March Madness: SFA Stuns West Virginia In First Round

The upsets are beginning to trend Friday in the men’s NCAA tournament.

Right after Middle Tennessee busted everyone’s bracket by handing the heavily-favorited two-seed Michigan State Spartans a loss, Southland Conference champs Stephen F. Austin knocked off the third seeded West Virginia Mountaineers in the East Region of this year’s tournament, 70-56, tying the largest win by a 14-seed in tournament history.

Many believed Stephen F. Austin deserved a better seed when the seeding was announced and were upset that a team that had been playing so well at 28-5 were dealt a tough West Virginia squad in the first round, but the Lumberjacks flipped the script on the Mountaineers who are known for their tenacious full-court pressure defense.

It was the Lumberjacks, though, that clamped down on West Virginia forcing 22 turnovers and prevailed in a rugged match up behind a game-high 33 points from Thomas Walkup, with 19 of those coming off free throws. Walkup is a senior and a two-time Southland Conference player of the year. Walkup also added 9 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals.

Walkup joins Brandon Knight as the only players with 30 points against West Virginia in an NCAA Tournament game, and the Lumberjacks are now 21-0 for the calendar year, and in their third straight trip to the NCAA tournament under head coach Brad Underwood.

West Virginia was led by Junior forward Devin Williams and Freshman forward Esa Ahmad who scored 12 and 10 for the Mountaineers, respectively. The Mountaineers led the nation with 10 steals a game, but the Lumberjacks weren’t phased by the hype surrounding West Virginia’s defense.

Both teams played a physical matchup that any coach would have admired, gritting out every play and contesting everything on both sides of the floor. Neither team shot better than 31 percent in a game that eventually saw the Lumberjacks pull away late behind Walkup’s relentless penetration that allowed him to go to the free throw line 20 times.

After the victory, Walkup mentioned that he noticed how the Mountaineers had underestimated his Lumberjacks leading up to the game.

“We’re a smallish school, a mid-major school. They had never head of us,” Walkup said. “I’ve watched them play many times just on my own. They haven’t had that luxury. They know us now. Probably something that they won’t take for granted again.”

The Mountaineers were called for 15 fouls and committed 12 turnovers in the first half alone, stats that would go on to sum up how the game would eventually be lost by West Virginia.

West Virginia became the first three-seed to be knocked out of this year’s tournament and joins Michigan State and the No. 4-seed California Bears as Friday’s bracket buster losers.

The Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks will now await the winner between the No. 6-seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the 11-seeded Michigan Wolverines in the East Regional. The Lumberjacks won their first NCAA tournament game back in 2014 against VCU.

Of the 13 million individuals who filled out a bracket in ESPN’s Tournament challenge, 62 percent had Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans reaching the Final Four. Twenty-two percent had them winning the whole tournament.

According to ESPN, 11 of the first 24 games of the tournament were won by the lower seed and they also confirmed that after Maryland’s victory over South Dakota State, no perfect brackets remain in the pool.

[AP Photo/Frank Franklin II]