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Tennessee, Cal Poly advance in NCAA tournament ‘First Four’

Tennessee players jump off bench second half their 78-65 wover Iowfirst-round game NCAA college basketball tournament Wednesday March 19 2014

Tennessee players jump off the bench in the second half of their 78-65 win over Iowa in a first-round game of the NCAA college basketball tournament, Wednesday, March 19, 2014, in Dayton, Ohio. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

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Updated: March 20, 2014 12:04AM

DAYTON, Ohio — Don’t get discouraged, coach Cuonzo Martin told his Volunteers during those long NCAA tournament timeouts. Instead, hang in there and figure a way to pull it out.

They went about it a most improbable way.

With forward Jarnell Stokes using his 280 pounds to dominate inside and a highly regarded defense finally locking in, Tennessee pulled off the first amazing comeback of the NCAA tournament.

Stokes opened overtime with a three-point play that put Tennessee ahead to stay, and the Volunteers’ defense shut down Iowa in overtime for a 78-65 victory on Wednesday night, finishing off the First Four with an exclamation point.

“I told our guys we’ve been through everything this season, keep your composure down the stretch,” said Martin, who got his first NCAA tournament win in his third season at Tennessee. “Find ways to win the ball game.”

The Vols (22-12) head to Raleigh, N.C., where they’ll play sixth-seeded Massachusetts on Friday in the Midwest Regional. They left Dayton with a lot of momentum — six wins in their last seven games.

“We did a tremendous job toward the end of fighting back,” said Jordan McRae, who had 20 points. “We did a great job on our defense. For us to hold them like we did was a great job.”

Tennessee didn’t lead until Antonio Barton’s 3-pointer put the Vols up 59-57 with 3:05 left regulation. There were five lead changes before McRae missed a jumper missed at the buzzer, leaving it tied at 64.

No surprise that Barton made the big shot. The senior transfer is the only Volunteer with any significant NCAA tournament experience, having appeared in three of them with Memphis.

Stokes’ three-point play in overtime was the key moment in his 18-point, 13-rebound performance, putting the Volunteers ahead to stay. It was his 20th double-double this season, the most by a Volunteer since Bernard King had 22 of them in 1976-77.

Tennessee’s highly regarded defense took it from there, holding Iowa (21-13) to one free throw the rest of the way. The Hawkeyes missed all eight of their shots from the field in overtime.

“You go through anything so often — being in those games, being in those situations — we’re a much better team the last eight games,” Martin said. “Guys stepped up and made plays.”

It was a tough ending to a long and stressful day for Iowa coach Fran McCaffery. He started the day in Iowa with his teenage son, Patrick, who had surgery to remove a thyroid tumor. His assistant coaches led the Hawkeyes through a meeting and their final practice, and McCaffery was back by game time.

Martin and the Volunteers hugged him after the game and wished him well.

“Their players hugged me and told me they were thinking of me,” McCaffery said. “I was really impressed with their guys and the program Cuonzo has built there.”

Adam Woodbury had 16 points for Iowa, which got a subpar performance from its leading scorer. Roy Devyn Marble was only 3 of 15 from the field for seven points, matching his season low.

“I don’t think we ran out of gas,” Woodbury said. “We made some key mistakes down the stretch and that hurt us.”

The ending will sting the Hawkeyes for a long time. They were struggling as they headed into their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2006, losing six of their previous seven games. Defense was the biggest problem, often letting them down in the second half.

They opened the game in promising fashion, switching from man-to-man to zone to half-court traps. It worked. They got off to a 16-4 lead and were still ahead 29-26 at halftime.

They kept swatting away the Volunteers’ runs until the last few minutes of regulation.

Marble’s basket tied it at 64, and he was guarding McCrae when he missed his fade-away shot at the buzzer sending it to overtime.

Tennessee got an at-large bid by closing the season with a defensive flourish. The Volunteers won five straight before losing to No. 1 Florida 56-49 in the Southeastern Conference tournament. They gave up 61.1 points per game, second only to Florida in the SEC, and allowed an average of only 47.4 points in the last four games.

In overtime, that defense decided it.

Cal Poly advances, bad first half leads to quick knockout for Texas Southern

DAYTON, Ohio — In the gloom of a quiet locker room after a painful NCAA tournament loss, coach Mike Davis told his Texas Southern players to hold their heads up high.

Aaric Murray scored 38 points, but the Tigers fell behind by 14 points in the first half and could never make up the difference in an 81-69 loss to Cal Poly on Wednesday night in the First Four.

The Mustangs (14-20) became the first team with 19 losses to win an NCAA game in 59 years.

The Tigers (19-15) had to be content with their first trip into the brightest spotlight since 2003.

“My speech to our boys was just be down and disappointed tonight, but when you walk out of the locker room and the hotel tomorrow, feel proud and feel a sense of accomplishments because there’s a lot of teams not playing,” said Davis. “And we played in the NCAA tournament this year.”

Murray was the top player on the court, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers. Originally a blue-chip recruit for La Salle, he left there for West Virginia where he was dismissed from the team. In his final year of eligibility for Texas Southern, he had 28 points against Stanford, 30 against Tulsa and 48 against Temple in his return home to Philadelphia.

Murray ended up 14 of 23 from the field, 3 of 5 behind the arc and a perfect 7 for 7 at the line despite sitting out several minutes with foul trouble.

Instead of focusing on the defeat, he chose to think about how far his team had come this year. The Tigers qualified for the NCAAs by winning their last nine games, including rolling through the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament.

“We made it to the NCAA tournament. We had a great season,” he said. “We won our conference. So (coach Davis) just told us to hold our heads up and don’t be pouting about losing because there were a lot of teams who weren’t playing at all today.”

Cal Poly dominated most of the first half to build a 12-point lead at the break and never let it go.

Battling injuries all year, the Mustangs were deeper and healthier than they had been all season. Their bench supplied 29 points, including 16 critical points in the opening half.

Trailing 17-16 after a Murray 3 which gave him 11 quick points, Cal Poly took the lead for good on sub Brian Bennett’s slashing move to the hoop. After a Texas Southern miss, Bennett scored again on a 14-foot jumper. Those two baskets keyed a 16-7 burst for a 32-24 lead that the Mustangs would not relinquish.

Texas Southern, now 0-5 in the NCAA tournament, cut the lead to 73-66 with 2:16 left, but the Mustangs hit 8 of 10 fouls shots over the last 1:42 to seal the deal.

Jose Rodriguez, who added 14 points, was unhappy with the loss but appreciative of the chance to play in the college sport’s biggest event.

“A lot of teams don’t get this opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament,” he said. “A lot of people are home right now watching us. So it was a great opportunity.”

Chris Eversley had 19 points, David Nwaba 17 and Bennett — who was a perfect 5 for 5 from the field — added 10 for Cal Poly. The only other 19-loss team to win was Bradley (7-19), which won a game but lost in the final eight in 1955.

The Mustangs came in shooting 41 percent from the field for the season but made 57 percent (29 of 51) in the program’s NCAA debut.

Davis, who also led Indiana and UAB to the big tournament, preferred to credit Cal Poly and look at what his team had accomplished.

“Any time you make the NCAA tournament, that’s history,” he said. “Your name will go down as the team who made it.”

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