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DePaul falls short of Providence

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ROSEMONT, Ill. — Providence wasn’t sure what to expect from shorthanded DePaul and its makeshift lineup on Saturday.

Despite an incomplete scouting report, the Friars still figured out how to solve the Blue Demons and secure a 77-72 Big East victory at Allstate Arena.

“(DePaul’s) reserves really played great,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said. “They were playing desperate, they played great and we were fortunate to make some shots late.”

DePaul was without three key players, representing nearly a 38-point output, including forward Cleveland Melvin (team rules violation), Billy Garrett (unspecified illness) and Charles McKinney (ankle injury).

Friars’ guard Bryce Cotton, meanwhile, stepped up with nine late points as Providence (16-6, 6-3 in the Big East) hit 8-of-10 free throws in the final 3:23, including seven from Cotton, to keep DePaul at bay.

Cotton put the game out of reach, 76-68, on a dunk with 14 seconds to play and closed with a game-high 28 points.

Forward LaDontae Henton had 19 points, while forward Tyler Harris added 18 as the Friars won for the sixth time in seven games.

Guard R.J. Curington scored a career-high 22 points as DePaul (10-12, 2-7) suffered its fourth straight loss. Tommy Hamilton IV had 13 points, while guard Brandon Young added 12 points and a season-high nine assists.

Providence opened a 16-point first half lead, but it didn’t last, as DePaul used late 3-point shooting from Curington and Forrest Robinson to cut the deficit to 42-37 by halftime.

It might have been even closer had Hamilton’s inbound steal with 1.3 seconds left and layup counted. He narrowly missed a buzzer-beater.

The Friars shot 71 percent (10-of-14) in the game’s first 8:19, including 3-of-5 on 3-pointers, to open a 23-10 lead.

“Obviously we dug ourselves a hole early in the game with turnovers and coming up empty with the missed layups and free throws,” Blue Demon coach Oliver Purnell said.

“But our guys kept battling and got themselves back into it, kind of sprinting into the half.”

DePaul crept back and cut the deficit to 32-24 on Curington’s baseline 3-pointer with 3:20 showing. He hit another with 44 seconds left, while Robinson connected on a 3-pointer with two seconds showing.

Curington closed the first half with 14 points while DePaul shot 12-of-19 (41.4 percent).

DePaul closed to 42-41 early in the second half on Curington’s layup, but Providence replied with a surge that built the lead to 57-46 lead on Harris’ two free throws with 13:53 left.

That lead vanished over the next seven minutes. DePaul guard Edwind McGhee hit back-to-back 3-pointers, the second creating a 62-62 tie with 6:59 showing.

“I thought we played very well down the stretch until about the last four minutes,” Purnell said. “(But) we didn’t do a good enough job on Cotton, who’s obviously a very good player.”

Providence replied with seven straight points for a 69-62 lead with 3:23 to play.

“I thought our experience really showed down the stretch with our poise,” Cooley said. “(DePaul) made two really big runs, really big runs. And we were fortunate to hold on. I was proud of our poise and composure.”

After a hot-shooting first half, Providence went 8-of-19 from the field in the second (42.1 percent) and closed at 25-of-47 (53.2 percent for the game).

DePaul was 23-of-55 (41.8 percent) for the game.

Purnell said he was unsure if McKinney and Garrett would be available by Monday, while Melvin’s suspension is ongoing.

NOTES: The teams have met 31 times in a series that dates to 1961. Providence leads, 23-8, and is 8-3 in Big East play. … Friars guard Bryce Cotton earned Big East Player of the Week honors this week after averaging 21 points and seven assists over two games. … DePaul guard Brandon Young is 11 points from passing Stephen Howard (1,691 points, 1988-92) for seventh on DePaul’s all-time scoring list. … With three key players out for DePaul, forward Greg Sequele earned his first career start. … Georgetown is at DePaul on Monday, while Providence hosts St. John’s on Tuesday.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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NCAA News Wire

Wisconsin earns top seed after conference tournament win

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CHICAGO — The Wisconsin Badgers earned a historic NCAA top seed Sunday, but their approach going forward will be strictly business as usual.

Wisconsin (31-3) beat Michigan State 80-69 in overtime in Sunday’s Big Ten tournament title game to complete a championship sweep and were rewarded with the first No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed in program history.

“I’m sure it will sink in,” Badgers coach Bo Ryan said. “What we need right now is to get these guys back (home). We have class tomorrow, some of these guys have tests, they’ve got midterms this week. So it will be business as usual for our student-athletes.”

But players like forward Frank Kaminsky, the Big Ten tournament most outstanding player, are pretty pumped up.

“It’s awesome,” Kaminsky said. “First No. 1 seed in program history. That’s an accomplishment in and of itself, but we have a lot of goals and aspirations in the NCAA Tournament. So we’re going to prepare for our first game and be ready we tip the ball up.”

No. 6 ranked Wisconsin, the league’s regular-season champion, claimed the Big Ten’s automatic NCAA berth with the overtime win at the United Center and meets No. 16 Coastal Carolina (24-9) in Friday’s West Region opener in Omaha, Neb.

The overtime outcome was the first in Big Ten tournament history.

Michigan State (23-11) is also tourney bound with a No. 7 seed in the East Region. The Spartans will face Georgia, which is the 10th seed, on Friday in Charlotte, N.C.

Ryan was initially at a loss for words after the Badgers’ dramatic come-from-behind win.

“I’m speechless and that’s hard to do,” he said. “It was the fight in this group, and to do what they did when it seemed like Michigan State couldn’t do anything wrong. I just hope we have something left in us come NCAA Tournament time.”

The Badgers rallied from an 11-point second-half deficit and back into contention late in the game. They then scored 11 unanswered points in overtime behind seven points form forward Nigel Hayes.

Hayes closed with a game-high 25 points and was 12-for-12 from the free throw line. Kaminsky had 19, guard Bronson Koenig finished with 18 while reserve forward Duje Dukan added 11.

Michigan State, making its third title game appearance in four years, was led by forward Branden Dawson and guard Denzel Valentine with 16 apiece while reserve guard Bryn Forbes had 10.

“I thought we played one of the greatest games we’ve ever played for 32, 32 and one-half minutes or 35, 36 minutes,” Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. “And then we made a couple of mistakes and they made a couple of great shots and that’s the way the game goes.”

Wisconsin trailed 57-46 in the second half when Koenig launched a comeback with a 3-pointer and added another with 4:19 left to give the Badgers a temporary 60-59 lead.

“We were down eleven and they thought they had it in the bag,” Koenig said. “But I kept reminding my teammates that we were never going to give up.”

Guard Lourawls Nairn’s 3-pointer then put Michigan State up 62-60 as the teams exchanged leads three times and tied four times. The last in regulation came on Koenig’s two free throws for a 69-69 deadlock.

A potential game-winning shot by Dawson rolled in and out as regulation time expired.

In the first half, Michigan State outscored Wisconsin 10-5 in the final 3:25 for a 32-31 halftime lead after a half that saw with seven lead changes and five ties. The Spartans opened a 32-28 lead after a turnover by Koenig and a rebound put back by forward Marvin Clark with 25 seconds showing. But Wisconsin narrowed the deficit to 32-31 as Kaminsky hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

It was the Badger’s fifth successful shot from beyond the arc in the half. Wisconsin ended 13-of-26 (50 percent) on 3-point shooting for the game.

NOTES: Sunday’s game was tied 13 times and had 14 lead changes. … The Badgers claimed a 68-61 win in March in the long regular season meeting behind F Frank Kaminsky’s season-high 31 points. … The Badgers’ two previous Big Ten tournament titles came in wins over Illinois in 2004 and 2008. … Wisconsin’s 31 wins match an all-time

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SMU outmuscles Connecticut to take AAC title

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HARTFORD, Conn. — After a crushing omission from the NCAA Tournament last season, the 20th-ranked Southern Methodist Mustangs didn’t have any worries during this year’s Selection Show. They are dancing for the first time since 1993.

SMU’s deep and talented frontcourt frustrated the Connecticut Huskies on both ends of the floor, paving the way for the team’s first conference title in 27 years with a 62-54 win in the American Athletic Conference championship game on Sunday.

SMU earned a No. 6 seed and will face No. 11 UCLA in the South Region of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday in Charlotte, N.C.

“This is big for all of us,” said senior guard Ryan Manuel, “not just the seniors but it’s as big for SMU as a school, as a basketball program. When coach (Larry) Brown got here, he wanted us to put it back on the map, and I think we made great strides in that.”

UConn (20-14), the defending national champion, came into the AAC tournament needing four wins in four days just to return to the NCAA Tournament. After falling just short of their goal, the Huskies are headed to the National Invitation Tournament.

“It’s postseason play,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “If it’s NIT or NCAA, they’re going to learn from it and they’re going to come back better from it. I’m still coaching them the way I coach them, they’re still going to play the way they’re going to play.”

SMU (27-6) was expected to receive an at-large bid if it lost Sunday, but the victory guaranteed it a spot in the NCAA Tournament field after being one of the final teams left out last season.

“Last year at this time was about as disappointing as it could get,” Brown said. “Fortunately we’ve got another opportunity, and didn’t have to get anybody to decide whether we’re worthy or not.”

As it had all weekend long, it was SMU’s frontcourt that anchored the win.

The conference’s Sixth Man of the Year, Markus Kennedy, capped off a strong weekend by leading his team with 14 points, one of four Mustangs players in double figures. He earned the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player for his efforts. The 6-foot-10 junior and his fellow forwards helped SMU to a 43-30 advantage on the glass, with sophomore Sterling Brown pulling in 12 rebounds to lead the team.

Sophomore guard Rodney Purvis had 29 points and was the only UConn player in double figures in scoring.

“I was trying to be aggressive and take what the defense gave me,” he said.

For a while, it appeared this game would not be close. The SMU zone defense that Connecticut had carved up for 81 points just two weeks prior locked things down this time around, and the Mustangs took a 33-19 advantage into halftime by holding UConn to 5-of-24 shooting (20.8 percent) from the floor over the opening 20 minutes.

The Huskies, who made more than 53 percent from the floor and knocked down nine 3-pointers in that win, were just 2 of 13 from beyond the arc in that first half.

Usual leading scorer Ryan Boatright would manage just seven points on 1-of-12 shooting for the game.

“I’m just disappointed in my play,” he said. “I missed a lot of shots that should be easy knock-down shots for me. I didn’t show up and be the player I know I can be, I can be better than that. But my teammates fought, they played a tremendous game.”

UConn made it a game in the second half by doing similar things on the defensive end, thanks in large part to the presence of sophomore Amida Brimah. The 7-foot center, limited to just four first-half minutes because of foul trouble, played the entire second half, blocking seven shots during that time and altering numerous others.

The Huskies were able to get within five points with just over three minutes to play, but the Mustangs would hold on.

“He’s a shot blocker, so it made it a little difficult,” Manuel said about the difference Brimah made in the second half. “UConn, they have a tradition of coming back, and we knew they weren’t going to go down with a fight, so for us to stand there as a team and get the

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NCAA News Wire

Alabama fires head coach Grant

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Alabama fired head basketball coach Anthony Grant on Sunday after six seasons.

The Crimson Tide struggled over the final two months of the season, finishing 18-14 and tied for eighth in the Southeastern Conference.

Grant, 48, won at least 20 games three times and made an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2012. His Alabama teams went 117-85, including two NIT appearances (2011 and 2013). He came to Alabama from Virginia Commonwealth University, where he went 76-25 and made two NCAA Tournament appearances.

“This has been a very difficult decision, as I have the highest respect for Anthony as a coach, as a molder of young men, and as a person,” Alabama athletic director Bill Battle said in a statement. “Anthony is a man of impeccable character who has been an excellent representative of our program. He has made tremendous contributions to our program and we always will be grateful for his efforts. Anthony, his wife Chris, and their children have been tremendous assets to our University and our community.

“In this business we are ultimately judged by wins and losses on the court and, for a variety of reasons, we haven’t made satisfactory progress in that area.”

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