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Titans staff hopes to pull off success NCAA tourney

On March 20, 2018

BY PEYTON THOMAS / VN STAFF WRITER

Detroit Mercy played host for the NCAA as part of the first and second rounds of the men’s basketball tournament held at Little Caesars Arena.

With March Madness in the Motor City, many of Detroit Mercy’s crew that work the Titan home games were tasked to work the big dance.

“I definitely had my hands full without a doubt,” said P.J. Gradowski, communications director. “With a lot of national and local media, we had to make sure everyone was taken care of.”

Little Caesars Arena saw a variety of national media come through its doors to cover the madness, all aided by Gradowski and other key media coordination staff members, Adam Bouton and James Tinkey.

The Detroit Mercy Titans logo was displayed in two spots on the March Madness court and was there for both days of the first and second rounds.

As for the tournament itself, eight colleges played in Detroit, hoping to write their own Cinderella story.

Among the most notable teams were the second-seeded Purdue Boilermakers and third-seeded Michigan State Spartans.

The first game on Friday had the Boilermakers defeating 15-seed Big West champion Cal. St. Fullerton 74-48.

Purdue grabbed the lead halfway through the first half and didn’t look back, its largest lead of the game being 31 points.

“We were just focused on getting stops and we were able to hit some shots in the first half. But as we focused on getting stops, hopefully turn it into offense,” said sophomore Carson Edwards.

Carsen Edwards and Vincent Edwards each had 15 points for the Boilermakers and led their team in playing time.

With victory came a high cost, however, as Purdue’s senior center Isaac Haas fell on his elbow, injuring it severely enough to knock him out of the rest of the tournament – definitely a major blow. 

The following game had the seventh-seed Razorbacks of Arkansas pitted against the tenth-seeded Butler Bulldogs.

Butler came out fast, racing to a 21-2 run, knocking the Razorbacks on their heels.

Arkansas battled back, however, obtaining a brief two-point lead before Butler rebounded and took control, securing a comfortable 79-62.

“It took all of us out there to shrink the court, and that’s what we did. It was a team effort tonight,” said Kamar Baldwin, who had 24 points.

Undoubtedly, the most popular game in the arena on Friday night was Bucknell against Michigan State.

State fans controlled the crowd, dominating all other fan bases there.

However, the game told a different story. It was close early, and the Bisons’ Zach Thomas led the way.

Tensions would get high as the game progressed, fueled by physical play and a defining atmosphere. State held only a four-point lead at half.

But the Spartans pulled away, thanks to star sophomore Miles Bridges, who finished with 29 points and nine boards in the 82-78 win.

“It was a fistfight. It was physical. It was kind of out of control,” said head coach Tom Izzo, appearing in his 21st NCAA tournament. “I thought we did some very, very, very good things when we had the 11-point lead.”

The shocker of the night came in the final game, between the sixth-ranked Horned Frogs of TCU and the number-11 Syracuse Orange.

Both teams struggled on the offensive end early, neither squad able to take hold of the game. This trend would continue the whole contest – something Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim did not mind.

“This was just a defensive game. Our defense was fabulous. We just held two teams that averaged 80s, well in the 80s, to 56 and 52. That’s pretty good,” said Boeheim.

Syracuse upset TCU 57-52.

With the victors advancing to Sunday, more national attention was drawn toward Detroit.

The Butler and Purdue matchup saw two Indiana schools battle to move on to the Sweet 16.

Both teams came out firing, especially from the three-point line.

It seemed whenever Purdue made a big basket, Butler answered it. The second half was similar, and it seemed certain that this game would come down to the last few possessions.

A key block by Vincent Edwards on a Kamar Baldwin layup kept Purdue up by three with under a minute left, forcing Butler to take a half-court prayer to tie the game. Purdue won 76-73.

“We found a way,” said coach Matt Painter. “We lost the big fella and he’s a big part of our team. But I think we also showed we’ve got a lot of pieces and we’ve got a lot of guys and we’re able to hang in there and get this one.”

The final NCAA game saw the other two winners, Syracuse and Michigan State, and their hall of fame coaches pitted against each other.

Similar to the Orange’s first-round game, the first half was close and defensive minded.

Both teams struggled from the field, neither gaining any real advantage until in the dying seconds of the first half when Matt McQuaid grabbed his own blocked shot and made an immaculate three-point attempt beating the buzzer.

The game remained close in the second half, and it was Michigan State that eventually fell victim to the zone defense of the Orange.

When given the opportunity to pull away for a win, the Spartans went zero for their last 14 shots in the game, allowing Syracuse to take the lead late and ultimately win 55-53.

“Probably the saddest I’ve ever been in my life,” said Miles Bridges, who was visibly upset after the defeat. “I wanted to send my best friend, Tum Tum, out the right way, and our seniors, and I’m sad I couldn’t do it, but life goes on.”

A Cinderella Sweet 16 appearance for the Orange is on tap. They will face Duke.

The Boilermakers are set to face Texas Tech.

It starts this Thursday and will continue with the Elite Eight beginning play on Saturday.

 

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