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Notre Dame falls short in bid for Final Four against UNC

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Notre Dame falls short in bid for Final Four against UNC

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Roy Williams will take his postgame injuries as long as he and the North Carolina Tar Heels are headed to the Final Four.

The Hall of Fame coach bit his tongue and cut a finger during the net-cutting ceremonies after the Tar Heels beat Notre Dame 88-74 on Sunday night, leaving them as the only No. 1 seed in the Final Four.

"I was screaming. I started to take a step back and I felt like the ladder moved and I grabbed. When I grabbed I grabbed the end of the scissors and it started bleeding," he said.

That's OK since his team will head to Houston.

"Never in my life have I wanted something for someone else as I wanted to get these guys to Houston," he said.

Brice Johnson had 25 points and 12 rebounds as the Tar Heels reached the Final Four for a record 19th time and the first since 2009, when they won the last of their five national championships.

North Carolina (32-6) will face Syracuse, the 10th seed from the Midwest Regional, in another all-Atlantic Coast Conference matchup in the Final Four on Saturday. The Orange beat top-seeded Virginia 68-62.

"He should be used to cutting nets," senior point guard Marcus Paige said of Williams. "He said 'I'll bleed for you guys if you keep playing the way we're playing.' We'll get him patched up."

Sunday's halves were very different. In the first, the teams went shot for shot with both teams shooting over 58 percent and neither leading by more than six points. The second half was run for run and the Tar Heels, taking control of the boards, had the last and biggest one to seize control over the final 10 minutes.

It was Johnson's school-record 23rd double-double of the season.

"It took us four years to do this, but we're finally there," Johnson said of the Final Four.

Paige added 13 points and Joel Berry II had 11 points and eight assists for North Carolina, which has won its four tournament games by an average of 15.4 points. The Tar Heels finished with a 32-15 rebound advantage. They had more offensive rebounds than Notre Dame had on the defensive end.

"We got going a little bit and all of a sudden they made a huge run," Williams said of the second half. "(In a timeout) Marcus said, 'It's a game of runs. They made runs. We're going to make our run.'"

Demetrius Jackson had 26 points and V.J. Beachem had 18 for sixth-seeded Notre Dame (24-12), which has made the Final Four once, in 1978.

"I thought we put ourselves in position," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "We took that one-point lead and they answered it like men. ... I thought the way they answered that run was championship level."

[MORE: Notre Dame's furious finish ends Badgers' NCAA Tournament run]

The teams split their games before the tournament, with the Tar Heels winning by 31 in the conference tournament two weeks ago.

The second half Sunday seemed like it was going be similar with North Carolina making a big run.

This time, a 12-0 run gave the Tar Heels a 63-52 lead with 9:19 to play. North Carolina showed its depth during the run with the final eight points coming from reserves Isaiah Hicks and Theo Pinson.

North Carolina opened the second half with an 8-2 run and Kennedy Meeks scoring all the Tar Heels' points down low. Notre Dame answered with 12 straight points. During that run, Johnson was charged with a technical foul for throwing the ball high in the air after he was called for a foul. He apologized after the game.

"That was dumb on my part," Johnson said. "But my teammates did a very good job of playing. They stepped up during a time of need."

After an incredible first half in which both teams played about as well as they could offensively, North Carolina led 43-38.

Both teams shot better than 58 percent from the field and from 3-point range. In one stretch, North Carolina went 4 minutes without missing. It was the third half this tournament that North Carolina shot better than 60 percent. North Carolina finished 61.5 percent for the game (32 for 52).

Notre Dame shot 55.1 percent (27 for 49).

Williams went to a 1-3-1 zone for a while trying to slow down the Fighting Irish from 3-point range. They made five of their first eight from beyond the arc and finished 6 for 10 for the half and 9 for 18 for the game.

North Carolina was 16 for 25 from the field (64 percent) and 4 from 6 on 3s, while the Fighting Irish were 14 for 24 from the field (58.3 percent).

Loyola, Valpo showdown in a big game early in the MVC schedule

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USA TODAY

Loyola, Valpo showdown in a big game early in the MVC schedule

Loyola battles Valparaiso in a Missouri Valley Conference clash that airs on NBC Sports Chicago Tuesday night at 7 p.m.

The Ramblers (10-7, 3-1) are fighting for the top spot in the Valley with the Crusaders (11-6, 4-0) as the top two teams in the conference play an important early league game.

Coming off of an important home win over Illinois State on Saturday, the Ramblers are hoping to make another move by taking a crack at the Valley's only unbeaten team. Veterans Marques Townes, Clayton Custer and Cameron Krutwig are all having strong seasons for Loyola as the Ramblers attempt to position themselves for another potential NCAA tournament bid.

Valparaiso has put together a strong five-game winning streak, including a good road win at Southern Illinois over the weekend. The Crusaders have a balanced group of scorers, led by forward Ryan Fazekas, and center Derrik Smits -- the son of former Indiana Pacers center Rik Smits.

These two teams will also play on Feb. 10 as the Ramblers will make a trip to Valpo for the rematch. For now, this matchup could provide an indication of the team to beat in the Valley.

Northwestern mounts huge comeback, beats Utah in Holiday Bowl; Thorson, Fitzgerald heading to NFL next?

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USA TODAY

Northwestern mounts huge comeback, beats Utah in Holiday Bowl; Thorson, Fitzgerald heading to NFL next?

It was a tale of two halves for Northwestern in Monday's Holiday Bowl.

After entering halftime trailing Utah 20-3, Northwestern mounted a huge second half comeback to knock off the Utes 31-20. Northwestern, which outscored Utah 28-0 in the third quarter, finishes the 2018 season 9-5 record.

Northwestern was just 3-of-14 on third down, though they forced six Utah turnovers (two interceptions) highlighted by an 82-yard fumble return for a touchdown by safety/linebacker Jared McGee.

Six turnovers forced is the most by Northwestern since Oct. 3, 2009 against Purdue, when the Wildcats also forced six turnovers.

Senior quarterback Clayton Thorson — who tore his right ACL on Dec. 29, 2017 in the Music City Bowl — finished 21-of-30 for 241 yards and two touchdowns. However, Thorson exited the game late in the fourth quarter after going down awkwardly near Utah's sideline.

Thorson is one of the top quarterback prospects for the 2019 NFL Draft. 

The win improves Northwestern's all-time bowl game record to 5-10. However, they have now three-straight bowl games; from the 1948-2012 seasons, they won two bowl games — the 1949 Rose Bowl and the 2013 Gator Bowl.

One of the biggest questions facing Northwestern is the future of head coach Pat Fitzgerald. According to a report, the Green Bay Packers are expected to request an interview with Fitzgerald for their head coaching vacancy.

Unlike Thorson, Fitzgerald leaving for the NFL is no guarantee. If he does leave, however, Fitzgerald would leave with the most all-time regular season wins (95) and bowl wins (4) in Northwestern history.

Fitzgerald's .576 winning percentage would also be best all-time by a Northwestern head coach, minimum five seasons. 

Fans likely will anxiously wait for news regarding Fitzgerald's future. Overall, though, fans should be appreciative of the job he has done into turning Northwestern into one of the better football programs in the Big Ten.

UPDATE: Here's what Fitzgerald said about his future after the game.