What a Thursday it's turned out to be for the Atlantic 10.
Drama, day and night.
This is what the conference needed: a chance to get the nation's attention on the sport's biggest stage. We're only beginning here, but the returns were nice in the short-term for a league trying to find some success for the first time in a long time in the NCAA Tournament.
It started with Dayton's heart-pumper against No. 6 Ohio State. Vee Sanford hit a bunny in the closing seconds to topple the Buckeyes 60-59 and end Aaron Craft's career in the process. A week ago, the Flyers were anything but certain to make this party. Now they'll play into the weekend.
That was the first key win for the league.
Then came Saint Joe's and UConn duking it out for more than two and a half hours. Their game needing overtime, it looked for a good while that SJU would get a hard-fought but clear-cut win. The Hawks had it, really, but a three-point play by Amida Brimah allowed UConn to send the game into OT.
The Hawks ran out of gas in overtime, falling 89-81. Game was much closer. This felt like two evenly matched teams.
"They're all growing," Huskies senior Shabazz Napier said of his young teammates. "Brimah made the big play ... and then he made the free throw, which is spectacular for him. A lot of guys, in a pivotal moment, they get scared. But he wasn't."
Napier: also quite nasty.
"Shabazz's got a great gift to play this game, but give it away. Don't hold it inside," Huskies coach Kevin Ollie said on TBS afterward said. "If you believe bigger, good things happen to you -- always."
It was a really good game -- the best game of the day -- until two others happening in the same TV window got ridiculous. How do you ensure a win? Sink 15 free throws in a row. That's what helped UConn get some distance in overtime and earn the W.
The exact opposite happened in what's probably going to be the choke of this year's tournament.
Oh, what Saint Louis managed to do to N.C. State will haunt Wolfpack fans for years. This appeared to be a stinker. N.C. State, the hot 12-over-5 pick coming into Thursday, was cruising. SLU looked awful. In fact, it was looking like just an OK day for the A-10 until this game unraveled and continue to unspool into a mess of a drama. See, Wolfpack star T.J. Warren put the team up 59-45 with five minutes remaining.
We all thought the game was over.
Then SLU opted to foul, and foul often. The plan worked. N.C. State went 9 for 21 from the line down the stretch. It was AGONIZING to watch. Close game, but not a fun one. Saint Louis missed plenty of freebies as well. But it managed a 35-17 run into the first two and a half minutes of overtime. At one point N.C. State led by 16. The lead just melted away.
It also had a shot at winning the game in regulation. This is cruel.
The Billikens move on and get their conference a win over a team that Mike Krzyzewski stumped for on Sunday. The legendary Duke coached practically guffawed at the notion that the A-10 should receive six bids -- a number that wound up matching the ACC's.
Poetic revenge for SLU and the A-10 to knock out an ACC member and do it in the worst/best possible way. But the Wolfpack blew one of the bigger leads in NCAA Tournament history. That's what this one will be remembered for. Afterward, one image from a reporter at the postgame presser showed everything. That's Warren with his head on the table.
"It's heartbreaking." pic.twitter.com/ZQW3rYLvWM— Eric Adelson (@eric_adelson) March 21, 2014