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No. 3 Xavier beats Providence 84-74 for 1st Big East title

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CINCINNATI — Trevon Bluiett grabbed the scissors in his right hand, climbed the stepladder and started hacking at the net, grimacing as the threads refused to cut.

Finally, he had everything well in hand , just as he had so many times during his four-year career and Xavier’s breakthrough season.

The senior guard scored 23 points in his final game at the Cintas Center, and No. 3 Xavier never trailed while beating Providence 84-74 on Wednesday night to clinch at least a share of its first Big East championship.

The Musketeers (26-4, 14-3) can win it outright by beating DePaul on Saturday and end Villanova’s run of four straight regular season titles.

“It just shows that despite maybe from game to game we’re not at our absolute best, but we are the most consistent team,” coach Chris Mack said.

Bluiett will leave Xavier as its second all-time scorer. He made the game’s first basket on a driving layup, and finished off the Friars with a dunk and a pair of free throws in the final minute.

“We came out aggressively, especially Tre,” senior forward Sean O’Mara said.

The Musketeers sensed the enormity of the game at the outset, missing eight of their first 10 shots from beyond the arc, many of them uncontested. But they made the plays in the big moments, one of their traits as they’ve won a lot of close games and, now, a title.

“Being that it was one of our goals at the beginning of the season and now actually achieving our goal, it’s kind of unreal,” said Quentin Goodin, who added 18 points, one shy of his career high.

The league title was another major step in a record-setting season for Xavier. The Musketeers moved up to No. 3 for the first time this week. Their latest win matched the school record for victories in the regular season. And they got the best of one of only three teams to beat them this season.

Providence (18-12, 9-8) won 81-77 on Jan. 6 but couldn’t pull off the sweep after getting off to a slow start and getting into foul trouble. Top scorer Rodney Bullock fouled out with 4:42 left after managing only six points. Maliek White led with 15 points.

Xavier opened with a 21-8 run, but wasted chances to build on the fast start. Providence made 12 of its last 14 shots in the half, cutting the deficit to 40-37. Xavier found its touch to start the second half and made eight of its first 10, rebuilding the lead to 12 points. Providence never got closer than six the rest of the way.

The Friars had 17 turnovers that set up 22 of Xavier’s points.

“Those guys are playing for a No. 1 overall seed and a conference championship,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said. “You don’t have to play perfect, but you have to play well enough to have a chance to beat them.”


Providence: The Friars have a pair of wins over Top 5 teams this season for only the second time in their history, but couldn’t get a third. The Musketeers were No. 5 when they beat them in January. They also knocked off No. 3 Villanova 76-71 at Providence on Feb. 14. The Friars are 2-4 against ranked teams this season.

“I’d be excited to play them again, if we’re fortunate enough,” Cooley said.

Xavier: The Musketeers’ last conference title was 2011 in the Atlantic 10, where it won or shared nine regular season titles. When the buzzer sounded, the team gathered around a championship trophy at midcourt as confetti and streamers were shot off from the rafters. They then cut down the net in front of their bench.


Xavier coach Chris Mack took a selfie with the fan-filled court behind him before cutting down the rest of the net.


Xavier honored seniors Bluiett, J.P. Macura, O’Mara, Kerem Kanter and Matt Singleton pregame.


Providence’s Alpha Diallo got a foul for shoving Macura to the ground. They both got technicals when Macura got up and got in Diallo’s face and they exchanged words.


Providence’s Kyron Cartwright picked up his third and fourth fouls 18 seconds apart with 15:22 left. Bullock got his fourth with 12:40 left, limiting two of the Friars’ top threats.


Providence: Friars host St. John’s on Saturday. They opened Big East play by beating the Red Storm 94-72 on Dec. 28. The Friars will honor seniors Cartwright, Bullock, Jalen Lindsey and Tom Planek.

Xavier: Musketeers play at DePaul on Saturday. They beat the Blue Demons 77-72 at the Cintas Center on Dec. 30, Xavier’s seventh straight win in the series.

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.”