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."

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.

NCAA Tournament Wrap: South Carolina upsets Duke; Michigan stuns Louisville

NCAA Tournament Wrap: South Carolina upsets Duke; Michigan stuns Louisville

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Sindarius Thornwell had 24 points, Chris Silva scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half and seventh-seeded South Carolina stunned No. 2 seed Duke 88-81 on Sunday night to advance to its first Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament's expanded bracket.

The Gamecocks (24-10) trailed by 10 points early in the second half after one of its coldest shooting stretches of the season to start. But behind Thornwell's outside shooting and Silva's dominance underneath, South Carolina rallied to win two NCAA games for the first time in 44 years.

The Gamecocks rushed to their fans when things were over, celebrating one of the biggest wins in program history.

Next up is the East Regional at Madison Square Garden where the Gamecocks will face third-seeded Baylor, an 82-78 winner over Southern Cal earlier Sunday.

Duke (28-9) was attempting to reach the round of 16 for the sixth time in eight seasons. The Blue Devils, though, could not surmount South Carolina's stifling defense. Leading scorer Luke Kennard had his second straight subpar shooting game, finishing 1 of 6 for 11 points before fouling out (see full recap).

Wagner's big game sends Michigan past Louisville in NCAAs
INDIANAPOLIS -- Moe Wagner scored a career-high 26 points and spurred a furious second-half rally to send Michigan past second-seeded Louisville 73-69 on Sunday and into the Sweet 16.

The seventh-seeded Wolverines (26-11) have won seven straight -- six since a frightening plane accident before the Big Ten Tournament. They also earned a ticket to the Midwest Regional in Kansas City, Missouri, their first since 2014.

Donovan Mitchell scored 19 points and Deng Adel had 16 points to lead Louisville (25-9), which had made the Sweet 16 in its last four NCAA Tournament appearances.

But Wagner bailed out the Wolverines from a poor game.

Trailing 45-36 with 16:09 to play, the German native scored on a layup to start a 17-6 run that gave Michigan its first lead since the opening minutes. And after Wagner's 3-pointer broke a 55-55 tie with 6:39 to go, the Wolverines led the rest of the way (see full recap).

Ball helps UCLA past Cincinnati to earn Sweet 16 trip
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Lonzo Ball scored 19 points and ignited UCLA's rally from a poor start with nine assists, lifting the third-seeded Bruins to a 79-67 victory over Cincinnati on Sunday in the South Regional.

UCLA (31-4) had a hard time solving sixth-seeded Cincinnati's active defense in the first half, unable to get shots to drop or get out in transition. The Bruins found a new gear in the second half, breaking out for dunks and dropping in strings of 3-pointers to quickly push the lead to double digits.

Now UCLA is headed to its third Sweet 16 appearance in four seasons under coach Steve Alford, erasing -- at least in part -- the 15-17 letdown of a year ago.

The Bruins will face No. 2 seed Kentucky in the South Regional semifinals Friday in Memphis.

Cincinnati (30-6) had no real answer when the Bruins got rolling falling short of their first Sweet 16 appearance since 2012 (see full recap).

UNC survives close scare from Arkansas
After blowing a 17-point lead, No. 1 seed North Carolina came from behind in the second half to beat Arkansas 72-65 and advance to the NCAA South Region semifinals. North Carolina next faces Butler.

The ACC had nine teams invited to the NCAA Tournament, but seven of them already have lost. The ACC still could get a second team into the Sweet 16, as Duke faces South Carolina later tonight.

North Carolina also avoided becoming the second No. 1 seed to exit this tournament. Defending national champion Villanova, the No. 1 seed in the East Region, lost to Wisconsin on Saturday (see full recap).

Josh Jackson heats up in second half to lift Kansas over Michigan State
TULSA, Okla. -- Josh Jackson scored 14 of his 23 points in the second half to help Kansas pull away late and reach the Sweet 16 for a second straight year with a 90-70 victory over Michigan State on Sunday.

Frank Mason III added 20 points for the top-seeded Jayhawks (30-4), who have advanced to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament in nine of coach Bill Self's 14 seasons.

Devonte' Graham added 18 points and Landen Lucas had 10 for the Jayhawks, who shot 53.1 percent (34 of 64) in the win.

Miles Bridges scored 22 points to lead Michigan State (20-15) despite leaving briefly in the first half with an injury. Nick Ward also finished in double figures with 13 points and Joshua Langford had 10 for the Spartans (see full recap).

Kentucky edges out Wichita State with block at the buzzer
INDIANAPOLIS -- Bam Adebayo had a double-double and swatted away the final shot on Sunday as Kentucky sent Wichita State to yet another second-round heartbreak, 65-62 in the South region.

The youngest team in the NCAA Tournament grew up in the closing minutes.

Adebayo had 13 points and 10 rebounds. De'Aaron Fox had 14 points, including a late steal and dunk. Malik Monk blocked a shot and made a pair of free throws in the final 13 seconds. Adebayo clinched it by blocking Landry Shamet's 3-pointer shot at the buzzer.

Yes, Kentucky's freshman trio did it all.

Wham, Bam, move on `Cats (31-5), right into the Sweet 16 for the seventh time in nine years (see full recap).