To date, No. 16 seeds are 0-124 against No. 1 seeds in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. But it hasn’t been for lack of trying. A 16-seed has led a 1-seed at halftime in three of the last four tournaments. Here are the 12 near-Cinderellas that came the closest to pulling off the biggest upset of them all.
2014: Virginia 70, Coastal Carolina 59
The Chanticleers took a 35-30 lead into the half (after leading by 10 earlier), thanks to hot three-point shooting from players such as forward Badou Diagne. Virginia didn’t pull ahead for good until there was just 8:34 remaining.
2013: Kansas 64, Western Kentucky 57
The Hilltoppers held a 31-30 lead at the half. However, Western Kentucky big men George Fant and Aleksej Rostov got into foul trouble, and the Jayhawks were able to close the game out from the free-throw line.
2013: Gonzaga 64, Southern 58
With the game tied at 56 with 3:45 to go, Gonzaga slowly pulled away from Southern thanks to a pair of clutch three-point shots from Gary Bell Jr. and Kevin Pangos. Guard Derick Beltran put up 21 points for Southern.
2012: Syracuse 72, UNC-Asheville 65
The Bulldogs walked off the floor after falling to the Orange feeling shorted after being deprived of a chance for a potential game-tying shot. The officials incorrectly awarded possession to Syracuse after a pass appeared to touch the Orange’s Brandon Triche before going out of bounds. Had the call gone in UNC-Asheville’s favor, the Bulldogs would have had the ball with 35 seconds left, down just 66-63.
2009: Pittsburgh 79, ETSU 69
Despite shooting just 31 percent from the floor, the Buccaneers nearly spoiled Pittsburgh’s first-ever game as a 1-seed. ETSU was within three, 62-59, inside of four minutes to play but were done in by a layup from Panthers guard Levance Fields and a three-pointer by guard Ashton Gibbs.
2006: Connecticut 72, Albany 59
The Great Danes were unafraid of UConn’s rotation, which boasted five future NBA players. Center Kirstin Zoellner helped key a second-half run that culminated in a 12-point Albany lead, 50-38, with 11:30 to go before UConn’s depth prevailed.
2002: Kansas 70, Holy Cross 59
Playing the second half without future NBA guard Kirk Hinrich, the Jayhawks survived despite trailing with 8:48 to play after the Crusaders’ Tim Szatko made three free throws to briefly put Holy Cross on top, 49-48.
1997: North Carolina 82, Fairfield 74
Despite entering the tournament with an 11-18 record, Fairfield gave North Carolina all it could handle. The Stags led throughout almost the entirety of the first half and took a 35-28 lead into the locker room. It was still tied with 7:22 left until Antawn Jamison scored to give the Tar Heels a 61-59 lead it would not surrender.
1996: Purdue 73, Western Carolina 71
Western Carolina had a chance to tie or take the lead as time expired, but both Joel Flemming’s open three-pointer and Joe Stafford’s 15-footer hit the back of the rim.
1990: Michigan State 75, Murray State 71 (OT)
Greg Coble’s three-pointer as time expired in the second half allowed the Racers (which had future NBAer Popeye Jones on the roster) to force overtime, but the Spartans held strong in the only 1 vs. 16 game to go to overtime. Michigan State’s Kirk Manns’ layup with 43 seconds to go snapped a 71-71 tie and the Spartans converted on the fast break to ice it after Murray State missed a game-tying attempt at the rim.
1989: Georgetown 50, Princeton 49
Outmanned and undersized, Princeton still managed to give Georgetown a run for its money. Coach Pete Carril could only watch as the Tigers’ halftime lead melted away. The Hoyas’ Alonzo Mourning blocked potential game-winning shots from Bob Scrabis and Kit Mueller in the game’s final six seconds.
1989: Oklahoma 72, ETSU 71
Though the Princeton-Georgetown contest is commonly recalled in discussions of great NCAA tournament games, few remember that ETSU came painfully close to upsetting Oklahoma that same year. The Buccaneers built a 17-point cushion on the Sooners in the first and still led by nine with 6:14 left, but they bungled four chances to take the lead in the final 81 seconds.