth as butter as they shot their way to 84 points. Their high-scoring offense has been in full swing for most of the season, like in their 101-89 victory over Long Island and a 97-80 win over St. Joseph’s. But the defense seemed especially stifling tonight as they set up a Friday match against #1-seed Purdue.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough to overcome those guys and their 3-point shooting tonight,” Texas Southern coach Johnny Jones told the media.

Pittsburgh triumphs over Mississippi State, 60-59

Pittsburgh’s late win over Mississippi State was both stressful on the court as it was off the court. A Pittsburgh side lacking in depth; the team was missing regular starter Federiko Federiko and only seven players played; somehow beat Mississippi State. It was harder than it looked, but in the end, Pitt was able to lean on what brought them to Dayton in the first place; their impeccable shooting. Pittsburgh shot 9-19 from range (47.4%). It helped that Mississippi State is one of the worst shooting teams in college basketball (26.6%), and they only affirmed it with a woeful, embarrassing 6-23 three-point performance (26.1%).

What the Mississippi State Bulldogs lacked in shooting, they brought in a smothering, turnover-causing defense. Forward DJ Jeffries locked Pittsburgh out of the paint, grabbing 13 total rebounds.

"We showed toughness, resiliency,” Pitt coach Jeff Capel said. “We were who we’ve been all year, and it wasn’t pretty — but it was beautiful.”

A back-and-forth, thrilling match that I cannot even describe ended with Pitt getting a rare NCAA Tournament win.

Nelly Cummings led Pitt with 15 points as he powered Pitt to a match against #6-seed Iowa State. Although the numbers seem stacked against Pitt; 71% of ESPN bracket users picked Iowa State to move on in the first round and ESPN’s BPI calculator gives Pitt a 33% chance to win; anything can happen, and this statement seems most true to the dogged, rugged Pitt as they travel to Greensboro for their Friday matchup.

Texas A&M Corpus-Christi powers past expectations to win first NCAA Tournament game over SEMO

Texas A&M Corpus-Christi's grueling, grimy First Four fight against Southeast Missouri State seemed more like a Final Four rather than the qualifiers for the first round of the NCAA tournament. Neither side had won an NCAA Tournament game before, neither had the best teams going into the tournament (SEMO’s NET ranking is 242 and Corpus-Christi’s is 175), and both had aging cores full of seniors and juniors.

The Islanders seemed in control for most of the game. They led for most of the game and even held a ten-point lead with ten minutes left to go in the game. Some of it had to do with the Islanders’ senior guard Jalen Jackson, who won the 2023 Southland Tournament’s MVP award. Jackson went off for 22 points during the game, the most in his college career. Most of it came from the foul line (14-18) because Jackson is an explosive guard who loves getting into the paint.

Neither side loved the three-pointer during Tuesday’s clash to determine who would face #1-seed and tournament favorite Alabama. SEMO shot 8-26 (30.8%), and the Islanders shot 4-18 (22.2%). Both sides got in the paint and did it often, and fouls were more common than the frenzied cheers of the University of Dayton Arena. The game seemed gritty, and much like the ending of Pitt-Mississippi State, it came right to the wire.

Although we did not get the best shooting, the game was a mid-major classic. SEMO’s senior guard Chris Harris put up 23 points, while his sophomore teammate Phillip Russell scored 15 points to go with 10 assists and five steals. The Islanders’ Isaac Mushila scored 15 points and accumulated 12 rebounds on the night.