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Late baskets by Freeman lift Old Dominion past Georgia State

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NORFOLK, Va. — After spending the first half settling for long jumpers that weren’t falling, Old Dominion guard Trey Freeman was instructed to be more aggressive.

With the game slipping away late in the second half, Freeman began turning those words into action.

Freeman scored 10 of his 21 points inside the final four minutes of regulation and overtime as Old Dominion rallied past Georgia State 58-54 on Wednesday night at the Ted Constant Convocation Center.

Georgia State led 50-42 when Freeman sandwiched two jumpers around two free throws from guard Aaron Bacote, then nailed a driving layup with 57 seconds left to tie the score at 50.

In overtime, the Panthers led 54-52 when Freeman’s layup tied it again heading into the final minute. Then Freeman scooped in a driving layup with 35 seconds left for the winner.

Afterwards, Freeman shrugged off his late-game heroics, saying he was simply doing what coach Jeff Jones told him to do.

It took Jones to acknowledge there was a bit more to it than that.

“One of the great things about Trey is, he’s not afraid of the big moment,” Jones said.

Forward Jonathan Arledge threw down a transition dunk as time expired to account for the final margin.

The victory was the fifth straight for Old Dominon (8-1) and its first in four meetings with Georgia State.

Guard Ryan Harrow scored 16 points and guard R.J. Hunter added 13 for the Panthers (6-3), who went straight from their locker room to their team bus during Old Dominion’s press conference and were not available for comment.

Harrow and Hunter combined to make just 11 of 35 field goal attempts.

Before Freeman heated up, it looked like Harrow would be the star of the night. Georgia State trailed 42-39 when Harrrow made a layup and buried a 3-pointer to give the Panthers the lead.

His baskets kick-started an 11-0 Georgia State run helped by Old Dominion going 0 of 9 from the field, committing four turnovers and playing 8:01 without a point.

After seizing an eight-point lead, the Panthers didn’t score during the final 5:51 of regulation. And while Freeman handled the scoring, it was Old Dominion’s defense spearheaded by forward Denzell Taylor that set the stage for the comeback.

Taylor, a rangy 6-7 forward, was all over the floor as the Monarchs turned up the pressure, at various points guarding ball handlers, face guarding Harrow and clearing the boards. His block of forward T.J. Snipes’ layup with 26 seconds left set the Monarchs up for one final possession, and he grabbed an offensive rebound and was fouled just before the final buzzer.

With two chances to end the game, Taylor missed both free throws. Still, the Monarchs had no issues with Taylor’s efforts.

“His impact on the game was just crazy,” Freeman said. “If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have even been in that situation.”

Even with Freeman finding the range late, the Monarchs finished the game shooting just 34.9 percent. The poor shooting started early, too.

Four days after lighting up North Carolina A&T with 54 percent shooting from the field, the Monarchs made just four of their first 17 shots against an active Georgia State zone. The Panthers, meanwhile, got to the rim repeatedly and hit nine of their first 12 shots to build a 22-12 lead.

The Monarchs kept the deficit from being even greater by pounding the offensive glass (a 9-3 halftime edge) and creating enough second chances to head into the break down just 27-23 after a layup by Freeman with five seconds left in the half.

Georgia State cooled considerably after its hot start and finished the half shooting 45 percent from the floor.

Bacote led all scorers with eight first-half points. The Monarchs made just 29 percent of their first-half shots from the field. Freeman made just one of his eight first-half shots.

“I’m not sure how we did it,” Jones said. “But when it was put-up-or-shut-up time, our guys responded.

NOTES: Georgia State guards R.J. Hunter and Ryan Harrow came in averaging a combined 43.2 points per game, the most of any duo in the country. … Before Wednesday, the Panthers trailed the series with the Monarchs 15-5 but had won the past three. Old Dominion’s last victory over Georgia State had been a 65-60 overtime decision

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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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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