Orlando, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - Third-round action in the Midwest Region of the NCAA Tournament will get underway with a matchup featuring the fifth- seeded Saint Louis Billikens playing against the defending champion and fourth-seeded Louisville Cardinals at the Amway Center in Orlando.
The winner of this game will move on to the Sweet 16, and will face either Wichita State or Kentucky in Indianapolis.
Saint Louis owes its first-round win over NC State to persistency and a bit of a collapse by the Wolfpack in the second half. NC State held a 16-point advantage with just over eight minutes to play in the game on Thursday, but allowed the Billikens to come back and tie the game to send it to overtime. In the extra period, Saint Louis outscored the Wolfpack, 13-10, to fully complete the comeback and upend NC State, 83-80.
Louisville got a scare of its own late on Thursday night, as the team soon found out the 13th-seeded Manhattan Jaspers came to play. Manhattan stuck around and even took a 58-55 lead with just over four minutes to play, but the Cardinals were able to erase the deficit and claim the 71-64 victory, thanks in large part to two huge 3-pointers from Luke Hancock.
Louisville leads the all-time series with Saint Louis, 45-20. The two teams used to meet yearly back when they were conference foes in the Missouri Valley, Metro and Conference USA.
NC State held a four-point lead over Saint Louis at the end of the first half in Thursday's second-round contest, and ballooned that advantage to 16 points with more than 11 minutes gone off the clock in the period. But the Billikens fought hard to come back, and the Wolfpack squandered their changes to put the higher-ranked Billikens away. Saint Louis was led by a standout double-double performance from Rob Loe, who tallied 22 points and 15 rebounds. Jordair Jett contributed 18 points, Mike McCall Jr. scored 12 with six rebounds and six assists, and Dwayne Evans netted 11 points with six boards `before fouling out.
Evans and Jett are the top two scorers for the Billikens, who bounced in and out of the Top 25 all season long. Evans leads the team with a 13.9 ppg average, while Jett is as close as can be with 13.8 ppg. Evans' 6.4 rpg mark is the team's leading average on the glass, and Jett has notched a team-best 157 assists on the season with 50 steals. Loe chips in an average of 10.3 ppg, and McCall Jr. nets 10 ppg for Saint Louis. The Billikens have driven opposing offenses mad with a strong scoring defense this year, allowing just 61.8 ppg in 33 contests played.
Louisville owned a six-point lead over 13th-ranked Manhattan at the intermission, and it looked as though the Cardinals would pace their way through the second half en route to a relatively simple victory. But in the second-round matchup for the defending national champs, it was anything but simple. Rick Pitino had previously expressed his disdain for having to play a Jaspers team he knew would be a tough out. Russ Smith topped Louisville with 18 points in the win, but turned the ball over six times on the night. Luke Hancock, who drilled a pair of huge 3-pointers down the stretch, netted 16 points with four assists, and Montrezl Harrell tallied a double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds. Chris Jones rounded out the double-digit Louisville scorers in the game with 11 points.
Smith was right on his average, and now enters the game against Saint Louis with a team-leading 18.3 ppg. He's also dished out a team-leading 162 assists and recorded 73 steals on the year. The senior guard is one of the more explosive players in college basketball, and his well-rounded stat sheet is boosted by 45.1 shooting percentage from the floor, and a 40.1 percentage from 3-point distance. Harrell is second on the Cardinals in scoring with 14.1 ppg, and tops the team with 8.3 rpg. Hancock chips in 11.8 ppg, and Jones nets 10.4 ppg for a unit averaging 81.8 points per outing.