At long last, the First Four games of the 2021 NCAA men's basketball tournament tipped off Thursday to give us our first taste of March Madness in two years. Here's how they played out:
Michigan State vs. UCLA
It took an extra five minutes after regulation for UCLA—who trailed by 11 points at the end of the first half—to complete its comeback as the Bruins defeated Michigan State 86-80 in the final game on Thursday.
With the win, UCLA (18-9) snapped a four-game losing streak. For Michigan State (15-13), it marks the sixth loss for Izzo and the Spartans in Mackey Arena and the first-ever overtime loss in the NCAA tournament for Michigan State under Izzo.
From the final minutes of regulation through overtime, UCLA went on a 14-3 run to close out the game. Johnny Juzang—who finished with 23 points, four rebounds and two assists—scored the first four points in overtime and marked a 7-0 Bruins run since tying the game at 77 in regulation.
After Juzang went down with an apparent ankle injury, UCLA was able to knock down its free throws and earn defensive stops to seal the victory.
Coming out of halftime—during which Tom Izzo and forward Gabe Brown were caught on camera having a heated argument—with Michigan State leading 44–33, UCLA went on a 12-4 run and cut the lead to 51-45 with 15:26 to play in regulation. The Bruins continued to chip away at the Spartans' lead behind the play of Juzang and Jaime Jaquez down the stretch of the second half.
Jaquez led the Bruins in scoring with 27 points followed by Juzang with 23 and Jules Bernard and Cody Riley with 11 points apiece.
UCLA will play BYU at 9:40 p.m. ET on Saturday.
Norfolk State vs. Appalachian State
Norfolk State, which led by as many as 19 points in the first half and 16 at halftime, fought off a strong second half rally from Appalachian State as the Spartans defeated the Mountaineers 54-53 in Thursday's third game.
The Mountaineers, which trailed 36–20 at halftime, went 0-of-18 from three point range in the first half, the most missed three-point attempts by a team in a half this season.
After a sluggish start to the second half, App State finally came to life and cut Norfolk State's lead to one with 4:11 to play. The game was tied at 52 with just over a minute remaining when Spartans guard Devante Carter sealed the victory with a pair of free throws.
Norfolk State's Jalen Hawkins scored a career-high 24 points off 8-of-13 shooting from the floor, including 4-of-5 from three point range.
Norfolk State will play undefeated Gonzaga, the No. 1 overall seed, at 9:20 p.m. ET on Saturday.
Wichita State vs. Drake
After trailing by 12 in the first half, Drake overcame a second 12-point deficit in the second half to pull off a 53-52 victory against Wichita State in the second game Thursday.
With the win, Drake (26-4) earned its first tournament victory since 1971. The Bulldogs held Tyson Etienne—the American Athletic Conference Co-Player of the Year—to a single point in the contest.
Drake ended the first half on a 10-0 run and tied the game, 23-23, within the first minute of the second half to close its first 12-point gap.
The Shockers then pulled ahead by 12 again. Near the 10-minute mark trailing by 10 points, the Bulldogs came to life, going on a 14-3 run fueled by three pointers from Joseph Yesufu—who finished with 21 points and two rebounds—and Tremell Murphy to cut Wichita State's lead to 42-37 with 7:40 to play.
The two teams traded points over the next several possessions before a Darnell Brodie layup gave Drake its first lead of the half. The Bulldogs took their largest lead of the game, 51-47, with 1:05 to play.
Drake will move on to face USC in the first round at 4:30 p.m. ET on Saturday.
Mount St. Mary's vs. Texas Southern
John Walker finished with 19 points and nine rebounds while Jordan Gilliam put up 12 points and four rebounds as Texas Southern defeated Mount St. Mary 60-52 in the first game on Thursday.
With the victory, Texas Southern (17-8) earned its second all-time NCAA tournament win. The Tigers also earned its 10th win in a row and have won 15 of their last 16 games.
After trailing 30-20 at halftime, the Tigers came out roaring in the second half and immediately overcame the 10-point deficit to take a 31-30 lead. After trading baskets for a while, Texas Southern claimed a 50-45 lead on a jumper from Michael Weathers with 4:59 to play.
The Mountaineers, who came in riding a four-game winning streak, cut the deficit to two with 3:10 to play when 5'8" point guard Damian Chong Qui (team-high 14 points and three assists) hit a jumper to make it 52-50.
Texas Southern relied on its defense down the stretch—limiting the Mountaineers to two points in the final 3:10—and hit enough free throws to seal the victory.
The Tigers move on to play Michigan in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
SI’s tournament newsletter analyzes everything you need to know about the Big Dance: what just happened and what’s happening next. Sign up for Morning Madness here.
More March Madness coverage: