(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Pinson scores career-high 23, UNC holds off Syracuse 78-74

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. — When Syracuse threatened one final time, Joel Berry II had an answer for North Carolina.

Theo Pinson scored a career-high 23 points, Berry added 18, including the tiebreaking layup with 1:36 left, and the No. 10 Tar Heels held off the Orange 78-74 on Wednesday night.

Syracuse had trailed almost the entire game until a late eight-point run knotted the score. Tyus Battle scored six of the points, his jumper with 3:05 to go tying it at 74.

With the clock ticking down inside the final 2 minutes, Syracuse had an opportunity to go ahead for the first time since the second minute. But after towering center Paschal Chukwu snared an important rebound after two straight Orange misses, Berry stole the ball and scored at the other end and the Tar Heels escaped.

“I knew he wasn’t a solid player when it came to holding onto the ball,” Berry said. “I saw through the span of the game his teammates were throwing it to him and he was losing the ball, so when he put it down it was like, `This is my opportunity to grab it,’ and so I just pulled it out and I got it.”

North Carolina (22-7, 11-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) has won six straight, but this was the most difficult against a team fighting for its postseason life. Syracuse (18-10, 7-8) was coming off an important road victory over Miami and was teetering on the NCAA Tournament bubble entering the game.

“We did everything we could to get back in it,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “These guys played their heart out. They have all year long. We did everything we could offensively to win. When you’re tied, you can’t make a turnover in that situation.”

The Orange shot 50 percent in the second half while holding UNC to 13-of-36 shooting (36.1 percent) to rally back, but they missed five shots in the final frantic 74 seconds.

“We just have to do a better job closing out games,” said Battle, who had 26 points but missed all five 3s he attempted. “Just missed a couple of shots at the end. We had the game won. We just gave them the ball, gave them plays.”

Sterling Manley had 12 points and top scorer Luke Maye had nine points and three rebounds, scoring only one point and snaring one rebound in the second half for UNC. Maye was averaging 18.4 and 10.5.

Frank Howard had 23 points and Oshae Brissett 17 points and 10 rebounds for Syracuse, the 10th double-double of his freshman year.

UNC built a double-digit lead early and every time Syracuse threatened the Tar Heels had an answer. Berry hit a 3 after Battle’s drive had made it a one-possession game, 51-48 with 14:33 left. When Chukwu lost an offensive rebound seconds later, Pinson roared in for a slam at the other end.

“They’re fighting to get into the tournament, so you knew they were going to keep coming at you,” said Pinson, who had seven assists. “They fought the whole game and I know they wish they had this one.”

Pinson’s three-point play midway through the half gave UNC a 61-51 lead, but the Orange weren’t through.

Battle’s driving layup moved Syracuse back within 68-64 with 6:32 to go as the season-high crowd of 27,165, largest in the nation this season, shook the Carrier Dome walls.

Another 3 by Berry gave UNC an eight-point edge before the Orange made a final push with an eight-point run to knot the score. Battle scored six of the points, his jumper with 3:05 to go tying it at 74.

After Berry put the Tar Heels ahead, he missed a 3-point attempt from the top of the key, giving the Orange the ball with 32.6 seconds left.

Howard missed a 3-pointer with 17.2 seconds left and Berry’s two free throws iced it.


UNC: With just two games left in the regular season, the Tar Heels are in the hunt for second place in the ACC. They entered the game a half-game behind second-place Duke, which played Louisville later Wednesday. An upcoming five-day break will give UNC a nice respite heading to the postseason. Carolina has 10 wins over current Quadrant I opponents, most in the country.

Syracuse: The Orange still have games against Boston College and two ranked teams — Duke and Clemson — as well as the ACC Tournament to bolster their resume for the postseason.


UNC had 25 assists on 29 baskets while Syracuse had 13 on 25.


UNC used 10 players in the first half and seven scored as its bench held a 13-2 edge over the Orange’s reserves. High scorers were Maye and Manley with 8 apiece, Pinson with 7, and Berry 6. As usual, Battle, Howard and Brissett played every minute of the period for the Orange.


UNC: The Tar Heels have five days off before they host Miami next Tuesday night.

Syracuse: The Orange travel to play No. 5 Duke on Saturday night.

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.”