DAYTON, Ohio – UC Davis overcame 18 turnovers and rallied in the second half to win its first ever NCAA Tournament game, beating a North Carolina Central team whose poor shooting ensured it would be one-and-done.
Chima Moneke had 18 points and 12 rebounds as 16th-seeded UC Davis (25-9) won 67-63 in a First Four game on Wednesday night to earn a trip to Tulsa to play No. 1 seed Kansas on Friday.
“I feel like I’m a confident player, and I got it going early,” Moneke said. “And I like the matchup that I had. And you know, my teammates were doing a great job of moving the ball, and I felt that if we continued to do that, I would put us in a successful position to score most of the time.”
Down by three points at halftime, the Aggies went on an 11-2 run to start the second half, and led by as many as nine before streaky North Carolina Central (25-9) forced some turnovers and chipped away at the lead.
The Eagles pulled within 64-63 with 1:49 left in the game on a 3-pointer by Dajuan Graf. They got the ball back with 37 seconds left, but another 3-point try by Graf was off the mark. Graf had to foul Lawrence White, who made two free throws with 16 seconds remaining to give the Eagles some breathing room. Brynton Lemar hit a foul shot with 4 seconds left to put it away.
“We had guys, mentally they just weren’t there,” North Carolina Central coach LeVelle Moton said. “And they got in their feelings and their emotions a little bit, and they busted us in the mouth. And I think we gathered ourselves and obviously we made the switch to the 1-3-1 and caused some turnovers and got us back in.”
Lemar scored 15 points and White added 14 for UC Davis, which had earned a trip to the tournament by winning the Big West Conference Tournament.
UC Davis came out and grabbed momentum on two rim-rattling dunks by Moneke and led by as many as nine points in the first half before N.C. Central could get its feet. The Eagles stormed back with a 16-3 run and led 34-31 at halftime, thanks in part to nine UC Davis turnovers.
UC Davis had an 11-2 run in the second half, and North Carolina Central was just 1 of 9 from the field during that stretch.
“Our guys grew up as little hoopers dreaming about playing and having this opportunity,” UC Davis coach Jim Les said. “And so it’s special to be here. And we’re just going to continue to fight, to keep this story going.”
UC Davis: Won despite some sloppy ball-handling. The turnover-prone Aggies will have to tighten it up to have a chance against Kansas.
North Carolina Central: Poor shooting doomed the Eagles, especially when the game got close down the stretch. With five seniors starting, the window may be closing on their hopes to get any deeper in the tournament.
North Carolina Central shot only 36 percent for the game, and was just 10 of 35 in the second half. The Eagles converted only 5 of 26 3-point attempts.
Graf paced North Carolina Central with 15 points. Kyle Benton and Patrick Cole added 13 each.
“We missed too many layups,” Moton said. “And I told the guys at the beginning of the season: Your season is going to come down to one possession. And you got to capitalize when you get that opportunity.”
Why not us?
Moneke doesn’t see a reason UC Davis couldn’t be the first 16 seed to knock off a No. 1 seed.
“It’s going to happen eventually, that’s how I look at it,” he said. “And we all can play at this level. And you know, I don’t fear anybody, but I respect everybody and I feel like the way we play defense we can make any game a game. And if we play the way we’ve been playing the past few weeks, then we definitely can do that.”
UC Davis: Plays No. 1 seed Kansas on Friday in Tulsa.
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