March Madness Kicks Off With High Drama
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
For all you college basketball fans, there's no time to catch your breath. A second full slate of games is on tap today in the men's Division I tournament. Yesterday, March Madness began in earnest with 16 games. And yes, there were buzzer beaters and big upsets. Two number-three seeds went down. But overall number-one seed Kentucky won easily, as did another number-one seed, Villanova. NPR's Tom Goldman watched the action in Portland, Ore., where, like yesterday's other tournament sites across the country, there was wall-to-wall drama.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Sorry, Final Four - there's nothing like the tournament's first full couple of days. Thursday and Friday, you've got every team in action from top-seeded royalty trying to avoid the embarrassing stumble to the little schools trying to put the madness in March. Such was the plot in the last of four games yesterday at Portland's Moda Center.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE EAGLE MARCHING BAND SONG, "EASTERN WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY FIGHT SONG")
GOLDMAN: That, in case you didn't know, is the fight song of the Eastern Washington Eagles, pride of Cheney, Wash., home to the Big Sky conference champions and a veritable United Nations roster. There are players from Serbia, Germany, Australia because, says Steve Hayford, brother of head coach Jim Hayford, it's kind of hard to recruit guys from this country to a place he calls a geographic orphan.
STEVE HAYFORD: It's surrounded by potato fields and farms. It's not a real happening place.
GOLDMAN: It was happening enough for guard Tyler Harvey to show up as a walk-on, who just happened to lead the nation in scoring this season. And there, he and his fellow Eagles were late last night taking on mighty Georgetown. The story potentially was too good. The guy no Division I school recruited leading the team from potato country to a classic March upset.
(SOUNDBITE OF 2015 NCAA TOURNAMENT)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Keep attacking, Ty. They can't guard you.
GOLDMAN: Harvey did get his points - 27. But Goliath often wins, and fourth-seeded Georgetown did 84-74, after a nervous final five minutes where Eastern Washington started attacking and the Hoyas stopped. Two of the other teams that were supposed to win in Portland did as well. Utah beat plucky Stephen F. Austin. The early days of the tournament are filled with plucky teams. And number-two seed Arizona waltzed past Texas Southern by 21. Junior forward Brandon Ashley and the other four Arizona starters all scored in double figures. But like true title contenders, he says the Wildcats weren't completely satisfied.
BRANDON ASHLEY: I would say we expected for ourselves to play better defensively. But at the same time, it's only one game, and we just got to make sure that we lock up and come together next game prepared to win.
(SOUNDBITE OF BUZZER)
GOLDMAN: The dramatic special of the day was served up by Ohio State and Virginia Commonwealth. VCU and its cool head coach Shaka Smart have been tournament darlings since getting to the Final Four in 2011. But the Rams were the one higher seed to lose yesterday in Portland. Ohio State freshman guard D'Angelo Russell scored 28 points to rally the Buckeyes to a 75-72 overtime win. In the end, it was a freshman's glory and a senior's disappointment. With 11 seconds left in overtime, VCU senior Treveon Graham attempted an open three-pointer to tie.
(SOUNDBITE OF 2015 NCAA TOURNAMENT)
TREVEON GRAHAM: I thought I was going to make it. I mean, it felt good, went in and out. You can't do anything about it. If I get a shot that I think I can make, I'm going to shoot it. I missed, got to move on.
GOLDMAN: Got to move on, even from a losing locker room, the mantra of March Madness. Tom Goldman, NPR News, Portland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.