For a change, leads stand up for Vermont, USF

When Lamar trailed by double digits in the second half of its

NCAA first-round game on Wednesday night, there was a lingering

feeling that the Cardinals had Vermont right where they wanted

them.

Leads were poison on the first night of the First Four at the

University of Dayton.

But on the second night, early advantages lasted and the

incredible comebacks were muted.

Cool-headed, hot-handed freshman Four McGlynn, who topped the

Catamounts with 18 points, led the way in a 13-0 first-half run

that gave Vermont a lead that it never let slip away in a 71-59

victory over Lamar.

In the nightcap, South Florida’s nasty defense flirted with

perfection in paving the way to a stunning 36-13 halftime lead –

yes, you read that right, 36-13 – before cruising to a 65-54

win.

The first two games of the tournament, however, were nightmares

for teams in front.

With President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David

Cameron watching from the front row, Mississippi Valley State blew

a 16-point lead with 5:07 left in falling to Western Kentucky,

59-58.

It was the biggest comeback ever in the final 5 minutes of an

NCAA tournament game.

Then Obama and the Cameron left, barely missing out on the

biggest comeback in NCAA tournament history.

Iona scored 55 points in the first 16 minutes and built a

25-point lead only to lose to BYU, 78-72, in Tuesday’s

nightcap.

But apparently those incredible turnarounds had only a 24-hour

shelf life.

The win by Vermont (24-11) sends it into a second-round matchup

with top-seeded North Carolina on Friday in Greensboro, N.C.

The biggest win in school history came in 2005 when the

13th-seeded Catamounts stunned fourth-seeded Syracuse 60-57 in

overtime. This year’s team welcomes another shot at history.

”The Syracuse game was a huge win for Vermont and the

community,” said forward Brian Voelkel, who had only three points

but 12 rebounds. ”Obviously, we’re going to come into North

Carolina with a lot of confidence and hopefully we can pull off

another upset and give the people of Burlington something to cheer

about.”

The Catamounts, champions of the America East tournament, played

gritty defense and also shot 50 percent from the field, blending an

inside presence with McGlynn’s touch from the perimeter.

Devon Lamb and Mike James each had 16 points and Anthony Miles

14 for Lamar (23-12), which had won six in a row since first-year

coach Pat Knight ripped his seniors after a loss in late February.

He said then that they were ”stealing money being on scholarship”

and that his players had problems ”off the court, on the court,

classroom, drugs.”

But after the NCAA loss, an emotional Knight fought back tears

as he spoke about players who he said would turn the Lamar program

around.

”These guys did a heck of a job of leaving their legacy. If

there are people that disagree about that, they’re morons,” Knight

said, sounding a little like his father, Hall of Fame coach Bob

Knight. ”These guys just made Lamar relevant again. What a ride.

These guys, boy, I’ll be talking about them until the day I

die.”

Victor Rudd Jr. had 15 points, Anthony Collins 12, Augustus

Gilchrist 11 and Jawanza Poland 10 in the rout by South Florida

(21-13), which moves on to play fifth-seeded Temple in Nashville on

Friday.

But it wasn’t the Bulls’ shooting – 57 percent from the field –

that left the biggest mark on Cal (24-10). The Bulls’ defense

contested every shot, scrapped for every loose ball and muscled

away rebounds.

Collins had seen Mississippi Valley State and Iona blow those

big leads. He wasn’t going to let it happen to the Bulls.

”Those teams played up and down, playing fast, but they still

would come down and take bad shots,” he said. ”We wanted to run

some time and get good shots.”

They sure did.

No wonder Cal coach Mike Montgomery was so stunned by the horror

show of a first half.

”I didn’t imagine that happening,” he said.

It was the first NCAA tournament win ever for South Florida’s

program.

”We’re all thrilled – the president, the AD – it’s always great

to keep your bosses happy,” coach Stan Heath said. ”But we didn’t

want to come here for just one game. We did want to prove that we

belong and that we’re legit. The kids took that to heart.”

And they did it by storming to a lead and then – unlike others –

not giving it up.

Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter:

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