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No. 10 Syracuse rallies from 16-point deficit to stun No. 1 Virginia

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CHICAGO — Syracuse trailed No. 1 seed Virginia by 16 points early in the second half of Sunday’s Midwest Regional final and looked like they were about to get blown out. After shooting only 30 percent in the first half, the Orange gave up an Anthony Gill dunk on the first possession of the second half and Virginia had all of the momentum. A 16-point deficit against a slow-tempo team like Virginia can seem insurmountable.

Then freshman Malachi Richardson took over.

The McDonald’s All-American shook off an 0-for-5 first half to finish with 23 points as his personal 7-0 run gave Syracuse the final push they needed to shock the Cavaliers. Syracuse held Virginia to only four points the final 7:34 of the game as the No. 10 seed Orange advanced to the Final Four with a 68-62 win.

Richardson is a talented wing scorer who got off to a sluggish start on Sunday. After an early turnover in which he tried to take Anthony Gill one-on-one and stepped out of bounds instead of passing to an open Trevor Cooney, Richardson got chewed out during the ensuing television timeout by the Syracuse coaching staff and was benched. The poor first half continued after Richardson re-entered the lineup and couldn’t get going.

At halftime, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim singled Richardson out in front of the entire locker room and let the freshman know that the Orange needed more from him to reach the Final Four.

“He does it in front of everyone,” Richardson said of Boeheim’s message to him with a laugh.

Richardson responded by knocking down tough 3-pointers, attacking the basket and making hustle plays that kept possessions alive.

“Coach Boeheim kind of got on me a little bit and I knew I had to pick it up for my teammates,” Richardson said. “We couldn’t go out how we were going out. We were already down and I just wanted to help out.”

Not only did Richardson have a big second half in the biggest game of the season, he also did so against Virginia senior Malcolm Brogdon, one of the nation’s best perimeter defenders. After burying a stepback 3-pointer to give the Orange a 62-58 lead with 4:40 left, Richardson screamed as the Syracuse faithful reached a deafening pitch. Suddenly, a 15-point Syracuse deficit with 9:33 left had been erased and Richardson was slamming the door with big play after big play.

“Mali likes the crowd, he likes the stage. He likes to play on a big stage,” Syracuse assistant Adrian Autry said. “You never worry about him too much. Sometimes he does need something like Coach did to him. ‘Hey, come on! Let’s go. We need you to wake up. Make simple plays, not hard plays,’ whatever it may be. And he got going.”

Richardson getting going wasn’t the only change from the first half for the Orange. After coming back to beat Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 by incorporating a full-court press, the Orange used it again to speed up Virginia’s tempo and force bad looks. The press forced Virginia into a lot of uncomfortable offensive possessions and it once again changed the course of the game.

For a program known for sticking almost exclusively with a 2-3 zone, Syracuse is probably playing in the Final Four next weekend because of its full-court press.

“We talked about it halftime that we were going to go to it at some point,” Syracuse assistant Gerry McNamara said of the press. “Coach usually has a pretty good feel for when to use it. What it did is it got us aggressive in transition offensively and now we started getting some stuff to the rim. Once we started pushing their defense back, Mali hit a couple of difficult looks.”

After blowing the lead, Virginia still had a chance to tie, trailing 65-62, with the shot clock turned off, but Devon Hall missed a clean 3-point look from the left wing as Tyler Lydon (11 points, six rebounds) snared the defensive rebound and iced the game at the free-throw line.

Senior Michael Gbinije finished with 11 points and six assists while junior forward Tyler Roberson added 10 points and eight rebounds for the Orange.

London Perrantes buried five first-half 3-pointers to pace the Cavaliers’ offense with 18 points — with all of his points coming on the long ball. Brogdon struggled to generate offense as he went 2-for-14 from the field. Although he struggled from the floor, Brogdon managed to get to the free-throw line seven times (making all of them) and finished with 12 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in his final college game.

Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey each added 10 points for Virginia, who finishes the season at 29-8.

Not many expected the Orange (23-13) to be in the NCAA tournament to begin with after losing in the opening round of the ACC tournament (as a No. 9 seed), but Syracuse has made the most of its opportunity in the Big Dance. The Orange’s zone defense has looked very good over the last two weeks, and the changeup to the full-court press has been effective in escalating things quickly for Syracuse.

For Syracuse to reach the Final Four a year after the program’s self-imposed postseason ban shows that they’re already way ahead of where they should be after the scholarship reductions and recruiting restrictions. Many shrugged when the Orange beat two double-digit seeds to reach the Elite Eight, but for Syracuse to eliminate a Virginia team that beat them 73-65 on January 24 shows how much they’ve improved over the last few months.

“It was a great comeback, one of the best I’ve coached in, any team I’ve had, in terms of you’re playing, I think, a great team,” Boeheim said. “Virginia has beaten us 15 points three straight times, and they were 15 points up today. They’re a hard team to come back against, and these guys just made some unbelievable plays. They deserved to win this game.”

When the game concluded, former Syracuse players like C.J. Fair, Tyler Ennis and Rakeem Christmas took the floor to share in the celebration. The moment was special for Christmas, in particular, since he was a senior on last season’s team that was banned from playing in the postseason.

After clipping off his piece of the net, Orange senior guard Trevor Cooney jogged across the floor and gave a hug to Christmas. The former teammates weren’t able to play in the NCAA tournament together last season, but Cooney feels like Christmas and his inspired play last season helped the Orange reach the Final Four this season.

 

“Those guys all paved the way for us here. We learned so much from those guys. I learned a lot from [Rakeem] about how to be a leader and how to step up my senior year. Those things have paid off for us now.”

Report: Texas’ Jones to test NBA possibility

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Both of Texas’ McDonald’s All-Americans from its 2016 class will test the NBA waters.

Andrew Jones will declare for the draft, but will not hire an agent, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The 6-foot-4 guard joins Jarrett Allen, the Longhorns’ star center, in utilizing the rule change that became available to players last year in which they can declare, workout for teams, attend the NBA combine and still return to school.

Jones averaged 11.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as a freshman. He shot 42.5 percent from the field overall and 32.8 percent from 3-point range.

Allen seems the likelier candidate to remain in the draft as a potential lottery pick, but Jones came to Austin with similar one-and-done possibilities given his status as one of the class’ top recruits.

Texas, of course, is hoping both return, not just because they’re both big talents, but because incoming and highly-touted recruit Matt Coleman fills the major hole in last year’s lineup – point guard. If the three of them can share the floor together, Year 3 of the Shaka Smart era will be much more interesting.

Morrow announces transfer from Nebraska

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Nebraska was once again hit with a surprising and damaging transfer.

Ed Morrow, Jr., who led the Huskers in rebounding last year, announced his intention to transfer, the school announced Wednesday.

“I support Ed in his decision to transfer schools and wish him well,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said in a statement. “We appreciate his hard work over the last two years. Although I am disappointed, we will continue to recruit young men who are committed to our mission of building Nebraska Basketball with a culture of success in all areas…life, school and winning basketball at its highest level.”

The 6-foot-7 sophomore’s departure is a major hit to the Huskers, who are coming off a 12-19 year in which Miles’ job security was called into question. It almost assuredly will be again this year as Nebraska hasn’t been able to build on its 2014 NCAA tournament appearance, instead putting together three-straight losing seasons.

Morrow’s decision is surprising not only given he’d been a productive member of the team – averaging 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game – but because he was born in Nebraska before attending high school in Chicago and both his parents were Nebraska student-athletes his father winning a national title on the football team in 1994 and his mother an all-Big Eight performer on the basketball team.

“I want to say thank you to my teammates, coaches, the fans and the University of Nebraska athletics department for giving me the opportunity to play Division I basketball,” Morrow said in a statement. “It is hard to leave home, and Nebraska is my home. I was born and raised here, it is my parents’ alma mater, and I have a lot of friends here. But sometimes you have to venture out to pursue dreams and aspirations in a career. This is a sacrifice I have to make to better myself.”

Morrow’s transfer comes a year after Andrew White surprised Nebraska with his decision to graduate and transfer to Syracuse, which no doubt impacted the Huskers’ poor 2016-17 record.

Miles was on the hot seat at the end of last season and will assuredly begin this season there as well. A roster hit like Morrow won’t do much to help him improve the situation. Nebraska does, however, have three starters returning while Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland is eligible, as is Miami (Fla.) transfer James Palmer, Jr.

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

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Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.

 

UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

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UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

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South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.