DAYTON, Ohio — Through much of the regular season Tennessee looked like a tantalizing collection of potential that was sputtering toward mediocrity throughout SEC play.
Now they look like a dangerous postseason team. Third-year coach Cuonzo Martin earned his first NCAA tournament victory with the Volunteers late Wednesday night, when they rallied from a 12-point first-half deficit to outlast Iowa, 78-65, in overtime of a First Four matchup.
The 11th-seeded Volunteers (22-12) should pose a threat against No. 6 seed UMass in Friday's second-round matchup in Raleigh.
The outcome was a sour end to an emotional day for Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, who spent the morning in Iowa with his 13-year-old son, Patrick, who underwent surgery Wednesday to remove a thyroid tumor.
McCaffery initially flew with his team to Dayton on Monday but left Tuesday night to visit Patrick. The Iowa coaching staff led players in a Wednesday morning meeting and shoot around. After the surgery, McCaffery returned to Dayton in time for Iowa's first NCAA tournament appearance in eight seasons.
The Hawkeyes (20-13) entered the NCAA tournament having lost six of their last seven games. But they looked extremely focused right from the opening tip, holding the Volunteers scoreless for more than six minutes.
The Volunteers entered the game having won five of their previous six games. And they had held their previous four opponents to an average of 47.4 points per game.
Tennessee remained competitive in the second half behind the play of Josh Richardson, who scored six straight points midway through the second half, including a thunderous one-handed dunk from the baseline.
An Antonio Barton three-pointer with 3:07 remaining gave the Volunteers their first lead of the game. Iowa remained composed, though. And first-team all-Big Ten selection Roy Devyn Marble, who struggled shooting all night, sank a difficult mid-range jumper with 17.9 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the game at 64.
That pushed the game into overtime, which was dominated by the resurgent Volunteers. Chants of "S-E-C" rang out in the closing seconds inside University of Dayton Arena.
The first game Wednesday featured a team that will need to win the national championship to finish the season with a winning record.
Cal Poly entered their Big West Conference tournament with 10 victories, seeded seventh out of nine teams. The Mustangs won three games to claim the league's automatic berth, and continued an improbable March on Wednesday by beating Texas Southern, 81-69, in the First Four.
Cal Poly became the second team with 19 losses to win an NCAA tournament game. The first was Bradley in 1955. Coach Joe Callero said he never lost faith in his team, which battled injuries much of the season.
"Maybe it sounds arrogant, but I did believe," he said. "I completely believed in our guys. We had the right components."
With its school in San Luis Obispo, Calif., the Mustangs (14-19) thrived in their first Division I NCAA tournament appearance. Even though they ranked 313th in field goal percentage (41%), they made 56.9% of their shots from the field Wednesday.
Competition will get much stiffer Friday when they play unbeaten Wichita State, the top seed in the stout Midwest Region, in St. Louis. The Mustangs exhibited great poise Wednesday; at halftime they had 10 assists and just one turnover.
They did a fine job defensively containing just about all of the Tigers (18-15) except the SWAC player of the year – Aaric Murray, who finished with 38 points on 14 of 23 shooting.