Joel Scott scores 23 as Colorado State routs Virginia 67-42 to cap Day 1 of March Madness

Colorado State's Joe Palmer, center, reacts after winning a jump ball during the first half of a First Four college basketball game against Virginia in the NCAA Tournament in Dayton, Ohio, Tuesday, March 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)

Colorado State’s Joe Palmer, center, reacts after winning a jump ball during the first half of a First Four college basketball game against Virginia in the NCAA Tournament in Dayton, Ohio, Tuesday, March 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)

DAYTON, Ohio (AP) — Joel Scott scored a season-high 23 points and had 11 rebounds as Colorado State won an NCAA Tournament game for the first time in 11 years, blowing out Virginia 67-42 in the First Four on Tuesday night.

Nique Clifford added 17 points and 10 rebounds for the Rams (25-10), who advance as a No. 10 seed to play seventh-seeded Texas in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Thursday.

“I’ll tell you what, hard to imagine tonight going any better for us,” Colorado State coach Niko Medved said. “Just a terrific performance, really, on both ends of the floor, from the opening tip.”

Reece Beekman had 15 points on 4-of-16 shooting for Virginia, which hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since it won the national title in 2019. That stretch includes two first-round losses as a No. 4 seed.

The Cavaliers’ ugly performance ignited more debate about whether they should have made the tournament field. Although Virginia finished third in the Atlantic Coast Conference, it had just two Quad 1 wins and struggled offensively all season.

“It is a hard tournament to qualify (for), and you want to be playing your best when you get into it,” said Virginia coach Tony Bennett, whose 500th career game at the school was among the low points of his 15 stellar seasons. “And obviously, we did not do that.”

Colorado State dominated the boards and the Cavaliers couldn’t keep up, shooting 25% for the game. The Rams shot 55%, out-rebounded the Cavaliers 43-24 and scored 36 points in the paint.

“(We) took away their strengths that they’re really good at,” Clifford said. “And then we didn’t let them take us out of our game plan. We stuck to what we do and just were confident in it.”

Virginia finished with the second-fewest points by an ACC team in the NCAA Tournament, trailing only Bennett’s 2017 Cavaliers squad, which lost 65-39 to Florida in the second round.

Virginia shot terribly from the beginning, with Colorado State building a 27-14 lead at the break.

The Cavaliers hit 5 of 29 shots — 17% — in the first half, failing to get a basket in the last 9:20. Beekman was 1 of 9, while Scott had 10 points for the Rams at the break.

“Of course, we weren’t hitting shots, and then they used a lot of the clock as well, to get their good shots,” Beekman said. “So kind of broke us down. I feel like they were just never rushed throughout the game. Credit them for that.”

The Rams scored the first eight points of the second half before Virginia got another basket.

SWAMPED

The highlight for Virginia was a 4-2 lead at the 15:23 mark of the first half. It was pretty much downhill from there. Colorado State built on its halftime lead with another surge. The Cavaliers got within 15 points with about 10 minutes left, but a 3-pointer by Patrick Cartier on the Rams’ next possession helped them pull away again.

Isaac McKneely finished 2 of 13 from the field for the Cavaliers, and Jacob Groves was 1 of 8. Their baskets were the Cavs’ only 3-pointers as Virginia went 3 of 17 beyond the arc.

“They did miss some good looks, but I also thought we did a really good job of challenging shooters,” Medved said. “I thought we did a good job of closing out and making it difficult on those guys.”

Medved made his second NCAA Tournament appearance in six seasons with the Rams. Virginia has been to March Madness 10 times in Bennett’s 15 years.

“That’s an incredible program, one that I have an unbelievable amount of respect for,” Medved said. “And so I didn’t see this coming this way tonight at all.”

FEAST, THEN FAMINE

Virginia’s last NCAA Tournament victory was 85-77 in overtime over Texas Tech in the 2019 national title game. Since then, the Cavaliers have lost in the first round to 13 seeds Ohio (2012) and Furman (last year).

The year before its national title, Virginia was a No. 1 seed but was stunned by 16th-seeded Maryland-Baltimore County.

PLAYING LOOSE

Scott, a graduate transfer who played four years at Black Hills State in South Dakota, had his best game at Colorado State. He averaged 12.9 points per game during the season.

“Honestly, I think it was just more enjoying the moment. We’re on a big stage. Very cool experience,” Scott said. “Not everyone gets to do this. And so it’s more just enjoying the moment, having fun with it.”

UP NEXT

Colorado State will play Texas at 6:50 p.m. EDT on Thursday.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness

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