One thing that I love about the NCAA tournament is the way unsung heroes come through in the clutch.
A perfect example of that was Richard Howell of NC State on Friday. The 6-8 junior, who averaged just under 11 points per game entering the big dance, hit 10-of-12 shots from the field, scoring 22 points to lead Mark Gottfried's Wolfpack to a win over San Diego State.
Howell had his most productive game since November, when he put up 25 big ones against Morehead State.
I am sure the Aztec scouting report said to key on C.J. Leslie. Gottfried had to be happy with the play of his veteran forward.
There have been other examples of players performing above expectations. Cincinnati guard Jaquon Parker averaged 9.2 points per game in the regular season but put up 13 in a win over Texas Friday. Parker was big in the first half as the Bearcats built up a big lead. The Longhorns rallied and even tied the game before a 6-0 Cincinnati run, and it was basically all said and done.
Wisconsin got a solid first half from Ryan Evans en route to a victory over Montana. He had 14 points before intermission, which was above his regular-season average of 11.
Jordan Hulls averaged 11.5 points per game during the season. Against New Mexico State, he was the star of stars with 22 big points as the Hoosiers moved on.
Florida's Casey Prather barely played during the regular season, averaging just 8.6 minutes and 1.5 points per game, but he was a key contributor in Florida's blowout of Virginia, scoring 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting off the bench.
For teams that survive and advance, it is often the play of an unsung performer that makes a difference in the tournament.