Penn State enjoys 'magical experience,' tops Michigan State at Palestra

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Penn State enjoys 'magical experience,' tops Michigan State at Palestra

For the last 90 years, an endless number of great coaches have passed through the hallowed hallways of the Palestra and stepped foot on the famous gym floor.

But few likely ever did what legendary Michigan State coach Tom Izzo did Saturday — apologize to the building itself.

“My apologies to this magnificent facility,” Izzo said after the Spartans were knocked off by Penn State, 72-63, in the first Big Ten regular-season game ever played at the Palestra. “I loved the experience. I appreciated the hall. I appreciated everything about it — except I feel like we cheated those of you who have seen great teams and great coaches and great players play here. You got robbed today by the team in green.”

The unique game, played in front of a sold-out crowd and shown on ESPN, was set up because Penn State coach Patrick Chambers wanted a home game in Philly since six of his players hail from the area. And Izzo wanted the chance to coach in the historic gym for the first time in his legendary career.

Both got their wish but only Chambers walked away with the win as the Nittany Lions (10-7, 2-2) snapped Michigan State’s four-game winning streak and beat the Spartans (11-6, 3-1) for the first time since 2011.

“A magical experience for sure,” Chambers said. “Not just for me and our team but for all Penn Staters. Man, was that fun to have a packed house like that. The home-court advantage was amazing, and to have it here at the Palestra, these guys will never forget this experience as long as they live.”

To help them prepare for the game, Chambers said he took his players on a tour of the Palestra on Friday, pointing out the plaques and photos of past teams and players that decorate the walls. He even had them run the Rocky steps earlier on Saturday.

But many of his players didn’t need to be reminded about Philadelphia and what playing basketball in the city means. Three of them — Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens and Nazeer Bostick — captured the Philly Catholic League Title last year at the Palestra with Roman Catholic. Another player, Shep Garner, also played his high school ball at Roman, and two others — Mike Watkins and Julian Moore — are from the area.

And not surprisingly, it was the Philly kids who led the way in the potentially program-altering win. Stevens scored a game-high 18 points, Carr had 14, Watkins added 11 off the bench and Garner scored eight to surpass the 1,000-point milestone for his career.

Payton Banks, whose sister played her home games at the Palestra for Penn, also had 11 after scoring 20 in the Nittany Lions’ last game at the Palestra — a 63-57 win over Drexel a little over a year ago.

“I felt at home,” Stevens said. “It felt like a home locker room.”

Stevens had a good laugh about the locker room when he heard Izzo comment about the Palestra’s old-school lack of luxuries.

But Izzo, who’s famous for his dislike of social media, absolutely loved it. In fact, that was one of the reasons he wanted to coach his first game at the Palestra, saying earlier that it was something he wanted to cross off his bucket list.

“To walk in the locker room and not see any jacks for Wi-Fi and phones and Twitter, God it was great, you know?” the Michigan State coach said. “I told our guys we’d probably have to hang our coats on hooks. We didn’t even have hooks in there! It was awesome. It was just awesome. I threw my damn coat on the floor and said, ‘This is where it belongs. This is some humility.’ And we need some humility right now on our team.’”

Penn state coach Patrick Chambers — who grew up going to games at the Palestra and whose brothers, Tim and Paul, played football and basketball at Penn, respectively — had another great reaction to coaching inside the 90-year-old gym, which tends to get as hot as it does loud.

“The lighting. The smell. It’s a gym. It’s a gym,” Chambers said. “I was drenched. I had to get changed. I was drenched underneath my coat. And you just love it. You love every second, every sweat, every drop.”

More than anything, Chambers loved getting the win, saying a victory over a perennial powerhouse like Michigan State in a place like the Palestra could be the kind of signature result to help elevate a program that’s only made two NCAA Tournaments in the last 20 years.

And Izzo, in the end, turned his apology into a thank you, even if he admitted to being “stupid” for taking his team into a “hornet’s nest” so he could “get my brains beaten in.” 

“Thanks for giving me the experience of a lifetime,” he said. “I truly mean this.”

Chambers also had a lot of reasons to be thankful after watching his team shoot 60 percent in the first half, paced by a couple of big threes from Banks, and come through with a few clutch steals down the stretch to fend off the Spartans in front of a packed crowd filled with fans who braved the snow to be there.

“There’s something really magical about this place,” the Penn State coach said. “It’s very near and dear to my heart. I will never forget this day for a long time.”

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.