Freshman Pierfrancesco Oliva makes impact in St. Joe's debut

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Freshman Pierfrancesco Oliva makes impact in St. Joe's debut

Saint Joseph’s freshman Pierfrancesco Oliva's journey to becoming a college athlete is an unusual one.

In fact, just two short years ago, the true freshman was living in his hometown of Taranto, Italy.

And on Friday night, in his first-ever collegiate game, the 6-foot-8 forward earned a surprise start.

“When I told him the other night that he was starting, he was non-pulsed,” St. Joe’s head coach Phil Martelli said. “He just looked at me.”

Oliva sure didn’t waste any time proving that he belongs on the court.

On the Hawks' second possession of the game, Oliva, who goes by "Checco," touched the ball for the first time. While some might freeze up, being thrown into a big situation like that, Oliva didn’t hesitate to fire a three-pointer to give the Hawks a 5-0 lead. That’s confidence that can’t be taught.

But it wasn’t all about offense on Friday night for Oliva. He more than held his own on the defensive end of the floor.

To start the game, Oliva was on Drexel senior Tavon Allen. Allen is expected to play a large role for the Dragons this season, with last year’s leading-scorer, Damion Lee, now at Louisville. Oliva held the big man to just two points in St. Joe's 82-81 win over Drexel at Hagan Arena (see story).

Oliva earned the start over junior Javon Baumann, from Germany, and red-shirt freshman Markell Lodge. That’s some serious talent and experience playing behind Oliva.

Martelli had the confidence to put Oliva back on the court in crunch time. With just seven minutes remaining in the game, and the Hawks clinging to a five-point lead, Oliva returned to the floor.

And Oliva rewarded Martelli’s decision by immediately turning the tide of the game. Oliva had a huge block on on a Drexel dunk attempt that would have brought the Dragons within three points. He then hustled down the floor and made a nice bounce pass to All-American DeAndre’ Bembry for the finish.

Bembry, a future NBA prospect, knows a thing or two about talent. He praised Oliva’s prowess.

“He did really well tonight,” Bembry said of his teammate. “That definitely helped him gain some confidence. He really has a very high basketball IQ. When I tell him things, he really understands.”

On the next Hawks possession, the freshman got an offensive rebound and capped it off with an easy layup to put the Hawks up by seven.

Oliva wasn’t done there, however. With the Hawks up by nine, Oliva drained a three-pointer to put the game away with two and half minutes to go.

“That last three, the one that kind of put the dagger on it, was extraordinary,” Martellli said.

Drexel immediately called a timeout and Oliva pumped his fists and let out a yell at half court.

In that 30-second sequence, Oliva showed exactly what makes him such an intriguing option for the Hawks going forward.

Oliva gave the Hawks the spark they needed to finish off the Dragons. From his huge block that got it all started, the Hawks went on a 15-8 run that ended with his three-pointer.

Oliva finished with 12 points, four assists, four rebounds and three blocks. He never looked out of place.

When Martelli first told Oliva he would be starting, he didn’t think that he had earned it.

“He said that he didn’t think that he played that well in the preseason and that he would play better,” Martelli said.

He sure showed it on Friday.

NCAA Tournament Wrap: Xavier stuns Arizona to reach Elite Eight

NCAA Tournament Wrap: Xavier stuns Arizona to reach Elite Eight

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Trevon Bluiett scored 25 points, Sean O'Mara scored inside with 40 seconds left and No. 11 seed Xavier upset No. 2 Arizona 73-71 in the West Region on Thursday night.

Xavier (30-13) stayed with the second-seeded Wildcats behind Bluiett's 18 first-half points and tracked down the Wildcats after they tried to pull away in the second half. O'Mara scored on a power move inside, but missed a free throw to give Arizona (32-5) a final chance.

Allonzo Trier missed a 3-pointer in the closing seconds and Xavier was able to dribble out the clock, earning its first trip to the Elite Eight since 2008.

The Musketeers held Arizona scoreless over the final 2:52 to earn a sport in the West final against No. 1 seed Gonzaga on Saturday.

Trier scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half and Dusan Ristic had 17 for Arizona (see full recap).

Gonzaga escapes in wild finish for win
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Jordan Mathews hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with under a minute to play and top-seeded Gonzaga survived a rough shooting night for both teams to beat No. 4 seed West Virginia 61-58 Thursday night to advance to the West Regional final.

On a night that featured 51 fouls and only 34 made baskets, Mathews delivered the big shot that sent the Bulldogs (35-1) to their third Elite Eight in school history.

It didn't come easily. West Virginia (29-8) had three shots to tie the game but Tarik Phillip missed a shot from the lane and Jevon Carter missed two 3-pointers after Silas Melson made one foul shot. The Mountaineers rebound both misses but couldn't get another shot off before the buzzer (see full recap).

Oregon survives to end Michigan’s run
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Tyler Dorsey scored 20 points and made the go-ahead layup with 1:08 left, and third-seeded Oregon ended No. 7 Michigan's dramatic postseason run with a 69-68 victory in a Midwest Regional semifinal on Thursday night.

Dorsey, the man the Ducks call "Mr. March," had his sixth straight game scoring 20 or more points.

The Wolverines (27-11) had one more chance to extend their run after Dylan Ennis missed a free throw with 15 seconds left. But Derrick Walton, who had carried the Wolverines the last three weeks, was off with his long jumper just before the buzzer.

Jordan Bell had a double-double for the Ducks (32-5), with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Pac-12 player of the year Dylan Brooks added 12 points and Dylan Ennis had 10.

Walton led the Wolverines with 20 points, eight assists and five rebounds. Zak Irvin had 14 of his 19 points in the second half and DJ Wilson had 12 points.

Oregon plays Kansas or Purdue on Saturday in the regional final (see full recap).

Kansas throttles Purdue to advance
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Player of the year front-runner Frank Mason III poured in 26 points, Kansas turned on the jets in the second half and the top-seeded Jayhawks soared to a 98-66 blowout of No. 4 seed Purdue on Thursday night in the Midwest Regional semifinals.

Devonte Graham also had 26 points and Josh Jackson had 15 points and 12 rebounds for the Jayhawks (31-4), who led by 7 at halftime before their up-and-down pace finally wore down the Boilermakers.

Kansas used two big runs, including an 11-0 charge highlighted by Lagerald Vicks' 360-degree drunk, to coast into a matchup with No. 3 seed Oregon on Saturday for a spot in the Final Four (see full recap).

The Ducks survived a nail-biter against Michigan earlier in the night.

Caleb Swanigan had 18 points and seven boards for the Boilermakers (27-8), but the 6-foot-9, 250-pound All-America candidate had to work for all of it.

Georgetown fires John Thompson III after another losing year

Georgetown fires John Thompson III after another losing year

WASHINGTON -- John Thompson III was fired as Georgetown's basketball coach Thursday after two consecutive losing seasons at the school his father led to a national championship.

Thompson said in a statement released by agent David Falk that he was "honored" to have been the Hoyas' coach and proud of what his players have "accomplished on the court and how they are thriving since leaving Georgetown."

"Georgetown Basketball has been a part of my life since 1972," Thompson's statement said, referring to the year his father took over as the Hoyas' coach, "which makes this moment even more impactful, but I look forward to my next chapter."

School president John DeGioia told Thompson on Thursday he would not be brought back next year at a basketball program strongly associated with his last name.

"Our tradition of excellence as a university will forever be inextricably linked with John and his family," DeGioia said in a statement. "We are committed to taking the necessary steps to strengthen our program and maintaining the highest levels of academic integrity and national competitiveness."

Thompson, known as "JT3," was Georgetown's head coach for 13 seasons, including a run to the Final Four in 2007 with future NBA players Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert on the roster. But he went a combined 29-36 the past two years, with some of those defeats punctuated by crowd chants of "Fire Thompson!"

What had once been unimaginable -- a Thompson being sent away from Georgetown -- became a topic of conversation among the team's fans as the losses mounted. When the subject was broached with Thompson after a defeat against defending national champion Villanova, a team spokesman jumped in to say: "Leave it to game-related questions, please."

The Hoyas' 14-18 record this season included six losses in a row to finish and marked the team's worst winning percentage since the 1950s. They went 15-18 a year ago, losing seven of their last eight games.

"We're not going to keep rehashing last year," Thompson said before the start of this season. "A lot of introspection where you just stop and, from top to bottom, look at everything: How you do things, how you approach things, how we should change things, how you should alter things. ... We have to make some changes on how things were done, and we have. We're in the process of doing it."

Not quickly enough, apparently.

Thompson's record was 278-151 at Georgetown, with eight trips to the NCAA Tournament.

Since that lone Final Four appearance a decade ago, the Hoyas had several missteps at the Big Dance, going 3-6 and never winning more than one game in any single bracket. There were plenty of memorable exits against low-seeded opponents such as Florida Gulf Coast and Ohio.

His father, John Thompson Jr., led the Hoyas to 20 trips to the NCAAs, three Final Fours and a national title in 1984 with Patrick Ewing at center while coaching the team from 1972-99. "Big John," as many call him, has been a visible and vocal presence at Georgetown's games during his son's tenure, often sitting in on news conferences and interjecting his thoughts from the back of the room.

Georgetown's new on-campus practice facility, which was opened with a dedication ceremony in October, is named after the older Thompson.