NCAA

NCAA Tournament First Four: Mount St. Mary's edges New Orleans, gets Villanova next

NCAA Tournament First Four: Mount St. Mary's edges New Orleans, gets Villanova next

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DAYTON, Ohio -- Diminutive point guard Junior Robinson fearlessly dribbled into the heart of New Orleans' defense, pulled up and hit yet another of his oh-so-soft jumpers. This one decided a frenetic opening game for the NCAA Tournament.

The smallest player in Division I scored 23 points Tuesday night, including that go-ahead jumper with 1:27 to play, and Mount St. Mary's held on for a 67-66 victory over New Orleans in the First Four.

Robinson carried the Mountaineers (20-15) to only their second NCAA Tournament win, making jumpers with so much arc they appeared to tease the ceiling.

"The way he plays out there -- his speed, his athleticism -- it's just so special," coach Jamion Christian said. "When you're a smaller guy, you're naturally going to have a chip on your shoulder and you want to go out there and show the world the things you can do."

The Mountaineers will head to Buffalo to play defending national champion and top overall seed Villanova in the East Regional on Thursday. They had a charter flight waiting after the game.

"It's a dream come true," guard Elijah Long said. "But this is March Madness, and this is part of the madness."

Mount St. Mary's led most of the way, but New Orleans (20-12) pulled off a comeback befitting its resurgent season. The Privateers had a chance for a final shot, but Erik Thomas' inbound pass with 2.6 seconds left was off target and stolen by the Mountaineers' Chris Wray.

The Privateers' tournament appearance was part of a huge turnaround for the school, which was severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. They went 10-20 last season, but won the Southland's regular season and tournament titles for the first time in school history.

Their final comeback came up short.

After trailing by as many as 11 in the first half and nine in the second, they briefly took a 64-63 lead on Christavious Gill's free throws with 1:48 left. Robinson responded with his soft jumper, and the Mountaineers held on.

"We started the engine on the car, and now the car is moving," said Nate Frye, who led New Orleans with 18 points. "We've got to pick up speed and keep building off what we did this year. We established the building blocks of what was broken down from Katrina."

Cool it
New Orleans forward Travin Thibodeaux and Gill had to be separated by a coach during a timeout with 6:36 left in the game.

Thibodeaux was called for a 3-second violation and complained to Gill as they headed to the bench. They exchanged words, and Gill pushed the forward away. Thibodeaux appeared to wrap his arm around the point guard's neck as they were separated.

Thibodeaux was benched the rest of the way. He finished with 11 points.

"Unfortunately, it will take away a little bit from the experience of the game and how great of an experience this was for us," coach Mark Slessinger said.

Big picture
Mount St. Mary's: The Mountaineers wear warmup shirts with "Mayhem" on the back, reminding them of their pressure defense. They forced 14 turnovers that set up 19 points.

New Orleans: The Privateers' offense was unbalanced. They scored 42 points in the paint, taking care of their advantage on the front line, but were only 1 of 9 from beyond the arc.

Up next
Mount St. Mary's: The Mountaineers will be trying to pull off the first upset of a top seed by a No. 16 seed when they face Villanova.

New Orleans: The Privateers are 1-5 all-time in the tournament. They lose three senior starters: Tevin Broyles, Gill and Erik Thomas.

Knicks will reportedly reach out to Jay Wright about coaching job

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Knicks will reportedly reach out to Jay Wright about coaching job

Fresh off a second national championship in three years, this was bound to happen. Jay Wright is a hot name. 

And according to the New York Daily News, the Knicks plan on reaching out to Wright about their vacant head coaching job. 

Just don’t expect Wright to be interested. 

The 56-year-old coach has been determined to build Villanova into a powerhouse since he took the head coaching gig way back in 2001 and he’s finally done that. On the surface, maybe some think that would be enough to make him want to take his coaching to the top league in the world. Not so fast. 

In a recent interview with The Athletic, Wright said pretty flatly that he’s staying at Villanova because he loves it there. 

“The NBA does intrigue me,” Wright said. “That challenge is appealing but it’s not worth giving up working with these guys. The whole thing is, to take a new challenge you have to give up what you have. I don’t want to give up what I have. Would I like to coach in the NBA? Yes. But I have to give this up in order to do that, and I don’t see that happening.”

In that interview, Wright talked about his time at Hofstra and quoted Jim Valvano, who once said, ‘Don’t mess with happy.’ That was true at Hofstra until the Villanova job came around, so maybe there’s a chance the Knicks could blow him away. It just doesn’t seem likely. 

The Knicks just fired head coach Jeff Hornacek after a 29-53 record in 2017. The Knicks haven’t had a winning record since 2012-13. 

The New York Daily News cites a source, who said the Knicks believe Wright would be a “perfect candidate for a rebuilding club.” The Knicks might be right, but don’t bet on them getting Wright. 

Jalen Brunson hires agent, declares for NBA draft

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Jalen Brunson hires agent, declares for NBA draft

Villanova is losing its second star player in two days. 

Guard Jalen Brunson has decided to hire an agent and enter the 2018 NBA Draft, he wrote in a letter to Nova Nation on ESPN. He will forego his senior season at Villanova after an incredible college career. 

This news comes a day after his teammate Mikal Bridges announced he will also head to the NBA draft.

“It is with great honor and privilege that I have called Villanova University my home for the past three years,” Brunson wrote in ESPN. “When I decided to commit to Coach Jay Wright and the basketball program, I was driven by three goals: getting my education, competing at the highest level and winning a national championship. While I pride myself on remaining disciplined and focused to achieve these goals, I have grown as a man and have established lifelong relationships with my teammates, classmates, members of the basketball staff, fellow student-athletes and the wonderful educators and administrators of this prestigious university.”

Brunson leaves Villanova as one of the greatest players in Wildcats history, helping lead Villanova to its second national championship in three years. 

The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 18.9 points, 4.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game this season. Brunson was named the Big East Player of the Year and was the Wooden Award and Naismith Award winner this season.