NCAA Talk

Late tip-in gives Notre Dame 76-75 win over Stephen F. Austin

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Late tip-in gives Notre Dame 76-75 win over Stephen F. Austin

NEW YORK (AP) — Notre Dame and Stephen F. Austin went shot-for-shot in an NCAA Tournament game that was about as good as it gets. The power school against the unflinching underdog. The lead never was more than seven for either team.

That it came down to the last shot was no surprise. The hero, though, might have been the most unlikely player on the floor to make a game-winner.

Rex Pflueger tapped in a rebound with 1.5 seconds left and Notre Dame survived 14th-seeded Stephen F. Austin 76-75 on Sunday to reach the NCAA round of 16 for the second consecutive season.

Down one with 17.5 seconds left, sixth-seed Notre Dame grabbed an SFA rebound and put the ball in the hands of Demetrius Jackson. The point guard drove to the basket and missed. Zach Auguste followed for the Irish (23-11) but could not convert. The ball slipped off the rim and with one hand Pflueger flipped it in.

Not only had Pflueger not scored in the game to that point, he hadn't had a field goal since March 5.

"I just crashed the board," Pflueger said. "I thought Zach was going to make that last layup, but coach always emphasizes going to the board hard, especially in situations like that, and it just turned out for the best for us."

A long heave from Stephen F. Austin (28-6) went wide and Notre Dame celebrated by swarming Pflueger.

"Are you kidding me? Are you freakin' kidding me? That was unbelievable," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said.

The Irish advance to play either Wisconsin or Xavier Friday in the East Regional at Philadelphia.

The Irish and Lumberjacks put on a show to match Beyonce at Barclays Center, with Brey's longtime friend, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, sitting not far behind the Notre Dame bench.

"I've been watching them all year, and they're very tough-minded so they were going to battle right to the very end," said Christie, whose daughter Sarah is a team manager. "But was I nervous? Yeah, absolutely."

Thomas Walkup, the hero of Stephen F. Austin's first-round upset of West Virginia, scored 21 in his last college game.

"It's something I've been afraid of for a while," Walkup said of his SFA career coming to a close. "It hurts."

After it was over, Walkup had his arm around senior point guard Trey Pinkney, friends since their days playing AAU in Houston, as they walked back to the locker room.

"I told him I loved him and hugged him for a couple minutes," Walkup said. "He'll be my best friend for life, but we'll never get to do this together. That's what hurts the most."

The loss snapped a 21-game winning streak for Stephen F. Austin that was the longest in the country. No mid-major has been as dominant in its conference lately as the Southland Conference champions. This is the Lumberjacks' third straight NCAA appearance and the second time they won a first-round game. Their goal all year was Sweet 16.

"They've set a new standard for SFA basketball," coach Brad Underwood said of his seniors.

Jackson had 18 points, helping the Irish erase a five-point lead in the last two minutes with a driving layup and two free throws. Auguste had 16 points and 15 boards, but it was the freshman from California who made the biggest play.

"We took punches and kept fighting and Rex made a great play at the end," Jackson said. "Like coach says (Pflueger) plays volleyball in the summertime. So this counts as volleyball on the backboards."

Walkup picked up his third foul with 17:53 left in the second half. He stayed in and dropped in a jumper a few moments later, but Underwood had to sit his star for a chunk of the second half. The Lumberjacks showed they could pick up for the two-time conference player of the year, getting offense from T.J. Holyfield (15 points) and Demetrious Floyd (16).

When Floyd made a 3 in transition with 3:31 left, it gave SFA a 73-70 lead. SFA forced turnovers on Notre Dame's next two possessions — the Lumberjacks lead the nation in taking it away — and Walkup made two from the line to up the lead to five. It was the last points of the tournament for Stephen F. Austin.

Say it ain't so: DePaul commit Tyger Campbell reopens recruitment

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AP

Say it ain't so: DePaul commit Tyger Campbell reopens recruitment

It looks like it was too good to be true.

Tyger Campbell shocked the recruiting world when he committed to DePaul on May 8.

Less than four months later, Campbell has reopened his recruitment.

The Rivals.com four-star point guard out of La Lumiere High School in Indiana, who is the No. 66 prospect in the 2018 Class, took to Twitter Friday night to explain his decision.

One of Campbell's original draws to the Blue Demons was DePaul hiring Shane Heirman as an assistant coach. Heirman coached Campbell for two seasons at La Lumiere.

"I like DePaul and honestly my coach (Shane Heirman) just went there and we have a great connection and he's always had my back," Campbell told Scout.com when he committed to the Blue Demons. "I like [DePaul] coach Dave Leitao, too. I like his program and he's an intelligent guy."

Campbell currently has offers from a handful of D1 schools, including Illinois, Michigan State, Ole Miss, Purdue, SMU, Memphis and Tennessee.

Upset alert? Why a confident UIC is challenging juggernaut Kentucky

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USA TODAY

Upset alert? Why a confident UIC is challenging juggernaut Kentucky

On the heels of a 12-win improvement, UIC basketball is riding confidently into the new season. 

And why shouldn't they be? Head coach Steve McClain returns a young, talented nucleus that's expected to challenge for a Horizon League championship and NCAA Tournament berth. 

In fact, the program is in such good shape that they thought: Let's play Kentucky. 

Yup, that's right. The UIC Flames will match up with the Kentucky Wildcats at Rupp Arena on Nov. 26, a necessary stage in development, according to McClain. 

“Every year you build your program, there’s steps you have to take," McClain said. "When we got the opportunity to go to Kentucky, I think that’s the next level of exposure for our program.

"When you're chasing trying to be great, you gotta show your kids and show people what greatness looks like. I don't think anyone can argue what Kentucky has done, so I want to put our kids in that environment so they see what it is." 

The contrast between programs is severe. UIC hasn't made an NCAA Tournament since 2004. The Wildcats have made 11 since then. UIC has never advanced out of the first round at the Big Dance. Kentucky has eight National Championships. 

Even this upcoming season, as the Flames boast one of their most skilled teams in school history, none of them were ever touted like Kentucky's freshman class, which ranks No. 2 in the nation per ESPN. 

But the disparities in past successes don't seem to bother UIC. Instead, players, who were likely snubbed by bigger schools in recruitment, are excited about the opportunity to compete on a national stage that the Flames rarely see. 

“First I was like, ‘It’s about time we got someone like (Kentucky) on our schedule,’" said center Tai Odiase, one of the few seniors on the roster. "We’ve been trying to play bigger teams to showcase what we’re made of."

“I don’t see why you go into a place like that without a chip on your shoulder. You don’t go in there just to play basketball, we’re trying to win."

UIC will be heavy, heavy underdogs. There's no way around that. But there are certain spots where they may not be at such a disadvantage. 

On the defensive end, Odiase continued to terrorize guards and big men alike, finishing fifth in the NCAA with 2.9 blocks per game. The dynamic guard duo from "The Six," Godwin Boahen and Marcus Ottey, are quick enough to hang and both took a huge step down the stretch last season. Then there's the return of 2015-2016 Horizon League Newcomer of the Year Dikembe Dixson, who is recovering from a torn ACL.

"The doctors at times thought he was a freak of nature because he was back as quick as he was," McClain said.  

Still, it's a tune-up game for Kentucky, who also scheduled Kansas, UCLA and Louisville on their non-conference slate. But one team's expected walk through is another team's vital experience. 

"Our guys can walk in and see that on a given night, you can compete with anyone," McClain said. 

Given new athletic director Garrett Klassy's comments at his introductory press conference, it doesn't seem as if games like this are a one-hit wonder for UIC. 

“I am an aggressive scheduler," Klassy said. "I helped with the scheduling at George Washington. We’ll play anyone, anytime, anywhere.

"You want to measure yourself against the best. We have a lot of returning starters. It’ll be nice to go on the road, play a tough game and maybe sneak out an upset."