NCAA

Alabama reclaims national title with epic OT comeback

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Alabama reclaims national title with epic OT comeback

ATLANTA -- To add another championship to the greatest dynasty college football has ever seen, Alabama turned to its quarterback of the future, and Tua Tagovailoa proved that his time is now.

The freshman quarterback, who had played mostly mop-up duty this season, came off the bench to spark a comeback and threw a 41-yard touchdown to DeVonta Smith that gave No. 4 Alabama a 26-23 overtime victory against No. 3 Georgia on Monday night for the College Football Playoff national championship.

Tagovailoa entered the game at halftime, replacing a struggling Jalen Hurts, and threw three touchdown passes to give the Crimson Tide its fifth national championship since 2009 under coach Nick Saban.

"He just stepped in and did his thing," Hurts said. "He's built for stuff like this. I'm so happy for him." The Tide might have a quarterback controversy ahead of them, but first Alabama will celebrate another national title.

For the third straight season, Alabama played in a classic CFP final. The Tide split two with Clemson, losing last season on touchdown with a second left.

What was Saban thinking as the winning pass soared?

"I could not believe it," he said. "There's lots of highs and lows. Last year we lost on the last play of the game and this year we won on the last play of the game. These kids really responded the right way. We said last year, `Don't waste the feeling.' They sure didn't, the way they played tonight."

Smith streaked into the end zone and moments later confetti rained and even Saban seemed almost giddy after watching maybe the most improbably victory of his unmatched career.

After Alabama kicker Andy Pappanastos missed a 36-yard field goal that would have won it for the Tide (13-1) in the final seconds of regulation, Georgia (13-2) took the lead with a 51-yard field goal from Rodrigo Blankenship in overtime.

Tagovailoa took a terrible sack on Alabama's first play of overtime, losing 16 yards. On the next play he found Smith, another freshman, and hit him in stride for the national championship.

This game will be remembered for Saban's decision to change quarterbacks trailing 13-0.

"I just thought we had to throw the ball, and I felt he could do it better, and he did," Saban said. "He did a good job, made some plays in the passing game. Just a great win. I'm so happy for Alabama fans. Great for our players. Unbelievable."

Saban now has six major poll national championships, including one at LSU, matching the record set by the man who led Alabama's last dynasty, coach Paul Bear Bryant.

This one was nothing like the others.

The all-Southeastern Conference matchup was all Georgia in the first half before Saban pulled Hurts and went with the five-star recruit from Hawaii.

The Tide trailed 20-7 in the third quarter after Georgia's freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, hit Mecole Hardman for an 80-yard touchdown pass that had the Georgia fans feeling good about ending a national title drought that dates back to 1980.

A little less than a year after the Atlanta Falcons blew a 25-point lead and lost in overtime to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, there was more pain for many of the local fans. Two years ago, Georgia brought in Saban's top lieutenant, Kirby Smart, to coach the Bulldogs and bring to his alma mater a dose of Alabama's Process.

Smart, who spent 11 seasons with Saban, eight as his defensive coordinator, quickly built Alabama East. It was Georgia that won the SEC this season. Alabama had to slip into the playoff without even winning its own division.

With the title game being held 70 miles from Georgia's campus in Athens, Dawg fans packed Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but it turned out to be sweet home for Alabama.

But not without angst.

Alabama drove into the red zone in the final minute and Saban started playing for a field goal that would end the game and win it for the Tide. A nervous quiet gripped the crowd of 77,430 as `Bama burned the clock. With the ball centered in the middle of the field, Pappanastos lined up for a kick to win the national championship. The snap and hold looked fine, but the kicked missed badly to the left.

For the second straight week, Georgia was going to overtime. The Bulldogs beat Oklahoma in a wild Rose Bowl in double overtime to get here, and after Jonathan Ledbetter and Davin Bellamy sacked Tagovailoa for a big loss on the first play, Alabama was in trouble -- second-and-26.

Not for long. Tagovailoa looked off the safety threw the biggest touchdown pass in the history of Alabama football.

With little room for error, Temple looks to rebound at home

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With little room for error, Temple looks to rebound at home

NBC Sports Philadelphia anchor/reporter Amy Fadool and senior producer Sean Kane get you set for all the weekend’s local college basketball games with Fastbreak Friday. Look for this column every Friday during the college basketball season.

Central Florida (17-10, 8-7 AAC) at Temple (15-12, 7-8), Sunday at 2 p.m. 
AF: There was a time when Temple was a bubble team to make the NCAA Tournament. Only about a week ago, the Owls had rattled off five straight wins, including an overtime winner against a Top 25 team in Wichita State.

But the Owls came crashing back to reality in the last week with a disappointing effort against Houston, a game they should and could have won. Their once-promising resume took a serious hit.

All is not lost, and a win this weekend would certainly help get them get back on the right track, coupled with a very nice run in the AAC Tournament in two weeks.

Temple owes Central Florida too. In their meeting at the beginning of January, Fran Dunphy’s crew managed a measly 39 points. And yes, that was for the entire game. The Owls are a different team, but they can fall back into the doldrums that we saw earlier in the season.

The home court and the pressure of needing wins will work in Temple’s favor.

Temple 71, Central Florida 67
 
Dartmouth (6-17, 2-8 Ivy) at Penn (19-7, 9-1), Friday at 7 p.m.
Harvard (14-11, 9-1 Ivy) at Penn (19-7, 9-1), Saturday at 7 p.m.

SK: There's a good chance the Ivy League regular-season championship will be decided Saturday at the Palestra. Penn and Harvard enter the penultimate weekend of the Ivy League schedule with identical 9-1 conference records, four games clear of third-place Yale. Harvard beat Penn 76-67 back on Feb. 10 on the Crimson's home court in Massachusetts. It remains Penn's only conference loss of the season, one the Quakers will be eager to atone for this weekend.
 
Penn needs to be careful not to overlook last-place Dartmouth on Friday night but the Quakers can survive against Dartmouth with just an average effort. The true test comes Saturday against Harvard, a game that will likely determine the regular season champion and top seed in the Ivy League Tournament. I expect Penn to put forth its best performance of the season against Harvard. The Quakers are the best team in the conference and they'll prove it on Saturday night, hopping into the driver's seat in the Ivy League title race in the process.
 
Penn 75, Dartmouth 62
Penn 77, Harvard 67

Saint Joseph's (12-15, 7-8 A-10) at Richmond (9-18, 7-8), Saturday at 6 p.m.
AF: There are teams who have a run of bad luck and there are teams who are positively snake-bit and cursed.

I hate to say it, but I think St. Joe’s falls into that latter category. Take out the roster-altering injuries for a moment, and what really sticks out are the Hawks' 11 losses by six points or less. If you give them just half of those wins, they're 17-10. And that is a whole different outlook on the season.

One of those close losses came this week on a buzzer-beater against George Mason. Not only did it erase a valiant 20-point comeback by the Hawks, it was also déjà vu to the previous meeting. George Mason also nailed a buzzer beater to beat St. Joe’s back on Jan. 10. The hits keep coming.

But Phil Martell’s team has a lot to be proud of, even if their record says otherwise. They are still one of the top teams in the nation in several defensive categories and lead the country in fewest turnovers.

Here’s hoping the skies are sunny in Richmond this weekend.

Saint Joseph’s 75, Richmond 70
 
La Salle (11-17, 5-10 A-10) at Fordham (9-18, 4-11), Saturday at 4 p.m.
SK: La Salle is coming off a heartbreaking 95-93 overtime loss to No. 18 Rhode Island at home on Wednesday. Senior guard B.J. Johnson was tremendous in the loss with 29 points and a career-high 23 rebounds. Johnson's performance marked the first time a La Salle player had more than 20 points and 20 rebounds in a game since legend Lionel Simmons in 1990. Johnson's 23 rebounds were one short of the Atlantic 10 record set by George Washington's Yinka Dare in 1993.
 
Johnson's heroics weren't enough to secure a win for La Salle. The Explorers have dropped four of their last five and are 4-10 since the calendar turned to 2018. Despite those recent struggles, I see a victory on the horizon for La Salle at Fordham Saturday. The Explorers beat the Rams, 75-67, at home six weeks ago, and they should have some additional confidence from their strong showing against Rhode Island.
 
La Salle 74, Fordham 70 

UNC-Wilmington (9-19, 6-10 CAA) at Drexel (12-18, 6-11), Saturday at 4 p.m. 
AF: WOW! Is it weird to start that way? Not if you saw the Drexel-Delaware game Thursday. Historic would be another one-word introduction, too. In case you missed it, Drexel pulled off the largest comeback in NCAA Division I history. Down 34 points, the Dragons came all the way back to beat their CAA rivals. Thirty-four points is an astronomical number in college basketball. As mentioned above, there was a game this year Temple scored 39 total.

The biggest thing about that comeback win wasn't Tremaine Isabell’s 29 points, it’s the fight the Dragons showed Zach Spiker and the Drexel faithful.

This has been an up-and-down season for Drexel — five straight losses in early January, followed by four straight wins and then another four losses. They could have easily packed it in, but they did not, despite trailing Delaware by that massive margin.

It’s senior day for the Dragons this weekend and I’m feeling the love from the DAC after that historic performance. 

Drexel 78, UNCW 70
 
Prediction records
Sean Kane: 27-10
Amy Fadool: 21-19

For the preview of No. 3 Villanova at Creighton, click here

Big East game of the year on tap for Villanova

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Big East game of the year on tap for Villanova

NBC Sports Philadelphia anchor/reporter Amy Fadool and senior producer Sean Kane get you set for all the weekend’s local college basketball games with Fastbreak Friday. Look for this column every Friday during the college basketball season.
 
No. 3 Villanova (23-3, 10-3 Big East) at No. 4 Xavier (24-3, 12-2), Saturday at 4:30 p.m.
SK
: Villanova limps into Saturday's Top 5 showdown with No. 4 Xavier in both a literal and figurative sense. The third-ranked Wildcats will once again be without Phil Booth as he recovers from a broken hand. Eric Paschall is still rounding into form after returning from the concussion protocol in Wednesday's loss at Providence. Then there's Omari Spellman, who played against Providence with a facemask after suffering a facial fracture last weekend.
 
Injuries are the norm this time of year — every team in the country is dealing with them in some fashion. But there's no doubt that injuries to key players have taken their toll on the Wildcats, who have lost two of their last three games and didn't play particularly well in the one game they managed to win.

Wednesday's 76-71 loss to Providence was Villanova's worst performance of the season. The Wildcats turned the ball over 19 times, shot just 3 of 20 from three-point range and missed a handful of critical free throws. As a result, they trailed for the vast majority of the game, fighting an uphill battle they weren't able to win because of an uncharacteristic number of mental and physical mistakes.
 
But this is no time for Jay Wright's team to harp on the past. Regular-season games don't get much bigger than Saturday's visit to Xavier. Let's run through the checklist of what's at stake. The winner hops into the driver's seat in the race for the Big East regular-season championship, a title that Villanova has claimed in each of the last four seasons. If Villanova loses Saturday, it would fall two games behind Xavier in the loss column in the league standings. The Musketeers have just three games remaining after Saturday, so a two-game lead with three left pretty much wraps up the league title for Xavier. If Villanova wins Saturday, it would pull even with Xavier in the loss column but would own the tiebreaker thanks to a season sweep of the Musketeers. In that case, the Wildcats could win a fifth straight Big East regular-season championship by winning their remaining four games.
 
In addition to the regular-season league title, the accompanying No. 1 seed in the Big East Tournament also hangs in the balance. Most importantly, No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament are also on the line. At the moment, both Villanova and Xavier are projected as 1-seeds in the Field of 68 next month. Saturday's winner will strengthen its grip on a No. 1 seed by adding a Top 5 win to its resume. The loser will be in serious jeopardy of missing out on any chance to be on the top line come Selection Sunday.
 
There's also the possibility of Villanova losing two straight games for the first time since March 2013. The Wildcats take a lot of pride in being able to bounce back following a poor performance. They'll have a golden opportunity to display that characteristic yet again in front of a national audience on Saturday.
 
The Wildcats are well aware of the importance of this weekend's matchup with Xavier. But that doesn't mean they'll treat the game any differently than the rest of their games this season. The one-game-at-a-time mindset has served the Villanova program well over the last five years. Jalen Brunson personifies that approach, and I expect him to come out extra motivated following his worst game of the season at Providence.
 
Xavier has plenty going for it on Saturday. First and foremost, the Musketeers will be super motivated to essentially wrap up their first-ever Big East regular-season championship. Xavier is led by a senior class of Trevon Bluiett, JP Macura, Sean O'Mara and Kerem Kanter, a group that would like nothing more than to end their careers by dethroning Villanova as kings of the Big East. Xavier is also playing at home against a team that beat them by 24 points earlier this season, so the revenge factor is strong.
 
But I think the character of the Villanova program ends up carrying the day. Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo and Paschall have played in and won plenty of big games. For the first time in their careers, they are being doubted by people on the outside. I expect the Wildcats to seize this opportunity to show they're still the class of the Big East despite their recent struggles. Look for a few big plays from Brunson down the stretch.
 
Villanova 78, Xavier 75
 
Houston (20-5, 10-3 AAC) at Temple (15-11, 7-7), Sunday at 4 p.m.
AF: The Owls have found something at this point in the season, and it couldn’t come at a better time because February is the month it seems that the NCAA Tournament selection committee pays attention to the most. 
 
So it would have been a huge resume-builder if Temple was able to keep that lead over Top 20 ranked Wichita State on the road Thursday night. The Owls rained down 11 threes in the first half to build a 15-point lead. They scored 56 points in the opening frame, a season high. There was a game a month ago when Temple scored only 39 in the entire game.
 
The Shockers defense didn’t let that scoring continue in the second half, and they shut down Obi Enechionyia down the stretch. The senior did finish with 17 points, but he scored 11 of the Owls' first 13 points after the opening tip-off.
 
It was the first loss in six games for Fran Dunphy’s team. Coming in, the Owls had won five in a row and seven of their last eight. If they want to get back on the winning streak, they’ll have a tough test this weekend with Houston.
 
The Cougars just took down No. 5 Cincinnati for the program’s first win over a top-five team in over 20 years. It also gave Houston its 20th win of the season. One of the key factors in the upset win for Houston was offensive rebounds — 11 of them led to 17 second-chance points. When you are supposedly overmatched, taking advantage of those opportunities is key for pulling off the upset.
 
The good news is that Temple has been playing well and shooting well. The bad news is that so is Houston. But this one is at the Liacouras Center and it’s Hooter the Owl’s birthday party. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a sucker for mascots.
 
Temple 71, Houston 68
 
Penn (17-7, 7-1 Ivy) at Columbia (6-15, 3-5), Friday at 7 p.m.
Penn (17-7, 7-1 Ivy) at Cornell (9-12, 3-5), Saturday at 6:30 p.m.

SK: Penn has reached the midway point of the Ivy League schedule deadlocked with Harvard atop the conference standings. The Quakers missed an opportunity to take control of the league last weekend when they suffered their first conference loss at Harvard. But this weekend offers a chance to get back on the winning track against a pair of middling teams in Columbia and Cornell. Granted both games are on the road and as even the top-ranked teams in the country can attest, road games are no bargain this time of year.
 
The Quakers have no margin for error if they hope to win the Ivy League title and earn the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. Penn beat both Columbia and Cornell earlier this season at the Palestra but both games were tightly contested. Sophomore big man AJ Brodeur continues to play the role of steadying force for Penn, averaging 17.0 points and 7.7 rebounds in his last three games. Brodeur put up a season-high 30 points in the first meeting of the season against Columbia. Look for another big effort by Brodeur on Friday to get Penn's weekend road trip off to a winning start.
 
Penn 70, Columbia 63
Penn 67, Cornell 60

 
Duquesne (15-11, 6-7 A-10) at Saint Joseph's (11-14, 6-7), Saturday at 6 p.m.
AF
: The Hawks picked up a rare road win this week when they took down Fordham Wednesday. Yes, the Rams are at the bottom of the Atlantic 10 standings, but a win is a win, and it snapped an eight-game road losing streak for St. Joe’s.
 
The Hawks are back home this weekend with a chance to make it three wins in a row when they welcome Duquesne to town. The Hawks' last two wins have come against teams below them in the conference standings. That will not be the case for the rest of February when they’ll face teams either tied with or above them in the A-10.
 
The Dukes are one such team at 6-7 in the standings, but they do have an overall winning record, something the Hawks nor their most recent opponents can say. Duquesne is much improved this year, already posting five more wins at this point than it had all of last season. Keith Dambrot has been a home-run hire for the Dukes, and if that name sounds familiar, you are either a big MAC fan, a big Akron Zips fan or a huge LeBron James fan. Dambrot coached LBJ in high school and is the winningest coach in Akron history.
 
So there are your fun facts for the day. I’d like to think that St. Joe’s has also turned a bit of a corner but they had a lackluster second half in the win over Fordham, a team much less talented than the Dukes squad coming in this weekend.
 
Duquesne 72, Saint Joseph’s 67
 
George Mason (12-14, 6-7 A-10) at La Salle (10-16, 4-9), Saturday at 2 p.m.
SK
: La Salle hasn't been showing much punch as the regular season winds down. The Explorers have lost three in a row and are 3-9 in their last 12. The latest setback came in the form of an 11-point home loss to St. Bonaventure on Tuesday. Sophomore guard Saul Phiri was a bright spot, scoring a career-high 22 points and knocking down 5 of 9 threes. It was an impressive performance for a guy averaging a little over six points per game on the season.
 
Saturday's visit from George Mason represents a chance for La Salle to rediscover a little winning mojo. The Patriots are only a couple games ahead of the Explorers in the A-10 standings but they've won three of their last four. It will be telling if the Explorers come out swinging Saturday afternoon or if they've already packed it in for the season. I expect a spirited effort. La Salle is every bit as talented as George Mason and more importantly in desperate need of some good vibes at this point in the season. Expect the Explorers to pull out a tight one and end their three-game losing skid.
 
La Salle 77, George Mason 74
 
Drexel (11-17, 5-10 CAA) at Hofstra (16-11, 9-6), Saturday at 4 p.m.
AF
: Earlier, I gave you some fun facts about Duquesne and its improvement from last season. So let’s continue that theme with Drexel. The Dragons already have two more wins than they did all of last season, and more importantly, they also already have two more conference wins than they earned all of last season. 
 
They’ve done that with some improbable wins over teams that, on paper, they should have lost handily to.
 
Thursday, it was almost another one of those type of wins for Drexel when it nearly took down one of the top CAA teams on the road with a narrow loss to Northeastern. Now, a chance to do it against Hofstra. The Pride are close to the top of the CAA, with a winning record and wins over Northeastern and William and Mary under their belts.
 
Yes, on paper this should be a Hofstra win. But I have picked Drexel to lose too many of these games this year and seemingly every time I do that, I get it wrong. So if I’m going down, I’m going down swinging. The Dragons are showing fight and firepower. They can score and defend with the best teams in their conference. Yes, it’s on the road, but I like them to snap their three-game losing streak.
 
Drexel 75, Hofstra 74
 
Prediction records
Sean Kane: 23-10
Amy Fadool: 21-16