Save Our Season: Desperate Sixers Face Celtics One Last Time

Save Our Season: Desperate Sixers Face Celtics One Last Time

Well, guys, this is pretty much it. This is the season right here. The
Sixers failed to take care of business last night against the Orlando
Magic, unable to stop the Magic's makeshift Big Three of Dwight Howard,
J.J. Redick and Glenn "Big Baby" Davis, while the Celtics stomped the
Pacers in Indy, bringing their Atlantic Division lead to two games.
Meanwhile, everyone else is winning—the Hawks have moved to four games
above the Sixers in the standings, basically out of the Ballers' reach,
while both the Knicks and Bucks are coming up from behind, New York just
a half-game behind Philly at the eight seed and Milwaukee a mere
game-and-a-half from forcing 'em out of the playoffs.

The free-falling Sixers, losers of each of their last three and nine of
their last 13, simply have to win this game for their regular season to
have any meaning from here on out. If they lose this one, the Celtics
will be three games up on them and all but out of reach for the Atlantic
Division crown. At that point, the Sixers would essentially lose all
hope at a top-six seed, meaning their best bet would probably be to tank
for the eight seed just to avoid playing Miami in the first round (and
get the chance to lose to the Bulls in five or six instead)—or, if
they're feeling really ambitious, tank all the way out of the playoffs,
and earn a #12 or #13 pick (and something like a 0.25% chance of landing
a top-three selection) in the loaded '12 draft. Yeah. It's like that.

Adding to the stakes tonight is that Coach Collins has now made clear
the leash that the starting unit is on, with the basic message of Play Good Tonight Or Else.
This threat, of course, has implications beyond this season, since if
the Sixers' back court of Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner (and you can
through starting SF Andre Iguodala in there too) can't be counted on
long-term by Collins, that basically means that one of them has to
go—either Holiday, Turner, or possibly even Collins. Jrue and Evan were
supposed to be this team's future, but the results of their play as a
starting backcourt have been far from encouraging, with the two duo
seemingly unable to both have good games in the same contest, and the
team's outside shooting and floor-spacing obviously suffering from the
lack of a real three-point threat on the floor.

If the Sixers get soundly beaten tonight—a very real possibility,
natch—it really might be the death blow for this team's core, and could
(should?) lead to dramatic moves in the off-season, which many would
argue are already years overdue. But here's the thing: As much as the
sky resembles one which is falling, it's really not too late to save
this season yet. After the Celtics, only three of the Sixers' last ten
games are against playoff teams—one against the Magic and two against
the Pacers. True, eight of those ten are on the road, but they're
against teams like the Cavaliers, Raptors, Nets and Pistons—teams that,
even as miserably as the Sixers have played recently, they should stand a
pretty good chance against. If they handle the Celtics tonight, they'll
just be one game back, which they theoretically could make up from
Boston as they face the Heat and Hawks twice each in their final
stretch, in addition to one each against the Knicks, Bucks and Magic.

6:00 tip from the TD Banknorth Garden. One more shot at a path to redemption, guys, to proving that this season's 20-9 start meant something,
something more than the exhilarating wind-up to a devastating,
elongated regression to the mean. Show 'em that you're worth a damn.

Penn State uses dominant second half to top No. 6 Wisconsin for Big Ten title

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Penn State uses dominant second half to top No. 6 Wisconsin for Big Ten title

INDIANAPOLIS — Penn State’s offense rewrote the Big Ten Championship’s offensive record book Saturday night but its 38-31 victory over Wisconsin wasn’t secure until the final minute.

And Linebacker U. got the game-saving play from the secondary.

Wisconsin, armed with a pair of timeouts and lining up for a fourth-and-1 play from the Nittany Lions’ 24, called on Corey Clement. Clement, who’d already racked up 166 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, got the ball but never got close to the marker.

Grant Haley made sure of it.

The junior cornerback wrapped up Clement’s legs and safety Marcus Allen kept Clement from leaning forward and the game was over. Penn State (11-2) has the 2016 Big Ten title and, at worst, will play in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2009.

“They ran [a counter] early in the game and split it for a touchdown,” Haley said of the final play. “I saw them set the edge, so I got triggered really well and Marcus finished off the play.”

Haley and company watched the Badgers run wild in the first half; 164 yards and three touchdowns, including Clement’s 67-yard scamper. Wisconsin, one of the conference’s best rushing teams this season, managed less than half that total (77) in the second half.

“They really weren’t running that many plays,” Haley added. “We just came out in the second half and had a jolt. 

“We just had the energy going into the second half.”

Wisconsin got the ball twice in the fourth quarter but managed only 65 yards - 51 of which came on its final drive.

“Give credit to Penn State for coming out in the second half and making those adjustments and allowing those big plays to happen,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. 

Give plenty of credit, too, to the Nittany Lions’ offense. 

Quarterback Trace McSorley was named the game’s most valuable player after completing 17 of his 25 passes for 319 yards and four touchdowns - both championship game records. He helped Penn State complete the biggest comeback in the game’s six year history after his team fell behind 28-7 in the first half and also finished the regular season with 3,360 yards and 25 touchdown passes, both school records.

Saeed Blacknall had six catches for a Big Ten Championship-record 155 yards and two touchdowns and DaeShean Hamilton finished with 118 yards on eight grabs.

Tailback Saquon Barkley, injured in last weekend’s victory over Michigan State, returned with 88 yards and a touchdown on the ground and caught an 18-yard scoring pass from McSorley early in the fourth quarter to put the Nittany Lions ahead for good.

Penn State, in its first-ever trip to this game, is coming home from it with just its second outright Big Ten title. It’s on a nine-game winning streak that has seen it average 40 points per contest.

It also could present the College Football Playoff selection committee with a bit of quandary. The Nittany Lions, who were ranked seventh by the committee last week, topped the No. 6 Badgers and claimed a conference championship, something likely playoff teams Alabama, Clemson and Washington all boast.

On the flip side, Penn State’s last defeat was a lopsided 49-10 loss at Michigan, which sits at No. 5 in the rankings and likely won’t move into the top four after losing last week to No. 2 Ohio State.

Penn State coach James Franklin stated his team’s case after Saturday night’s win, but also made it clear he and his team won’t be moping their way to Pasadena, Calif., where the conference champion is slotted if it is not chosen for the playoff.

“We’ve got great options in front of us,” he said. “I hear people on TV talking about they feel like maybe the playoff has taken away from the bowls. 

“Are you kidding me? The Rose Bowl? It doesn’t get a whole lot better than that.”

Report: Jordan Matthews (ankle) not expected to play vs. Bengals

Report: Jordan Matthews (ankle) not expected to play vs. Bengals

Jordan Matthews will not play Sunday against the Bengals after missing practice all week with an ankle sprain, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

Matthews is the Eagles' leading receiver with 57 catches for 686 yards and three touchdowns. The team has called him a game-time decision.

Second-year receiver Nelson Agholor will reportedly be inserted back into the lineup. If Matthews doesn't play the Eagles will have only four healthy receivers active on Sunday: Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham and undrafted rookies Bryce Treggs and Paul Turner.