Superb Gaels season marred by tournament showing

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Superb Gaels season marred by tournament showing

Maybe Norfolk State just vibed the NCAA Tournament off its natural axis for every favorite, but as the slight favorite Saint Marys Galloping Gaels reflect on their own one-and-done, the inscription on the dagger will read, Made No Shots Until It Was Too Late.

After the 15-seed Spartans set in motion a bizarre chain of upsets in the second afternoon game here at CenturyLink Center by beating Missouri, the Gaels faced Purdue, and were face-down before they knew what to do about it.

In losing, 72-69, the Gaels can speak in glowing terms of the frantic comeback they waged to close a game they persistently trailed by double-digits, but they wont.

RECAP: Saint Mary's falls to Purdue 72-69

Rather, they will remember their horrific shooting, their difficulties guarding Terone Johnson and then Lewis Jackson of the Boilermakers, and the crushing errors they made in the last minute that could have rendered the second-guessing moot.

If it didnt sting, it wouldnt be any fun, a fun-deficient head coach Randy Bennett said afterward. Theres not many things you can pour your heart into with a bunch of guys your age and invest so much time and care so much, and thats why it hurts, because when its over, its gone.

But it also hurts because in a game the Gaels were predominantly outplayed, they had a lead in the final minute and could easily have protected it, thus cheating an upset-engorged crowd from yet another. Indeed, as the Gaels were scratching desperately to get back into the game, 13-seed Ohio was beating Michigan and 15-seed Lehigh was smiting Duke, marking the first time ever that two 15s had advanced and only the fifth time ever that even one had done it.

Not that that will amuse the Gaels. They played too poorly to win, played just well enough to position themselves to win, and then failed in the crunch to lose anyway. This, in short, will be a profoundly unpleasant memory for them all.

The macro view takes you immediately to the Gaels 4-for-25 shooting from three-point range, including 2-for-10 from forward Rob Jones, 1-for-6 from Jorden Page and 1-for-5 from Matthew Dellavedova, and to Johnson and Jackson, who combined for 39 points on 15-of-27 to shape Purdues attack.

But the game that went so badly for Saint Marys for so long turned with 4:16 to go when Dellavedova, who had been guarded essentially out of the offensive flow, forced his way to the basket for a three-point-play that sparked a 14-2 run. That run was Saint Marys best work of the night by far, capped as it was by Pages open 22-footer with 44.2 to play to put the Gaels ahead, 69-68.

The problem was, it was their last gasp. After forcing a walk by Johnson, they returned the ball immediately when Clint Steindl ran on the end line during the inbound rather than remaining stationary. Jackson took the ensuing Boilermaker possession and drew a foul from Dellavedova with 22.8 to play, converting both shots.

The ref said it was on the spot, Steindl said, referring to official Scott Thornley, who did as he is supposed and told Steindl to keep his place when inbounding. All I was thinking was trying to get the ball inbounds.

Then, on the Gaels next possession, Page settled for a premature 25-footer that missed the rim by a fair bit, and Robbie Hummels two free throws after being fouled by Stephen Holt on the rebound put the Makers up by three.

And in keeping with the evening as a whole, Jones buzzer-beating trey hit the rim and fell away, ending a season that had been so good for them all.

I thought momentarily it had a chance, he said, but you cant really do anything about it now.

Jones performance (23 and 14, despite going 2-for-10 from three-point range) spoke to his eagerness to fill the offensive void left by Dellavedova, who forced some threes early, then went 15 minutes without taking any shots at all. He pressed early against a Purdue defense keen to monitor him above all others, then became a passer almost exclusively before his charge to the basket at 4:16 to prevent the game from remaining a drudgery.

They played good defense, a red-eyed Dellavedova said afterward, and I rushed a couple of shots. We had some good looks too that we didnt knock down, so thats the way it goes.

Not all the time, of course. There was Norfolk State, after all.

Leon Powe-doppelganger Kyle OQuinn, the Spartan senior center whose 26 points and 14 rebounds would have been noticeable under any conditions, put the final boot in with 34 seconds left by tipping in a Chris McEachin jumper and converting the ensuing free throw to propel Norfolk State into Tournament annals as only the fourth 15-seed in history to win a game. The other three were Santa Clara (1993, over Arizona), Coppin State (1997, over South Carolina) and Hampton (2001, over Iowa State).
RECAP: No. 15 seed Norfolk St. stuns No. 2 Missouri

And to cap off his best day ever, OQuinn laughed at the result he had helped engineer and said, We even messed up my bracket.

And then the Gaels went and messed up their own. A superb season took a dent in the final lap, and if there is time to be philosophical, it wont happen until they return to Moraga and reflect not on the 36 minutes they couldnt find Friday night, but on the 1,300-some-odd when they had the time of their collective lives.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

Former Napa star Josh Jackson leaving Kansas, entering NBA Draft

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Former Napa star Josh Jackson leaving Kansas, entering NBA Draft

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Josh Jackson declared for the NBA draft on Monday after one of the best freshman seasons in Kansas history, one marked by plenty of highlights on the floor and a few distractions off it.

The 6-foot-8 swingman, who is considered a certain lottery pick, was the Big 12 newcomer of the year after averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds. He helped the Jayhawks to a 31-5 record and its 13th straight regular season Big 12 title before losing to Oregon in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

Jackson signed with former NBA player B.J. Armstrong of Wasserman Media Group.

"After thoroughly consulting with my family, I have decided to enter the 2017 NBA draft and pursue my dream of playing professional basketball," Jackson said in a statement Monday.

"I am very thankful for all of the support I have received from my coaches and teammates at Kansas," he said, "and I look forward to starting my career in the NBA."

Jackson was the nation's No. 1 recruit when he signed with the Jayhawks out of Prolific Prep Academy in California. He immediately earned a spot in the starting lineup, teaming with national player of the year Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham to form one of the nation's top backcourts.

With natural athleticism and ability to slash to the basket - not to mention defensive chops that are rare among freshmen - Jackson quickly established himself as one of the nation's top draft prospects.

His importance was never more evident than in the Big 12 Tournament, when he was suspended by coach Bill Self following a series of off-the-court issues. The top-seeded Jayhawks stumbled in a quarterfinal loss to TCU, ending their run at the conference tournament before it really began.

He returned for the NCAA Tournament and played well in wins over UC Davis, Michigan State and Purdue, but was hamstrung by foul trouble and managed just 10 points in a season-ending loss to the Ducks.

Jackson's suspension came following an incident outside a Lawrence bar in December, when a member of the Kansas women's basketball team got into an altercation with Jackson's teammate, Lagerald Vick.

Jackson followed the woman to the parking lot and the woman said he kicked her car and caused hundreds of dollars in damage. He pleaded not guilty last week in Douglas County District Court to one misdemeanor count of criminal damage to property and a trial is scheduled for May 24.

His attorney, Hatem Chahine, said he was planning to file for diversion.

Jackson also was ticketed in February after he struck a parked car and fled the scene, and that drew Self's ire when he didn't tell his coach about the incident until several weeks later.

His decision to declare for the draft came a week after teammate Svi Mykhailiuk announced he would skip his senior season. But unlike Jackson, the 6-8 sharpshooter has not hired an agent and could withdraw his name by May 24 and return to the Jayhawks.

Redemption: Year after heartbreak, UNC outlasts Gonzaga to win title

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AP

Redemption: Year after heartbreak, UNC outlasts Gonzaga to win title

BOX SCORE

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It's OK, Carolina, you can open your eyes.

An unwatchable game turned into a beautiful night for the Tar Heels, who turned a free-throw contest into a championship they've been waiting an entire year to celebrate.

Justin Jackson delivered the go-ahead 3-point play with 1:40 left Monday and North Carolina pulled away for a 71-65 win over Gonzaga that washed away a year's worth of heartache.

It was, in North Carolina's words, a redemption tour - filled with extra time on the practice court and the weight room, all fueled by a devastating loss in last year's title game on Kris Jenkins' 3-point dagger at the buzzer for Villanova.

"Just unreal that we get a second chance at this," junior Theo Pinson said, recounting a pre-game conversation with teammate Joel Berry II. "Not a lot of people can say they can do that. I told him, `We're about to take this thing. I'm about to give everything I got.' I knew he would, too, We just didn't want to come up short again."

But to say everything went right for Roy Williams' team at this Final Four would be less than the truth.

The Tar Heels (33-7) followed a terrible-shooting night in the semifinal with an equally ice-cold performance in the final - going 4 for 27 from 3-point land and 26 for 73 overall.

Gonzaga, helped by 8 straight points from Nigel Williams-Goss, took a 2-point lead with 1:52 left, but the next possession was the game-changer.

Jackson took a zinger of a pass under the basket from Pinson and converted the shot, then the ensuing free throw to take the lead for good. Moments later, Williams-Goss twisted an ankle and could not elevate for a jumper that would've given the Bulldogs the lead.

Isaiah Hicks made a basket to push the lead to 3, then Kennedy Meeks, in foul trouble all night (who wasn't?), blocked Williams-Goss' shot and Jackson got a slam on the other end to put some icing on title No. 6 for the Tar Heels.

Williams got his third championship, putting him one ahead of his mentor, Dean Smith, and now behind only John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski and Adolph Rupp.

"I think of Coach Smith, there's no question," Williams said. "I don't think I should be mentioned in the same sentence with him. But we got three because I've got these guys with me and that's all I care about right now - my guys."

Berry recovered from ankle injuries to lead the Tar Heels, but needed 19 shots for his 22 points. Jackson had 16 but went 0 for 9 from 3. Overall, the Tar Heels actually shot a percentage point worse than they did in Saturday night's win over Oregon.

Thank goodness for free throws.

They went 15 for 26 from the line and, in many corners, this game will be remembered for these three men: Michael Stephens, Verne Harris and Mike Eades, the referees who called 27 fouls in the second half, completely busted up the flow of the game and sent Meeks, Gonzaga's 7-footers Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins, and a host of others to the bench in foul trouble.

The game "featured" 52 free throws. Both teams were in the bonus with 13 minutes left. Somehow, Collins was the only player to foul out.

Most bizarre sequence: With 8:02 left, Berry got called for a foul for (maybe) making contact with Karnowski and stripping the ball from the big man's hands. But as Karnowski was flailing after the ball, he inadvertently grabbed Berry around the neck. After a long delay, the refs called Karnowski for a flagrant foul of his own.

"I'm not going to talk about refs," Karnowski said. "It was just a physical game."

Zags coach Mark Few handled it with class, calling the refs "three of the best officials in the entire country," and insisting they did a fine job.

He might have wanted further review on the scrum with 50 seconds left. The refs were taking heat on social media for calling a held ball, which gave possession to the Tar Heels, on a pile-up underneath the Carolina basket. It set up the Hicks layup to put Carolina ahead by 3. One problem: Meeks' right hand looks to be very much touching out of bounds while he's trying to rip away the ball.

"That was probably on me," Few said. "From my angle, it didn't look like an out of bounds situation or I would have called a review. That's tough to hear."

The Bulldogs (37-2), the Cinderella-turned-Godzilla team from the small school in the West Coast Conference, tried to keep the big picture in mind. Twenty years ago, this sort of run at that sort of place looked virtually impossible. With less than 2 minutes left, they had the lead in the national title game.

"We broke the glass ceiling everyone said we couldn't break," junior forward Johnathan Williams said.

And North Carolina got over a hump that, at times this season, felt like a mountain.

"They wanted redemption," Williams said. "I put it on the locker room up on the board - one of the things we had to be tonight was tough enough. I think this group was tough enough tonight."