FAU holds off Nowell and K-State to reach 1st Final Four
Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports
NEW YORK — Alijah Martin, Vlad Goldin and ninth-seeded Florida Atlantic became the first and lowest-seeded team to reach this year’s Final Four as the Owls withstood another huge game by Kansas State’s Markquis Nowell to beat the Wildcats 79-76 on Saturday night.
FAU (35-3), making just its second appearance in the NCAA Tournament, won the East Region at Madison Square Garden and will head to Houston to play the winner of Sunday’s South Region final between Creighton and San Diego State.
In one of the most unpredictable NCAA Tournaments ever – all four No. 1 seeds were out by the Elite Eight – the Owls from Conference USA typified the madness.
“I expect the prognosticators to pick us fifth in the Final Four,” fifth-year FAU coach Dusty May said.
The winningest team in Division I this season had never won an NCAA Tournament game before ripping off four straight, all by single digits, to become the first No. 9 seed to reach the Final Four since Wichita State in 2013 and the third to get that far since seeding began in 1979.
Nowell, the 5-foot-8 native New Yorker, was incredible again at Madison Square Garden, with 30 points, 12 assists and five steals, coming off a Sweet 16 game in which he set the NCAA Tournament record with 19 assists. He didn’t get enough help this time.
Nae’Qwan Tomlin was the only other player in double figures for Kansas State (26-10) with 14 points. Keyontae Johnson, the Wildcats’ leading scorer, fouled out with nine points.
Martin scored 17 points, including a huge 3 down the stretch, the 7-foot-1 Goldin had 14 points and 13 rebounds, and Michael Forrest made four clutch free throws in the final 20 seconds for the Owls, who held steady as the Wildcats made a late push.
Cam Carter made a 3 from the wing with 22.8 seconds left to cut FAU’s lead to 75-74 and Kansas State fouled and sent Forrest to the line with 17.9 seconds left. The senior made both to make it a three-point game.
Nowell found Tomlin inside for a layup with 8.6 seconds left to cut the lead to one again, and again K-State sent Forrest to the line. With 6.9 remaining, he made them both.
With no timeouts left, Nowell rushed down the court, gave up the ball to Ismael Massoud outside the 3-point line, and never got it back. FAU’s Johnell Davis swiped it away and time ran out.
“It was trying to get Ish a shot,” Nowell said. “Coach wanted to Ish to set the screen, and I waved it off because I felt like on the right side of the court, that’s where Ish hits most of his shots. And they closed out hard to him, and he didn’t get his shot off.”
Nowell was named the most outstanding player of the region, but FAU turned out to be the best team. As the Owls built their lead in the final minutes, Kansas State fans who had packed the building became anxiously quiet and the “F-A-U!” chants started to rise.
The Owls rushed the floor to celebrate a historic moment for the school. FAU didn’t even have a basketball program until the late 1980s and has only been in Division I for the last 30 years.
“I’m living the dream right now,” Forrest said.
FAU held up to Tennessee’s bully ball in the Sweet 16 and dropped a 40-point second half on the best defense in the nation to eliminate the Southeastern Conference team.
Against one of the Big 12’s best, FAU dominated the boards, 44-22, and became the first team from C-USA to reach the Final Four since Memphis in 2008.
The Owls aren’t hanging around much longer. They’re moving to the American Athletic Conference next season. But first: a trip to Texas.
Miami coach Jim Larrañaga asks for transparency on NIL deals
Gregory Fisher/USA TODAY Sports
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Miami coach Jim Larrañaga wants to know how much money athletes at other schools are making through name, image and likeness deals.
It’s only fair, he said, since no school has had the values of its athletes’ deals publicized more than Miami.
“I think everybody should be transparent,” he said at a news conference Saturday ahead of his team’s NCAA Tournament Midwest Region final aganst Texas. “Why is it hidden behind the curtain? Why? You can go on a website and check out anybody’s salary in the NBA.
“There are a lot of schools that do the same thing we do. We just don’t know about it because it’s not public knowledge. Why not? Why are we afraid of sharing that information?”
Larrañaga said full disclosure is important for competitive reasons and also so the NCAA or Congress can have more information at their disposal when, and if, they bring clarity and uniformity to NIL rules.
Nijel Pack’s two-year, $800,000 contract with Miami booster John Ruiz is the most publicized NIL deal since the NCAA began allowing college athletes to make money off their popularity. ACC player of the year Isaiah Wong’s $100,000 deal with Ruiz also became public knowledge.
Though the terms of twins Haley and Hanna Cavinder’s deals have not been publicized, the two reportedly have made millions of dollars during their time playing women’s basketball at Fresno State and now Miami.
Larrañaga said television networks, shoe companies, universities, athletic directors and coaches make lots of money off college sports and that the athletes deserve a cut.
“I hope they get as many great deals as they can because I think eventually they have to learn how to handle money,” he said. “So at their young age, if they learn it, maybe they’ll find out. I don’t know how many of these guys are spending every cent they get, but I know a lot of NBA guys did that and ended up bankrupt. I think that’s a learning experience. That’s why you’re in college anyway.”
There have been concerns raised that publicizing the amount of money athletes make could cause jealousy and splinter locker rooms.
Larrañaga said NIL hasn’t changed the dynamic, as far as he’s concerned.
“These guys have to get along on the court and off the court,” he said. “If you can’t handle that as a coach, you probably couldn’t handle it when a guy was complaining about playing time or ‘I didn’t get enough shots.’”
Wong disputed a report last year that, upon learning of Pack’s deal, he threatened through his agent to transfer if his NIL deal wasn’t beefed up.
Larrañaga said he’s seen no problems between the two.
“They hit it off day one,” he said. “Why? Because they love playing basketball.”
Jordan Miller vouched for his coach, especially when it comes to Pack’s deal.
“At the end of the day, he’s our teammate, and everybody’s happy for him,” Miller said.
Larrañaga said he couldn’t speculate on whether athletes would be paid as employees of universities some day.
For now, the most important thing is to set firm guidelines for NIL and to make sure athletes are educated about how to manage their money.
“Guys like Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson and LeBron (James), they make life-changing money, life-altering money,” Larrañaga said. “These young kids, they might not get that chance beyond this. So they need an education about it.”
Texas blows out Xavier 83-71 for spot in NCAA Elite Eight
Jeffrey Becker/USA TODAY Sports
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Tyrese Hunter scored 19 points, Marcus Carr and Christian Bishop added 18 apiece, and second-seeded Texas rolled to an 83-71 victory over No. 3 seed Xavier on Friday night to reach the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 15 years.
Playing most of the way without ailing star Dylan Disu, the Longhorns – the highest seed left after No. 1s Alabama and Houston lost earlier in the night – built a 42-25 lead by halftime. They quickly pushed it past 20 before cruising the rest of the way into a matchup with fifth-seeded Miami on Sunday night for a spot in the Final Four in Houston.
Sir’Jabari Rice had 16 points and Timmy Allen added 11 for the Longhorns (29-8), who kept Souley Boum and the rest of Xavier’s perimeter threats in check while making life miserable for Jack Nunge down low.
Adam Kunkel hit five 3-pointers and led the Musketeers (27-10) with 21 points. Nunge scored 15 but needed 19 shots to get there, while Colby Jones also had 15 points. Boum didn’t hit a field goal until early in the second half and finished with 12 points.
The job the Longhorns did in shutting down Xavier was merely the latest example of some masterful work by interim coach Rodney Terry. The longtime assistant took over in December, when Chris Beard was suspended and later fired over a since-dropped domestic violence charge, and Terry has not only kept the season from falling apart but sent his team soaring.
Things won’t get any easier against Miami, which romped to an 89-75 win over the Cougars.
And especially without Disu, who led the Longhorns to a Big 12 tourney title and earned MVP honors on the same floor just over two weeks ago, and who’d been dominant through the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
Disu tried to play through a left foot injury that the Longhorns had successfully kept secret Friday night, but he lasted only a couple of minutes before limping off the floor and straight to the locker room. When he returned to the bench, he was wearing a big walking boot, a black hoodie and a grim expression.
Relegated to a 6-foot-9 cheerleader, Disu at least had plenty to celebrate.
Carr got the Longhorns off to a fast start, spinning through the lane like a Tilt-A-Whirl for tough buckets at the rim, and even knocking down a spinning, desperation 3 as the shot clock expired. And when Musketeers coach Sean Miller traded out a man-to-man defense for a zone, the Longhorns began to pound the ball to Bishop in the paint.
With dozens of family and friends on hand, the Creighton transfer from the Kansas City suburb of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, went to work. Bishop threw down one dunk on Carr’s alley-oop lob, then slammed down another a few minutes later.
By the time Allen banked in a half-court heave, the Longhorns had established a 42-25 halftime advantage – and had to be redirected from the Xavier tunnel, where they were busy celebrating, toward their own locker room.
Xavier tried to creep back a couple of times, but the Longhorns never allowed their lead to sniff single digits. And that gave Terry, who returned to Texas after head coaching jobs at Fresno State and UTEP, a chance to breathe deeply and enjoy the moment.
The 54-year-old from the small Texas town of Angleton was on Rick Barnes’ staff the last time the Longhorns reached the Elite Eight, back in 2008. He was on the 2003 staff that guided them all the way to the Final Four, too.
Now, he’s one step away from taking Texas on another improbable trip to college basketball’s biggest stage.
Creighton ends Princeton’s March Madness run with 86-75 win
Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY Sports
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Creighton used its size, 3-point shooting and a swarming second-half defense to end the March Madness run of Princeton, beating the 15th-seeded Tigers 86-75 on Friday night in the Sweet 16.
The sixth-seeded Bluejays (24-12) advanced to their first regional final since they were part of an eight-team NCAA Tournament in 1941. Creighton will play No. 5 seed San Diego State in Sunday’s South Region final, with each team seeking its first Final Four.
Ryan Kalkbenner, the two-time Big East defensive player of the year, scored 22 points to lead the Bluejays to their sixth win in seven games. Baylor Scheierman made five 3s and finished with 21 points.
“Kalk, he impacts us at the rim on both ends of the floor and defensively provides so much for us,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “I thought he really got going late in the first half and carried it over to the second half. Baylor just plays at every level. He can make the mid-range. He shoots the 3. He sees the floor incredibly well, and believe it or not, he’s become a pretty good defender.”
The Tigers (23-9) were led by Ryan Langborg with 26 points and Ivy League player of the year Tosan Evbuomwan with 24 points, six rebounds and nine assists.
Princeton shook up brackets everywhere by beating No. 2 seed Arizona in the first round, then blew out seventh-seeded Missouri last weekend in Sacramento, California.
Playing in its first Sweet 16 since 1967, Princeton was hoping to become the first Ivy League champion to make the Elite Eight since Penn’s Final Four run in 1979, the first Tigers squad to reach the Final Four since Bill Bradley led them there in 1965, and the second straight No. 15 seed to play in a regional final. Saint Peter’s last year became the first 15 seed to achieve that feat.
Princeton’s offense bore no resemblance to the back-cutting, deliberate style that defined the late Pete Carril’s coaching tenure. Instead, the Tigers went toe to toe against Creighton’s fast-paced offense until they stalled out at the start of the second half.
Creighton used a 9-2 run to take 56-45 lead, a four-minute stretch during which Princeton coach Mitch Henderson called two timeouts and Evbuomwan drew his third foul.
The Bluejays just wouldn’t stop. When Princeton cut the deficit to 61-52, Creighton answered with seven more points and the Tigers couldn’t get closer than seven points after that.
“Princeton’s really good at establishing their pace, so you’ve just got to take them out of it,” Kalkbrenner said. “Their whole goal is to take us out of our pace.”
After beating North Carolina State and third-seeded Baylor in Denver last weekend, drawing confidence from not needing oxygen masks like their opponents, Creighton eliminated the suddenly popular Ivy Leaguers. Now, the Bluejays are one win away from the national semifinals.
“It’s been amazing, it’s been a dream come true. This is why I came to Creighton in the first place, to make a run with this group of guys,” Scheierman said. “It’s just been an incredible experience. I’m looking forward to continuing that on Sunday.”
Miami beats No. 1 seed Houston; all four top NCAA seeds out
Jay Biggerstaff/USA TODAY Sports
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Nijel Pack and Miami hit shots from near and far against the stingiest defense in the country to beat Houston 89-75 on Friday night in the Sweet 16, leaving the NCAA Tournament without a single No. 1 seed among its final eight teams for the first time since seeding began in 1979.
Miami (28-7), only the fifth team this season to score at least 70 points against Houston (33-4), will play second-seeded Texas or No. 3 seed Xavier in the Midwest Region final for the chance to go to the Final Four.
About 30 minutes before Houston’s loss, top overall seed Alabama fell to San Diego State in Louisville, Kentucky. Fellow No. 1 seeds Purdue and Kansas lost during the tournament’s first weekend.
The fifth-seeded Hurricanes reached a regional final for the second straight year just a few hours after Miami’s ninth-seeded women’s team hung on to beat Villanova and advance to the Elite Eight for the first time. Miami and UConn are the only schools with teams remaining in both tournaments.
This is the first time in three years Houston didn’t make it to the Elite Eight.
The Cougars simply couldn’t stop a multifaceted Miami offense led by Pack’s 3-point shooting. He had season highs of seven 3-pointers on 10 attempts and 26 points.
Isaiah Wong’s mid-range game helped get the ‘Canes out to a fast start, and he finished with 20 points. Jordan Miller hurt the Cougars with his penetration and had 13 points, and Norchad Omier was his usual rugged self under the basket while recording his 16th double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds.
It resulted in a heartbreaking end for a Cougars team that was in the Sweet 16 for a fourth straight time, had won 15 of its last 16 games and had the season-long goal of playing in next week’s Final Four in its home city.
Miami coach Jim Larrañaga, much to his players’ delight, busted out dance moves in the locker room befitting a 73-year-old man harkening to the disco era. Then Wooga Poplar and Joseph Bensley joined him up front for an impromptu line dance.
Larrañaga will seek his first Final Four with Miami and second overall – he took George Mason there as an 11 seed in 2006.
Miami used a 16-5 run spanning the halves to go up by double digits, with Omier’s three-point play and Jordan Miller’s short bank-in with the left hand making it 47-36 and forcing Houston coach Kelvin Sampson to call timeout less than two minutes into the second half.
Houston battled back to make it a two-point game, but then Pack made three 3s and Miller and Wooga Poplar hit one each to fuel a 16-2 run that put the Canes ahead 70-53. The lead grew to as much as 17 points, and Houston never got closer than 11 the rest of the way.
There was no denying it was Miami’s night after Houston made a mini run with under five minutes to play. With the shot clock running down, Omier was forced to put up a jumper just inside the free-throw line. It bounced off the front of the rim, then the backboard, then the front of the rim again before dropping through. A minute later, Houston’s Jarace Walker missed from point-blank range.
Walker led the Cougars with 16 points. Jamal Shead added 15 and All-American Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark had 14 apiece for the Cougars, who shot just 37% overall and 29% from distance.
Houston – which came into the game as a 7.5-point favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook – found itself behind at half for the second straight game after the Hurricanes played their sharpest half of the tournament.
Miami turned the ball over just once the first 20 minutes, converted Miami’s six turnovers into 15 points and shot 6 of 14 from distance against the second-best 3-point defense in the country.
Pack made four of them, and all were timely. His first three gave Miami leads and his fourth broke a 31-all tie.