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Xavier's Edmond Sumner (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
(AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Sumner’s 22 points lead No. 8 Xavier past Georgetown 88-70

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WASHINGTON (AP) Xavier broke open a tight game by making 12 of its first 13 shots after halftime, and Edmond Sumner finished with a career-best 22 points, leading the eighth-ranked Musketeers past slumping Georgetown 88-70 on Saturday.

Getting set to take on top-ranked Villanova in its next game, Xavier (24-3, 12-3 Big East) played far better than during a home loss to Georgetown a month ago.

After shooting only 35 percent in that setback, the Musketeers wound up at 54 percent Saturday, including the near-perfect stretch to open the second half. After leading 35-33 at halftime, Xavier scored 13 consecutive points coming out of the break and eventually went ahead by as many as 21.

Georgetown (14-14, 7-8) has lost three straight and six of seven. The Hoyas were led by D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera with 18 points.

Sumner was among four Musketeers in to score in double figures, with James Farr adding 14 points, Trevon Bluiett 13, and J.P. Macura 12.

That allowed Xavier to cover up a quiet game from Myles Davis, who turned in the school’s first triple-double since 2011 in its previous game but had zero points at halftime and finished with seven points, four rebounds and three assists.

Georgetown did manage to make this game interesting for a segment of the opening 20 minutes, just like the Hoyas did while beating Xavier 81-72 on Jan. 19. That time, Georgetown was one of only two teams to outrebound Xavier this season; on Saturday, the Musketeers led 33-30 in that category, helping set up a 16-5 edge in fast-break scoring.

When Macura made a jumper from the top of the key, then rose above a crowd for a putback, and Sumner tacked on two free throws, Xavier concluded a 19-4 surge for a 27-16 lead. Georgetown helped the visitors by starting 1 for 10 on 3-point attempts and giving away seven turnovers before Xavier committed its first.

But then the Hoyas righted themselves for a bit, using a 15-4 run – thanks to two 3s by Reggie Cameron and seven points from Smith-Rivera – to pull even at 33-all with 75 seconds remaining in the half.

Farr’s two free throws put Xavier barely ahead at halftime, a lead that would soon grow much more comfortable.

TIP-INS

Xavier: Xavier improved to 22-0 when leading at halftime this season. … Davis crumpled to the court after colliding with a teammate in the second half and left briefly but returned.

Georgetown: Since scoring a career-high 21 points on 7-for-11 field-goal shooting against Xavier in the teams’ earlier meeting, sophomore G Tre Campbell has scored a total of 18 points and made only six shots in nine games. He went scoreless in five of those games. … C Bradley Hayes is sidelined by a broken left hand. His replacement in the starting lineup, freshman Jessie Govan, scored five points against Xavier after having 27 in his previous game.

UP NEXT

Xavier hosts No. 1 Villanova on Wednesday.

Georgetown hosts Butler next Saturday.

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

UNC’s Williams pushes back on TV speculation he might retire

Roy Williams
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) North Carolina coach Roy Williams had a response Saturday to speculation he might retire: “You have no frickin’ idea what you’re talking about.”

Williams was leaving his news conference after the fifth-ranked Tar Heels beat No. 11 Miami 96-71 when he returned and referenced a comment from CBS college basketball analyst Doug Gottlieb on a pregame show “that I was going to retire and (assistant) Hubert (Davis) was going to replace me.”

Williams went on to jab the ex-Oklahoma State player for wearing shorts backward at Kansas years ago. He says he likes Gottlieb but says speculation is “not journalism” and added: “Don’t make up crap.”

Gottlieb later tweeted there was no news to “report,” only talk of health and lingering NCAA issues that “make people think this could be his last year.”

No. 5 North Carolina emphatically bounces back with blowout of No. 11 Miami

North Carolina's Justin Jackson (44) shoots over Miami's Tonye Jekiri (23) and Davon Reed during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. North Carolina won 96-71. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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Brice Johnson led six Tar Heels in double-figures, finishing with 16 points and 15 boards, as No. 5 North Carolina put the memory of the Duke loss far in their rear view with a 96-71 blowout win over No. 11 Miami on Saturday afternoon.

And it wasn’t even really that close.

UNC, at one point midway through the second half, held a 38 point lead, a definitive way to take over sole possession of first place in the ACC.

This is the kind of performance that we’ve been waiting for from the Tar Heels. Johnson was, once again, dominant in the paint while Justin Jackson scored 14 points, added eight assists and hit 3-for-4 from beyond the arc. As a team, the Tar Heels shot 9-for-20 from beyond the arc, and they also played some terrific defense for the majority of this game. That’s significant, because the knock on this team is that they’re not great defensively, particularly when their big men are pulled away from the rim. Miami’s strength offensively is their ability in ball-screens actions, something that UNC has a tendency to struggle with, but it didn’t matter on Saturday.

This was by far UNC’s best performance of the season on both ends of the floor and the first time they’re truly looked like a national title contender against elite competition since the win over Maryland back in early December.

And they did it without getting much of anything from Marcus Paige, who is still mired in a slump that has seemingly lasted for a month. Paige was 2-for-8 from the floor and finished with just seven points, which will drop his career-worst numbers even further. There’s two ways to look at this. On the one hand, North Carolina is currently sitting all alone in first place in the ACC despite the fact that Paige has yet to playing anything like the kid that was the 2015 Preseason National Player of the Year. In 14 ACC games, Paige is averaging 11.3 points and 3.3 assists while shooting 28.6 percent from three. In the 11 games since he had 30 points at Florida Starte, Paige has failed to reach double-figures seven times.

On the other hand, it may be time to start questioning whether this is just who Paige is at this point. Maybe not quite as bad as he’s been the last two games, but we’re now nearing two years since Paige has consistently played like an all-american. Last season he was injured, which is why we were expecting more out of him as a senior.

Whatever the case may be, what we saw on Saturday was the North Carolina team that keeps them in the conversation as a national title contender. This was, arguably, their ceiling.

And if Paige can ever rediscover the form he had as a sophomore, the Tar Heels will be far more likely to reach that ceiling.

VIDEO: Brice Johnson hits 85-foot heave after halftime buzzer

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North Carolina obliterated Miami on Saturday.

How hot were they?

Brice Johnson swishes an 85-footer. Not bad:

WEEKEND PREVIEW: The ACC’s first place battle and a renewed Big Ten rivalry

Jim Larrañaga, Sheldon McClellan
(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 11 Miami at No. 5 North Carolina, Sat. 1:00 p.m.

Believe it or not, but when North Carolina hosts Miami on Saturday afternoon, the winner will be walking out of the Dean Dome sitting all alone in first place in the ACC standings.

And that’s probably not even the most important thing about this game for either team.

Hear me out.

The Tar Heels are coming off of one of their most disappointing losses since this group kids has been together. They blew a lead at home to a Duke team that was down to essentially five guys thanks to an ankle injury to Matt Jones, combatting UNC’s overwhelming front court with Marshall Plumlee — who had four fouls for the final 14 minutes — and Brandon Ingram — who looks like he could struggle to curl a pipe cleaner. It was their third loss in last five games, and with road trips left against Virginia and Duke, this may be their last chance at landing an elite win this season.

Miami, on the other hand, has been playing some great basketball. They’ve won eight of their last nine games, with wins over Duke and Notre Dame in the process, but the rest of their league schedule is brutal. At UNC, home for Virginia and Louisville before a road trip to South Bend. Getting their momentum heading in the right direction for this one is big, but it’s also worth mentioning that few outside of the college hoops media and the good folks of Coral Gables probably realize just how good this Miami team is. They’re good enough to win the league title, they matchup well with a UNC team that struggles to guard ball-screens and they’ll have a chance to prove it in a game that will be featured nationally on CBS.

This is a bit of a statement game for Miami.

And I think they’ll get it done.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 3 Oklahoma at No. 10 West Virginia, Sat. 4:00 p.m.

Hopefully, the rematch will be as entertaining as the original. When these two teams last squared off, West Virginia was just five days removed from picking off then-No. 1 Kansas in Morgantown, and they followed that up by going into Norman and losing to the then-No. 2 Sooners on a last-second tip-in from Khadeem Lattin. Oklahoma is reeling. They’ve lost three of their last four games and have fallen two games off Kansas’ pace atop the Big 12. WVU sits a game behind the Jayhawks, meaning that a win will at least give them hope that they can earn a share of the league title. The good news for Oklahoma? Jaysean Paige and Jevon Carter, West Virginia’s two most dangerous perimeter scorers, are both banged up.

FIVE MORE GAMES TO KEEP AN EYE ON

  1. I can’t be the only one that’s fired up that the Purdue-Indiana rivalry is relevant again. On Saturday night at 8:30 p.m., the No. 17 Boilermakers will make the trip to Bloomington to take on the No. 22 Hoosiers in a game with more significance than you probably realize in the Big Ten race. Indiana is currently tied with Iowa — who may or may not be on the precipice of their typical late-season swan dive — for first place in the conference, sitting a game in front of Maryland — who lost their second straight game last night to … Minnesota (gross). The idea of Indiana winning a Big Ten regular season title isn’t as insane as we thought it was as recently as a month ago, and I’m sure there’s nothing that would make Purdue happier than doing everything in their power to make sure that doesn’t happen. Let’s get it!
  2. A month ago, we probably would have written a blurb about No. 14 Kentucky’s trip to Texas A&M with the spin that it was a chance for Kentucky to prove they’re still relevant to the SEC race. Fast forward to today and Jamal Murray looks like Steph Curry while Tyler Ulis is playing like the best point guard in the country, meaning Kentucky’s Final Four dreams are very much alive. The Aggies? They snapped a four-game losing streak with a win over Ole Miss during the week, meaning the 6:30 p.m. Saturday tip is their last opportunity to keep their SEC regular season title dreams alive.
  3. What Duke has done the last ten days should not be overlooked by anyone. Playing with a six-man rotation — that may be five again on Saturday, depending on Matt Jones’ ankle — the Blue Devils have reeled off three straight wins over ACC contender, beating Virginia and Louisville at home before Wednesday’s win in the Dean Dome. On Saturday at noon, No. 20 Duke will look to make it four straight over ranked teams at No. 18 Louisville. Can they win another when they’re so short-handed? I think the obvious answer is no, just like the obvious answer was that they couldn’t win in the Dean Dome on Wednesday.
  4. The last time that No. 8 Xavier and Georgetown got together, the Hoyas managed to find a way to dissect the Musketeer 1-3-1 zone while picking up a win over a then-top five team on the road. That win also happened to be the last time that Georgetown was seriously discussed as a bubble team. So while there is a revenge factor in Xavier’s return trip to D.C., it’s going to be more interesting to see if head coach Chris Mack has found a way to solve his issues with stopping the Hoya attack that day.
  5. I honestly have no idea what to make of either No. 25 Baylor or No. 24 Texas. I think Texas is good — they’ve won eight of their last 11 with the only three losses coming at Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa State — but then I remember they’re the one team that loss to TCU. I don’t think Baylor’s really all that good but am I just going to ignore the sweep of Iowa State? In other words, this is life in the Big 12.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: No. 2 Kansas at Kansas State, Sat. 6:00 p.m.

This is as heated of a rivalry as you’re going to find in the Big 12, and while Kansas State has not exactly been great this season, they have been a thorn in the side for some of the nation’s better teams. They beat Oklahoma. They’ve taken both West Virginia and Baylor to double-overtime. They’re better and tougher than their record would indicate, and nothing would take the sting off of an ugly season quite like a win over their in-state rivals.

WHAT WE’LL BE TALKING ABOUT ON MONDAY: For all the talk about how crazy and unpredictable this season as been, when you look around some of the biggest leagues in the country, the usual suspects seem to be populating the top of the standings.

Villanova has a two-game stranglehold on the Big East. Kansas and Kentucky are all alone in first place in the Big 12 and SEC, respectively. Arizona has climbed back into sole possession of first place in the Pac-12. North Carolina owns a share of the ACC lead and, with a win on Saturday, will have the top spot all to themselves. Saint Joseph’s, VCU and Dayton are all tied atop the Atlantic 10. Gonzaga, Wichita State and San Diego State are all leading their respective conferences.

The Big Ten standings look the weirdest, but Indiana is still sitting tied for first place while Michigan State appears to be the best team in the league; they might be up there with Indiana if Denzel Valentine’s surgery didn’t throw them for a three-week loop at the start of league play. I’d argue that the American is the only conference that looks out of whack, but that probably has quite a bit to do with the fact that SMU has fallen off a cliff since their run at an undefeated season went ‘poof’.

The upsets have been fun to follow, but the cream is still rising to the top.

Minnesota wins first Big Ten game by upsetting No. 6 Maryland

Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon watches during the team's 68-63 loss to Minnesota in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016, in Minneapolis. The game was Minnesota's first Big Ten win. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
(AP Photo/Jim Mone)
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Minnesota has been through it this season.

They’ve won just once since Nov. 30th, and that win came against a Chicago State team that is currently 4-23 on the season.

It hasn’t been fun to be a Gopher, but what’s made it all the more difficult is that Minnesota is losing winnable games on seemingly a nightly basis. They entered Thursday having 17 of their last 18 games, but 12 of those 17 losses were by single digits, including seven of their last eight games.

They’ve been competing.

And on Thursday night, against the No. 6 team in the country, the Gophers finally broke through. Nate Mason had 18 points and six assists and Jordan Murphy chipped in with 17 points and 11 boards as Minnesota knocked off Maryland, 68-63.

The win elicited this reaction from Joey King:

That moment is precisely why we love college basketball.

But it came at the expense of a Maryland team that has the roster of a team that should be winning league titles and competing for the Final Four, not losing to a team that hasn’t won since Dec. 16th. It’s the second straight game that the Terps have lost — Wisconsin got them by 13 points in College Park on Saturday — but it’s far from the only time that this team has looked poor against a theoretically overmatched opponent.

To get an idea of just how bad this loss was for Maryland, think about it like this: Minnesota shot 6-for-30 in the second half. And won.

The issue of late has been Melo Trimble. In his last three games against Division I competition, Trimble is shooting 6-for-37 from the floor (16.2%) with 12 turnovers. On Thursday night, in the final two minutes — which, generally speaking, have been when Trimble has been his best at Maryland — he not only airballed a jumper but he committed a pair of ugly turnovers. That included botching a 3-on-1 break after Maryland was able to force a turnover with 30 seconds left and down 62-61.

But I also think it’s fair to wonder if this team simply just does not fit together. They don’t have a back-up guard that can spare Trimble or Rasheed Sulaimon. Jaylen Brantley is so far behind the curve that he’s had difficultly beating out walk-on Varum Ram for minutes. The only other wing on the bench is Jared Nickens, who has struggled this season, which means that the majority of Jake Layman’s time on the floor has to be at the three even if he’s a better fit playing as a small-ball four.

Even if Maryland wanted to keep Layman at the four, it may not be possible if they want to have their five best players on the floor. That’s what happens when you have two future NBA big men in Robert Carter Jr. and Diamond Stone.

In other words, I don’t know if there is a “fix” here.

But I do know this: a “broken” Maryland team is sitting at 22-5 overall. That’s not a bad place to be.