Norfolk State made it look easy in the first half. The second half was just the opposite.
The Spartans blew a 19-point first-half lead before rallying past Appalachian State 54-53 in a wild First Four contest Thursday at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana.
Norfolk State (17-7) advances to face undefeated Gonzaga, the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, at 6:20 p.m. PT Saturday.
Appalachian State, which was 0 of 18 on 3-pointers and committed 10 turnovers while falling behind 36-20 at half, rode a stretch of hot perimeter shooting to move in front 51-45.
The Spartans closed with a 9-2 run in the final five minutes. Devante Carter shook off a rough outing by hitting a pair of clutch free throws with 8.6 seconds left to give the Spartans the lead.
“The message (late) was, this is March Madness,” Norfolk State coach Robert Jones said in a post-game television interview. “No one wants to go home. They told me the flight was leaving (Friday) at 9:30. I told them, I’m not packing. We fought, we fought, we fought.
“We went through a cold spell, but our defense once again, like we’ve said before we’re one of the best defensive teams in the country, and that held up in a dogfight.”
Carter, who averages 15.5 points, scored four points on 1-of-10 shooting. Joe Bryant Jr., second on the team with an 11.6-point average, was 4 of 13 from the field and finished with 10 points.
Jalen Hawkins’ performance off the bench helped Norfolk State overcome Carter’s and Bryant’s struggles. Hawkins made four 3-pointers and scored 20 of his 24 points in the first half. The Robert Morris transfer topped his career high by seven points.
Appalachian State (17-12) never looked comfortable against Norfolk State’s variety of defenses in the opening half. Justin Forrest, who led the Mountaineers with 18 points and hit three of the team’s six second-half 3-pointers, and Michael Almonacy both missed shots in the closing seconds.
(11) UCLA 86, (11) Michigan State 80 (OT): Jaime Jaquez Jr. scored 27 points lead the Bruins (17-9) past the Spartans (15-12) in overtime in West Lafayette, Indiana.
UCLA advances to play sixth-seeded BYU on Saturday.
Johnny Juzang added 23 points for the Bruins.
(11) Drake 53, (11) Wichita State 52: Joseph Yesufu scored 21 points and the Bulldogs (26-4) beat the Shockers (16-6) in West Lafayette, Indiana, for Drake’s first NCAA Tournament win in a half-century.
Drake’s previous tournament victory was 50 years ago to the day – March 18, 1971, against Notre Dame.
Tremell Murphy added 11 points for 11th-seeded Drake, which advanced to play sixth-seeded Southern California in the West Region on Saturday.
(16) Texas Southern 60, (16) Mount St. Mary’s 52: John Walker III scored a season-high 19 points and Jordan Gilliam had 12 to help the Tigers (17-8) erase a 10-point halftime deficit and beat the Mountaineers (12-11) in Bloomington, Indiana.
It’s the second straight First Four victory for the Tigers, who also won in 2018 – their most recent tournament appearance.
Texas Southern, the No. 16 seed in the East Region, won its 10th straight game and faces top-seeded Michigan (20-4) on Saturday.
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