After waiting his turn at St. Joe's, time is now for Isaiah Miles

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After waiting his turn at St. Joe's, time is now for Isaiah Miles

One of the first things Isaiah Miles does after each game is go to his locker and check his phone.

And when he does, the Saint Joseph’s senior forward almost always finds texts from Langston Galloway, Ronald Roberts and Halil Kanacevic — the three professional players who led St. Joe’s to the Atlantic 10 championship in 2014.

“They’ll say, ‘Good game, keep it up, we’re watching you,’” Miles said from the SJU locker room after pouring in 31 points in Tuesday’s 85-82 loss to VCU. “That means a lot that they’ve been gone for two years and they’re still supporting me. It means a lot, especially because their lifestyle now is pretty busy but they take time out to watch us and show love for me.”

There’s a lot to love right now about Miles’ game — from former players, alums and fans alike.

Perhaps the most improved player in the city, the 6-foot-7 forward is averaging 18.3 points — tops on the team and sixth in the Atlantic 10. He’s also second in the conference in rebounding (8.6), second in free throw percentage (.889), fifth in blocks (1.6) and 11th in three-point percentage (.406).

It’s that inside-out combination that makes him such a feared matchup for opposing teams — and, of course, one of the biggest reasons the Hawks are off to an 11-3 start heading into Sunday’s home game against Rhode Island.

“He has the rep of being a shooter,” teammate DeAndre Bembry said. “When he plays the four and five, I can’t picture any four or five, being the size they are, running out on the jump shooter. He shoots better than any of us on the team. That’s really a hard matchup for anyone in our league — or any league.”

Bembry, the Hawks’ electrifying junior who’s averaging 16.4 points and 7.7 rebounds, added that he relishes playing with a big man who can shoot. And it’s helped his own game with St. Joe’s head coach Phil Martelli calling the duo a “great one-two punch.”

But Martelli knew both players would be kicking themselves for missing free throws down the stretch as St. Joe’s blew a 13-point second-half lead in Tuesday’s loss to VCU.

“He’s really played terrific,” Martelli said of Miles. “He’ll be in there beating himself over missing two foul shots. But I think there’s more to come.”

Despite the tough loss, Miles was a sight to behold Tuesday at Hagan Arena. He shot a blistering 11 for 14 from the field and 4 for 6 from three-point range and buried consecutive three-pointers midway through the second half, prompting one fan to do the we’re-not-worthy bow from Wayne’s World.

The Rams were probably surprised by the offensive outburst. When St. Joe’s faced VCU last season, Miles scored a modest 12 points in 24 minutes. The season before that, he played four total minutes in two games against VCU, including zero in the A-10 championship.

“I’m happy for him,” Bembry said. “I know during his freshman and sophomore year, he didn’t play that much. And last year it was a new role for him to start. It’s definitely a big year for him to drop in the numbers that he has. The team’s happy for him and we hope he keeps doing it the rest of the year.”

Miles admitted that averaging only 5.1 minutes per game as a freshman and 9.3 minutes as a sophomore wasn’t easy, especially after being the “No. 1 option in high school.” But at the same time, he enjoyed being a part of the 2013-14 team that stormed to the NCAA Tournament while absorbing information from Kanacevic, Roberts and Galloway, the three star seniors on that squad.

“They told me a lot,” Miles said, adding that he still often plays PlayStation with Galloway, who’s now plying his trade in the NBA with the New York Knicks. “They told me to stay aggressive, to stay in shape. This is a fast game and it’s a good league. Just being aggressive and staying confident is what they’ve been telling me and I’ve been sticking to it. And it’s been paying off well for me.”

There was one play late in Tuesday’s game when Miles really showed his aggressiveness. With the Hawks clinging to a tenuous lead in the final three minutes, Miles followed up one of his rare misses, dove on the ground to collect the loose ball and fed James Demery, who was fouled.

It was a play Martelli immediately brought up when asked about Miles in the postgame press conference. And it was one that, perhaps more than anything else, shows how bad the St. Joe’s senior wants this — all of this — after patiently waiting for his turn.

“Some guys, they sit for two or three years and their minds are messed up,” Miles said. “They get depressed and stuff. I just stayed confident and I stayed patient. And I knew when my opportunity came, I was going to shine.”

NCAA Tournament wrap: UNC edges out Kentucky on Maye game-winner

NCAA Tournament wrap: UNC edges out Kentucky on Maye game-winner

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Luke Maye hit a jumper with 0.3 seconds left, and top-seeded North Carolina held off Kentucky 75-73 to earn the Tar Heels' second straight trip to the Final Four and 20th all-time in Sunday's showdown of college basketball's elite in the South Regional.

The Tar Heels (31-7) will play Midwest champ Oregon on Saturday in Phoenix in the national semifinal.

North Carolina took control with a 12-0 run within the final 5 minutes. Kentucky's freshmen De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk hit three quick 3s, the last two by Monk and his second with 7.2 seconds left tied it up at 73.

Theo Pinson brought the ball down, passed back to Maye. The sophomore from Huntersville, North Carolina, knocked it down for the win with his feet on the 3-point line.

The Wildcats had one last chance, but Derek Willis' inbound pass went out of bounds on the far end.

Kentucky (32-6) will miss out on the Final Four for the second straight year.

South Carolina beats Florida to reach first Final Four
NEW YORK -- It's only right that South Carolina's first trip to Final Four was earned through its defense.

A team known for a swarming zone used it effectively down the stretch to beat Florida 77-70 on Sunday and win the East Regional at Madison Square Garden.

Sindarius Thornwell scored 26 points for the seventh-seeded Gamecocks (26-10) against the fourth-seeded Gators (27-9) in the all-Southeastern Conference matchup.

South Carolina will face Gonzaga, the No. 1 seed from the West Regional, in the Final Four on Saturday at Glendale, Arizona.

"Gamecock Nation, we heard you loud and clear," coach Frank Martin roared as the team prepared to cut down the nets. "We'll see you in Phoenix."

The game was as close as expected until the final minute. There were 14 lead changes and 10 ties. The last lead change came on two free throws by Thornwell with 2:24 left that made it 65-63. Florida managed just three field goals over the final 3:55.

Thornwell, the regional MVP, followed the deciding free throws with a nice assist to Maik Kotsar for a 4-point lead. It seemed Thornwell, who scored eight straight points for the Gamecocks, was always where he needed to be including making a steal with 40 seconds left that turned into a 73-68 lead.

"I just made plays," Thornwell said. "Plays needed to be made down the stretch and I stepped up and made plays."

"Thornwell was just being Thornwell," Florida coach Mike White said of the SEC player of the year. "He's one of the best players in the country."

PJ Dozier added 17 points for the Gamecocks, Chris Silva had 13 and Kotsar 12.

It all totaled to a Final Four trip for Martin, he of the booming voice and terrifying faces.

Justin Leon had 18 points for the Gators who managed a 40-33 halftime lead on 7-for-12 shooting from 3-point range. But that was it. Florida was 0 for 14 from beyond the arc in the second half, a lot like the 0-for-17 effort the Gators had in their first meeting with South Carolina this season.

South Carolina, which forced Florida into 16 turnovers, finished 23 for 31 from the free throw line, including a 9-for-10 effort from Thornwell.

NCAA Tournament Wrap: Gonzaga reaches 1st Final Four; Oregon upsets Kansas

NCAA Tournament Wrap: Gonzaga reaches 1st Final Four; Oregon upsets Kansas

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Tyler Dorsey poured in 27 points, Dillon Brooks added 17 and plucky Oregon ended Kansas' romp through the NCAA Tournament with a 74-60 victory Saturday night that gave the Ducks their first Final Four trip in nearly 80 years.

Dylan Ennis added 12 points for the Ducks (33-5), who took the lead with 16 minutes left in the first half and never trailed again, giving coach Dana Altman his first trip to the national semifinals.

They'll face the winner of Sunday's game between North Carolina and Kentucky in Glendale, Arizona.

Player of the year front-runner Frank Mason III had 21 points in his final game for the Jayhawks (31-5), who had rolled to the Elite Eight by an average margin of 30 points. But their dream season ended with a thud just 40 minutes from campus on a night where very little went right (see full recap).

Gonzaga beats Xavier to reach 1st Final Four
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Nigel Williams-Goss scored 23 points while orchestrating Gonzaga's efficient offense, and the Zags finally shook their overrated tag by routing Xavier 83-59 on Saturday to reach the Final Four for the first time.

Gonzaga (36-1) has been dogged by criticism through the years despite winning consistently, in part for playing in a weak conference but also for never making the Final Four.

On the cusp of history, the Zags took it head on with a superb all-around game to give coach Mark Few the one missing piece of his resume.

Gonzaga found the range from the perimeter after struggling the first three NCAA games, making 12 of 24 from 3-point range. The defense, a soft spot in the past, shut down the underdog and 11th-seeded Musketeers (24-14) to win the West Region.

The Zags will face the winner between South Carolina and Florida in next week's Final Four in Arizona (see full recap).