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Tar Heels rally to top Irish

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Turn a bunch of athletes loose and let them do some damage.

That was North Carolina’s plan against Notre Dame Saturday.

The Tar Heels (16-7, 6-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) did not let a nine-point first-half deficit bother them. They held the Irish (12-12, 3-8) scoreless in the last 3:49 of the first half, and started the second half with an 8-2 run that evolved into a 73-62 victory.

“In the second half, our defense was more active,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “We came up with some loose balls and some turnovers (the Irish committed 17 turnovers). All of a sudden, we got our break going, as well.”

North Carolina’s inside game was nothing short of impressive. The Tar Heels outscored Notre Dame 44-26 in the paint, had a 37-32 rebounding edge (which included 9-2 on the offensive glass in the first half) and forced the Irish into 17 turnovers.

Forward James McAdoo led the way with 18 points and eight rebounds. Forward J.P. Tokoto had 13 points and seven rebounds. Guard Marcus Paige had 16 points and six assists, while Brice Johnson came off the bench to score 10 points.

Forward Garrick Sherman led Notre Dame with 17 points. Guard Eric Atkins had 12 and forward Zach Auguste and guard V.J. Beachem had 10 each.

“I think we’re playing more consistently now,” Paige said. “We’re definitely taking steps forward.”

The steps happened because the Tar Heels refused to flinch after Notre Dame’s fast start, and used their superior athleticism to frustrate the Irish.

“The biggest thing is probably our sense of urgency on defense,” McAdoo said. “We’re focused on being disciplined and sound.”

Nothing wrong with that.

It took a while for North Carolina to find its legs in the first half. Once the Tar Heels’ inside game started clicking, they owned a 27-23 at intermission.

North Carolina shot just 36 percent (12 of 33) in the first 20 minutes, but a 21-15 rebounding edge made up for that deficiency. Paige and Tokoto scored nine points each.

After trailing most of the half, Paige hit a 3-pointer with 1:56 to play to tie the game 23-23. Thirty seconds later, McAdoo slammed home a Paige miss to give Carolina its first lead since the opening bucket.

“We never could get any rhythm or confidence back in the second half,” Irish coach Mike Brey said.

Notre Dame has not been a fast-out-of-the-blocks sort of team through the ACC season, but the Irish got a jump-start against North Carolina.

Connaughton’s 3-pointer with a little more than 3 minutes gone in the game was pivotal in Notre Dame getting out to a 10-2 lead. A little later, Atkins gave the Tar Heels’ spirit a hit when North Carolina’s tough defense forced the Irish to run down the shot clock. Just before it expired, Atkins drilled a 3-pointer.

“It’s disappointing,” Atkins said. “We had a great start to the game. They were playing at our pace and we weren’t turning the ball over. We were being very good and efficient with the ball, but they picked up the pressure at that point and we started getting sloppy.”

Notre Dame, which normally values its possessions, was careless with the ball.

“We can’t absorb (17 turnovers) with their 15 offensive rebounds,” Brey said. “When you turn the ball over like that and can’t calm the paint down, (it is not good).”

“There’s no question (forcing) turnovers is a big part of our game because we like to run the ball,” Williams said. “In the open court, we make some good decisions. That led to some good basketball and some good shots around the basket.”

And a big victory.

NOTES: Notre Dame sophomore F Austin Burgett, who missed the last four games after being diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat, returned to the Irish lineup Saturday. The 6-foot-9 Burgett, who is averaging 3.5 points per game, had a surgical procedure to address the issue. … Saturday’s win was Carolina’s fifth straight, its longest streak of the season. … Notre Dame has been struggling, losing five of its last six.

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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