Wednesday March 18th, 2015

Here are four thoughts on Ole Miss’s 94-90 win over BYU in the First Four on Tuesday:

1. Don’t miss a minute

Some have written off the First Four as unnecessary or irrelevant, and I feel bad for anyone who ignored this game on purpose. Whether it’s the First Four or the Final Four, everything is on the line in every game of the tournament; that’s what makes it the nation’s greatest sporting event. BYU and Ole Miss are a pair of teams that arguably did not deserve to make the field of 68 and would not have made the field of 64 without this play-in game.

Every year since the inception of the First Four, a team from Dayton has advanced to at least the Round of 32. Three times, one team has gone onto the Sweet 16, and VCU in 2011 reached the Final Four. Now the Rebels will enter the second round of the Big Dance with confidence and momentum and could become the next success story from the First Four. (Side note: Again, I’m a First Four apologist, but I can’t wait till next year when we call the Round of 64 the first round again.)

2. Scoreboard

There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about scoring in college basketball, but tonight was a good reminder of the pure beauty the sport still achieves on a regular basis. This was exceptional, exciting, emotional basketball. Ole Miss erased a 17-point first-half deficit by scoring 62 (!) points in the second half. That’s the most by any team since 2007. And everyone was involved for the Rebels: They had six players in double figures (including all five starters) and were led by junior guard Stefan Moody’s 26. For BYU, Tyler Haws and Chase Fischer combined to score 56 points, which is enough points to win your average February game in the Big Ten. BYU shot 48.3 percent from the floor and 51.7 percent from three. And again, all that was in a losing effort.

DAVIS: Five NCAA tournament mistakes to avoid; full bracket breakdown

3. They aren’t who we thought they were

When SI’s experts submitted their brackets on Monday, all four of them predicted BYU to beat Ole Miss. And all four also predicted that the Cougars would also go on to win their Round of 64 game against Xavier. On Tuesday, BYU looked more than capable of pulling off the upset. And then the second half happened. Now the Rebels have the chance to bust the bracket the way we all thought BYU would. Ole Miss displayed poise and calm in this game, and although the comeback did feature some hero three-pointers from Moody, it was built more on halftime defensive adjustments, steals and smart shot selection. That formula can take you farther than a streak of three-point shooting can.

4. Leads are like reservations

BYU knows how to take leads, but the Cougars don’t know how to hold leads. And that’s really the most important part of the lead: The holding. Anybody can just take them. We saw it in BYU’s final regular-season loss to Pepperdine, when it blew a 13-point halftime lead. When you rely on the three-pointer as much as the Cougars do, sometimes the results are phenomenal, like in the first half of this game; and sometimes the deep ball betrays you, like in the second half of this game. Ole Miss now carries with it the confidence that even if it is in a big hole, it can dig itself out of it. 

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