As the clock began clicking down in the second half, the top two teams in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament were on the ropes against underdog challengers. But two Canadian point guards made clutch plays to help their teams avoid upsets.
The number-one seed Gonzaga Bulldogs were struggling in the first half against the Memphis Tigers. Andrew Nembhard—the senior point guard from Aurora, Ont.—kept Gonzaga in the game by scoring 13 first-half points as Gonzaga struggled to get offence from anywhere else. Nembhard knocked down three 3-pointers in the first half.
Down by ten in the second half, Nembhard added 12 second-half points. He finished with 25 points on 5-of-10 shooting from the 3-point line and had five assists. The only consistent free-throw shooter for Gonzaga on the night, Nembhard made four at the foul line in the final 25 seconds to help the Bulldogs win a four-point nailbiter.
Nembhard downplayed his role, “I just want to step up for my team in those types of moments…I know they have ultimate confidence in me; coaching staff has ultimate confidence in me, so I just want to step up and make those kinds of plays for us.”
The top-ranked Bulldogs continue their path towards an NCAA National Championship Thursday in a game against fourth-seeded Arkansas.
Nembhard wasn’t the only Candian that carried his team to the next round of the March Madness playoff. Montreal’s Bennedict Mathurin made big plays to keep his top-seeded Arizona Wildcats from being knocked out in the second round by the ninth-ranked Horned Frogs from Texas Christian University.
Big players make big plays in big games, and Mathurin certainly lived up to his hype with clutch shots when it counted most.
Arizona was down by three points when the ball found its way to Mathurin with 19 seconds left in regulation. The 6-foot-6 second-team all-American guard and Pac-12 player of the year had the ball in his hands at the most crucial time of the game.
He dribbled backward toward the half-court line, giving himself more room to make a move. He used a screen and cross-over dribble from right to left and pulled up four feet behind the three-point line. Swish. Tie game.
It was the kind of shot you expect to see at the end of a crazy March Madness game, but it’s rare to see a Montrealer hit that shot on college basketball’s biggest stage.
Earlier in the game, Mathurin put the basketball world on notice with a hellacious one-handed dunk over 6-foot-10 TCU centre Eddie Lampkin Jr.
The dunk made the highlight reel, but Mathurin’s plays in overtime sealed the Wildcats’ five-point win.
With 1:11 left, Mathurin made the most crucial play of the game. Arizona was up by one and had missed three consecutive three-point shots when Mathurin ripped down a rebound against a much bigger opponent and muscled in the shot—and a free throw. He finished with a game-high 30 points, eight rebounds, four assists, and a berth in the Sweet 16.
His late-game heroics may have cemented Mathurin as a top-10 pick in the coming draft.
Mathurin’s Wildcats will play the fifth-ranked Houston Cougars on Thursday for a chance to play in the Elite Eight.
Canadians should rejoice in how the two True North guards took over their game by making incredible plays over and over again to help their teams win, whether it was scoring a clutch bucket, making a free throw, gathering a critical rebound, or showing the physicality and game smarts to get to the free-throw line and seal the victory.
If both their teams win the next three games, the two Canadian guards will meet for the championship on April 4th.