Thursday’s Things To Know: Zion returns, bubble teams fall and West Virginia lives

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PLAYERS OF THE DAY: Myles Powell, Seton Hall and Zion Williamson, Duke

While Williamson’s return to action was the focus of many, the show that Powell put on in the first half of Seton Hall’s Big East quarterfinal win over Georgetown was a sight to behold. Powell scored 29 of his 31 points in the game’s first 20 minutes, a Big East tournament record for points in a half, outscoring the Hoyas by four with Seton Hall taking a 53-25 lead into the half in a game it would win 73-57.

Powell did get a bit banged up during the second half, so that’s something to keep an eye on as he and the Pirates face Marquette and Big East Player of the Year Markus Howard (who lit up St. John’s for 30) in Friday’s second Big East semifinal matchup.

Now, back to Williamson. The freshman played 38 minutes in his first action since February 20, shooting 13-for-13 from the field and finishing with 29 points, 14 rebounds, five steals, two assists and one blocked shot in Duke’s 84-72 win over Syracuse. The only place where Williamson showed any sign of rust was at the foul line, where he shot just 2-for-7 on the night.

Next up for he and the Blue Devils is a matchup with North Carolina, which swept the regular season series. Williamson played a total of 33 seconds on those games due to the knee injury he suffered in the first meeting. Now he’s healthy, and has a stronger pair of shoes to play in as well.

THURSDAY’S BUBBLE BANTER

TEAM OF THE DAY: West Virginia

There’s no sugarcoating the fact that West Virginia’s 2018-19 season has been a disappointment, as Bob Huggins’ team entered the Big 12 tournament with a 12-19 record. But conference tournaments can give teams a shot at redemption, and the Mountaineers are now in the Big 12 semifinals after knocking off No. 7 Texas Tech Thursday night, 79-74.

Emmitt Matthews Jr. scored a career-high 28 points while also grabbing eight rebounds, with Jordan McCabe adding 13 points, eight assists, four rebounds and four steals. Next up for West Virginia is Kansas, and while the challenge will be a difficult one it would be foolish to rule out the Mountaineers. And their run is one that has the attention of bubble teams across the country, with those programs hoping that West Virginia does not end up being a “bid thief.”

ONIONS OF THE DAY: Terence Mann, Florida State

Of the four quarterfinals in the ACC only one went down to the wire, with 4-seed Florida State and 5-seed Virginia Tech needing five additional minutes to determine the winner. The Seminoles advanced, winning 65-63 with Terence Mann’s floater with 1.8 seconds remaining being the difference. Florida State advanced to face top-seed Virginia Friday night in the first ACC semifinal.

And an honorable mention goes to Long Beach State’s Jordan Roberts, whose jumper with three-tenths of a second remaining gave the 49ers the 68-66 win over Hawaii in a Big West quarterfinal matchup.

THURSDAY’S WINNERS

Ohio State: One of the biggest “bubble games” of the day was the Big Ten second round matchup between 8-seed Ohio State and 9-seed Indiana, with the winner getting a shot at top-seed Michigan State on Friday. Chris Holtmann’s Buckeyes got the job done, winning 79-75 with Keyshawn Woods (18 points, seven rebounds), Kaleb Wesson (17 points, 13 rebounds) and C.J. Jackson (17 points, five rebounds and five assists) leading the way. Of the two teams the Buckeyes appeared to be in a better spot with regards to the NCAA tournament, and Thursday’s result does nothing to hurt Ohio State’s case for inclusion.

Xavier: The Musketeers were also locked in a bubble struggle of sorts, with Big East quarterfinal opponent Creighton also in need of a win. Travis Steele’s team beat the Bluejays by a 63-61 final score, with Zach Hankins’ tip-in with 27.8 seconds remaining being the difference. Xavier’s veteran transfers made big plays late, with Hankins’ basket being followed by a Kyle Castlin block of a Ty-Shon Alexander three-point attempt in the game’s final seconds. How close Xavier is to an NCAA tournament bid is up for debate, but they’ll have another opportunity to impress the selection committee with Big East champion Villanova being the opponent Friday night.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide helped their case for an NCAA tournament bid with a 62-57 win over Ole Miss Thursday afternoon in Nashville. Tevin Mack accounted for 21 points and six rebounds off the bench, and Donta Hall led a dominant effort on the glass with a game-high 15 rebounds. Alabama outscored Ole Miss 38-19 in the second half, and the reward is a matchup with 2-seed Kentucky on Friday. Avery Johnson’s team will see Kentucky’s full rotation, as Reid Travis (knee) has been cleared to play.

North Carolina: In the first quarterfinal of Thursday’s evening session at the ACC tournament, 2-seed North Carolina advanced with an 83-70 win over 7-seed Louisville. Luke Maye and Coby White scored 19 points apiece to lead the way, with the latter also dishing out six assists and committing just one turnover. While much has been made about the case for a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament that Duke can make now that Zion Williamson is back, North Carolina can also strengthen its argument.

UNC won both meetings with Duke, but with Williamson playing 33 seconds total in those games some may look to attach an asterisk to the results as if it is North Carolina’s fault that he couldn’t play. Friday night North Carolina and Duke meet again, and a win for Roy Williams’ team would likely lock up a 1-seed regardless of what happens Saturday night.

Florida: The Gators have been inconsistent for much of this season, hence their being a bubble team in the eyes of many. Florida took care of business Thursday afternoon, eliminating Arkansas (66-50) to advance to the SEC quarterfinals. Mike White’s team, which was led by Keyontae Johnson (20 points, 12 rebounds) will face LSU for the third time this season Friday afternoon.

The Tigers, outright SEC regular season champions, don’t lack for talent but given everything that’s gone on around that program recently maybe they’re vulnerable. Florida don’t lack for talent, but they haven’t been able to put it all together. Friday would be a good time to change that.

The Pac-12 office: The Pac-12 has been an absolute mess this season, so it would have been fitting for either regular season champion Washington or runner-up Arizona State — the league’s best bets for an at-large bid — to get knocked off Thursday in Las Vegas. That didn’t happen, with the Huskies escaping USC’s upset bid in the first game of the day and the Sun Devils handling UCLA in the first game fo the evening session.

Joining those two teams in the semifinals are 5-seed Colorado and 6-seed Oregon, arguably the two hottest teams in the Pac-12. Last month there were serious conversations as to whether the Pac-12 would be a one-bid league. Should Colorado or Oregon win the automatic bid, there’s a chance that the conference winds up with three bids come Selection Sunday.

THURSDAY’S LOSERS

TCU: The good news for the Horned Frogs is that they avoided losing their Big 12 tournament opener Wednesday night. The bad news: Jamie Dixon’s team missed on its opportunity to (most likely) lock up an NCAA tournament bid, as TCU lost to top-seed Kansas State by a 70-61 final score. Not counting Thursday’s results TCU was ranked 48th in the NET, and the team is now 9-13 in games against Quadrant 1/2 opposition. Is TCU’s resume good enough as is? It may be given some of the other profiles up for debate, but the Horned Frogs would have slept much better had they pulled off the upset.

Texas: There were some who believed that a win over Kansas would be just what the Longhorns needed to seal a tournament bid. Shaka Smart’s team failed to do so, losing to the Jayhawks by a 65-57 final score to fall to 16-16 on the season. No .500 team has even received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, so at this point the Longhorns will have to hope that its strength of schedule can sway the selection committee.

What makes matters even worse for Texas is the fact that freshman big man Jaxson Hayes suffered a left knee injury late in the second half of Thursday’s loss. Hayes’ health is obviously the most important thing here. But it also gives the committee another question to ponder, especially if the diagnosis isn’t a good one.

Indiana: As noted above the matchup between the Hoosiers and Ohio State was a big one, and with its loss Archie Miller’s team has to play the waiting game. Indiana has some good wins on its resume, including a sweep of Michigan State, but that 1-12 stretch earlier this season could be too much to overcome. The Hoosiers, ranked 51st in the NET, are 8-15 in Quadrant 1/2 games. Three of those wins were earned on the road: Michigan State, Penn State and Illinois. NCAA or NIT? We’ll find out Sunday. But until then Indiana can only sit at home and root for “chalk” in the conference tournaments that are still being played.

Creighton: The Bluejays will also have to endure the uncomfortable wait thanks to their Big East quarterfinal loss to Xavier. Ranked 54th in the NET, Greg McDermott’s team is now 9-14 in Quadrant 1/2 games with its best win being a 66-60 win at Marquette back on March 3. Creighton has as many Quadrant 1/2 wins as Ohio State, but the Bluejays won’t have the opportunity to add another to the ledger thanks to Thursday’s loss to Xavier.

St. John’s: Say this much for Indiana, which fought back to erase a 20-point deficit before losing, and Creighton: at least those teams competed. St. John’s, on the other hand, fell behind Marquette early and did not appear all that interested in fighting back as it lost by an 86-54 final score. And after the game Chris Mullin declined on the opportunity to politic on behalf of his team.

The Red Storm can point to home wins over Villanova and Marquette, but this is also a team that lost both regular season meetings to DePaul (they beat DePaul Wednesday night) and did not play the toughest of non-conference slates either. St. John’s will likely get into the field thanks to the wins over the Big East’s two best teams, but Shamorie Ponds and company may be headed to Dayton.

Maryland: Mark Turgeon’s team has struggled with two things for much of this season: slow starts and turnovers. It all went wrong Thursday, as Maryland was bounced from the Big Ten tournament by Nebraska, 69-61. Maryland is obviously headed to the NCAA tournament and will most likely wear its home uniforms for the opener. But the Terrapins may not be there too long based upon how they played in Chicago and the program’s recent history in postseason play. The last time Maryland wasn’t one and done in either the Big Ten or NCAA tournament: March 2016.

FINAL THOUGHT

With Duke’s Zion Williamson making his return to game action Thursday, the debate of whether or not he should be playing once again came up. Of course there are those who believe that Williamson should play, out of loyalty to his teammates and coaches. And there are those who were (and still are) of the opinion that he would be best served to sit in preparation for his likely being selected with the first overall pick in June’s NBA draft (if he decides to forego his final three years of eligibility).

Everyone is entitled to their opinion on the matter, but only one truly holds any weight: Zion’s. Had Williamson decided that, in the aftermath of his injury, the risk was too much and he wanted to protect himself from a future earnings standpoint that would have been fine. Williamson’s decision to play because, as he stated in his postgame interview on ESPN, of his love for his teammates is perfectly fine as well.

The only “concern” should be whether or not Williamson — or any other athlete in a similar position — is able to make that decision on their own terms.

Alabama coach Nate Oats gets new 6-year, $30 million deal

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama coach Nate Oats has agreed to a new six-year, $30 million contract amid the program’s best regular season in decades.

Oats will average $5 million plus incentives over the deal running through the 2028-29 season under a deal approved by the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees Compensation Committee.

It makes him the fourth-highest paid basketball coach in the Southeastern Conference and among the Top 10 nationally, athletic director Greg Byrne said.

Oats, who is in his fourth season, will make $4.5 million for the first year with $200,000 annual raises. The fourth-ranked Crimson Tide (19-3, 9-0 SEC) has the team’s highest ranking this deep into a season since 1976-77.

“I am honored and humbled to receive a contract extension from the University of Alabama,” Oats said in a statement. “As I have said many times, my family and I love this community, the city of Tuscaloosa and the university.

“I am incredibly proud of what we have been able to build during our time at UA which is a direct reflection of the student-athletes, coaches and staff who have all played a big part in our success. I am excited for what’s happening in the future of our program and the direction we are heading.”

Alabama has gone 80-39 under Oats, winning the 2021 SEC regular season and tournament championships.

“Coach Oats has done an outstanding job leading our men’s basketball program, and we want him to continue doing so for many years to come,” Byrne said in a statement. “He and his staff have lifted the program back to national prominence and built a product that is exciting to be a part of for our team and for our fans.

“We were confident Nate was going to be an outstanding coach for us when we hired him, and he is not only that, but also a great leader of our young men.”

The new contract comes nearly three weeks after Alabama basketball player Darius Miles and another man were charged with capital murder following a fatal shooting near campus. Miles, a reserve forward, was removed from the team and suspended from the university following his arrest.

Duke women’s coach Kara Lawson says men’s ball used vs. FSU

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Duke coach Kara Lawson said her team played with a men’s basketball for the first half of a loss to Florida Stated.

The 16th-ranked Blue Devils lost to the Seminoles 70-57 in Tallahassee, Florida – the team’s second Atlantic Coast Conference loss of the season.

After her team beat Pittsburgh 53-44 , Lawson ended her news conference by speaking animatedly.

“This would never happen in a men’s game. This would never happen. It’s embarrassing for our sport,” she said.

The circumference of a women’s ball is about an inch smaller than a men’s ball and it is typically 2 ounces lighter. While it may not seem like a lot, that’s a big difference.

Lawson said throughout the first half, Duke players were “complaining about the ball.” The Blue Devils were 7 for 34 from the field in the opening 20 minutes of that game. They were 12 for 38 in the second half. Florida State made 10 of its 30 shots in the first two quarters and 14 of 31 in the second half.

“To have a game that, at the end of the season, could be the difference between a seed, between a title, my players don’t deserve that and neither do their players,” Lawson said. “It’s a complete failure. And you can figure out who the people I’m talking about that failed the sport and our players and both teams.”

Lawson said assistant coach Winston Gandy went to the scorer’s table at the half to check on the ball when he realized what the problem was. She said the game officials changed the ball to start the second half.

“We have concluded through our investigation that it was a men’s ball,” Lawson said. “The conference and Florida State is saying that it wasn’t.”

The ACC said it did a comprehensive review talking with game officials, administrators, the table crew and both schools.

“Following the thorough and objective review process, there was no evidence found to support the claim,” the conference said in a statement. “Per NCAA playing rules, there is no appeal or protest process.”

The ACC has instituted a procedural change that the game ball will be brought to the pregame meeting with the captains for approval.

“It’s very frustrating that (the game) … was not treated with the utmost respect that players on both teams deserve,” she said.

This wasn’t the first time this has happened in women’s basketball. In 2017, the College of Charleston played home games and practiced with men’s balls for most of its season until the error was was discovered.

“Let me be clear: Florida State beat us. They beat us playing with a men’s ball in the first half and a women’s ball in the second half. But I can’t say if we’d have played with a women’s ball in the first half and the second half that we would have won. But they can’t say that either,” Lawson said.

No. 1 South Carolina wins 28th straight 87-69 over ‘Cats

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — Dawn Staley’s pleased South Carolina had made its once-lopsided series with UConn more competitive the past few years.

She hopes her top-ranked team can accomplish another milestone when the teams meet for a top-five showdown on Sunday.

“It still stands true that we haven’t won up there,” Staley said.

Aliyah Boston had 14 points and 14 rebounds as South Carolina prepared for the top-five showdown with an 87-69 victory over Kentucky on Thursday night.

The Gamecocks (10-0 Southeastern Conference) improved to 22-0 and won their 28th straight, a run that included a 64-49 victory over the Huskies in Minneapolis last April to win the national championship.

Staley had lost her first seven games as South Carolina coach against UConn. The Gamecocks have won three of the past four matchups since.

“This particular class committed to each other,” Staley said. “When you have that type of commitment and you just want to win, you find yourself winning some games that you haven’t won before.”

Against Kentucky, reigning AP player of the year Boston extended her school mark with her 75th career double-double and moved within 11 of the SEC record of 86 games with a double-double held by LSU great Sylvia Fowles.

Things weren’t perfect for South Carolina, which fell behind early, then had its 15-point halftime lead cut to 54-48 midway through the third quarter.

Still, its dominant inside game – South Carolina outscored the Wildcats 62-14 in the paint – was more than enough to shut down Kentucky (10-12, 2-8), the last team to defeat the defending national champions at the SEC Tournament last March.

The Wildcats went on top 16-15 after a pair of baskets by Adebola Adeyeye.

That’s when South Carolina, fueled by its bench, took control with a 17-2 run. Ashlyn Watkins had three inside shots and Kamilla Cardoso scored four points during the surge.

The Wildcats used a 13-4 burst to start the third quarter to give South Carolina a few uncomfortable moments. But the Gamecocks got going once more with an 11-0 run to extend their margin.

Cardoso, the 6-foot-7 reserve, had 14 points and five of South Carolina’s 14 blocks. Defensive ace Brea Beal had 10 including both of the Gamecocks’ 3-pointers.

Beal thought the team held together well to blunt Kentucky’s runs and regain control. “I think it’s our mental aspect of the game and us believing in each other,” she said.

Robyn Benton had 24 points to lead Kentucky, which has lost three of its past four games.

Wildcats coach Kyra Elzy said South Carolina is difficult to match up with because of its deep bench. “They have depth after depth after depth,” she said. “They keep coming.”

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: The Wildcats are the not the same team that featured two-time SEC player of the year Rhyne Howard the past few seasons. They have 10 newcomers – and six freshmen – who are still learning how to play against the SEC’s top teams like South Carolina.

South Carolina: Forgive the Gamecocks if their focus wasn’t fully on this one at first with a big week ahead. In an eight-game span, South Carolina will face No. 5 UConn and No. 3 LSU, a pair of high-profile games could expose any flaw – or show how powerful the Gamecocks are in chasing a second straight NCAA crown.

UCONN KARMA

South Carolina has opened 22-0 twice under coach Dawn Staley, in 2014-15 and the following year. Both runs ended against UConn. Next up for Gamecocks are the Huskies, although South Carolina has won three of the past four games over UConn including last April’s 64-49 victory to win the NCAA Tournament title.

UP NEXT

Kentucky returns home to face Alabama on Feb. 9.

South Carolina heads to No. 5 UConn on Sunday.

Miles, Citron lead No. 9 Irish past Boston College 72-59

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BOSTON — Olivia Miles and Sonia Citron had already scored 10 straight points to put away Boston College when they turned their attention to other things.

“I told Sonia I needed two more assists for the double-double. And she was like, `All right, I’ve got you,”‘ Miles said after helping No. 9 Notre Dame beat BC 72-59 on Thursday night.

“That’s just kind of our communication on the court,” said Miles, who found Citron for baskets on the next two Irish possessions to complete a 14-0 run – with all 14 points from Miles and Citron. “We just really play off each other really well.

Miles scored 22 points with 10 assists and eight rebounds, and Citron scored 23 for the Irish (18-2, 9-1 Atlantic Coast Conference).

Maria Gakdeng scored 16 points, T’Yana Todd had 13 and Andrea Daly scored 10 with eight rebounds for BC (14-11, 4-8). The Irish beat BC at home 85-48 on New Year’s Day but hadn’t won in Chestnut Hill since 2019.

“This is such a tough place to play,” said Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey, whose team faces No. 16 Duke next. “We’ll celebrate it until about 12:30, and then we’ve got film. Tomorrow we start focusing on Duke.”

BC came within five points, 55-50, before the Irish ran off 14 points in a row – nine by Citron, and five by Miles. That put an end to what had been a back-and-forth game in which the Irish opened big leads and then frittered them away.

“I always feel like we’re close,” BC coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee said. “They’re young; I think consistency comes with experience.

“I think it’s a big improvement from the first time we played Notre Dame,” she said. “I still want to see more, and I want to see us grow up as fast as humanly possible because I think we do have a dangerous team when we going well.”

Notre Dame led by 11 in the first quarter and held a 38-30 lead with two minutes gone in the third. BC scored 13 of the next 18 points, capitalizing on back-to-back Irish turnovers to tie it 43-all with three minutes left in the quarter.

But Natalija Marshall put back the rebound of her own miss, Miles drove to the basket, Maddy Westbeld added a pair of baskets and then Miles stole the ball and found Citron on the fast break to make it 53-43.

BIG PICTURE

Notre Dame bounced back from their first league loss of the season, a 69-65 defeat at North Carolina State on Sunday. Now they face No. 16 Duke.

The Eagles, who beat Pittsburgh on Sunday to snap a five-game losing streak, were looking for their second victory over a Top 25 team this season, having also beaten then-No. 10 N.C. State on Jan. 5.

UP NEXT

Notre Dame: Hosts No. 16 Duke on Sunday.

Boston College: Visits Syracuse on Sunday.

No. 16 Xavier beats No. 17 Providence 85-83 in OT thriller

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CINCINNATI — Jack Nunge had 23 points and 14 rebounds as No. 16 Xavier held off No. 17 Providence 85-83 in an overtime thriller Wednesday night.

Colby Jones and Souley Boum each scored 20 for the Musketeers, who won a first-place showdown in the Big East without injured forward Zach Freemantle.

Noah Locke had 22 points and Ed Croswell added 21 for Providence (17-6, 9-3), which had beaten Xavier three straight times.

A layup by Boum put the Musketeers (18-5, 10-2) ahead 82-79 with 51 seconds remaining in overtime. A turnover by the Musketeers led to a layup by Devin Carter that cut Xavier’s lead to one with 24 seconds left.

Boum hit one of two free throws, and Jared Bynum’s 3-point attempt from the left corner rimmed out at the buzzer as the Musketeers held on.

Xavier played its first game without Freemantle, the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer. He is expected to miss four weeks with a left foot injury, the same foot that required surgery in 2021.

Jerome Hunter, who has excelled off the bench for the Musketeers, made his first start of the season and scored nine points with eight rebounds. Xavier had used the same starting lineup in each of its previous 11 Big East games.

Things started well for the Musketeers. who went on a 12-1 run to build a 25-11 lead.

With Boum on the bench with two fouls, the Musketeers didn’t have a field goal in the final 4:18 of the first half and the Friars pulled to 39-35 at halftime.

Providence outscored Xavier 8-2 to start the second half and took its first lead, 43-41, with 17:41 left.

There was a frantic finish to the second half, with Adam Kunkel’s 3-pointer putting Xavier ahead 76-73 with 55 seconds left. But then Bynum banked in a tying 3 and Boum missed two long shots to send the game to overtime.

BIG PICTURE

Providence: The Friars, who won their first Big East regular-season title last year, entered the night tied atop the conference standings with Xavier and No. 14 Marquette, which hosted Villanova later. Providence was picked fifth in the preseason.

Xavier: Hunter, who averages 14 minutes, left with three minutes remaining in OT with an apparent cramp in his right leg. With Freemantle out, Hunter played 36 minutes.

UP NEXT

Providence: Hosts last-place Georgetown on Wednesday.

Xavier: Will host St. John’s on Saturday.