Collins provides spark, Michigan beats Colorado State 75-63

Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS — Freshman Frankie Collins made a starting debut that Michigan fans won’t soon forget.

With starting point guard DeVante’ Jones stuck on campus in the concussion protocol and the Wolverines struggling with turnovers, Collins scored 14 points, grabbed six rebounds and helped 11th-seeded Michigan overcome a shaky start to beat sixth-seeded Colorado State 75-63 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday.

“I’ve always been impressed with his skill set and I think his style fits our style of play,” coach Juwan Howard said.

Michigan (18-14), after a turbulent journey to the field of 68, now faces either third-seeded Tennessee or 14th-seeded Longwood in the second round of the South Region.

Looking shaky without Jones, Michigan committed nine turnovers in the first 12 1/2 minutes and trailed 28-13. Out of options, Howard called on Collins, who averaged less than 10 minutes per game, to turn things around. He went 6 of 7 from the field, produced season bests in points and rebounds and had just one turnover in 31 minutes.

“They just told me to be Frankie and I felt great going into the game,” Collins said. “It’s just basketball. I’ve been practicing and playing basketball my whole life, so it’s just going out there doing the things I’ve been working on my whole life.”

Big man Hunter Dickinson led Michigan with 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting.

After reaching last year’s regional semifinals, the Wolverines squeaked into this year’s tournament thanks largely to their stout schedule. Howard was suspended for the final five regular-season games for hitting a Wisconsin assistant in the face during a postgame handshake line, and Michigan hasn’t won two straight games in more than a month.

Dischon Thomas scored 15 points on 5-of-7 3-point shooting for Colorado State (25-6), and Mountain West Conference player of the year David Roddy had 13 points and six rebounds.

But the Rams could not take advantage of the highest seed in school history, the momentum from nine wins in their previous 11 games or the big, early lead.

“Disappointed, obviously,” Rams coach Niko Medved said. “I thought the game was in the balance. We had our chances. Michigan was the better team today, clearly in the second half.”

Collins had the biggest impact.

He scored seven straight to cut the 15-point deficit to eight and helped Michigan close within 36-29 at the half.

Collins continued the charge early in the second half, capping a 6-0 spurt with a steal and dunk to make it 38-35. And when Caleb Houstan made back-to-back 3s midway through the half, Michigan led 53-49.

The Wolverines never trailed again, closing it out at the free-throw line.

BIG PICTURE

Michigan: A year ago, the Wolverines won the Big Ten regular-season crown and came within one win of reaching the Final Four. Most of those players opted to return to chase Michigan’s second national title. After teetering early, the Wolverines gave themselves a chance – especially if Jones returns this weekend.

Colorado State: The Rams had all five starters return from last season’s third-place NIT squad. They’re not likely to be as fortunate next fall. While this was likely Medved’s best coaching job, it wasn’t the way the Rams anticipated heading home.

STAT PACK

Michigan: Eli Brooks had 16 points, seven rebounds and six assists. .. Houstan scored 13 points. … The Wolverines had a 36-25 rebounding advantage and outscored Colorado State 34-16 in the paint.

Colorado State: James Moore had 10 points. … Isaiah Stevens had eight points and four assists before fouling out. … The Rams were 12 of 35 on 3s but went 4 of 15 in the second half when they shot 29% from the field. … Colorado State finished the season with two straight losses.

HE SAID IT

“If I remember, coach (Steve) Fisher started five freshmen,” Howard said when asked about starting three freshmen, referring to his time with the Wolverines’ famed Fab Five.

UP NEXT

Michigan: Seeks a fifth straight Sweet 16 appearance.

Colorado State: Will use this offseason to regroup and reload.

Bradley, Aztecs hand No. 20 Colorado State first loss, 79-49

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN DIEGO – San Diego State had just blown out previously undefeated No. 20 Colorado State when coach Brian Dutcher said the Aztecs are still trying to find their rhythm and that their best basketball is still ahead.

That’s a scary thought, especially if the Aztecs continue to play defense like they did Saturday.

Matt Bradley scored 26 points and the short-handed Aztecs raced past the Rams 79-49 in a game that wasn’t supposed to be played until March 1. Chad Baker-Mazara added 14 points for SDSU, (10-3, 2-0 Mountain West), which outscored the Rams 43-17 in the second half for its largest margin of victory ever against a ranked team.

Colorado State had been one of three undefeated teams left in Division I coming into Saturday. But the Rams were held to just 27.9% shooting from the field and were outrebounded 38-21. The Aztecs also blocked eight of the Rams’ shots.

“It’s just our culture,” Dutcher said. “We just say from Day 1 when you get here, `You’re going to defend and rebound if you’re going to play at San Diego State.’ That’s it. You have to defend and rebound. And we don’t use being short-handed as an excuse. I tell them, `I never worry about who I don’t have. I’ve just got to get the ones I do have ready to play.”‘

Isaiah Stevens had 19 and David Roddy 17 for Colorado State.

Lamont Butler, who returned from a broken wrist, had 11 for SDSU while Aguek Arop and Keshad Johnson had 10 apiece.

“When we score like that, I mean it is hard to beat us,” Butler said. “Every game we’re going to come out with a high defensive mentality. It’s what we do. It’s our culture. If we play together on the offensive end, it’s going to be hard to beat us, for sure.”

The Aztecs were scheduled to play Nevada on Saturday but the game was postponed due to COVID-19 issues with the Wolf Pack. The Rams (11-1, 1-1) were supposed to have played at Boise State on Friday night, but that game also was postponed due to COVID-19 concerns. The Mountain West adjusted the schedule on Wednesday and sent the Rams to San Diego.

Bradley, a senior transfer from California, came on strong late in the first half and stayed hot in the second half in his highest-scoring game of the season. He hit consecutive 3-pointers to help the Aztecs extend a four-point halftime lead to 40-34, and just a few minutes later made consecutive turnaround jumpers to push the lead to 49-36.

“Matt Bradley was sensational,” Dutcher said. “He got to his spot and he was shooting contested shots over people, foul line, 3-pointers, mid-post. He was just going to work.”

Bradley hit a 3-pointer to give SDSU a 19-12 lead with just more than nine minutes left in the first half. The Rams came back to tie it several times, the last at 30-30 on two free throws by Roddy with 2:03 left. Bradley then hit a jumper to put the Aztecs ahead and then had a layup right before the buzzer to give him 14 points at the break.

Baker-Mazara scored seven straight points late in the game – on consecutive dunks and then a 3-pointer. The first dunk was set up when Butler came flying in to block a 3-pointer by John Tonje and the second one came after Baker-Mazara’s steal.

BIG PICTURE

Colorado State: The Rams appeared to be at close to full strength. They have been ranked in the AP Top 25 for four straight weeks, a first in school history. The last time they were in the AP poll was late December 2014.

San Diego State: Butler returned after missing five games with a broken left wrist. But Adam Seiko and Joshua Tomaic, regulars in the rotation, were among several members of the SDSU program who missed the game due to the COVID-19 protocol (including walk-ons and managers).

“Coach always says, regardless of who’s here, as long as we’ve got five dudes we’re going to get the job done,” Bradley said. “We had more than five, and with the group we had, we definitely dialed in. We knew we were counted out in this game and we trusted each other and we counted on each other and competed. I’m really happy for our guys.”

UP NEXT

Colorado State: Hosts Utah State on Wednesday.

San Diego State: At Wyoming on Wednesday.

Mississippi State in NIT final after 84-62 win over Louisiana Tech

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FRISCO, Texas – D.J. Stewart Jr. got off to such a fast start that Mississippi State didn’t need another last-second shot to get to the NIT championship game.

Iverson Molinar scored 25 points and Stewart had 23, with the guards combining for nine 3-pointers, as Mississippi State led throughout to beat Louisiana Tech 84-62 on Saturday in a semifinal.

Two days after hitting the game-winning 3 in the closing seconds of the quarterfinal round to beat Richmond, Stewart made his first five shots, including all four of his made 3s in the game matching No. 4-seeded Bulldogs.

“That really gave us a lift, gave our guys a lot of confidence,” coach Ben Howland said.

Mississippi State (18-14) scored the game’s first 11 points. Molinar, who finished with five 3s, hit from long range on the Bulldogs’ first shot before Stewart had a run of 14 consecutive points for an early 17-5 lead.

“It kind of got us in a lead … the way the game was going, it gave us momentum,” Molinar said.

Big freshman Kenneth Lofton Jr. had 20 points and 10 rebounds for Louisiana Tech (23-8), which opened the NIT with a win over another Southeastern Conference team, No. 1 seed Ole Miss. Kalob Ledoux had 11 points and Jacolby Pemberton 10.

“We played a very good team in Mississippi State today, and that very good team played extremely well,” Louisiana Tech coach Eric Konkol said. “We were playing from behind from the very beginning. I thought our team exerted a lot of effort to try to get back in.”

Derek Fountain added 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting for Mississippi State, which plays Memphis on Sunday in its first NIT title game. Louisiana Tech was in its first NIT semifinal since 1986, and has never gotten further.

Stewart picked up where he left off after pushing Mississippi State over Richmond 68-67, when his game-winning 3 was the last of 16 lead changes in a game that also included eight ties.

Isaiah Crawford made a layup for Louisiana Tech to cut the gap to 41-31. Mississippi State responded with a 13-3 run when Stewart had a layup and Molinar scored 11 points, including three consecutive 3s that made it 54-34 with 13:48 to play. Molinar scored 20 of his points after halftime, after Stewart had 19 in the first half.

“I feel like it’s just whoever has the hot hand, and getting them the ball,” Molinar said. “Just the flow of the game, I kind of let the game come to me, I don’t feel like I forced stuff. … When I got it going, I got it going.”

BREAKING 70

Mississippi State became the first team to score at least 70 points against Louisiana Tech since Jan. 22. Tech had set a school record by holding 14 consecutive opponents under 70 points since an 82-74 loss at UTEP.

UP NEXT

Mississippi State takes on No. 1 seed Memphis on Sunday in the first NIT championship game played outside New York City. Louisiana Tech plays a consolation game against Colorado State, which lost 90-67 to the Tigers in the other semifinal Saturday.

Landers Nolley scores 27 points, Memphis makes 14 3s in win vs. Colorado State in NIT semis

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FRISCO, Texas — Memphis is playing for a championship in Penny Hardaway’s third season coaching his alma mater.

Landers Nolley II scored a career-high 27 points with seven of the Tigers’ season-high 14 made 3-pointers, and they advanced to their first NIT championship game since winning the title in 2002 with a 90-67 semifinal win over Colorado State on Saturday.

“I’m proud of the team. Our most complete game all year was today, even though we started off kind of slow, still scored 90 points,” Hardaway said. “For multiple guys to get hot on the same night, I’ve been asking for that all year and today’s game was one of those games.”

Memphis will hope for one more of those on Sunday, when it faces Mississippi State in the title game.

Nolley scored 24 of his points after halftime, after Lester Quinones made three 3s in a 22-2 run in the first half that put the Tigers (19-8) ahead to stay. DeAndre Williams finished with 21 points for Memphis, and Quinones had 18 with four 3s.

David Roddy had 18 points and Isaiah Stevens 17 for Colorado State (20-7).

Memphis’ last NCAA Tournament was 2013-14, and the Tigers just missed this year. They are 10-2 since the start of February with a pair one-possession losses six days apart against NCAA Sweet 16 team Houston. Their last four losses have been by a combined eight points.

Sixth-ranked Houston won 76-74 in the American Athletic Conference tournament semifinals, five days after hitting a last-second 3 at home to beat the Tigers 67-64 in the regular-season finale.

The Tigers were instead a No. 1 seed in the NIT, which was reduced from its usual 32 to 16 teams and is being played in North Texas because of the coronavirus pandemic that led to the event’s cancellation last year. It is the first time the final NIT games are being played outside of New York City.

Hardaway says it takes a lot keep his team from getting distracted during a game, but that he doesn’t expect any lack of motivation Sunday.

“I don’t think so because it’s for the championship,” Hardaway said. “We’re playing good basketball. We know who we are.”

After Roddy started the second half with a 3 to get Colorado State within three points, Memphis responded with a 16-3 run that included seven points from Nolley.

Memphis’ big run before halftime came while the Rams missed 10 consecutive shots over a stretch of more than six minutes. After the 3s by Quinones, the Tigers led 37-23 on a jumper by Damion Baugh with 3:40 left. They shot 56% overall (34 of 61) and 52% on 3s (14 of 27).

“We let their shooters have too many rhythm 3s,” Colorado State coach Niko Medved said.

The Rams led 21-15 on a jumper by Stevens midway through the first half, and his 3 in the final minute cut the halftime deficit to 44-38. But they had several shooting droughts, and were 39% overall (20 of 52) against the Memphis pressure defense.

“They are so unique in what they do,” Medved said. “It’s not anything we were not ready for, or surprised by. We just didn’t execute the way we needed to.”

STATE OF WINNING

The Tigers wore jerseys that read “Memphis State” that they got just before the AAC tourney. That was the name of the school when Hardaway was a standout player in the early 1990s – the school formally changed to University of Memphis in 1994.

“I’m very superstitious. So we’re winning with them, why are we going to get out of them? It’s no disrespect to the University of Memphis or anything. Still the same thing to me,” Hardaway said. “And we’re wearing those because we’re winning in them.”

UP NEXT

The NIT championship game, more than 1,500 miles from Madison Square Garden, with the Tigers facing the fourth-seeded Bulldogs on Sunday. Colorado State plays in the consolation game against Louisiana Tech, which lost 84-62 in the other semifinal game.

Back-up plan: NCAA tourney standbys not expecting a call

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville Cardinals coach Chris Mack isn’t holding his breath waiting for the call for his team to replace another unable to play in the NCAA Tournament because of COVID issues.

Mindful that a school simply needs five healthy players to remain eligible for the 68-team field, the third-year coach didn’t see one having a worst-case scenario and pulling out suddenly by the Tuesday night deadline. Although the Cardinals (13-7) are the first alternate to fill an open spot and undergoing testing protocols, Mack and his program are resigned to being on the outside looking in on March Madness and the NIT – which Louisville declined to participate in.

“I mean, we’ll be ready,” Mack said Monday during a virtual news conference call. “The prerequisite is that you have all those negative tests in a row, so we’ll be ready. I don’t see that happening by (Tuesday) night. There has to be a team that doesn’t have five players able to play, so I just I don’t see that happening.”

Meanwhile, fellow potential replacement squads Colorado State, Saint Louis and Mississippi are preparing to play in the 16-team NIT that begins Wednesday in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Like Louisville, CSU has no real thoughts toward claiming a last-minute NCAA berth and just wants to move forward from the sting of being among among the so-called “First Four Out.”

“I don’t know that there’s a manual to doing that,” said coach Niko Medved, whose Rams (18-6) will remain in Las Vegas following the Mountain West Tournament until Wednesday before leaving for Texas. “You just try to be real with them about where you’re at and what’s in front of you.

“Again, as the time keeps going by and you keep starting to look at not what didn’t happen, but start to really focus on the opportunity you have in front of you and how lucky you really are to do that, I think you’ll go and attack it.”

Mack said he and Louisville athletic director Vince Tyra had discussed appearing in the NIT, which the Cardinals last participated just before Mack’s hiring in March 2018. When talking about the decision of passing on the NIT, among the factors Mack mentioned included potential health risks for a program that endured two lengthy COVID-related pauses this season, including a 19-day stretch last month during which he tested positive with mild symptoms.

Though if the Cardinals had received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, or receive a last-minute invite to the Big Dance, they’ll be heading to Indiana.

Louisville’s second interruption wiped out four late Atlantic Coast Conference contests and left little room for error upon returning. The Cardinals dropped three of their final five games including a second-round ACC Tournament loss to Duke, which ended its season the following day following a positive test within the Blue Devils’ program.

The disappointing defeat effectively quashed Louisville’s hopes for the NCAA appearance it desperately sought just up I-65 in Indianapolis, as opposed to traveling to north Texas, a state where many COVID restrictions have been lifted.

“The health of our team this year just wasn’t very good, even down the stretch,” added Mack, whose players are working out individually in the interim. “We had days where we were practicing with seven and eight players. And when you go on two COVID pauses, lose your captain (Malik Williams to a foot injury), you have guys that are injured, it wasn’t the right decision for this team to play in the end.

“It’s been a long and challenging season for a lot of reasons.”

Louisville likely would have been a No. 1 seed in the NIT along with CSU, Saint Louis and Ole Miss, whose consolation for missing the NCAA are being the teams to beat in the lower-profile yet still prestigious tournament.

Ole Miss (16-11) went 3-0 against Top-25 teams this season, joining top-ranked and NCAA overall No. 1 seed Gonzaga and No. 13 Florida State to have at least three ranked wins without a loss. The Southeastern Conference school heads into its second postseason in three years under Kermit Davis having won eight of 13 games.

Saint Louis (14-6) had won three in a row before losing to eventual Atlantic 10 Conference champion St. Bonaventure. The Billikens will make their 19th NIT appearance, the Rams their 10th and first since 2017.

Granted, these schools will play on a much smaller stage compared to the Big Dance they dreamed of. But they’re still playing in a season that was no lock to start with.

CSU forward Adam Thistlewood believes his team will be able to turn the NCAA snub into extra motivation and added that they’re “super excited to get back out there and prove to a lot of people that we deserve to play not only in the NIT, but that we should’ve been in the tournament.”

Mountain West to begin conference schedule in December

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The Mountain West Conference will play an 18-game basketball schedule, starting in late December.

The season will begin on Dec. 29 and conclude March 6, according to a news released issued Friday.

Each team will play nine home games and make nine road trips, with individual schedules to be released later.

The conference tournament will be held March 10-13 in Las Vegas.

Utah State won last year’s Mountain West tournament by defeating San Diego State in the title game, just before the NCAA Tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The NCAA pushed back the start of the 2020-21 basketball season to Nov. 25 due to the pandemic.