NCAA

UCF's Bortles dominates in Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl

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UCF's Bortles dominates in Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) Blake Bortles is just one of the reasons why Central Florida feels good about its chances of being successful in the new-look Big East.

The red-shirt sophomore turned the Beef `O' Brady's Bowl into a personal showcase Friday night, throwing for three touchdowns and running for another to pace a 38-17 victory over Ball State in UCF's final game as a member of Conference USA - a league the Knights won twice in eight seasons.

``He's an outstanding player, and he scared me ... coming in with his feet and his ability to escape in the pocket and keep his eyes down the field and make plays,'' Ball State coach Pete Lembo said.

``He did that basically from the beginning of the game until the end when he came out,'' Lembo added. ``I can't believe that this guy's not going to be a pro prospect if he continues to develop the way he has. So I'm very, very impressed with him and obviously the supporting cast.''

Bortles directed a balanced attack that gained 494 yards total offense. UCF's defense did its part by holding the high-scoring Cardinals to their lowest point total of the season.

``Offensively, this is one of the best games we had all year,'' Bortles said. ``Everyone just really picked up and went, and that's why we won the way we did.''

Bortles threw for 271 yards and three touchdowns. The red-shirt sophomore also rushed for a career-high 80 yards and scored on a 6-yard run that helped UCF (10-4) build a 21-point halftime lead.

``I thought Blake did everything he needed to do by making the right decisions,'' UCF coach George O'Leary said. ``Basically, he made the right decisions that moved us down the field. He really showed tonight why he's our guy out there.''

Bortles tossed first-half TD passes of 7 and 5 yards to Latavius Murray, who also scored on a 2-yard run. J.J. Worton's 7-yard scoring reception made 35-10 late in the third quarter.

Ball State (9-4) was hoping to finish with at least 10 wins for the third time in school history, however its offense sputtered while being held 18 points below its season average. Keith Wenning threw a 7-yard TD pass to Willie Snead early in the second quarter, but the Cardinals didn't get into the end zone again until Snead scored on a 16-yard reception with 5 minutes remaining.

Bortles completed 22 of 33 passes without an interception to become UCF's first 3,000-yard passer since 2002. His three TD passes were a career-best and tied the Beef `O' Brady's Bowl record.

Wenning, meanwhile, was 22 of 34 for 217 yards and two TDs for Ball State, which had a six-game winning streak snapped before an announced crowd of 21,759.

The Cardinals were 3 for 9 on third-down conversions and finished with 288 yards, nearly 200 below their season average.

``Obviously, to stay on the field on third down is critical, and (there is) very little margin for error for our offense,'' Lembo said. ``It wasn't a horrible day offensively by any means, but not quite to the degree we needed to stay in the game.''

UCF, one of several schools joining the Big East next season, rebounded from an overtime loss in the Conference USA title game to finish with double-digit victories for the third time since stepping up to the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Knights also won 10 in 2007 and 2010, when they were Conference USA champions.

The Knights' loss to Tulsa in the Conference USA title game kept them close to home for the postseason. Instead of heading to the Liberty Bowl for the second time in three years, coach George O'Leary and his players settled for a 100-mile trek west from Orlando to Tropicana Field, the home of Major League Baseball's Tampa Bay Rays.

O'Leary also brought his team to St. Petersburg in 2009, losing to Rutgers by three touchdowns. Friday night's victory improved the 66-year-old coach's record to 4-5 in bowl games, including a 2-3 mark with UCF.

Ball State's first bowl appearance since 2008 is the latest step in an impressive turnaround under Lembo, whose team suffered early losses to Clemson, Kent State and Northern Illinois before winning six straight down the stretch to put themselves into a position to fill the Big East's slot in the Beef `O' Brady's game because the league didn't have enough bowl-eligible teams to meet its commitment.

The Cardinals beat two teams from BCS conferences in the same season for the first time, defeating Indiana and South Florida in consecutive weeks. They had the MAC's second-most productive offense at 471.3 yards and 35 points per game and won four times by scoring the winning points in the final 2 minutes or overtime.

``It's not the way you kind of desire to go out as a senior, but I'm proud of my teammates for even getting us to the point,'' Ball State linebacker Travis Freeman said. ``The guys worked hard and trained hard all year round for this opportunity. We didn't seize it, but I'm proud of my teammates for what they've done.''

Wolfpack overcomes 10-minute scoring drought to top Virginia

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Wolfpack overcomes 10-minute scoring drought to top Virginia

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- D.J. Funderburk scored 14 points before fouling out and North Carolina State overcame a second-half scoring drought of more than 10 minutes in a 53-51 victory against Virginia on Monday night.

C.J. Bryce added 13 points for the Wolfpack (14-5, 5-3 Atlantic Coast Conference), including a jumper with 27 seconds left after allowing the shot clock to race to near 0:00. The victory ended an eight-game losing streak against the Cavaliers.

Viginia (12-6, 4-4) used a 15-0 run during the N.C. State scoring drought that lasted 10:13 to take a 46-42 lead, bringing the crowd at John Paul Jones Arena back into the game. But Jericole Hellems hit a 3-pointer for N.C. State with 3:38 left and, after a free throw by Mamadi Diakite for Virginia, Markell Johnson hit a 3-pointer and then Hellems' putback gave the Wolfpack a 50-47 lead.

Johnson and Bryce both missed the front end of one-and-one free throw opportunities, and Kihei Clark hit a pair for Virginia. Braxton Beverly made the first and missed the second for the Wolfpack with 7.2 seconds left, and the Cavaliers Casey Morsell was short on a contested 3 at the buzzer.

Clark led Virginia with 10 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

The Wolfpack had used an 8-0 run to go ahead 42-31. Virginia helped out by going scoreless for more than 6 1/2 minutes. Francisco Caffaro, who had just been inserted into the game, ended the drought with 11:13 left.

BIG PICTURE

N.C. State: The Wolfpack seemed on their way to a solid victory until the drought, during which they were 1 for 8 from the field with five turnovers and repeatedly let the shot clock run down into single digits, forcing bad shots.

Virginia: In the Cavaliers' continuing search for scoring help, freshman Casey Morsell had as many as three field goals for the first time since a 65-56 victory against Navy on Dec. 29. He was 4 for 20 from the field in his last five games. He finished the night 4 for 9 and his buzzer-beater attempt was closely guarded.

UP NEXT

The Wolfpack remains on the road and plays at Georgia Tech on Saturday.

The Cavaliers go on the road and play at Wake Forest on Sunday.

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Despite place in standings, Wizards believe playoffs aren't a pipe dream

Despite place in standings, Wizards believe playoffs aren't a pipe dream

WASHINGTON -- This may be the most realistic and self-aware Wizards team we have seen in a while. It wasn't long ago they had a penchant for talking big about what they believed they could accomplish. Nowadays, knowing where they are in the standings, their expectations are much more measured.

They know they are 12th in the Eastern Conference, even after beating the Pistons on Monday. They know their 14-28 record, which is 14 games under .500 and has them on pace to win 27 total games, isn't good.

But the Wizards are allowed to dream and they say making the playoffs is still something they would like to do.

"That's the goal, that's every day for us. [It's] in the back of my mind," shooting guard Bradley Beal said.

"I watch the games, I watch the standings and everything. We're not talking about it," head coach Scott Brooks said. "If that comes into play [we'll see]. The seventh and eighth seeds, the records aren't great."

There is certainly a case for that. The two teams currently occupying the bottom two playoff spots in the East have sub-.500 records. The seventh-ranked Magic are 20-23 and the Brooklyn Nets are in eighth with an 18-24 mark.

Last season, the Charlotte Hornets held up the Eastern Conference playoff bracket with a losing record as the eighth seed. They went 39-43, not good but still a much better pace than the Wizards are currently on. To win 39 games, they would have to go 25-16 the rest of the way.

Though they have shown some positive signs, going 4-4 in their last eight games, that would require going to a completely different level in the second half of the season. Still, there is no harm in maintaining their goals.

Beal, for one, has envisioned a way it can happen.

"Especially once All-Star hits, that second half is just flying. We have to tighten up and try to get some wins here before the break because that's usually the time when teams like to ease off the pedal a little bit. We have to take advantage of [that], that advantage of our schedule, take care of our bodies, and rally together," he said.

If the Wizards really, really wanted to go for the playoffs, they could try to add some pieces before the Feb. 6 trade deadline. But that should not be expected. In fact, this year's deadline for the Wizards likely won't be affected much at all by the playoff picture.

It's hard to envision them being buyers and they may not be able to be true sellers, either, due to injuries and other factors. Also, there is a belief in the front office that keeping a close distance in the playoff race could be a nice incentive for their young players, that having something to work for later in the season could help their development.

If the Wizards did somehow make the playoffs or even get close, that would be quite the surprise and it would say a lot about the direction of the organization. But in the long-term, it would seem to be more beneficial if they continue on their current course and end up with a top draft pick.

The Wizards right now have the fifth-worst record in the league. That would net them a lot of ping-pong balls for the draft lottery.

It seems likely that's where this season will end. But it doesn't hurt to try.

"We just want to play. We just want to finish the second half of the season playing better," Brooks said.

The Wizards are only 4 1/2 games back in the playoff race. Stranger things have happened.

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