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West Virginia’s offense powers it past Notre Dame

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West Virginia’s defense powered it to 26 regular season wins, a second-place finish in the Big 12 and a four-seed in the NCAA tournament.

The Mountaineers’ offense got them to the Sweet 16.

West Virginia shot 50 percent from the floor and 57.1 percent from 3-point range to defeat Notre Dame, 83-71, and earn a spot in San Jose.

Now, West Virginia didn’t do it on offense alone as its defense did cause the Irish trouble. Notre Dame barely cracked 40 percent shooting and turned it over 14 times. The Irish were only competitive because of Bonzie Colson’s 27 points and 17 of 17 shooting from the free-throw line.

The story, though, was West Virginia’s ability to get buckets.

West Virginia simply hasn’t been a very good shooting team this season. The Mountaineers aren’t exactly bad shooters, but they’re decidedly mediocre. From 3-point range, they convert at 36.3 percent, and from inside the arc, they’re at 50.4 percent.

Against Notre Dame, they went  8 of 14 from deep while getting just 15 of their points off turnovers. Jevon Carter went for 24, making 4 of 5 3-pointers. Daxter Miles scored 18 and Tarik Philip added 12 to give West Virginia a dynamic backcourt presence Saturday.

If the Mountaineers are making shots, they’re a totally different – and more dangerous – animal.

Teams know they have to prepare for West Virginia’s press. It’s a unique system that’s difficult to replicate. The press is hurried and unpredictable. It takes teams out of their primary actions and forces opponents to operate in uncomfortable situations. It creates 94 feet of chaos.

If that’s paired with a team capable of getting buckets at a high rate and not disproportionately dependent on live-ball turnovers, the Mountaineers just became an especially tough out.

Beyond the obvious of putting points on the board, West Virginia scoring at an efficient clip gives them more opportunities to set its press and put more pressure on opponents. A productive West Virginia offense puts its defense in the best situation to succeed.

Bob Huggins’ group was always going to be a tough matchup for teams unfamiliar with their style, but if the Mountaineers can shoot it like they did against Notre Dame, they’ll be adding a dimension that creates even further headaches for opposing coaches.

Notre Dame survives first round scare from Princeton

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Notre Dame staved off the madness to start the NCAA tournament.

The fifth-seeded Fighting Irish fought off an upset bid from No. 12 Princeton and claimed a 60-58 victory in a first-round matchup in Buffalo.

The Tigers had multiple chances late to either tie or take a lead, but were unable to convert, keeping them without an NCAA tournament win since 1998. Princeton had a look to tie it with 18 seconds left, but Steven Cook’s 3-pointer was off the mark, though a tip-in from Pete Miller pulled the Tigers within one. Matt Farrell then missed the front-end of a one-and-one, giving Princeton the ball down one.

The Tigers pushed the ball past halfcourt, but Devin Cannady settled for a decent 3-point look rather than attack the rim and his offering clanked off the rim.

Notre Dame entered the game as the country’s top free-throw shooting team at 79.9 percent, but struggled mightily at the line this day, going 14 of 21 (66.7 percent), which in no small part helped the Tigers stick around and ultimately have a chance to win the game on the final possession.

Bonzie Colson had 18 points, seven rebounds and two assists for the Irish. Farrell had 16 points, four rebounds and four assists.

Princeton got 15 points from Spencer Weisz in a game in which they shot 38.6 percent from the floor and 25.8 percent from 3-point range, but still had an opportunity to win.

The Irish will now await the winner of No. 4 West Virginia and No. 13 Bucknell for the right to advance to the Sweet 16 in the West region.

No. 25 Notre Dame rallies for 84-76 win over BC

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BOSTON (AP) Bonzie Colson remembered running around Boston College, having birthday parties and shooting around with some of the Eagles’ notable players when his dad was an assistant coach.

He was having fun again Tuesday night.

Colson scored 20 points, Matt Farrell had 19 and No. 25 Notre Dame overcame a 13-point first-half deficit for an 84-76 victory over Boston College, sending the Eagles to their 10th straight loss.

“I just remember a lot of times shooting around before practice, being a ball boy. Just trying to learn the game and learn from them,” said Colson, who recalled being around former Eagles like current NBA players Jared Dudley and Reggie Jackson to name a few.

“It’s been something that’s always been a huge part of my life and I’ll never forget those memories,” Colson said.

V.J. Beachem had 16 points and Steve Vasturia added 15 for the Fighting Irish (20-7, 9-5 Atlantic Coast Conference). It is coach Mike Brey’s 13th time winning at least 20 games with Notre Dame.

Ky Bowman led Boston College (9-18, 2-12) with 29 points and Mo Jeffers had 12.

BC had sliced it to 78-76 on Bowman’s two free throws with just under a minute to play, but Beachem grabbed an offensive rebound and was fouled on the ensuing possession. He hit both free throws with 24.1 seconds to play.

“When you get opportunities in the ACC, you’ve got to make the play,” BC coach Jim Christian said of the rebound. “We didn’t. It’s a short answer to a complicated question, but it’s the truth.”

The Fighting Irish trailed by 10 points early in the second half before outscoring BC 21-3 over a 4:50 span.

Consecutive 3s from Farrell 29 seconds apart tied it at 59 before Colson’s putback jam on their next possession gave them their first lead of the game with just under 13 minutes to play. Farrell let out a loud yell when he was running down the court.

“I think in the first half we weren’t playing with any energy or any of that passion we need to play with,” he said.

Farrell had committed to BC out of high school but opted out after Steve Donahue was fired in March 2014.

“I was thinking about some extra stuff,” he said. “Some guys called me `traitor.’ It was awesome.”

The Eagles had led by 13 points and posted a season-high for a first half with 49 points to open a 10-point lead at intermission. They shot 58.6 percent (17 of 29) and also went 9 for 10 from the free throw line.

BIG PICTURE

Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish need to take advantage of a softer portion of their schedule – with games coming up against North Carolina State, Georgia Tech and another with BC to have a chance to make a run to the top of the ACC.

Boston College: Like a number of games this season, the Eagles showed spunk but couldn’t close out a win. With leading scorer Jerome Robinson (19.4) struggling down the stretch, they really looked challenged offensively. He finished with 11 points on 3-of-12 shooting.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Notre Dame: The Irish climbed back into the poll this week after being out for one week. A loss to BC and some weaker opponents coming up would have made it very hard to get back in the next few weeks.

NICE RUN

Brey talked about how consistent his program has remained in its fourth season in the ACC, posting a third straight 20-win season.

“We’ve been on a great run,” he said. “I’m really proud of our program. We had a pretty consistent program when were in the Big East. I was worried bringing it to the ACC.”

FAMILY HISTORY

Colson’s dad – also Bonzie – was an assistant at BC under Al Skinner for nine years.

NUMBER CHANGE

BC forward Conar Tava wore No. 30 instead of his usual No. 2 for the second half after playing the final few minutes of the first with a large tear down the left side.

UP NEXT

Notre Dame: At NC State on Saturday.

Boston College: At No. 17 Florida State on Monday. The Eagles are 0-6 on the road in league play.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

No. 10 Florida State hands No. 15 Notre Dame first ACC loss

AP Photo/Phil Sears
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Notre Dame shot over 70 percent on 21 3-point shot attempts, but it wasn’t enough as tenth-ranked Florida State became the first ACC team to defeat the Fighting Irish with a 83-80 win Wednesday night in Tallahassee.

Johnathan Isaac had 23 points and 10 rebounds for the Seminoles, who moved into a tie for the ACC lead along with Notre Dame and North Carolina, which all sport 5-1 league records. The ‘Noles shot 50 percent from the floor and had 39 points off their bench.

The Fighting Irish made 15 of 21 3-point shots on the night, getting six from Matt Farrell and five apiece from VJ Beachem and Steve Vasturia.

Florida State continues the ACC gauntlet with a home test against Louisville on Saturday while the Irish have Syracuse in South Bend on Saturday.

Here are three things to takeaway from this win for Leonard Hamilton’s club:

1. Jonathan Isaac, man: He was so good. He finished with 23 points, 10 boards and seven blocks, shooting just 7-for-9 from the floor, but it wasn’t just the plays that he made that were impressive. It was when they came. Isaac buried a pair of threes and sparked a late Florida State flurry that pushed the Seminoles out to a seven-point lead with two minutes left. He had a nasty block on a dunk attempt by V.J. Beachem, and then, after Florida State turned the ball over on their final possession, blocked two shots at the rim to help preserve the victory.

Isaac has had some issues with intensity and aggressiveness this season, and there are questions about whether or not he has the killer instinct to be a star at the next level. Tonight’s performance should quiet some of those doubters, at least for the time being.

2. This was the first time that Notre Dame looked overmatched by size and athleticism: Florida State is big, they’re athletic and they’re versatile. Notre Dame isn’t, and it showed tonight, particularly in the first half. Matt Farrell had five of his six turnovers in the first 20 minutes. As a team, the Irish finished with 18 turnovers, and just seemed to be out sync offensively for much of the game. That’s what Florida State wants to do defensively. That is their game-plan, and it worked quite well on Wednesday.

And yet, Notre Dame was still able to hang around in this one thanks to their ridiculous three-point shooting. They were 15-for-21 from beyond the arc, the 19th team to make 15 threes and shoot better than 70 percent from three since 2010 and the only one of those 19 to lose. There are a couple ways to look at that:

  1. Notre Dame’s fluky shooting kept them from getting exposed against a team that could take advantage of Notre Dame’s weaknesses..
  2. That Florida State was still able to win, and force turnovers on 23.7 percent of the possessions against the nation’s seventh-best team at protecting the ball, says more about the Seminoles than anything else.
  3. These are two excellent basketball teams that traded haymakers for 40 minutes.

No. 3 sounds about right to me.

3. Both of these teams will be in the ACC title race for the long haul: What more do either of them have to prove? Florida State has now beaten Duke and Notre Dame in their last two home games, which sandwiched an impressive performance in a loss at North Carolina. And the Irish? Their three losses this season came against Villanova, Purdue and Florida State by a combined 16 points, none of them coming at home.

VIDEO: More from Notre Dame’s Farrell family reunion

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The Farrell family reunion Monday was one of the best things in college basketball – or sports, really – this year. First Lieutenant Bo Farrell surprised his brother and Notre Dame junior point guard Matt, along with their parents, after the Fighting Irish’s game against Colgate.

First he delivered what the family thought was a recorded message from his station in Afghanistan, but then made his way out to the court for a tearful reunion.

On Thursday, Notre Dame released some extended footage of how the moment came to be.

Five Things We Learned This Week: Malik Monk, Justin Jackson and Aaron Holiday

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1. Malik Monk is the most dangerous scorer in college basketball: We all saw the 47 points that he scored, right?

And if you didn’t see it you’ve at least heard about it by now, correct?

On Saturday, squaring off against No. 7 North Carolina, Monk went 18-for-28 from the floor and 8-for-12 from three en route to a 47-point eruption, which included a pair of threes in the final two minutes to give the Wildcats a 103-100 win. I honestly cannot remember an individual performance as impressive – I’m sure there’s been one – and it’s critical for the Wildcats for two reasons:

  1. That vaunted Kentucky defense doesn’t look so scary all of a sudden. In the two games they’ve played against elite competition, the Wildcats have now given up 197 points in 162 possessions, or 1.216 PPP, which is a pretty bad number. If this group is going to make a deep tournament run, they’re going to be playing in games where they will need to score in the 90s to win, and I think Monk has proven that he’s capable and unafraid of being the guy to carry this team.
  2. Monk is far and away the most effective player this Kentucky team has in half court settings. Coach Cal knows this, which is why he put in set plays to run specifically to ensure that Monk would get the ball in a spot where he can do some damage. They worked. The key to beating this Kentucky team is keeping them out of transition, where they are just too fast to defend. Forcing them to execute in the half court is the better option given some of the issues they have with perimeter shooting and floor-spacing, but if Monk is going to consistently be able to score when plays are run for him, it makes UK that much more effective offensively.
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 17: Justin Jackson #44 of the North Carolina Tar Heels drives to the basket against De'Aaron Fox #0 of the Kentucky Wildcats during the CBS Sports Classic at T-Mobile Arena on December 17, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Kentucky won 103-100. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Justin Jackson. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

2. UNC’s stars gave us reason to believe in them: We learned just how valuable Joel Berry II was last week, when North Carolina struggled at home with Davidson and Tennessee as Berry nursed an injured ankle back to health. If that didn’t prove it to you, then his 23 points and seven assists on Saturday against Kentucky should have.

Berry was terrific.

He was also the second-best player on North Carolina that day, as junior wing Justin Jackson went for a career-high 34 points and kept the Tar Heels within striking distance while their front court seemingly spent the entire game battling foul trouble. That matters, because it is really the first time against competition like this that Jackson has shown that he’s capable of throwing the Tar Heels on his back and carrying them. He damn near led them to a win, too; his three with two minutes left to give UNC their first lead since the opening seconds will go down as one of the biggest shots he’ll ever make even if it doesn’t matter at this point.

The bottom line is this: I’m not sold on UNC’s front court. I think that the Tar Heels were a bit overrated after the way they started the season. But Jackson and Berry very nearly dragged this team to a come-from-behind win over a really good Kentucky team that had a star player going all NBA Jam. That’s notable even in a loss.

RELATED: Player of the Week | Team of the Week | Five Takeaways

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3. Aaron Holiday is the best sixth-man in the country: There are 351 Division I programs in college basketball. There are, at most, five or six programs where Holiday wouldn’t step in and immediately start in their back court. There probably aren’t 20 teams in America where he wouldn’t be the best player on the roster. And yet, Holiday – the younger brother of NBA guards Jrue and Justin – is content working as UCLA’s sixth-man as a sophomore after starting his freshman season.

In fact, he’s more than content. He’s thriving, averaging 14.4 points, 4.1 assists and 1.4 steals. He’s shooting 53.3 percent from three, which leads the team. He’s playing more than 26 minutes a night. He had a team-high 20 points in UCLA’s win over Ohio State. He had 13 points and four assists in the first half of the win at Kentucky, his play changing the course of the game.

It works because of his versatility. He can replace any of Lonzo Ball, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton and do what they do. He is a point guard by trade, but he’s also capable of playing off the ball as a shooter and can score when he puts the ball on the floor. He’s also a very good on-ball defender, which isn’t necessarily the case for the rest of UCLA’s perimeter. He’s clearly not this team’s MVP, but the Bruins would not be where they are right now without him.

Not just because of his skill set.

But because he embraced the “demotion” of coming off the bench.

4. Can Notre Dame close out games?: Two Saturdays in a row now we’ve seen the Fighting Irish jump out to big first half leads against two of the best teams in the country, and two Saturdays in a row we’ve seen them give those leads right back. The Irish blew an 11-point first half lead against Villanova two weeks ago, following that up by losing to Purdue after holding a 14 point lead at the break.

Point guard Matt Farrell, who has starred in both of those games, was blunt when he asked what happened.

“I think it’s just toughness,” he said. “This is two times now we’ve had double-digit leads and it’s come down to defensive rebounding and we haven’t done that. That’s just toughness.”

“I feel like we got comfortable at halftime just like we did in the Villanova game. We can’t get comfortable, especially if we’re up by 15, we gotta make that jump, extend the lead. It’s all about toughness and winning close games.”

The Irish watched Josh Hart put together the best performance we saw this season pre-Malik Monk. They then let Caleb Swanigan get loose against them on Saturday. On a team without much proven size and with a star big man that tops out at about 6-foot-6 on a good day, it’s worth wondering whether Notre Dame has the physicality inside to be able to handle games against teams like that.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 17: Matt Farrell #5 of Notre Dame shoots the ball during the game against the Purdue Boiermakers in the Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on December 17, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Matt Farrell Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

5. The Big East is as good as it has been since the split: I think that this is the best that we’ve seen the Big East since it split off from the AAC. Villanova, the reigning national champs, are a threat to repeat. Creighton is still undefeated and find themselves ranked in the top 15. The Bluejays have usurped Xavier’s title as Villanova’s biggest threat in the league, although that may change when Myles Davis is allowed to play again. Then there’s Butler, who is the proud owner of the best résumé in the conference, with wins against Indiana, Arizona, Cincinnati, Northwestern and at Utah.

There is a valid argument to make that that top four may actually be better than the top four teams in the ACC.

There also appears to be more depth in the conference than in recent years. Seton Hall is a tough, veteran group that landed a brand-name win last week, handing South Carolina their first loss of the season. Providence is 9-2 on the year with a win over Rhode Island. Georgetown had some struggles early on in the year but just won at Syracuse over the weekend. Marquette probably isn’t looking at a tournament trip this season, but they certainly aren’t going to be pushovers this year. DePaul is DePaul and St. John’s is a tire fire, but overall, there is a lot to like about the league this season.