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No. 14 seed Mercer shocks Duke

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Mercer’s big moment will last a little longer in this NCAA Tournament.

In the first game of tournament play Friday, the Atlantic Sun rose again, with conference champion Mercer shocking third-seeded Duke 78-71 in a Midwest Regional second-round game.

“Our guys continue to believe at such a high level,” coach Bob Hoffman said. “When you work as hard as they have for 365 days, it was just a blessing to see this happen.”

Mercer follows Florida Gulf Coast — the darling of the 2013 NCAA Tournament from the Atlantic Sun that beat Mercer in the conference tournament last season — in advancing to a third-round game Sunday in the school’s first appearance in the event in 29 years. The Bears will face the winner of Tennessee-Massachusetts.

“It hasn’t hit me yet,” Mercer guard Ike Nwamu said. “It probably will hit me in the next couple of hours or so.”

Forward Jakob Gollon scored 20 points, including 15 in the second half, and forward Daniel Coursey poured in 17 points for the 14th-seeded Bears (27-8), who received 13 points from guard Anthony White Jr.

Duke exited the tournament with an 0-1 mark for the second time in three seasons. The Blue Devils were coming off a loss to Virginia in Sunday’s Atlantic Coast Conference tournament final.

“Our guys tried,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I have no fault with my team. Sometimes the other team just plays better. I applaud it and I applaud Mercer.”

Krzyzewski stopped by the Mercer locker room after his news conference to congratulate the Bears.

“We’re a very veteran team, we’ve been saying it all week,” Gollon said. “When it gets tough out there, when it gets loud, we have a lot of guys who stay focused.”

Guard Quinn Cook, a junior with a career-high seven 3-pointers, scored 23 points and guard Rasheed Sulaimon, who knocked down a season-high five 3-point baskets, finished with 20 points for third-seeded Duke (26-9). Freshman forward Jabari Parker had 14 points.

“Hopefully we have some more juice in us,” Mercer guard Kevin Canevari said. “It’s a huge win for us, for Mercer. We hope to dance again.”

Mercer shot 55.6 percent (25 for 45) from the field.

“We didn’t make the stops when we needed to,” Sulaimon said. “That’s what it came down to. That’s the story of our season. We were getting leads and we couldn’t knock teams out.”

White’s 3-point basket tied the game at 63-63 with 2:41 left.

Parker misfired on a 3-pointer for Duke, then Gollon made both ends of a 1-and-1 with 1:54 to play. Duke forward Rodney Hood was called for a traveling violation with 1:33 left.

Coursey’s three-point play built Mercer’s edge to 68-63 with 1:07 on the clock.

Parker and Hood combined to shoot six for 24 from the field.

“We didn’t get that (usual bump) from our two best guys,” Krzyzewski said. “I feel bad for them. … Jabari has had a great, great year. It’s a frustrating way for it to end.”

The second half was filled with potentially key sequences.

Mercer’s 45-40 lead began to fade with guard Tyler Thornton’s 3-pointer. The Blue Devils were ahead again at 48-45 on Cook’s 3. Another Cook 3-pointer with 9:05 to go allowed the Blue Devils to grab a 54-51 lead. Mercer pulled even on Gollon’s three-point play at the 7:21 mark.

Cook countered with a 3-pointer as the teams traded taking the lead.

Parker’s three-point play gave the Blue Devils a 60-58 lead. Parker blocked Gollon’s attempt in the lane on the next possession. Thornton converted three free throws for Duke after he was fouled on a 3-point attempt.

It turned out reminiscent to Duke’s last in-state NCAA Tournament game when the Blue Devils fell to Lehigh in 2012 in Greensboro in the same round.

Duke held a 35-34 halftime lead after building as much as a seven-point gap.

Duke connected on eight first-half 3-pointers, but Gollon’s 3 in the final minute gave the Bears seven consecutive points and a brief one-point edge.

Sulaimon hit two early 3-point baskets, and a third one for a 20-17 lead with 9:32 left in the half. His next 3

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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