Introducing Cinderella: Abilene Christian earns first-ever NCAA bid

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Gardner-Webb won’t be the only school making its NCAA Division I tournament debut, as Abilene Christian punched its ticket with a 77-60 win over New Orleans in the Southland Conference tournament title game Saturday night. Senior forward Jaren Lewis led the way with 20 points, six rebounds and three steals, but it’s worth noting that Abilene Christian pulled away from UNO while its leading scorer was on the bench with four fouls.

Senior guard Jaylen Franklin added 16 points and six assists, and forwards Hayden Farquhar and Joe Pleasant scored 14 points apiece while also combining to grab 14 rebounds. Abilene Christian shot better than 56% from the field Saturday night, and defensively the Wildcats forced New Orleans into 20 turnovers.

Joe Golding’s program, which won no more than 13 games in any of its first four years back in the Southland (as a provisional Division I member), has won a total of 43 games over the last two seasons. And now the Wildcats will be a part of of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament for the first time.

CONFERENCE: Southland

COACH: Joe Golding

RECORD: 27-6 (14-4 Southland)

RATINGS:

  • KENPOM: 151
  • NET: 155

PROJECTED SEED: Abilene Christian may land on the 16 line despite the impressive overall record. For selection purposes the team is 23-6 (only games vs. Division I opponents are counted), and it’s ranked 342nd in strength of schedule. The Wildcats played a total of five games against teams in the first three quadrants, going 2-3.

NAMES YOU NEED TO KNOW: Seniors Jaren Lewis and Jaylen Franklin are two names to know, with the former being a second team All-Southland selection and the latter earning third team all-conference and all-defensive team honors. The 6-foot-6 Lewis entered Saturday averaging 13.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game, with Franklin accounting for 10.0 points, 4.8 assists and 3.8 rebounds per. Another upperclassman who’s figured prominently in the team’s success is junior guard Payten Ricks, an honorable mention All-Southland pick who’s averaging 11.8 points and 2.8 rebounds per game.

BIG WINS, BAD LOSSES: All five of Abilene Christian’s games against Quadrant 1/2/3 teams were played on the road, with wins over Pacific and Lamar and losses to Texas Tech, Pepperdine and Sam Houston State. The Wildcats’ worst defeat: a one-point loss at Stephen F. Austin back on January 23.

STATS YOU NEED TO KNOW: Abilene Christian is allowing just 63.2 points per game, a figure that ranks 17th nationally. The Wildcats are also ranked seventh in steals per game (8.6) and 17th in turnover margin (plus-4.5). Offensively this is a team that is shooting 38.7% from three on the season, and they’re shooting 47.1% from the field overall.

HOW DO I KNOW YOU?: You may not know a great deal about Abilene Christian unless you hail from Texas. But there are some recognizable individuals who spent some time on the campus before going on to make a name for themselves. Professional boxer and actor Randall “Tex” Cobb briefly attended the school before leaving to take up karate in his first foray into combat sports, and former Dallas Cowboy Clint Longley played quarterback at ACU.

Also, Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard earned his master’s degree in education from Abilene Christian.

Boum, Jones lead No. 13 Xavier over No. 19 UConn, 82-79

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STORRS, Conn. – Souley Boum scored 21 points, Colby Jones added 20 and No. 13 Xavier went on the road and held off No. 19 Connecticut 82-79 Wednesday night.

The win was the 13th in 14 games for the Musketeers (17-4, 9-1 Big East) and it gave them a season sweep over the struggling Huskies (16-6, 5-6).

Jack Nunge had 12 points and Jerome Hunter added 11 for Xavier, which led by 17 in the first half and 39-24 at halftime.

Jordan Hawkins scored 26 of his 28 points in the second half for UConn, leading a comeback that fell just short.

Tristen Newton added 23 points for the Huskies, who won their first 14 games this season but have dropped six of eight since.

The Musketeers never trailed but had to withstand UConn runs that cut the lead to a single point four times in the second half.

A three-point play from Hawkins made it 78-77 with 2:40 left. But a second-chance layup from Nunge put the lead at 80-77 just over a minute later.

Newton was fouled with two seconds left by Desmond Claude, but his apparent attempt to miss his second free throw went into the basket.

Boum then hit two free throws at the other end, and Newton’s final attempt from just beyond halfcourt was well short.

Xavier jumped out to a 9-0 lead as UConn missed its first nine shots.

A 3-pointer from Zach Freemantle gave the Musketeers their first double-digit lead at 20-9, and another from Jones pushed it to 35-18.

BIG PICTURE

Xavier: The Musketeers lead the Big East, and the win over UConn was their ninth conference victory this season, eclipsing their total from last season.

UConn: The Huskies came in with a 17-game winning streak at Gampel Pavilion dating to February 2021. They fell to 1-4 against the four teams in front of them in the Big East standings. The lone win came at Gampel against Creighton.

UP NEXT

Xavier: The Musketeers continue their road trip with a visit to Creighton on Saturday.

UConn: Doesn’t play again until next Tuesday, when the Huskies visit DePaul.

No. 12 Iowa State holds on to beat No. 5 Kansas State 80-76

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AMES, Iowa – Jaren Holmes matched his season high with 23 points as No. 12 Iowa State held on to beat No. 5 Kansas State 80-76 on Tuesday night.

The Cyclones (15-4, 6-2 Big 12) moved into a three-way tie atop the conference standings with the Wildcats and Texas.

Gabe Kalscheur added 19 points for Iowa State. Osun Osunniyi finished with 16.

Markquis Nowell led Kansas State (17-3, 6-2) with 23 points.

A 3-pointer from Holmes gave Iowa State a 59-49 advantage with 8:12 remaining. Kansas State responded with a 10-1 run to trim the margin to 60-59.

Caleb Grill’s 3-pointer steadied the Cyclones and pushed the lead back to 63-59 with five minutes left.

Free throws by Osunniyi, Grill and Holmes sealed the victory in the final 24 seconds.

The first half featured eight lead changes and ended with Kansas State up 33-31.

A 3-pointer by Kalscheur ignited an early 9-0 run for the Cyclones and helped them build a 19-14 lead. Iowa State made just one of nine 3-point tries in the first 20 minutes.

BIG PICTURE

Kansas State was trying to extend its best start to a season since 1961-62.

Iowa State improved to 11-0 at home. The Cyclones have not lost back-to-back games this season.

UP NEXT

Kansas State hosts Florida on Saturday as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

Iowa State travels to Missouri on Saturday.

Georgetown snaps 29-game conference losing streak

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WASHINGTON – Primo Spears scored 21 points and Georgetown snapped a 29-game conference losing streak with an 81-76 victory over DePaul on Tuesday night.

Georgetown (6-15, 1-9) won its first Big East game since March 13, 2021, ending the longest skid in the history of the conference. The Hoyas also ended a 10-game losing streak this season.

Spears also contributed six assists for the Hoyas. Akok Akok scored 12 points and added six rebounds and four blocks and Brandon Murray recorded 12 points.

Umoja Gibson led the Blue Demons (9-12, 3-7) in scoring, finishing with 24 points, four assists and three steals. Javan Johnson added 13 points.

Spears scored nine points in the first half and Georgetown went into the break trailing 37-36. Georgetown used a 10-0 run in the second half to build a 12-point lead at 75-63 with 1:39 remaining.

Nance scores 21 as North Carolina survives Syracuse, 72-68

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Pete Nance scored 21 points, capped by a dunk with 19 seconds left that put North Carolina in front for good as the Tar Heels pulled out a hard-fought, 72-68 battle with Syracuse on Tuesday night.

Joe Girard hit from beyond the arc to put Syracuse up, 68-66 with 1:28 left, but after Nance hit the first of two free throws to get North Carolina within one, he missed the second free throw and in the scramble to gather in the rebound, the ball caromed toward the end line and Girard dove to save it. Instead, he flicked the ball right to Nance, who dunked for the lead.

Judah Mintz tried to drive the lane for a go-ahead layup but was called for an offensive foul that was upgraded to a flagrant foul. North Carolina took possession and Caleb Love converted three straight free throws to put the game away.

Armando Bacot scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds with four assists for North Carolina (15-6, 7-3 Atlantic Coast Conference). Love finished with 15 points and five assists.

Girard hit 4 of 9 from beyond the arc and finished with 18 points to lead Syracuse (13-8, 6-4). Mintz scored 17 points and had three steals and Chris Bell hit 3 of 5 from deep and finished with 15 points.

North Carolina has a week off before playing host to Pitt on Feb. 1. Syracuse plays at Virginia Tech on Saturday.

Green Bay fires Will Ryan after 11th straight loss

Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports
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GREEN BAY, Wis. — Green Bay fired Will Ryan three days after the Phoenix suffered their 11th consecutive loss.

Ryan, the son of former Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, posted a 15-61 record in 2 1/2 seasons. Freddie Owens, who had been an assistant coach on Ryan’s staff, will be interim head coach for the rest of the season.

“UW-Green Bay is committed to continuing its legacy as an outstanding Division I athletics program in the future, and Phoenix men’s basketball needs to help lead the way as we work to elevate all of our programs and be a shining light for this region and beyond,” athletic director Josh Moon said in a news release announcing the move.

Moon thanked Ryan and his family for their contributions to the program and said that “we wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”

Stadium first reported Ryan’s firing.

Green Bay dropped to 2-19 overall and 1-9 in the Horizon League with a 72-38 home loss to Robert Morris.

Ryan was hired by Green Bay after going 14-13 in his lone season as the head coach at Division II program Wheeling (West Virginia). Green Bay went 8-17 in Ryan’s debut season and finished 5-25 last year.

Ryan had taken over for Linc Darner, who went 92-80 and posted a winning record in four of his five seasons.