The stakes were high Monday night – with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
The men’s NCAA Tournament has delivered some epic upsets in every round – Oral Roberts over Ohio State in the first round, Loyola Chicago over Illinois in the second and UCLA over Alabama in the Sweet 16.
What did the Elite Eight have in store? In the first two games, it was all chalk.
No. 2 seed Houston played dominant defensive basketball for the first 25 minutes against upstart No. 12 seed Oregon State in the opener. Then the Beavers made one last push, storming back from a 17-point deficit to knot the score with three minutes left. The Cougars had a counter punch and pulled away to become the first Final Four squad of the 2021 Big Dance.
In the second game, No. 1 seed Baylor looked dominant in building an 18-point lead against No. 3 Arkansas. But the Razorbacks have been the comeback team of this tournament, winning their last three games after trailing by large margins. They cut Baylor’s lead as close as four in the second half, but coach Scott Drew’s team was too clutch on both ends to solidify the program’s first Final Four trip since 1950.
A look at winners and losers from Monday’s Elite Eight games:
Baylor. The Bears (26-2) fended off Arkansas 81-72, fueled by their dynamic backcourt. All-American Jared Butler (14 points) found his shooting touch early, while MaCio Teague (22 points) came up big with three three-pointers. Davion Mitchell, the team’s backbone, had 12 points after missing much of the first half in foul trouble. Baylor’s defense was the difference, forcing the Razorbacks into 15 turnovers and an eight-minute, second-half scoring drought.
Houston. The Cougars (28-3) are back in the Final Four for the first time in 37 years following a 67-61 victory over Oregon State. It wasn’t easy for Houston, but offensive rebounding and clutch shot-making down the stretch pushed the Cougars past the Beavers. Houston out-rebounded OSU 41-29 and got two clutch three-pointers from American Athletic Conference player of the year Quentin Grimes (18 points) in the closing minutes. The unsung hero for coach Kelvin Sampson’s group was defensive stopper DeJon Jarreau, who smothered Oregon State star Ethan Thompson all night.
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Arkansas. The Razorbacks (25-7) had come back from large deficits in three previous NCAA Tournament games to get to the Elite Eight. But against a fully loaded Baylor squad, another comeback attempt was futile. Coach Eric Musselman didn’t get enough production from his top players. Leading scorer Moses Moody finished 2-for-10 from the field, and even though JD Notae was playing well with 14 points, he fouled out midway through the second half. Freshman Davonte Davis (14 points) and Jalen Tate (13 points) each contributed, but no one could get any offense going in an 8-minute drought near the end.
Oregon State. The Beavers (20-13) might fall in the losing category on this night but an unexpected Elite Eight run might stand as the best story of this NCAA Tournament. Coach Wayne Tinkle took this team from picked-to-finish-last in the Pac-12 to Pac-12 tournament champions to March Madness giant slayer. Oregon State showed its fortitude by clawing back from a 17-point deficit when the game looked out of reach. But ultimately, Houston’s defense was just too much to overcome in the closing minutes as OSU struggled to score when it mattered.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.