Notre Dame stumbles vs. St. John’s, opens up Big East a bit

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NEW YORK– St. John’s is one of those sneaky teams that can pop up on a contender’s schedule down the stretch. Playing with a six-man rotation, the historically young Red Storm have had a trial by fire in 2011-12 and a spoiler has emerged.

No. 20 Notre Dame found that out on Saturday afternoon.

Freshmen Moe Harkless and D’Angelo Harrison combined to score 37 of St. John’s 61 points and helped to stave off a late Notre Dame run to sink the Irish, 61-58, at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

“I thought their defense really bothered us and sped us up,” said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. “We had some great looks and didn’t make enough of them. You’re going to have to make some more jumpshots in the top of that zone to escape here today.”

That St. John’s zone kept Notre Dame on the perimeter and forced the Irish into 31 shots from the beyond the arc, of which they only converted four, giving them a dismal 12% clip on the afternoon.

Guard Jerian Grant, who had been averaging 13 points per game and was a 37% shooter from three on the year, was held to 1-of-9 from the floor and 0-of-5 from distance.

Even while forcing 16 St. John’s turnovers and grabbing 13 offensive rebounds, the shooting woes were too difficult to overcome.

“It was a big problem for us,” said senior Scott Martin, who was a bright spot for Notre Dame, finishing with 14 points. “[St. John’s] frustrated us and made us take [shots] from a little deeper than we wanted to take them.”

“We were digging out of a hole on the road and we’ve done that a couple times,” Brey explained. “I almost felt like the Law of Averages said, ‘You can’t have this one.’”

The loss snapped Notre Dame’s nine-game winning streak and made some shifts in the race for the top of the Big East.

Syracuse now clinches the Big East regular season title. It also keeps Marquette in good position for a Top 4 finish in the conference, which would mean a double-bye in the Big East Tournament.

Perhaps that’s something for Buzz Williams to dance about.

Loss aside, Notre Dame’s improbable season, especially considering the loss of star Tim Abromaitis early in the year, continues on.

“I wanted to see if I could red-shirt that year,” Brey jokingly recalled about his feeling after receiving the news of Abromaitis’ injury.

“When that went down, it affected Scott for a good six weeks, but it was a great atmosphere to coach in because there was no attention. [Critics said] we were done, wait until next year.”

Brey says that the time spent out of the media spotlight helped his team to come together after the loss of their Preseason All-Big East First Team selection.

He credits his young players, including point guard Eric Atkins, for stepping up in Abromaitis’ absence.

“We know our program has played through adversity before,” said forward Jack Cooley, whose emergence has been key to the Irish’s success. “Coach knows how to coach us when we’re a man down and we know how to play like that.”

The Irish move on to play Georgetown on Monday night, which will have important implications in seeding for the Big East Tournament.

The Hoyas, who got a convincing win at home over Villanova on Saturday, could tie Notre Dame in the conference with another win on Monday night.

If the Irish want to fend off the Hoya advance, they’ll need to shoot a better percentage than they did on Saturday afternoon.

“We had a good look to get to overtime, but we didn’t deserve it,” Brey said in closing about the loss to St. John’s. “They deserved it.”

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

UMBC becomes first No. 16 seed to beat No. 1 seed in beatdown of Virginia

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UMBC made sports history on Friday night by becoming the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The America East champions pulled off a shocking 74-54 upset over No. 1 seed Virginia in the South Region.

The Retrievers (25-10) not only made history by beating a No. 1 seed — they also knocked off the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament in dominating fashion. Tied at the half, UMBC jumped out to a double-digit lead and maintained its dominance throughout the second half by consistently knocking down three-pointers and keeping the pressure on.

Senior guard Jairus Lyle, the team’s hero in the America East title game, finished with 28 points to pace the Retrievers as he went 9-for-11 from the field.  Joe Shurburne (14 points), Arkel Lamar (12 points) and K.J. Maura (10 points) also finished in double-figures for UMBC, as they extended its winning streak to six games.

Virginia (31-3) won the ACC regular season by four games. They took the league’s conference tournament as well. The Cavaliers were the most consistent team in college basketball this season. The Cavaliers lost sixth man DeAndre Hunter to the season with an injury earlier in the week. They were still a heavy favorite in this game.

But Virginia struggled to knock down three-pointers. It was clear Virginia started playing scared once the upset became apparent. And that’s how once of the biggest upsets in sports history went down. Sophomore guards Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome led Virginia with 15 points each.

Virginia shot only 41 percent (23-for-56) from the field and 19 percent (4-for-22) from three-point range as they couldn’t find consistent offense or a go-to player.

UMBC advances to battle No. 9 seed Kansas State in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats advanced earlier on Friday night with a balanced effort in a win over No. 8 seed Creighton.

UMBC social media won the night as much as the basketball team

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The eyes of the sports world are on UMBC. Cinderella has arrived.

The No. 16 seed shocked No. 1 seed Virginia by double digits on Friday night as the Retrievers became the first No. 16 seed to defeat a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

UMBC’s basketball team wasn’t the only group from the school ready to go on Friday night.

The school’s social media presence was trolling everyone and showing tons of swagger as the Retrievers built a second-half double-digit lead on Virginia.

The UMBC Athletics account called out pundits, trolled doubters and had fun with fans during a special moment in sports history.

Some examples:

Now that the historic win has gone down, UMBC, and their social media account, have become immortal.

No. 1 Xavier takes down No. 16 Texas Southern

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Xavier got off to a slow start, but rallied to run past No. 16 Texas Southern for a 102-83 NCAA tournament victory on Friday night in the West Region.

The Musketeers (29-5) had huge performances from seniors Trevon Bluiett (26 points) and J.P. Macura (29 points) as the duo combined for seven three-pointers and 35 points in the first 20 minutes. The duo ended up getting a third major scorer in the second half when senior big man Kerem Kanter stepped up his play. Kanter ended up with 24 points.

Xavier shot 45 percent (11-for-24) from three-point range and 54 percent from the field (35-for-64) in the win.

Texas Southern (16-20) went on a 16-0 run at one point in the first half to take a 20-13 lead. The Tigers had the momentum, but things quickly turned the other way when Xavier responded with its own 16-0 flurry.

The Tigers had five double-figure scorers, led by point guard Damontrae Jefferson with 20 points, but they couldn’t get stops on the other end. Guard Derrick Bruce finished with 18 points while Robert Lewis (14 points), Donte Clark (12 points) and Trayvon Reed (10 points) also finished in double-figures.

The Tigers started this season 0-13 as they lost all road games against tough competition. The SWAC champions rallied to win eight straight games before the NCAA tournament and put up an admirable fight before falling to the Big East regular season champions.

Xavier moves on to face the winner of No. 8 seed Missouri and No. 9 seed Florida State as the Musketeers could have a tough matchup against either team.

No. 4 seed Auburn survives off-night, beats No. 13 Charleston

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Auburn did everything they possibly could to become the third No. 4 seed to fall to a No. 13 seed in their first round game of the NCAA tournament.

Charleston, who was essentially playing without their best player, Joe Chealey, who was a shell of himself as he battled an ankle injury, turned the ball over 21 times and shot 5-for-22 from beyond the arc and still managed to find a way to be ahead in the final three minutes.

The Tigers, who are eighth in the country in free throw shooting percentage, made just 15-of-32 from the charity stripe. They missed all 13 threes they shot in the first half — a first for the program in Bruce Pearl’s tenure — and finish the night just 5-for-24 from beyond the arc while shooting 35.6 percent from the floor.

After Bruce Brown missed a pair of free throws with 14 seconds left, Charleston’s Grant Riller had a shot to tie the game. He missed, Auburn finally made a free throw down the stretch, and the Tigers escaped with a 62-58 win that they barely deserved.

The most important part of that sentence, however, is “win”.

There’s a reason that the saying in March is “survive and advance”. As long as you survive, as long as you live to advance and play another day, there’s always a chance.

I don’t think there is a single player on that Auburn roster, on the Auburn coaching staff or in the state of Alabama that will believe that the way they played on Friday night will be enough to get this team — who were co-champions of the SEC that went wire to wire in first place in the league — where they want to be this year. And to be frank, with the injury to Anfernee McLemore and the shoulder issue that is plaguing Bruce Brown, there’s a chance that this team may be too beaten down to make any kind of serious run in March.

But they’re still here.

Hope is still alive.

And that counts for something.

Miles Bridges goes into takeover mode as No. 3 Michigan State survives Bucknell

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It took a while for No. 3 seed Michigan State to get into a rhythm, but once they did, Bucknell, the Patriot League champs, didn’t have enough of an answer.

After heading into halftime with just a 44-40 lead, the Spartans held Bucknell to just 14 points in the first 16 minutes of the second half, pushing their lead as high as 18 points in an 82-78 win. The Bison hit a flurry of shots in the final seconds to make the final score look much more flattering than the second half actually was.

For Michigan State, however, the story of this game was Miles Bridges.

Oft-derided this season as a talent that couldn’t take over when his team needed him to, a player that was said to have “no game” by Big Ten expert that shall remain nameless, the NBC Sports Preseason Player of the Year took over against Bucknell. He finished with 29 points, nine boards and four assists, taking 22 shots from the floor with just seven of them coming from beyond the arc.

He went into takeover mode without simply settling for jumpers.

And that is when the Spartans end up at a different level. That’s when they reach their peak, and if we are going to see that Bridges for the rest of the NCAA tournament, then maybe — just maybe — this team has a chance to live up to the potential we all bestowed upon them at the start of the season.

The Spartans will advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament, where they will face off with the winner of tonight’s No. 6 TCU-No. 11 Syracuse game.