It did not take long for a Canadian to make a major impact on the first full day of March Madness.
Florida State forward Mfiondu Kabengele of Burlington, Ont., posted a double-double (21 points, 10 rebounds) off the bench to lead the fourth-seeded Seminoles to a 76-69 win over the No. 13 Vermont Catamounts on Thursday in Hartford, Conn.
The Florida State-Vermont game was the fourth game to start on Thursday.
Kabengele had 14 of his points in the second half as Florida State pulled away from a 27-27 tie at halftime.
The six-foot-10 Kabengele had a couple of key dunks in the second half and then grabbed an offensive rebound in traffic in the final three minutes with Florida State up six. He drained a couple of free throws after being fouled, giving his team some breathing room.
"I thought we exercised physicality, the quality of our depth, our athleticism and strengh in the second half. Getting the ball to Mfiondu, I thought he was a little bigger, stronger, and taller," Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. "He made some plays."
Kabengele wasn’t the only player from Southern Ontario to stand out in the Vermont-Florida State contest.
Toronto-born guard Stef Smith was one of three Vermont players to score 15 points. He added six rebounds before fouling out in the latter stages.
Kevarrius Hayes scored 16 points, Jalen Hudson added 15 and 10th-seeded Florida beat Nevada 70-61 in the West Region in the first round of the NCAA Tournament after squandering most of an 18-point lead.
Andrew Nembhard of Aurora, Ont., whose last-second shot beat LSU in the Southeastern Conference Tournament last week, drove to the basket for a layup with 1 1/2 minutes left and Florida scored the last seven points after the Wolf Pack had cut the lead to two points.
NO MORE DRAMA
One year after dreamers and underdog lovers rejoiced at top-seeded Virginia’s first-of-its-kind, first-round loss, the Gonzaga Bulldogs crushed any thought of a repeat with a wire-to-wire 87-49 thumping of Fairleigh Dickinson in the West Region.
Rui Hachimura led the Zags (31-3) with 21 points and eight rebounds. Vancouver’s Brandon Clarke had 12 points, eight rebounds and two assists.
Duke players were asked what music they’d be listening to in advance of their tournament opener on Friday against North Dakota State.
Blue Devils star R.J. Barrett of Mississauga, Ont., went with a familiar name.
"Anything Drake," Barrett said in advance of the top-seeded Blue Devils’ game against No. 16 North Dakota State in Columbia, S.C.
Barrett also was asked what advice he got from his dad, Rowan, a former pro and now the head of the Canadian men’s team, and his godfather, Steve Nash.
"Just it’s been a great year so far, and not to stop, but just to keep doing what I’m doing, stay even keeled," he said. "We have six more games to win, so just stay together as a unit really."
With the women’s tournament also getting going Friday, it will be an even busier day for Canadians at March Madness.
Highlights include a five-Canadian Buffalo Bulls women’s team taking on a Rutgers squad with its own Canuck in Mael Gilles of Montreal-Nord, Que.
Hamilton’s Hailey Brown is a key player for the Michigan Wolverines, who face Kansas State.
On the men’s side, the Iowa State Cyclones, with two prominent Canadians in Ottawa’s Marial Shayok and Lidell Wigginton of Dartmouth, N.S., battle Ohio State in a late game.
Montreal’s Luguentz Dort, fresh off a 21-point performance in a play-in game, returns to action with Arizona State for a game against just-across-the-border Buffalo, a mid-major team getting lots of attention after a 31-3 season.
Kyle Alexander of Milton, Ont., also figures to see plenty of playing time as second-seeded Tennessee faces Colgate.