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It ain't magic: Ohio, South Florida stage upsets to contribute to March Madness in Nashville
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) ' Ohio coach John Groce doesn't want anyone to confuse March's madness with magic. He knows the upsets happen for a reason.
His 13th-seeded Bobcats limited Michigan's talented perimeter game and came up with late stops to get a 65-60 win over the Wolverines on Friday night in the second round of the NCAA tournament's Midwest Regional.
"It's not like I waved a magic wand for this game," Groce said. "We're top 15 in 3-point defense all year for the most part. It's something we do well. They may have made a shot, but we knew what we were doing."
Ohio (28-7) will face another team feeding the madness in Nashville. No. 12 seed South Florida survived 3-of-27 shooting in the first half to beat fifth-seeded Temple 58-44 two days after getting a first-round win over California in Dayton, and a program in only its third NCAA tournament now has a chance to make an even bigger statement on Sunday.
"Obviously, we're trying to create and build a history and build a tradition even more so," South Florida coach Stan Heath said. "We don't have much, but we have a little bit. Our guys, we talked about leaving some footprints in the sand. I told this group, we've already done a little bit. But let's try to make it bigger. I think the guys know that there's more opportunity for us."
There were no upsets in Nashville's East Regional games on Friday, just close calls.
Cincinnati, the No. 6 seed, jumped out to a comfortable lead that helped it withstand a late rally by Texas and win 65-59. The Longhorns (20-14) looked as if they had missed their wake-up call and opened the game 1 of 14 from the field while the Bearcats (25-10) jumped out to a 16-2 lead.
After trailing 31-17 at halftime, the young Longhorns attacked, hitting five of their first seven from 3-point range and shooting 50 percent for the second half. With 3:44 to play, Texas' Jonathan Holmes hit a layup to tie the game at 52. Cincinnati scored the next six points and went 5 of 6 at the free throw line in the final 36 seconds to close out the game.
"We probably are more comfortable playing if it's a close game," Bearcats coach Mick Cronin said.
Cincinnati will face third-seeded Florida State after the Seminoles trailed for nearly 35 minutes before pulling out a 66-63 win over St. Bonaventure. It was a bit of a scare for Florida State (25-9) coming off its first ever Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title in a season in which the Seminoles beat both North Carolina and Duke twice.
Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton cautioned against thinking his Seminoles took St. Bonaventure (20-12) lightly. Not with NBA prospect Andrew Nicholson on the roster.
"They were well prepared. They're loaded with talent. They executed very well," Hamilton said. "We're very fortunate to come away with the victory. They won their league. Some teams from the Atlantic 10 have done really well in the NCAA tournament."
So have teams from the Mid-American Conference, and Ohio is this season's tournament champion. Ohio had the Wolverines on their heels throughout the game, but Michigan's Trey Burke hit a 3 with 4:12 left to cut it to 63-60. The Wolverines took rushed shots the rest of the way, missing all five of them ' four from the freshman Burke.
On Burke's third miss, fourth-seeded Michigan (24-10) got the rebound but Evan Smotrycz lost control of the ball in front of the Wolverines bench, and Walter Offutt grabbed it. Offutt was fouled by Smotrycz and sank both of his free throws with 6.8 seconds left to preserve the win.
Ohio shot 51.2 percent and held Michigan to 40.7 percent shooting, including 7 for 23 from 3-point range, typically the Wolverines' comfort zone.
It's not the first time Groce and the Bobcats have found themselves advancing in the tournament against expectations. A 14th-seeded Ohio team bounced third-seeded Georgetown from the 2010 tournament with a 97-83 victory before losing to Tennessee two days later.
Groce learned a few lessons from that experience and hopes they will give Ohio another shot at pulling off the unexpected.
"We have to get our rest now," he said. "We have to eat, hydrate, take care of our bodies and our minds."
No magic needed.