Davidson upsets Rhode Island, secures NCAA bid
Still looking for its first victory in the NCAA Tournament since a guy by the name of Stephen Curry led the way, Davidson is goin’ dancin’ as the Atlantic 10 champion after beating 25th-ranked Rhode Island in the conference final, 58-57, Sunday in Washington behind Kellan Grady’s 17 points.
Bubble teams across the land could not have been pleased to see Davidson (21-11) pull through, because the Wildcats, who landed a No. 12 seed in the South Region, were not going to get to join in the March Madness fun with a loss Sunday. Despite the loss, the top-seeded Rams (25-7) earned an at-large bid as a No. 7 seed in the Midwest Region, denying a spot to a tourney hopeful.
Davidson won despite going nearly 13 minutes in the second half without making a field goal, a 0-for-11 drought that somehow did not prevent it from celebrating at game’s end. The Wildcats haven’t been to the NCAAs since 2015 — and haven’t won a March Madness game since the Curry-led 2008 squad beat Gonzaga, Georgetown, and Wisconsin in an Elite Eight run.
Peyton Aldridge, the A-10 co-player of the year, added 13 points and seven rebounds Sunday for third-seeded Davidson, which was playing in its first conference final since joining the league in 2014 from the Southern Conference.
E.C. Matthews led the way with 20 points and eight rebounds for Rhode Island, which was trying to win a second consecutive conference tournament title.
When Matthews sank a 3-pointer with a little more than 3½ minutes left, it closed an 11-point run that put Rhode Island ahead, 56-52. That coincided with Davidson’s long stretch without a bucket.
Grady ended that gap by hitting a baseline floater to give Davidson the lead at 58-57 with 74 seconds to go — and neither team would score again.
It was a rough shooting day for both teams, particularly in the second half, when Davidson made 29 percent and Rhode Island 31 percent.
NIT: Harvard, BC, UVM
Harvard, Boston College, and Vermont accepted bids to the NIT and will open with road games in the tournament.
The Crimson, who lost to Penn on Sunday in the Ivy League title game to miss out on the NCAA field, drew Marquette in their first-round matchup Wednesday.
The game matches Golden Eagles coach Steve Wojciechowski, who played college ball at Duke while Crimson coach and former Blue Devils guard Tommy Amaker was an assistant to Mike Krzyzewski.
‘‘I love Tommy Amaker,’’ Wojciechowski said. ‘‘He’s one of the finest people and classiest men in not just college basketball, but just in general. He’s an incredible coach. He’s done a fantastic job at Harvard and we know that they’re really good, and so it’s going to be a very difficult game.’’
The Eagles (19-15), who finished with their most wins since the 2010-11 season, will face off against Western Kentucky on Tuesday.
The Catamounts, upset by UMBC in the America East final, will meet Middle Tennessee State on Tuesday night. UVM will be playing in the NIT for the fourth time.
Southern California, Notre Dame, Baylor, and Saint Mary’s are the No. 1 seeds.
USC finished second to Arizona in the Pac-12 this season and lost, 75-61, to the Wildcats in the conference tournament final Saturday night, making the Trojans one of the most notable snubs for the NCAA Tournament field.
Notre Dame takes on Hampton, Baylor plays Wagner, and Saint Mary’s faces Southeastern Louisiana in the first round.
John Calipari kept telling anyone who would listen that this group of Kentucky freshmen just needed a little more time than most to figure things out. That faith was shaken when the Wildcats lost four straight games last month. But they delivered on their coach’s optimism Sunday. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 29 points, and Kentucky beat No. 13 Tennessee, 77-72, for its fourth straight Southeastern Conference Tournament championship. It’s the 31st title in tournament history for the Wildcats (24-10), whose No. 4 seed in the event was the lowest in Calipari’s nine seasons at the school . . . Tennessee’s Rick Barnes is the seventh coach to take at least four programs to the NCAA Tournament, joining Lon Kruger, Tubby Smith, Rick Pitino, Eddie Sutton, John Beilein, and Lefty Driesell. Barnes also went to the tournament with Providence, Clemson, and Texas . . . Kansas coach Bill Self is optimistic that big man Udoka Azubuike will be available when the top-seeded Jayhawks open the NCAA Tournament against No. 16 seed Penn on Thursday. The 7-foot sophomore hurt a ligament in his left knee on Tuesday, sidelining him for the ninth-ranked Jayhawks’ run to the Big 12 Tournament title.
He returned to the floor for a light workout on Sunday, Self said.
Women on the bubble
The NCAA women’s basketball committee revealed the final eight teams under consideration for the last four spots in the NCAA Tournament bracket. The teams were released in alphabetical order with Buffalo, Creighton, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Purdue, Rutgers, Southern Cal, and West Virginia under consideration. The women’s bracket will be revealed Monday night on ESPN with the tournament tipping off Friday. The top 16 seeds will host the first two rounds. UConn, Mississippi State, Louisville, and Notre Dame are projected as No. 1 seeds.