PITTSBURGH — Reserve forward James Southerland had 15 points and a season-high eight rebounds, and Syracuse avoided becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a 16 when it rallied for a 72-65 victory over North Carolina-Asheville on Thursday in the East Regional.
The Orange entered the tournament without starting center Fab Melo, who was declared ineligible for academic reasons, and they almost left early with a piece of history no team wants. Instead, Syracuse (32-2) will play eighth-seeded Kansas State in the third round Saturday.
The Orange overcame a terrible game from 3-point range (5 of 23) to beat the much-smaller Bulldogs (24-10), who had talked Wednesday of becoming the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1.
J.P. Primm had 18 points for UNC-Asheville.
The Bulldogs were up 34-30 at halftime — the third 16 seed to lead at the break — but the Orange took the lead for good with 6:17 left on a turnaround jumper by Southerland. The Bulldogs were within three points three times in the final 1:04 but got no closer.
KANSAS ST. 70, SOUTHERN MISS 64: Rodney McGruder scored 30 points and Jordan Henriquez added 15 points, nine rebounds and six blocks to lead Kansas State over Southern Mississippi.
The Wildcats (22-10) advanced past their opening tournament game for the third straight year.
WISCONSIN 73, MONTANA 49: At Albuquerque, N.M., Ryan Evans scored 18 points and Jordan Taylor added 17 points and six assists for Wisconsin, which ended Montana’s school-record 14-game winning streak.
The Badgers (25-9) improved to 10-1 in NCAA tournament openers under Bo Ryan, the winningest coach in the program’s history.
VANDERBILT 79, HARVARD 70: At Albuquerque, N.M., John Jenkins made all six of his free throws down the stretch and finished with 27 points to help Vanderbilt hold off Harvard in a game billed as “The Brain Bowl.”
Brad Tinsley scored 16 for the Commodores (25-10), who followed last weekend’s stunner over top-ranked Kentucky with a win over a school many consider to be a No. 1 — in the classroom, that is.
GONZAGA 77, WEST VIRGINIA 54: Robert Sacre and Gary Bell Jr. scored 14 points apiece as Gonzaga routed West Virginia.
Kevin Pangos added 13 points and five assists for the seventh-seeded Bulldogs (26-6), who will play Ohio State or Loyola (Md.) in the third round on Saturday.
MARQUETTE 88, BYU 68: At Louisville, Ky., Jae Crowder had 25 points and 16 rebounds, Darius Johnson-Odom scored 12 of his 20 points in the second half and Marquette withstood another furious rally by BYU in the West Regional.
Brandon Davies had 19 points and 12 rebounds for the Cougars (26-9), who looked for a brief while as if they might have a chance to top their historic comeback in the First Four on Tuesday night. After trailing by as many as 19 in the first half, BYU got within 52-46 with 15:28 left. But the Golden Eagles (28-5) were simply too big and too strong.
MURRAY STATE 58, COLORADO STATE 41: At Louisville, Ky., Isaiah Canaan scored 15 points in Murray State’s return to the NCAA tournament after a two-year wait, and Donte Poole added 13 to lead the Racers past Colorado State.
Canaan mishandled the ball in the closing seconds of a two-point loss to Butler in 2010 as a freshman. He’s the leader of this group now, and Murray State (31-1) expects a long run in this tournament as the mid-major darlings.
LOUISVILLE 69, DAVIDSON 62: At Portland, Ore., Peyton Siva scored 17 points and Louisville finally moved on in the NCAA tournament by beating Davidson.
After getting ousted in their first tournament game the past two seasons, coach Rick Pitino and the Cardinals (27-9) advanced to play fifth-seeded New Mexico in the third round.
Siva, who had plenty of local support at the Rose Garden from his hometown of Seattle, added six assists to lead the Big East tournament champions, who are making their sixth straight appearance in the NCAAs. Chane Behanan had 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Cardinals, who led by as many as 14.
KENTUCKY 81, WESTERN KENTUCKY 66: At Louisville, Ky., Terrence Jones had 22 points and 10 rebounds, Doron Lamb scored 16 and Kentucky began its quest for an eighth national title with a staggering display of athleticism in a victory over Western Kentucky in the South Regional.
On a day when Syracuse nearly became the first No. 1 seed ever to lose to a 16, the Wildcats (33-2) clearly relished their growing role as favorites. Freshman and player of the year candidate Anthony Davis added 16 points, nine rebounds and seven blocks for Kentucky, which was never seriously threatened.
Western Kentucky (16-19) saw its improbable seven-game winning streak end. Freshman T.J. Price scored 16 of his career-high 21 points in the first half before fouling out late.
BAYLOR 68, SOUTH DAKOTA STATE 60: At Albuquerque, N.M., Pierre Jackson scored 18 points and Baylor held off South Dakota State to advance to the third round.
The Bears (28-7) fell behind by 12 in the first half before taking a 36-28 halftime lead that they never relinquished. But it was a nail-biter.
Making their first trip to the NCAA tournament, the Jackrabbits (27-8) misfired on a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left that would have made it one-point game. Then, the Bears iced it at the line.
VCU 62, WICHITA STATE 59: At Portland, Ore., Bradford Burgess hit a key 3-pointer with 1:33 left and Shaka Smart coached VCU to another tournament surprise, holding off Wichita State.
The Rams (29-6) led by as many as 13 in the second half, but the Shockers closed to 54-53 on Garrett Stutz’s layup with 5:39 left. Troy Daniels hit a 3-pointer for the Rams, and Joe Ragland answered with his own for Wichita State.
Toure Murry made a 3 that gave Wichita State the lead, but Burgess came back with his big shot to give the Rams a 60-59 edge. Darius Theus’ runner from about 6 feet provided the final margin.
Stutz’s long jumper just before the buzzer was off for Wichita State (26-6).
VCU made a stunning run all the way from the First Four to the Final Four last season.