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No. 11 North Carolina pulls away late, hands No. 9 Florida State first ACC loss

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Joel Berry II scored 26 points and Isaiah Hicks added a career-high 22 points as No. 11 North Carolina protected their home court and handed No. 11 Florida State their first ACC loss of the season.

Florida State got 18 points from Dwayne Bacon while Jonathan Isaac finished with 17 points, 12 boards, three steals and two assists.

Both Florida State and North Carolina are now 4-1 in ACC play, sitting a game behind Notre Dame for first place in the league’s regular season standings.

Here are three things you can takeaway from this game:

1. North Carolina is going to ride their studs: North Carolina has the best one-two punch in the ACC, and they’re going to ride that one-two punch as far as they’ll carry them. Joel Berry II has been simply terrific this season, and Saturday afternoon was no different. He finished with 26 points, getting 17 of them in the first half, including a flurry of eight straight points right before halftime that helped to push North Carolina’s lead to nine.

Justin Jackson was just as good. He had 22 points on Saturday, hitting a number of big shots in the second half, including a pair of run-ending threes and a tough, off-balance runner late in the half that helped hold off a surging Seminoles team. Both Berry and Jackson entered North Carolina as five-star prospects in the same class, and while it took a little bit longer than we expected for them to start to impact the game at that level, they’re doing it now.

2. But their bench is pretty good, too: You know who else was in that recruiting class with Berry and Jackson? Theo Pinson. He, too, was a five-star prospect that hasn’t exactly lived up to that potential during his Tar Heel career. He was dealing with a broken foot earlier in the season, and while he officially returned to the floor last Sunday against N.C. State, his “return” came on Saturday. Pinson had 12 points, 10 boards and three assists, and he was responsible for eight straight points – a rim-rattling dunk, an assist for a three and a three of his own – in an 8-2 run late in the game that turned an 80-76 lead to an 88-78 lead. That statsheet-stuffing role is something that the Tar Heels need, and it looks like Pinson is finally ready to provide it.

Luke Maye also had himself a pretty good game. With Kennedy Meeks struggling with fouls and Tony Bradley out due to a concussion, Maye played arguably his best game as a Tar Heel, notching 15 rebounds and holding his own against Florida State’s much bigger and more athletic front line. Maye is never going to be a star for the Tar Heels, but being able to play the role he played today – a fourth big man that can hold his own – fills a hole on the roster.

3. Don’t let the final margin fool you: Because Florida State was in this thing throughout. Every time North Carolina hit FSU with a run, the Seminoles had an answer despite the fact that Xavier Rathan-Mayes did not play as well as he usually does. I’m not sure Florida State could have been called the favorite to win the ACC, but losing on the road to North Carolina by 13 in a game where the spread in Vegas was seven is not exactly an indictment on the team. They’re a contender that took a competitive loss at the team that is probably the best team in the ACC.

Late run sparks Villanova past West Virginia, into Elite Eight

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BOSTON — It is always just a matter of time before the avalanche comes.

And when it does, you better hope that lead you have is big enough to withstand what’s coming.

For No. 5-seed West Virginia, it was not. With 11 minutes left on Friday night in Boston’s TD Garden, the Mountaineers led 60-54 and had seemingly wrestled control of the game from the No. 1-seed in the East Region. Less than five minutes later, after the Wildcats hit four of their next five threes, Villanova had taken a 76-66 lead by going on a 22-6 run, and West Virginia was never able to recover.

Jalen Brunson led the way for the top-seeded Wildcats with 27 points and four assists while Omari Spellman finished with 18 points, eight boards and three blocks and Mikal Bridges chipped in with 16 points despite playing relatively poorly — by his standards — on Friday.

With a 90-78 win, Villanova advanced to the Elite Eight and a date with the winner of tonight’s game No. 2 Purdue-No. 3 Texas Tech.

That’s the way that it works with this Villanova team. Armed with the most potent, high-volume three-point shooting attack in college basketball — maybe in the history of college basketball — fans of their opponents are just waiting for the inevitable.

On Friday night, Villanova shot 13-for-24 from three, which is damned-impressive and exactly what we expect at the same time, but the game was won during that five-minute surge when West Virginia just didn’t have an answer.

VIDEO: Omari Spellman, Eric Paschall with mammoth dunks for Villanova

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Villanova took the lead on West Virginia and turned the tide of momentum with a pair of emphatic dunks in transition.

It started with Omari Spellman, who had an unbelievable sequence, spiking a shot into the floor before throwing down a put-back dunk all over a defender:

A couple of possessions later, Eric Paschall finally did the impossible.

He dunked on Sagaba Konate:

I am having way too much fun at this game.

No. 1 Kansas into Elite Eight with win over No. 5 Clemson

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OMAHA, Neb. — Once Kansas found its stride, Clemson had little chance of keeping pace – even after a late stumble.

The No. 1 Jayhawks ran away from the No. 5 Tigers with a second-half flurry that powered them to a 80-76 victory Friday night at CenturyLink Center to put them in the Elite Eight on Sunday against either Duke or Syracuse.

Kansas moves on to the Midwest Region final on the back of a second-half offense that Clemson had nearly no success in slowing until the final minutes, when the Tigers turned a 20-point laugher into  a six-point nail-biter.

Malik Newman paced Kansas with 17 points while Devonte Graham 16 and Udoka Azubuike 14 and 11 rebounds.

Clemson got 31 points from senior Gabe DeVoe, but there just wasn’t enough help around him for the Tigers to keep things competitive after the Jayhawks hit them with three-consecutive 3s in the opening minutes of the second half to open up a 20-point lead.

Clemson was already hanging on by a threat after it shot just 35.7 percent from the floor and committed eight turnovers. DeVoe’s 12 first-half points kept the Tigers afloat, but they never enjoyed a lead before halftime.

The Jayhawks, meanwhile, had five players  score at least six points in the first half, including 10 from Azubuike, Their usual strengths – 3-point shooting (4 of 13) and Devonte Graham (1 of 7) – were absent in the first half, but Clemson was unable to take advantage as Kansas continued to get quality looks inside and stops on defense.

The Jayhawks previously played Syracuse in December, beating the Orange by 16 on a neutral floor in Miami. They haven’t faced the Blue Devils, though they have already shared a building with them once this year in the Champion’s Classic. Kansas topped Kentucky, 65-61, while Duke defeated Michigan State, 88-81, that November night in Chicago.

VIDEO: Mikal Bridges tries to dunk on Sagaba Konate, gets denied

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There really is nothing better in this world than seeing someone who is typically a great dunker take flight to try and dunk on Sagaba Konate of West Virginia, because it never, EVER ends well for the dunker.

See: Bridges, Mikal:

Auburn AD Greene gives Bruce Pearl a vote of confidence

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Speaking publicly for the first time about head coach Bruce Pearl, new Auburn athletic director gave his embattled head coach a vote of confidence.

Greene was on an in-house podcast produced with the voice of Auburn sports, and was asked about Pearl’s standing in a pod that lasted less than five minutes and felt more like a press release than anything else.

“He’s been a tremendous blessing for the Auburn family,” Greene said. “The FBI investigation is a long process. We’re going through that process to make sure that we, as a university, are doing what it is that we’re supposed to do to comply. Coach Pearl has been excellent in that regard and I look forward to continuing to work with him as we continue to do the very best to support he, his staff and the student athletes of Auburn University.”

This is the first time since former assistant coach Chuck Person was arrested that a member of the Auburn athletic department had spoken so positively about Pearl. In the fall, Auburn’s president Steven Leath lamented Pearl’s lack of cooperation in the investigation, but just last week released a statement saying Pearl is “working with university officials as part of our due diligence.” Pearl said after his team’s 84-53 loss to Clemson in the second round of the NCAA tournament that he would like to return.

There has been speculation that Pearl’s job was in jeopardy ever since Auburn was mixed up in the FBI’s complaint. Two players were forced to sit out this entire season after the FBI alleged they had received money funneled through Person from a runner for an agent and a financial advisor.

“One of the challenges that we have facing the industry is college basketball,” Greene said. “We want to make sure we work incredibly hard to clean up the game, to make it as pure as it can possibly be so that our student-athletes can enjoy the intercollegiate athletic experience. one of the things that we have to keep in mind is that the state of college basketball is not in a good place right now and I’m a little bit disappointed that auburn is involved in that, but that doesn’t take away from the excellent job that Coach Pearl has done.”