It all began at 11:40 a.m. Friday morning as the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament first round tipped-off at the BOK Center in Tulsa. For the second time in the building’s history, the BOK Center was hosting the NCAA Tournament. The last previous time was in 2011. It’s thanks to vision of building an 18,000-plus seat arena, that Tulsa is able to host such a grand event.
Competing in Tulsa in the first game of the day were the No. 3 seed Baylor Bears in their florescent green uniforms, taking on the No. 14 New Mexico State Aggies, wearing black.
I was perched in my seat in the corner of the upper level of the BOK Center, where the “overflow” media was seated. However, it didn’t matter the where I was sitting, I was at the NCAA Tournament and ready to watch some great college basketball action. The fans seemed to be evenly split in three ways, between BU fans, NMSU fans and those that were just there to watch the game.
Baylor and New Mexico State played a fairly even first half, and the lower-seeded Aggies led at halftime, 40-38. The Bears took charge of the game in the second half by going on a 22-7 run to open the half.
Baylor ran away with the easy win, 91-73. Al Freeman led the Bears with 21 points.
“Well, I thought our offense was good both halves,” said Baylor head coach Scott Drew. “The big difference was in the second half. We held them 36 percent (shooting) and 2-of-8 from three. So really defended better. And then we only had five turnovers, which we were able to keep them out of transition more because of that. I thought they’re a very good team, very explosive team.”
In the second game on Friday, No. 6 seeded SMU faced No. 11 USC. This crowd was quite a bit more lopsided in support of SMU, considering the school is located only 250 miles from Tulsa. Plus, Owasso native Shake Milton plays for SMU, so when he was introduced as a starter there was quite a loud ovation from the crowd.
Ten minutes into the first half, SMU led 21-15, and at halftime it was an eight-point lead for the Mustangs, 38-30. You can imagine the scene in the arena when USC got past SMU, 66-65. The SMU fans just stood there in shock, not wanting to believe what they just saw.
“We knew SMU is one of the best teams in the nation, we played them in November, and it’s no different,” said USC head coach Andy Enfield. “They’re 30-5. They won 26 out of 27 coming into tonight. They’ve had an outstanding season, and we really respect them. We also think we have a very good basketball team. We just set the school record for wins at 26. We play in a very tough conference, the Pac-12, had a challenging schedule against some of the elite teams in the nation, and I thought our players showed tonight. It doesn’t matter who we play, we’re going to get down and then we’re going to come back, and hopefully we’ll pull it out.”
SMU head coach Tim Jankovich had a different view of the loss.
“There used to be a show on TV when I was little talking about the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat; I think it was Wide World of Sports,” Jankovich said. “I can certainly relate to that show right now. I’m incredibly proud of our team over the course of many, many months, and including today. Today is obviously an incredible heartbreak. If ever there was a team to deserve some great things, some more great things to happen, particularly this time of year, it was these guys.”
In the night session, the BOK Center was filled with Kansas Jayhawks fans, and even locals who welcomed back KU head coach and Tulsa native Bill Self, who had coached at ORU and TU previously. Kansas (No. 1 seed) had an easy time with UC-Davis (No. 16), cruising to a 100-62 victory.
The nightcap featured No. 9 Michigan State blowing past Miami, 78-58. After the excitement and huge crowds for some of the earlier games, this one ended up being more of a snoozer. Miami jumped out to a 10-0 lead, but Michigan State quickly came from behind and led by 11 at halftime, 38-27. The Spartans’ three freshman starters led the way in scoring; Nick Ward (19 points), Miles Bridges (18) and Josh Langford (13), to total a combined 50 points.
In second round play on Sunday, Kansas proved why it’s a No. 1 seed, as the Jayhawks defeated Michigan State 90-70.
“Well, obviously, you know, the final margin didn’t dictate what a hard game it was,” said Kansas head coach Bill Self. “I thought both teams tried real hard. I thought we tried too hard at times. Shot selection wasn’t great. But when they cut it to one, that’s when we played our best ball. And that was fun to see and certainly it was good to see our guys get in a nice rhythm.”
The final game of the tournament in Tulsa was a nail-biter. Baylor held off a very aggressive USC team, to win 82-78. Baylor led 36-31 at halftime, and USC actually outscored Baylor in the second half, 47-46.
“I thought coming into this game both teams, very similar, great players, very resilient,” said Drew. “They were one of the last to lose in the country; we were one of the last to lose in the country. Both of us playing so well, being down, and I actually joked with Andy, I said, do you want to be up at halftime? He said, No, no, we like being down. We knew it was going to come down to the last couple of minutes of the game, who could make the key defensive stops, and I thought we really did a better job executing down the stretch when it mattered most.”
So, ends Tulsa’s role in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Kansas and Baylor advance to the Sweet 16. Who knows when the NCAA will bring the Men’s Basketball Tournament back to Tulsa again, but I’m sure it will be back.