By JIM O’CONNELL, AP Basketball Writer
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — The 2017 NCAA Tournament started with its shortest player coming through in the clutch and it ended with a less-than-classic championship game.
North Carolina’s 71-65 victory over Gonzaga in front of more than 76,000 fans ended the three-week tournament, one that provided thrills just as it always does.
Here are some of the biggest moments from throughout March Madness, from Selection Sunday through its early April finish:
Five-foot-5 Junior Robinson of Mount St. Mary’s scored 23 points, including the game-winning jumper with 1:27 to play and the Mountaineers opened the tournament with a 67-66 victory over New Orleans in a matchup of No. 16 seeds.
It seems every tournament has those 12 over 5 upsets that start brackets crashing and favorites heading home.
There was almost one right away when Princeton scared Notre Dame in the first round. The Tigers’ Devin Cannady had a wide-open 3-point attempt on Princeton’s final possession but missed and the Fighting Irish had a 60-58 escape from the fifth-seed jinx.
“We had a shot,” Princeton coach Mitch Henderson said. “Right now, this one hurts. When you’re in the locker room, it’s hard to say a proper ‘Thank you,’ because it feels like goodbye.”
Minnesota, on the other hand, wasn’t as lucky as Notre Dame. The Golden Gophers met a team that had a reputation as a giant-killer in Middle Tennessee State.
Last year as a No. 15 seed, the Blue Raiders beat second-seeded Michigan State. They had another Big Ten team in their sights.
Middle Tennessee State beat Minnesota 81-72 and the Blue Raiders claimed it was no upset.
“We think we belong on a national stage,” coach Kermit Davis said. “I knew we’d play well and we did so today.”
Southern California started the tournament off in the First Four coming back from a 17-point second-half deficit to beat Providence 75-71. Even better than just an impressive comeback was that Southern Cal had lost to the Friars by 1 point in the first round of the 2016 tournament.
The Trojans weren’t done.
In the first round, Southern Cal overcame a 10-point second-half deficit to beat sixth-seeded SMU 66-65.
“We just had to keep fighting back,” Elijah Stewart said. “We’ve been in those positions before. So we’re kind of seasoned to it. And you just can’t stop. You just got to keep going.”
CAN YOU TOP THIS? PART I
Wisconsin’s Zak Showalter hit the shot of a lifetime.
He forced overtime against Florida in the regional semifinals with a leaping 3-pointer off one leg with 2.1 seconds left in regulation. The shot wiped out a 12-point deficit over the last 4:15.
Florida’s Chris Chiozza went almost the length of the court in the final 4 seconds in overtime. He stopped short right at the 3-point line and let fly a shot that gave the Gators an 84-83 victory.
“This is something for the rest of his life that he’ll be remembered by,” Florida coach Mike White. “‘He made an unbelievable play.”
CAN YOU TOP THIS? PART II
Kentucky freshman Malik Monk made a tough 3-pointer with defenders in his face to tie North Carolina at 73 with 7.2 seconds to go in regulation in the South Regional final.
Luke Maye then hit a jumper with 0.3 seconds left to give the top-seeded Tar Heels a 75-73 victory and another berth in the Final Four.
“I just kind of stepped back, and he gave me the ball and I just shot it, and luckily it went in,” said Maye, who finished with a career-high 17 points. “It was a great feeling.”
The Atlantic Coast Conference started the tournament with the most teams, nine.
Eight of them were gone by the Sweet 16. That would sound a lot worse if the lone remaining team wasn’t national champion North Carolina.
The Southeastern Conference had quite a showing. The SEC had three of the five teams reach the Elite Eight and South Carolina went on to the Final Four.
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