In Liacouras swan song, Pepper lifts Temple to win

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In Liacouras swan song, Pepper lifts Temple to win

BOX SCORE

Dalton Pepper took the floor before his teammates Tuesday night.

Honored as the Owls' lone senior this season, he was walked out to midcourt by his parents before posing for a picture with his head coach and athletic director and finally being presented with a framed jersey.

Then, once the game started, he stayed on the floor as long as anyone.

In the final home game of his collegiate career, Pepper scored a game-high 26 points in a whopping 44 minutes to lead Temple over UCF, 86-78, in overtime (see Instant Replay).

It's not quite the end of his career -- the Owls have one more regular-season game and then the American Athletic Conference tournament to play -- but he's almost there.

And it was the last time he'd play in front of his friends and family at home.

"It feels really good to get a win in my last game at the Liacouras Center," he said. "I just wanted to end the regular season in the right way, and it was a big win for us."

Actually, it was only Temple's fourth home win of the season, if you can believe it. The Owls' (8-21, 3-14) season-long struggles have naturally extended to their home floor.

The Liacouras Center is a building in which Temple has always enjoyed success -- even before it was called the Liacouras Center. The Owls once won 25 straight games here from January 2010-December 2011 under Fran Dunphy. Coming into 2013-14, Temple was 152-43 at the Apollo for a 77.9 winning percentage since the building opened in 1997.

But Tuesday's down-to-the-wire win only improved the Owls' home record this year to a final 4-10. That number exactly doubles the record for the most losses by a Temple team at the Liacouras Center in a single season.

"It was an important win," Dunphy said. "Anytime … yeah, we need wins."

Even if only for Pepper. Frankly, he deserved one.

The fifth-year swingman came into Tuesday averaging a team-high 17.2 points per game, good enough for fourth in the American behind Russ Smith, Shabazz Napier and Sean Kilpatrick. Pepper is the only one of the four without a national profile.

He's just got one locally. A native of Levittown, Pa., he scored a Pennsbury High School-record 2,207 points, fell a few rebounds shy of 1,000 and was named the AP's 2009 Pennsylvania big school player of the year.

What happened after that has been repeated often this season. Pepper was recruited by Dunphy, but he ultimately chose Bob Huggins and West Virginia. After two years in Morgantown in which he struggled to crack the Mountaineers' rotation, he came home, transferred to Temple and sat out a season the 2011-12 season.

And last year, just like in his two years at West Virginia, he once again lacked opportunity. In an inconsistent 11.3 minutes per game on a team with five seniors, Pepper shot 21.8 percent through his first 20 games as an Owl.

Now, finally with a chance to shine, Pepper's been a 41.1 percent shooter this year in 37.1 minutes. In nine games this year, including Tuesday night, he's played 40 or more minutes.

It's just a shame that the season in which Pepper finally got his chance is the same season that Temple has set a new program record for losses.

"It's hard," Dunphy said when asked about senior, which is what he usually (and understandably) says when asked about it every year. As for Pepper, in specific:

"He's a tremendous kid. He's had a great season so far. He's got a little more to go, but he's given everything he possibly could. … When he came back into the locker room, everyone was very happy for him that he had his last game here at Liacouras. It was important that we won the game, but more importantly for them they wanted Pep to have this as a going away present."

Dunphy was then asked what it was like to finally see Pepper flourish after four years when it looked like he may have just been one of those really great high school players who never really translated to college.

"There's no way you can say he didn't have it in him," Dunphy said. "This is the kind of kid he can be. He just didn't have the confidence level that he has now. The fact that we needed him so badly, I've said to him a number of times, 'It's not like if you make a mistake you're coming out. You're not coming out. So do whatever you can to be the best player you can and stay in the moment.' And for the most part he has done that.

"We had a lot of bodies at his position last year, so he wasn't given that same opportunity to fail that he has this year. It's just the way life has worked out for him. But the great thing about him is he never complained about it.

"He just went ahead and did his work."

Crash kills Nebraska punter, former Michigan State punter

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USA Today Images

Crash kills Nebraska punter, former Michigan State punter

WAUKESHA, Wis. -- Nebraska punter Sam Foltz and former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler have died in a car crash in Wisconsin after working at a kicking clinic, a sheriff's department official said Sunday. LSU kicker Colby Delahoussaye was injured in the crash.

Waukesha County Sheriff's Lt. Thom Moerman said speed was likely a factor in the single-vehicle crash that happened around 11:45 p.m. Saturday.

The 24-year-old Sadler, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, was driving. He and 22-year-old Foltz, of Greeley, Nebraska, both died at the scene. Delahoussaye, 21 of New Iberia, Louisiana, was also a passenger. He was treated at Waukesha Memorial Hospital and released. A statement from LSU said his injuries were minor and that he was scheduled to return home Monday.

Moerman said in a statement that Sadler lost control on the wet pavement, left the roadway and struck a tree.

The University of Nebraska said Sunday the team will skip this week's planned Big Ten media days in Chicago because of Foltz's death. Officials with Michigan State didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Foltz was a three-year starter for the Nebraska team and last year he was named the Big Ten's punter of the year. Foltz graduated from Nebraska with a degree in agronomy in May. He led the Big Ten in punting last year at 44.2 yards per kick and ranked fifth in school history (42.6).

Nebraska Coach Mike Riley said Foltz was respected on the team, and had a positive influence on everyone he interacted with.

"The young men in our football program are hurting but I know that their strength of character and resolve will bring us together and we will honor Sam every day moving forward," Riley said.

Several hundred friends and teammates of Foltz gathered outside Memorial Stadium in Lincoln Sunday afternoon to remember him. Several players talked about how hard Foltz' worked and his faith in God.

"Sam was a kind and thoughtful young man who was a leader on the playing field, in the classroom, and in his community," Nebraska Chancellor Ronnie D. Green said in a statement. "He was an exemplary student-athlete who grew as a player and as a person on his path to recent completion of his degree in agronomy from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and anyone who knew him can testify that he had an enduring influence on those around him."

Sadler was a four-year starter and four-time academic All-American at Michigan State. He finished his college playing career after the 2014 season. He drew something of a cult following during his playing days because of his sense of humor and wit.

"I just asked my waitress what sport she thought I played. Her answer? Disk golf. Time to reevaluate my life," Sadler once tweeted.

He helped get his own mock Heisman Trophy candidacy rolling one season by pushing the hashtag (hash)sadler4heisman. He would also regularly exchange funny lines on Twitter with the (at)FauxPelini account, a popular parody of the former Nebraska and current Youngstown State coach Bo Pelini.

"Mike impacted so many people not only as a football player, but also from an academic standpoint and in the community as well," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said in a statement. "The world has lost a rising star who dreamed big and was accomplishing those dreams, one after another. He was one of those people that brightened your day."

Dan Tracy with Kohl's Kicking said both Sadler and Foltz had been working at a weekend clinic at the camp in Wisconsin. Tracy said the camp ended early Sunday after an announcement about the deaths.

A statement from kicking camp director Jamie Kohl said the staff was mourning with the players' families and football programs.

"We mourn today with all of the people who were better men and women for knowing Sam and Mike," Kohl said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with them."

The Basketball Tournament: Pitt-led Untouchables take down Boeheim's Army

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Noah Levick/CSNPhilly.com Contributor

The Basketball Tournament: Pitt-led Untouchables take down Boeheim's Army

As far as The Basketball Tournament was concerned, Thursday night’s game was a matchup between No. 2 seed Boeheim’s Army and No. 3 seed Untouchables. However, in the minds of the players and the rowdy fans at Philadelphia University’s Gallagher Center, it was Syracuse vs. Pittsburgh, another edition of a classic rivalry.

Pitt and Syracuse, as the two normally do, delivered an entertaining game, a 91-84 win by the Untouchables, who were led by a team-high 22 points on 8 of 11 shooting from streaky lefty Jermaine Dixon. Ricky Harris, a former UMass guard and friend of Dixon, added 16 points.

For Syracuse, Friends Central High School alumnus and NBA veteran Hakim Warrick was the star attraction. Warrick posted 14 points and two crowd-pleasing dunks. Syracuse had another player from the Philadelphia area in center Rick Jackson. If the name rings a bell, it may be because of his partnership at both Syracuse and Neumann-Goretti High School with point guard Scoop Jardine. The January 2006 contest between Episcopal Academy, led by future NBA players Wayne Ellington and Gerald Henderson, and Neumann-Goretti, headed by Jackson and Jardine, is one of the better Philadelphia high school basketball games in recent memory.

Unsurprisingly, the key for the Untouchables was their smooth ball movement and shooting against Boeheim’s Army's vaunted 2-3 zone. The Untouchables held a substantial edge from three-point territory, making 13 of 31 attempts, compared to 6 of 19 for the 'Cuse contingent. After nailing one of his four three-balls to give the Untouchables a 40-28 lead, Dixon leaned over to the Boeheim’s Army bench and exchanged a few words.

James Southerland, a “ringer” for Syracuse brought in for this game, said, “There were some words here and there. But it’s a rivalry, so that’s how it’s going to be.”

Dixon said the level of intensity is “pretty much the same [as playing in the Big East]. We knew when we were playing them what kind of matchup it was going to be — physical. We knew they were going to sit in the zone, we knew what we were going to do. But ultimately, we were ready to win.”

The addition of Southerland and Donte Greene as ringers appeared to put a greater burden on coach Ryan Blackwell, who had to allocate minutes to 11 players. Pitt suited up only eight.

“We just struggled to find the best five-guy rotation throughout the game,” Boeheim’s Army guard Brandon Triche said.

The Untouchables had none of the same issues gelling as a unit. Dixon and coach Brandon Driver studied film and organized a pregame walkthrough to refresh their memories about how to attack the Boeheim’s Army zone. Even the players who didn’t share the court during college looked like they played together before.

“Team chemistry was big,” Harris said. “You add a big-name guy to your team, nine times out of 10, that’ll hurt you because they want to go out and show how good they are instead of playing the right way.”

Along with the desire to beat their rivals, personal pride was a major motivator for the The Untouchables.

“We’re competitive guys, we’ve always been underdogs our whole lives, and we want to show people that we can still play basketball five, six years out of college,” Harris said, “and I think we’re starting to bring our names back to light and proving ourselves again.”

LeVance Fields, the 5-foot-10 point guard of the 2009 Pitt team that lost to Villanova on Scottie Reynolds’ game-winner in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, continues to lead his squad. He yelled out instructions from the bench and called his teammates into a huddle when they started to show some nerves from the free throw line in the final minute.

Antonio Graves, who made four three-pointers and scored 12 points in only 19 minutes, said, “Getting to practice and compete against guys like LeVance every day, it made playing teams like Villanova, Syracuse and Connecticut so much easier because we knew we had competed so hard in practice.”

That competitive spirit and strong work ethic clearly led The Untouchables to be confident in their ability to beat any team in this tournament … especially Boeheim’s Army.

“Many of us haven’t lost to Syracuse,” Fields said. “Unfortunately, me and ‘Ton (Graves) lost to Syracuse when (Gerry) McNamara had that unbelievable run at [Madison Square] Garden, so we just wanted to keep our good streak going against them. Even though it’s years later, no disrespect, we feel like we own Syracuse. We always play pretty well against their zone, and we felt like we were going to do that tonight.”

Pitt players have proven time and again that they will beat you if you underestimate them. They have a difficult quarterfinal game against No. 1 seed City of Gods Saturday at noon on ESPN2. But as long as they’re playing with other guys whose toughness and dedication they trust, they’ll enjoy themselves and feel pretty good about their chances.

“We always talk about Pitt guys play together,” Dixon said. “We missed that. It’s always fun playing with Pitt guys, so that was the No. 1 thing — we wanted to play together.”

The Basketball Tournament: Philly-heavy Family Over Everything eliminated

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Noah Levick/CSNPhilly.com Contributor

The Basketball Tournament: Philly-heavy Family Over Everything eliminated

It’s not often that nostalgia blends with shoving, trash talk and desperate dives on the floor. At The Basketball Tournament, a 64-team competition with a $2 million prize for the winners, all those elements are in play.
 
Philadelphia University’s Gallagher Athletic Center hosted the Super 16 Thursday night, including the first contest of the evening between No. 1 seed City of Gods (COG) and No. 5 seed Family Over Everything (FOE), which ended in a 99-83 win for COG.
 
Many of the teams in the tournament are comprised of alumni from one school or players from a certain region. For FOE, there was a distinct Philly flavor; Scott Rodgers (Drexel ’09), Dionte Christmas (Temple ’09) and Maalik Wayns (Villanova ‘12) all played for Philadelphia schools. Co-coaches Marcus and Markieff Morris, members of the Pistons and Wizards respectively, grew up in Philadelphia and attended Prep Charter. Two of their teammates at Kansas were also on the squad, Tyshaun Taylor and Thomas Robinson (serving as an assistant coach).
 
City of Gods had a much more diverse mix of players, including 2005 Drexel graduate Phil Goss. The roster included Xavier Silas, who played in two games for the Sixers during the 2011-12 season, DerMarr Johnson, the sixth overall pick in the 2000 NBA draft and Michael Sweetney, the ninth pick in the 2003 draft.
 
The first of two 18-minute halves started at a high tempo, even though the tournament uses a 30-second shot clock. While Wayns, Taylor and Rodgers had some early success driving to the hole, COG stifled FOE’s offensive rhythm by switching to a trapping zone defense midway through the half. As FOE began to settle for threes, missing most of those attempts, COG got hot from long range. For the game, COG shot 14 of 27 from behind the arc, and FOE shot 9 of 27.
 
By the end of the half, COG had a 51-40 lead. Despite the occasional sensational floater by Wayns, who scored a team-high 22 points, or 25-foot rainbow jumper by Christmas, COG’s solid fundamentals, disciplined defense and balanced scoring neutralized FOE. Six players scored in double figures for COG, including Goss with 15 points on 4 for 5 shooting from the field. Silas’ 19 points (6 of 8 FG, 3 of 4 from three-point range) led the team.
 
“The one thing all these guys do is sacrifice their personal game — you look at Phil Goss, he’s so consistent … maybe not flashy, maybe not something where the crowd will jump out and go crazy, but consistent,” said COG coach Joe Connelly III, a former player development coach in the NBA and the older brother of Denver Nuggets GM Tim Connelly.
 
The Morris twins took their coaching duties very seriously on the other sideline, drawing up plays, calling out-of-bounds sets and constantly lobbying for foul calls to the referees. It was indeed a very physical game, as the teams combined to shoot 68 free throws. If the referees had decided to be more stringent about calling fouls for contact off the ball and during the elbow-heavy exchange for every rebound, there could have been even more.
 
When the lead stretched to 58-42 midway through the second half, FOE began to play with a stretch of desperation. For a spurt, that was effective, as a hoop by Sean Evans capped a 15-6 run. But with their thin eight-man rotation, FOE wasn't able to sustain that energy. COG continued to spread the ball around and force turnovers as the pro-Philly crowd voiced its frustrations with the referees and the fact that FOE’s tournament run was about to end.
 
“The first round, FOE had a big following and we knew that was going to be in their favor, but we still believed that we were the better team,” Silas said. “This is what we do. Every game overseas, every game in the NBA, there’s going to be thousands of people yelling at you, so that wasn’t a problem. That wasn’t even a factor.”
 
“The fans can’t play. They can do all the chanting they want to, but they can’t step on the floor and check up,” Goss said.
 
If FOE’s tournament hopes weren’t already dead, Goss nailed the dagger three with 3:03 remaining to make it 89-73.
 
It’s not hard to see why COG is a No. 1 seed. It's a determined, talented squad. In last year’s tournament, the team lost in the semifinals.
 
“We were pissed off that we lost, and we still feel how we felt after that game,” Silas said. “So we got some unfinished business.”
 
As COG discussed its approach to the tournament after the win, power forward James Gist and Connelly had an interesting exchange.
 
“We go with the flow of the game and whoever is getting it done is getting it done,” Connelly said. “You think about some of these teams that are adding ringers, we got a team full of ringers.”
 
“We got a team full of alphas,” Gist added.
 
“But they’re all alpha males,” Connelly said, “who have accepted it might not be the James Gist show, or it might not be the Xavier Silas show.
 
“We look at the stat sheet and then just throw it right in the trash. Because all that matters is win, go on to the next game.”
 
City of Gods will play The Untouchables, a team of mostly Pitt alumni (see story), in a quarterfinal matchup on Saturday.