Lofton Hits Thursday Afternoon's Biggest Shot

There were several NCAA Tournament first-round upsets Thursday afternoon. But there was no bigger shot than the one Chris Lofton hit to bail Tennessee out during its game with No. 15 seed Winthrop and prevent the Volunteers from being one of those upset victims.

There were a lot of big shots made during the first eight NCAA Tournament games Thursday afternoon.


And then there was the shot Chris Lofton hit for Tennessee . . .


The sophomore guard's jumper from the right wing with .4 seconds remaining in Greensboro gave the Volunteers a 63-61 victory over No. 15 seed Winthrop – and kept his team from being the day's biggest upset victim.


The Volunteers (22-7), the subject of some controversy stirred by those who wondered why they would merit a No. 2 after losing four of their final six Southeastern Conference games, didn't play well Thursday.


And it appeared as if Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl had out-thought himself, calling a timeout with 2.9 seconds remaining although Dane Bradshaw, about 20 feet from the basket, appeared capable of driving into a lane and getting a shot up.


So much for second guessing Pearl . . .


Tennessee wasn't the only high seed to cut things close Thursday.


In fact, Boston College (the 4 seed in the Minneapolis region), so impressive in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament last weekend, couldn't have cut things any closer without having to board a flight back to Boston.


The Eagles, who jumped out to an 8-0 lead and held a 10-point advantage into the second half, found themselves down six points early in overtime and down four with less than a minute to play.


But Jared Dudley hit a critical 3-pointer and Craig Smith swished two free throws with four seconds to go to force a second overtime where the Eagles (27-7) eventually pulled away for an 88-76 victory over Big West Conference champion Pacific.


All those folks across the country who had Coach Al Skinner's team eventually winning the region and getting to Indianapolis heaved a collective sigh of relief after that one.


The UOP Tigers had collected consecutive first-round upsets over Providence and Pittsburgh the past two seasons.


And nothing about the game could do anything but boost the national stock of Tigers' Coach Bob Thomason, long recognized by his peers as one of the best in the West.


In fact, it wouldn't be surprising if Arizona State Athletic Director Lisa Love gives serious consideration to Thomason as a possible replacement to the guy she fired Friday, Rob Evans.


And 6-10 Christian Maraker, a four-year standout for the Tigers, may have helped his NBA stock more than any other player Thursday afternoon while going for 30 points (including a 3-pointer to put the game into overtime) and nine rebounds.


The afternoon's co-most entertaining game (with the UOP-B.C. contest) took place in San Diego, where Alabama and Marquette got under way after a 1 ½-hour delay because of a bomb scare just outside of Cox Arena.


Once the teams did get underway, though, it proved to be a much more wide-open, offensive affair than had been anticipated with the team from the SEC rolling to a 44-30 advantage at intermission, thanks in large part to five 3-pointers by Jean Felix.


The Golden Eagles (the Big East part of the SEC-Big East showdown) fought back to go in front but never ever had a good answer for the play of Felix (who added three more shots behind the arc and finished with 31 points off the bench) and sophomore point guard Ronald Steele.


Steele (23 points, eight rebounds, five assists and 4-6 on 3's) should provide a load for UCLA point guards Jordan Farmar and Darren Collison (whose team, as expected, cruised past Belmont, 78-44, in the second game played at San Diego) to deal with in a second-round game Saturday afternoon.


The biggest upset during the initial eight games played came in Salt Lake City where No. 12 Montana coasted with surprising one-sidedness over Nevada, 87-79.


If we're going to say the NCAA selection and seeding committee knew exactly what it was doing in giving the Grizzlies a 12 seed out of the Big Sky Conference, we also have to wonder about the justification in giving the Wolf Pack a 5. Now the folks in Reno are left to ponder if junior Nick Fazekas (24 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots) has played his final game in a Nevada uniform.


Tennessee's Saturday second-round opponent in Greensboro, Wichita State, clobbered Seton Hall, 86-66.


To say the least, it was a nice statement on behalf of the Missouri Valley Conference and an even more specific illustration as to how under-appreciated, at least nationally, Coach Mark Turgeon's Shockers (25-8) have been this season.


And, after such a lopsided loss, one can imagine that questions about Louie Orr's future as Seton Hall's coach will continue to be asked.


UW-Milwaukee's 82-74 victory over Oklahoma – a No. 11 seed beating an 11 – was a "seed upset".


But, with four starters returning from a team that won two tournament games a year ago, the Panthers' victory over a squad that had struggled during the latter part of Big 12 play was predicted by many prognosticators.


Scoring baskets – and stopping the opposition from getting them – should be a lot tougher Saturday in Jacksonville when the Panthers take on a Florida team that had no problems with South Alabama (76-50) and will, no doubt, be playing in front of largely pro-Gators gathering.


Inducted into the USBWA Hall of Fame last April, Frank Burlison is's national basketball expert and is also a column for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at Read more of Burlison's pieces at

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