Murray State might’ve been the first major upset of the day, taking down Marquette in a lopsided game that made the Ja Morant-led Racers look like the No. 5 seed instead of the No. 12 seed.
But considering the fact that the No. 12 vs. No. 5 matchup was the most likely first-round upset on the entire bracket and Marquette was clearly trending downward entering Thursday’s action, it’s hard to consider it a real bracket-buster.
Ultimately, the real One Shining Moments fell short.
Fellow Cinderella candidates definitely didn’t leave us short of any excitement, but all of them came up short in their near-first round upsets — limiting the madness in the first part of the NCAA tournament’s first round action.
New Mexico State’s last-second 78-77 loss to Auburn was the biggest head-scratcher of the day. The Aggies’ AJ Harris had an opportunity to tie the game in the closing seconds but instead dished the ball out to Terrell Brown, who was fouled on a three-point attempt. That put him at the line trailing by two points with three shots at the free-throw line. Make all them and the game was over. Instead, he only made one and somehow New Mexico State got the rebound and a deflection to set up one last attempt at a game-winner with one second left. Trevelin Queen air-balled it and we were left with the biggest what-could-have-been of the tournament so far.
“I can sit up here and second guess,” New Mexico State coach Chris Jans said after the game, “but if he makes the 3, or makes all three free throws, it’s an Ali-Frazier moment.”
Auburn snapped New Mexico State’s 19-game winning streak and avoided the classic No. 12-over-No.5-seed upset. Coach Bruce Pearl summed it up for his team as: “sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.”
NCAA BRACKETS: Check to see how you’re faring so far
MORANT COMES UP BIG: Murray State pulls off tournament’s first upset
NBA LOTTERY PICK? Ja Morant’s performance had NBA fans buying into hype
Among the other what-ifs by mid-majors trying to play Cinderella, No. 11 seed Belmont had a chance to upset No. 6 Maryland with 30 seconds left trailing by one. But the Bruins’ Grayson Murphy turned the ball over with four seconds remaining and the Terrapins escaped with a 79-77 win despite Belmont’s Dylan Windler finishing with 35 points and 11 rebounds.
In a game that was much closer than the score would indicate, No. 15 seed Bradley had No. 2 Michigan State on the ropes for about 35 minutes in a back-and-forth affair until the Spartans leaned on do-everything guard Cassius Winston to save them.
“I don’t think there were many teams that could have beat us today. We ran into one that could,” Bradley coach Brian Wardle said.
A cold-shooting Yale team saw its late comeback attempt fall short in a loss to No. 3 seed LSU, and No. 13 seed Vermont gave Florida State a scare by leading early and tying it at halftime before FSU pulled away.
Outside of Northeastern’s blowout loss to Kansas, all the Davids came close enough to ruin the spread vs. the Goliaths. The madness, sadly, was limited on Day 1.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.