College Basketball

Penn beats Harvard to clinch NCAA tournament spot, 68-65

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Penn beats Harvard to clinch NCAA tournament spot, 68-65

PHILADELPHIA - Sitting on top of the rim, clutching the net that was just cut down, Darnell Foreman couldn't help but think of all of the great Penn players who won championships before him.

After a long wait and an unlikely turnaround, the senior guard can add his name to that list.

Foreman scored 19 points, AJ Brodeur had 16 points and 10 rebounds and Penn earned its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2007 with a 68-65 win over Harvard in the Ivy League Tournament title game Sunday.

Ryan Betley added 17 points for the Quakers (24-8), who will be making their 24th appearance in the NCAAs.

"I wanted to be like Mike Jordan," Foreman said of the star Penn guard who led the Quakers to Ivy titles in 1999 and 2000. "Especially being a guard, you look at the past history of guards. The Ibby Jaabers, the Jerome Allens, even going back to Booney Salters. You want to be those guys. You want to be on the wall. You want that history. Now this team has it. This team is going to be remembered as the team that stopped the drought."

Senior Caleb Wood, a junior college transfer, drilled two straight 3-pointers, getting fouled on the second, to put Penn ahead 63-60 with 3:42 remaining. Betley followed with a 3-point play, before Harvard's Christian Juzang pulled the Crimson to 66-63 with a 3-pointer with 47.6 seconds to go.

Harvard trimmed Penn's lead to 66-65 on two Justin Bassey foul shots with 14.6 seconds left. But after Betley hit two free throws, Bassey and Juzang both missed potentially game-tying threes in the final seconds, and Penn fans rushed the court for a celebration a decade in the making.

"I didn't think it was possible for us to get to the NCAA Tournament until that horn went off," said third-year Penn coach Steve Donahue, who spearheaded the speedy turnaround after the Quakers sputtered through nine losing seasons in 10 years. "In a building I grew up in, and watching the kids storm the floor for our guys, (it was) magical. Unexpected, too."

Chris Lewis led Harvard (18-13) with 16 points, while Bassey had 15 and Seth Towns, the league's player of the year, finished with 13 before leaving the game with a knee injury with 8:20 remaining.

"Not having him on the floor certainly wasn't easy, but we still had opportunities to push through," Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. "And I'm very proud of my kids for battling through without Seth."

Harvard and Penn proved to be the top two teams in the Ivies this year after sharing the regular-season title with 12-2 conference records and then dominating Cornell and Yale, respectively, in Saturday's Ivy League Tournament semifinal games.

And after splitting their two regular-season meetings, both teams traded punches like heavyweight fighters in front of a packed crowd at the Palestra, Penn's home gym.

Fueled by a 16-0 run in which Penn was held scoreless for seven minutes, Harvard led 30-17 with five minutes left in the first half. That's when the Quakers turned things around, closing the first half on a 17-2 run capped by a Foreman 3-pointer right before the buzzer. Foreman, who sprinted right into the locker room as the Palestra crowd went wild, scored his 19 points all in the first half.

"That was huge for us," Brodeur said. "He gave us the spark we needed. That's just leadership."

The Quakers continued to surge after the break, with sophomore standouts Brodeur and Betley combining to score the first 11 points of the first half to put Penn ahead 45-32 and complete a 28-2 run spanning halves.

But trailing by 10 midway through the second half, Harvard reeled off a 13-0 run to take a 58-55 lead, sparked by 3-point plays from Bassey and Juzang.

Afterward, both coaches expressed amazement at the runs each teams made.

"I just thought the game had an incredible back and forth," Donahue said. "I had no idea we went on a 28-2 run - that's crazy."

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Chris Herren Jr. reclassifies, enrolls at Boston College

Chris Herren Jr. reclassifies, enrolls at Boston College

Boston College announced on Monday that Chris Herren Jr., son of much-celebrated local legend Chris Herren, has reclassified to the Class of 2018 and will join the men's basketball team for the 2018-19 season.

Chris Jr. will become the third Herren to play for the Eagles in the fall, joining his father and his uncle, Mike. Chris Jr. played these last two seasons at Tabor Academy, in Marion, Mass., after transferring in from Portsmouth (R.I.) High and repeating his sophomore season. He earned NEPSAC All-Class A honors this past season after averaging 23 points per game and shooting 42 percent from three-point range. He has signed a financial aid agreement and reclassified to the Class of 2018, according to BC.

"We are excited to add Chris to our program," BC head coach Jim Christian said in a statement. "He is a dynamic scorer who possesses a high basketball IQ.  His ability to shoot from long-range and his playmaking ability will fit our playing style well."

The elder Herren is one of the most celebrated high school basketball players in Massachusetts state history, earning McDonald's All-American honors as a senior at Fall River's B.M.C. Durfee High after scoring over 2,000 points for his career. He was one of the nation's most heavily-recruited guards, and his senior season was documented in the book "Fall River Dreams".  He stayed close to home at BC, but transferred to Fresno State after some off-court troubles in his freshman season.

Herren appeared in 35 games with the Boston Celtics in 2000-01, before some well-documented personal struggles led to the derailment of his career. The depths of his struggles, and subsequent recovery to become one of the nation's most revered anti-drug motivational speakers, were documented in a gripping memoir and a "30 for 30" special on ESPN. In 2011 he founded The Herren Project, which seeks to provide assistance in substance abuse recovery.

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NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP: Villanova takes title, 79-62 over Michigan behind DiVincenzo

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NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP: Villanova takes title, 79-62 over Michigan behind DiVincenzo

SAN ANTONIO -- When he wasn't dribbling behind his back, winking to the TV announcers, stuffing shots or dishing out assists, Villanova guard Donte DiVincenzo was making it rain.

First, 3-pointers.

Later on, confetti.

The redhead kid with the nickname Big Ragu came off the bench to make five 3s and score 31 points Monday to lift `Nova to another blowout victory in the NCAA Tournament - this time 79-62 over Michigan for its second national title in three seasons.

The sophomore guard had 12 points and an assist during a first-half run to help the Wildcats (36-4) pull ahead, then scored nine straight for Villanova midway through the second to snuff out the Wolverines. He capped the second shooting skein with a 3-pointer from a step behind the arc. He punctuated it with a knowing wink over to the sideline, where TV announcers Jim Nantz and Bill Raftery were sitting.

Yep, he knew he could do it. And his teammates were more than willing to let him steal the show.

"If someone's hot, feed `em," said Jalen Brunson, the national Player of the Year, who finished with nine points and was perfectly fine with playing a supporting role on this night.

In taking the program's third overall title, Villanova won all six games by double digits over this tournament run, joining Michigan State (2000), Duke (2001) and North Carolina (2009) in that rare air.

The last team to win its two Final Four games by 16 or more: UCLA in 1968. During the dynasty.

One key question: Does Jay Wright's team belong on the list of the best of all-time?

Maybe so, considering the way Villanova dismantled everyone in front of it in a tournament that was dripping with upsets, underdogs and at least the appearance of parity.

Maybe so, considering the Wildcats won in seemingly every way imaginable. This victory came two nights after they set a Final Four record with 18 3-pointers (they had 10 in this one), and one week after they relied more on defense in a win over Texas Tech in the Elite Eight.

"We don't really look at it that way," Wright said. "We don't look at it as, did we just dominate that team? No. We played well."

And really, that debate's for later.

DiVincenzo squashed any questions about this game with a 10-for-15 shooting night - 5 for 7 from 3 -that was, frankly, better than that. He was a no-doubt winner of the Final Four's most-outstanding-player award.

With Michigan trying to stay in striking range early in the second half, he opened his game-sealing run with an around-the-back dribble to get to the hoop and get fouled. On the other end, he delivered a two-handed rejection of Michigan's Charles Matthews - his second block of the game, to go with five rebounds and three assists - when Matthews tried to bring it into the paint.

The 3 that capped things off came from a big step behind the arc and gave Villanova a 62-44 lead with 7:58 left.

"Honestly, I didn't look at the score at all," DiVincenzo said. "I didn't know how many points I had. I didn't know any of that. I was just trying to make the right play. And Omari (Spellman) was setting unbelievable screens for me getting me open. And I was just feeling it."

About the only drama at the end was whether DiVincenzo could unwrap himself from his teammates' mob hug to hurl the ball underhanded toward the rafters after the buzzer. He succeeded there, too.

"Sometimes I think about whether I'm a good defender, because in practice, he makes me look bad," said junior Mikal Bridges, who likely made this his final audition for the NBA with a 19-point night on 7-for-12 shooting.

What a couple of months it's been for Philly. First the Eagles. Now this. The Super Bowl, though, was a classic. This one was only beautiful to one team.

Michigan (33-8) came out playing tough-nosed defense it relied on over a 14-game winning streak that got the Wolverines to their second final in six years.

Moe Wagner scored 11 early points to pick up where he left off in a dominating performance in the semifinal. Villanova started 1 for 9 from 3-point range. And yet, after DiVincenzo banged down a 3 from a step behind the arc for Villanova's second of the night, coach John Beilein looked at the scoreboard and saw his team behind, 23-21.

"The way DiVincenzo shot the ball, it was just incredible for us to try to win that game with the roll he went on," the coach said.

If his first 3 wasn't demoralizing enough, DiVincenzo made another, then took a bounce pass from Brunson for a dunk, then paid it forward with an assist to Spellman. It was part of a 23-7 run that gave the Wildcats a nine-point lead at halftime; they never looked back.

DiVincenzo competed hard for a starting spot this year, but didn't win it. He made the best of it as a sixth man. Wright waited all of 52 seconds in the second half to get him back on the floor.

"It just shows how much depth we have, and that we don't care who gets the credit," Brunson said.

Though he didn't play in the 2016 Final Four, DiVincenzo got his fair share of credit for that title, too.

His season cut short because of a knee injury, he was healthy enough to run the scout squad for Villanova. Some on the team said he was better at doing Oklahoma star Buddy Hield than Hield himself.

But maybe a more apt comparison is to ... Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?

DiVincenzo joins them in the rare club of players to crack 30 points while also shooting better than 66 percent from the floor in a Final Four game.

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