The maturation of Michael Carter-Williams, or how Syracuse got their ‘chip’ back

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Hollywood wouldn’t need any creative license to tell the story of the 2013 Syracuse Orange, not after everything they’ve been through to earn a trip to the Final Four. The fourth-seeded ‘Cuse knocked off No. 3 seed Marquette in the East Regional finals 55-39 on Saturday night, sending Jim Boeheim on his fourth trip to the Final Four.

Their season was done by the time the regular season ended, or so the critics would have you believe. The Orange had lost four of their last five and seven of their last 12 games. The final game of the regular season? A 61-39 mollywhopping at the hands of arch-nemesis Georgetown, the final Big East matchup that the two rivals would play before Syracuse departs for the ACC and the Hoyas depart for the Big East. The team was disjointed, having failed to find a way to incorporate James Southerland back into the offense without throwing off their rhythm.

But after a stirring run to the Big East final, where Southerland set a record for threes in a single Big East tournament and the Orange earned their revenge against Georgetown, Syracuse blew a 16 point second half lead and lost to Louisville, the tone had been set. This was a different Syracuse team, and it showed in the first weekend of the tournament. The No. 4 seed Orange beat No. 13 Montana in the opening round 81-34, following that up with a 66-60 win over No. 12 Cal to advance to the Sweet 16.

But that’s when tragedy was, thankfully, averted. Star point guard Michael Carter-Williams had his house burn down during their win over Cal, and while the Williams’ family was lucky to escape without an injury, they lost everything. The house. The trophies. The clothes. All that was left were the memories.

Carter-Williams added to those memories in DC, leading the Orange to an upset win over No. 1 seed Indiana with 24 points and following that up with a 12-point, eight-rebound and six-assists performance in the win over Marquette. He set the tone defensively as well, chipping in with nine steals while committing just two turnovers in 75 minutes of play.

He was, in a word, phenomenal.

And it would be easy to point to any number incidents — the Georgetown loss, the house fire, the blown lead against Louisville — as the turning point in the Syracuse season.

In all actuality, the change came in a practice the Sunday after the loss Georgetown.

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The difference between this Michael Carter-Williams and the Michael Carter-Williams that has shot his way up, and then tumbled his way back down, NBA Draft boards earlier this season can be defined by one play that happened at the end of the first half on Saturday night.

The Syracuse offense had gone stagnant. They had made just one field goal and scored only three points over a seven minute stretch, allowing the Golden Eagles to scrap their way back from an 18-7 deficit to within 21-18. Davante Gardner had gotten matched up with James Southerland, and Carter-Williams saw it. He pulled the ball out, waving Baye Keita to the other side of the floor and and getting Southerland positioned on the right wing, 23 feet away from the rim and right in front of the Marquette bench.

Carter-Williams was being guarded by the smaller Derrick Wilson, a guy he can shoot over whenever he wants, but instead of trying to stop the bleeding on his own, he drove right, directly at Gardner, kicking the ball out to Southerland while setting a screen on the biggest Golden Eagle of them all. Southerland hit the three, and Marquette never got within one possession again.

That’s not the play he would have made back in November, especially not coming off of a career-high 24-point performance.

“It’s something I’ve learned, picking my poison,” Carter-Williams said, “when I should pass and when I should shoot. Today, I felt like I needed to pass the ball more and pick my spots when I needed to get to the basket.”

As heady as that play was, it was just a glimpse into the kind of performance that he had on Saturday night. Carter-Williams finished with 12 points, eight boards, six assists and five steals.

“Midway through the season, he really started the maturation process,” current assistant coach and former Syracuse point guard Gerry McNamara, who knows a thing or two about clutch performances in March, said. “It took him half a season to get the speed of the game down, and he was still effective. Once you get the speed down, now you can make your reads.”

“We’re starting to see that he’s really intelligent,” McNamara continued. “You see a mismatch and he’s exploited it. Assists have gone down in this tournament because he’s taking the right play. He’s not necessarily just passing for assists, he’s passing to put people in situations. Like in the Indiana game, he was the best option. We moved and spaced and his guy had trouble staying in front. And Michael’s been able to put guys or himself in situations where they can be successful.”

Carter-Williams spent the majority of the first half setting up his teammates, but when he saw Marquette sputtering early in the second half, he went for the jugular. He found CJ Fair for an and-one layup to push the lead back to 10 with just over 11 minutes left, blew by his man on the next two possessions for buckets in the paint before against finding Fair, who was fouled and hit both free throws. At that point, Syracuse was up 13 with 9:33 left on a Marquette team that had only managed to score 28 points.

At that point, the Orange-clad fans only had to wait for the fat lady to start singing.

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The day the season changed for Syracuse just so happened to be when the coaches showed up late for practice.

“The clocks went back, and Boeheim didn’t realize it,” Carter-Williams said on Saturday. “[The coaches] were upstairs, and we were on the floor for like 15 minutes past practice, so the seniors and I, we called everyone together and we were like, ‘let’s just start practice.'”

So the Orange warmed up. And they stretched. And they went through their whole pre-practice routine, and there were still no coaches.

“I forgot to set my clock forward,” Boeheim said. “I was a little late. We had a meeting upstairs and when I got down they were playing 4-on-4 and playing hard. I watched them for a few minutes and it was a really good thing. I thought our practices were really good after that.”

“We know what we’re doing,” Southerland added. “We know how practices go. … It helped us go harder.”

And that, in the end, is the difference for Syracuse. They were embarrassed when they lost to Georgetown. Humiliated, and it wasn’t any easier as they saw GIFs and tweets about the throat slash that John Thompson, Jr., gave on the jumbotron during the game, or his “Kiss Syracuse goodbye” comment in the post game press conference.

But when they stepped on the practice floor on that Sunday, it was more. It was anger. The Orange were pissed.

“We competed against each other,” Carter-Williams said. “That’s what we needed. Because that competitiveness wasn’t there against Georgetown. We didn’t compete against each other. We got a chip on our shoulders.”

“Now we’ve got our chip back.”

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Berry scores 26 points and Carolina defeats Butler 92-80

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) Joel Berry II scored 26 points and Justin Jackson added 24 as top-seeded North Carolina moved to the Elite Eight with a 92-80 victory over Butler in the NCAA South Region on Friday night.

Luke Maye recorded his first career double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds, helping fuel a quick start for Carolina (30-7). The Tar Heels never let their lead get under double digits in the second half.

Andrew Chrabascz led the fourth-seeded Bulldogs (25-9) with 21 points and seven rebounds, while Kelan Martin finished with 16 points for Butler, which struggled shooting early and did not recover.

Carolina, which reached the Elite Eight for the 27th time, will face the winner of Friday’s second game between UCLA and Kentucky. The Tar Heels connected on 54.4 percent of their shots, while Butler was at 43.5 percent.

The Tar Heels broke out of the gate early, building a double-digit lead and really weren’t threatened after halftime, although Butler did get within 10 at one point.

North Carolina used early accurate shooting to build a 16-point lead as the Tar Heels connected on 13 of their first 18 shots, including missing only one of seven from outside the arc.

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs were suffering through a scoring drought the stretched beyond 4 minutes.

That helped Carolina build the advantage to 30-14 when Maye connected on a 3-pointer near the midway point of the first half.

While Butler managed to whittle the deficit to single digits on a couple of occasions before halftime, North Carolina would simply answer with another rally, the last one of the half stretching the Tar Heels lead to 52-32 on its eighth 3-pointer of the half.

By halftime, Jackson had 17 points, and Maye had already reached his career-high in points with 14, plus grabbing nine of the Tar Heels’ 22 boards. That helped Carolina carry a 52-36 lead into the break.

Chrabascz led the Bulldogs with 11 points.

The Tar Heels lead would stretch the lead back to 20 near the 12-minute mark of the second half, but Butler didn’t exactly allow North Carolina to coast home. A 13-4 Bulldog run made a dent in the advantage as Martin had seven in the stretch with Avery Woodson connecting on a 3-pointer. Martin closed out the run with another 3-pointer to pull Butler within 71-60.

But while the Bulldogs would cut the Carolina advantage to 10 points 2 minutes later, they would get no closer the rest of the way.

BIG PICTURE

Butler: The Bulldogs had not trailed in the tournament until Carolina’s Isaiah Hicks scored the game’s opening basket. Butler is now 2-5 against No. 1 seeds.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels have reached the Elite Eight 27 times, including eight times since 2000.

JENKINS ATTENDS: Kris Jenkins, who made the 3-pointer to defeat the Tar Heels in last year’s national championship game, was seated near the Carolina bench. Jenkins was cheering on his brother, senior guard Nate Britt.

PENCE CANCELS: Vice President Mike Pence, who once was expected to attend Friday’s game, cancelled Friday because of the action in Washington surrounding health care. Pence has ties to Butler, not only as the former governor of Indianapolis, but also because his wife, Karen, attended the school.

UP NEXT: North Carolina plays the winner of the region’s second game on Friday between No. 2 seed Kentucky and the third-seed UCLA.

For more AP college basketball coverage: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-Top25

South Carolina beats Baylor 70-50 to advance to Elite 8

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NEW YORK (AP) Sindarius Thornwell scored 24 points and seventh-seeded South Carolina cruised past third-seeded Baylor 70-50 on Friday night in the East Regional semifinals, the Bears’ worst NCAA Tournament loss.

The Gamecocks (25-10) were in control from the middle of the first half on, mixing defenses and hustling all over the Madison Square Garden court to advance to the Elite Eight for the first time.

South Carolina will meet the winner of the Wisconsin-Florida game on Sunday with a trip to the Final Four at stake.

DJ Dozier and Chris Silva had 12 points each and Duane Notice added 11 for the Gamecocks.

Johnathan Motley had 18 points, 12 in the second half, for Baylor (27-8), which just couldn’t get any offense going. The Bears missed 11 of their first 13 shots from the field and it didn’t get a whole lot better the entire game. They finished 17 for 56 from the field (30.4 percent), including 3 for 13 from 3-point range.

South Carolina opened the second half on a 12-6 run to get the lead to 49-28. The largest lead was 63-41.

Baylor was able to close to 11 points but that was as tight as the game would get.

The Gamecocks went on a 16-0 run that lasted 7:44 in the first half. They turned a 15-15 tie into a 31-15 lead with 2:50 left in the first half. The Bears went 0 for 10 from the field and committed four turnovers in the run. South Carolina’s biggest lead of the half was 37-20 on a 3 by Notice with 29 seconds to play. It was 37-22 at halftime.

The Bears shot just 25 percent from the field in the first half (8 of 32) and committed seven turnovers.

BIG PICTURE

South Carolina: The Gamecocks came into the NCAA Tournament having lost five of seven. … The Gamecocks’ previous largest margin of victory in the NCAA Tournament was 78-70 over Texas Tech in the first round in 1973.

Baylor: The Bears came into the NCAA Tournament having lost four of seven. … This is the Bears’ fourth straight tournament appearance. They were trying for their second Elite Eight appearance. They lost to Duke in the round of eight in 2010. … Baylor was 9-1 against the Southeastern Conference since 2012-13. … Baylor’s previous worst loss in the NCAA Tournament was 69-52 to Wisconsin in the Sweet 16 in 2014. … The 22 points matched Baylor’s low for a half this season.

UP NEXT

South Carolina will face the Florida-Wisconsin winner in the Elite Eight on Sunday.

UCLA’s Gyorgy Goloman dunks over Kentucky’s Isaac Humphries

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In a rematch between No. 3 seed UCLA and No. 2 seed Kentucky, anyone could have starred in a highlight play.

Malik Monk.

De’Aaron Fox.

Lonzo Ball.

Nope. It was UCLA’s sparingly used reserve forward Gyorgy Goloman, who finished over Isaac Humphries for a first half dunk.

The 6-foot-11 junior entered the night averaging 3.7 points in 11.7 minutes per game for the Bruins this season.

No. 3 Baylor’s loss to No. 7 South Carolina doesn’t diminish career-defining season for Scott Drew

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NEW YORK — It was with a whipping and a whimper that Baylor’s season can to an end on Friday night.

The final two minutes of the game wasn’t actually a game. No. 7 seed South Carolina dished out a 70-50 beatdown that wasn’t in doubt after the Gamecocks used an 18-0 run at the end of the first half to turn a rock fight into statement, and for the final two minutes of the game, the Gamecocks and, eventually, Baylor dribbled out the remaining seconds before joining arms at center court for a postgame prater.

It’s the third straight year that Baylor has been bounced from the NCAA tournament by a team seeded lower than them. In 2015, it was R.J. Hunter’s heroics that knocked his dad off of a stool and sent No. 14 seed Georgia State into the second round of the tournament. “I remember my brother’s shot,” he said, “and even though I’m a big fan of father-son stories because of it, I was a victim of the same thing with the Hunters.”

In 2016, the Bears fell in the first round to No. 12 seed Yale, prompting one of the most memorable press conference moments in NCAA tournament history.

And on Friday night, it was South Carolina that sent the Bears into offseason hibernation.

“When you coach for a while and you make Elite Eights and Sweet 16, you kind of start taking it for granted that you will always be successful in March,” Drew said. “But it’s a good reminder to be here and know how hard it is.”

It was a disheartening end to a season, a loss that will surely provide fodder for the people that traffic in ‘Scott Drew can’t coach’ jokes, the irony being that the 2016-17 season was definitive proof that Scott Drew is almost certainly better at his job than you are at yours.

It’s easy to see the seed next to Baylor’s name on the TBS graphics, easy to remember that the Bears, at one point during the season, were ranked No. 1 in the country, and think that this Baylor team was destined for this kind of success. They have, after all, spent the better part of the last decade as an NCAA tournament participant and a factor in the Big 12 title race.

But that simply isn’t true.

Baylor did not receive a single vote for the top 25 in the preseason AP Poll. They lost three starters off of a team that went 22-11 last season and spent much of the year on the cusp of the top 25. Drew has the reputation of being a recruiter, a guy that relies on the five-star, surefire lottery picks to win games, and if that’s really who he is as a head coach, than he isn’t very good at it. Baylor starts juniors and seniors, none of whom were considered more than a borderline top 50 recruit when they came out of high school.

Johnathan Motley, who had an all-american season and who played his way into being a first round pick, is who he is because of his development within Drew’s program. Manu Lecomte is a better player than he was before he spent last season as a redshirt after transferring from Miami. The same can be said for Jo Lual-Acuil. Terry Maston and Jake Lindsey, critical role players for this team, were under-the-radar prospects that the Bears were able to identify.

“I’m proud of what the guys have accomplished this year,” Drew said, “coming from not ranked to first time ever in school’s history being ranked number one, tying the best record in the regular season.”

There’s a reason that Drew was a favorite for the National Coach of the Year award under a late-season swoon.

Drew put it best after Friday’s loss, saying that the Bears “overachieved in many people’s eyes.”

That’s almost always a result of coaching.

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And this season is the perfect microcosm of what Drew has done in his 14 seasons in Waco. When he took that job in 2003, you would have been hard-pressed to find a worst place in high-major basketball to be a coach. The program hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1988, and that was their only trip to the Big Dance since 1950.

One NCAA tournament in 53 years.

That’s before you factor in that Drew took over for Dave Bliss, who was fired after he was caught on tape trying to paint one of his players, who had been murdered by a teammate, as a drug dealer to coverup for the fact that he was paying the player. The NCAA hit the program with massive sanctions, reducing them to seven scholarships for two years and, in 2005-06, banning the program from playing non-conference games.

By 2008, he had the Bears in the NCAA tournament.

By 2010, he had them in the Elite 8. In the last decade, he’s been to seven NCAA tournament, four Sweet 16s (all in the last eight years) and a pair of Elite 8s.

Prior to Drew’s arrival, Baylor had been to four NCAA tournaments.

Ever.

What he’s done with that program, making it one of the top 30 basketball programs in college basketball, is remarkable and the single best building — not rebuilding, building — job in the history of the sport.

And while there’s not much to say about his team’s performance on Friday other than South Carolina took them to the woodshed, it doesn’t change what he did with that team this season or what he’s done with that program in his career.

“If you coach long enough,” Drew said, “you’ll have some of your greatest memories and some of your worst memories during March.”

No. 1 North Carolina handles No. 4 Butler en route to Elite Eight

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North Carolina, the top seed in the South region, jumped out to a 20-point second half led. While the No. 4 seed Butler Bulldogs would not go down quietly, the Tar Heels would keep the lead no less than 10 for the remainder of the evening, advancing to the Elite Eight with a 92-80 win on Friday night at the FedEx Forum in Memphis.

It was the bounce-back win the Tar Heels needed — following a near collapse against Arkansas in the second round — to assert themselves as serious contenders once again.

Joel Berry II, who had been hampered by an ankle injury suffered in the first round win against Texas Southern, had a game-high 26 points, off 8-of-13 shooting. That’s coming a weekend after 3-of-21 shooting in first and second half wins. Justin Jackson followed with 24 points. Luke Maye had 14 of his 16 points in the first half, an offensive explosion that included a trio of 3-pointers.

“Well, at this stage of the year, if you don’t have good offensive games or good defensive games, you go home,” North Carolina head coach Roy Williams told reporters after the game. “But we do need to be clicking a little bit on all cylinders. We’ve got one, two — we only had three guys in double figures today, one of them is 26 and the other 24, so that’s pretty good. But yes, we do need both of them making shots and doing some things for us.”

Williams is right. The Tar Heels do need to be clicking on a little bit on all cylinders. And on Friday night, they did a little more of that than they did in a second-round scare from the Razorbacks.

North Carolina’s offense didn’t have a lapse it did in the second half against Arkansas. When Butler cut the deficit to 10 with more than five minutes remaining, North Carolina countered with a 7-2 run. Part of the offensive efficiency should be attributed to the status of Berry’s ankle, which besides a few moments in the second half, didn’t plague him as much as it did in the previous contest. It also helped that Jackson avoided a 5-for-14 shooting performance and the Tar Heels cut down the turnovers from 17 to 10. They also held a good shooting team — one that needed to knock down shots from the outside if it wanted a chance to extend its season — to under 30 percent from beyond the arc.

The Tar Heels controlled the glass, and dominated the inside, outrebounding the Bulldogs 38-26 and scoring 42 points in the paint. That’s a good sign, as they should be expected to hold the advantage on the inside against either team they face in the Elite Eight.

Regardless of who prevails in the rematch between No. 3 seed UCLA and No. 2 seed Kentucky, the top-seeded Tar Heels are in for an all-out war on Sunday in the Elite Eight. But Friday night was the bounce-back performance that showed the Tar Heels are capable of putting it all together to book another trip to the Final Four.