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BC women’s hockey beats Clarkson in OT to advance to national title game, remain perfect

03.18.16 at 6:49 pm ET
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The Boston College women’s hockey team hadn’t trailed by two goals all season, so trailing Clarkson 2-0 midway through Friday’s national semifinal was not a position they’re used to being in. But the Eagles came back, tied the game with 3:53 left in regulation and then won in overtime to advance to Sunday’s national championship game and improve to 40-0-0 on the season.

Senior Haley Skarupa scored her 34th goal of the season to cut Clarkson’s lead to 2-1 with 5:28 left in the second, then classmate Kaliya Johnson scored late in regulation to force overtime. It didn’t take long for BC to end the game in the extra session, as Skarupa one-timed a pass from Alex Carpenter past Clarkson goalie Shea Tiley just 58 seconds in.

The Eagles will face the winner of Friday’s second semifinal between Wisconsin and Minnesota in Sunday’s national title game at the Whittemore Center in Durham, New Hampshire. BC is trying to become the second women’s hockey team ever to complete a perfect season.

Providences marches on with last-second win over USC

03.18.16 at 7:02 am ET
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RALEIGH, N.C. — Providence coach Ed Cooley put it best.

“That was March Madness at its best,” Cooley said in his opening postgame comments, after his Friars came from behind to defeat Southern Cal, 70-69, late Thursday night at PNC Arena on a last-second layup by Rodney Bullock. With the win, PC advances to the NCAA Tournament’s second round Saturday night against North Carolina, the top seed in the East Regional.

First things first, however. Indeed, it was March Madness at its best. But the finish was only for the strong-hearted. Trailing by one at halftime after leading by seven points in the first half, the Friars suddenly turned a cold shoulder to the USC defense. A 15-7 run by the Trojans erased a one-point PC lead and had USC ahead by seven, 60-53, with 7:38 remaining, after a baseline drive for a dunk from All-Pac-12 guard Julian Jacobs.

While the 3-point shot fell off and on for the Friars all night long, key 3’s kept them close to USC for the final, frantic seconds. Kyron Cartwright popped one to pull his team within four. Following a Drew Edwards jumper, Bullock knocked home another for a 61-60 Providence lead with 5:59 remaining.

USC’s offense was tough to handle, however. Jordan McLaughlin responded with a jump shot of his own, followed by a steal, a missed layup and then an assist to freshman big man Bennie Boatwright for another, giving the Trojans a 64-61 lead with 4:09 to play. After two free throws from Nikola Jovanovic made it 66-61, Kris Dunn buried a jump shot to keep the Friars within three.

Again, Southern Cal responded with relentless effort by going to the basket and getting to the line. Two Katin Reinhardt free throws put the Trojans back up by five, until Dunn found Ben Bentil (19 points, 9 rebounds) for a dunk, then wound up for a deep trey (his third of the half) to pull the Friars even at 68-68 with just 1:27 remaining.

The final nerve-wracking 90 seconds was the stuff March Madness has produced seemingly every year. This year is no exception. Boatwright made one of two free throws with less than a minute to play, and after the teams exchanged possessions USC’s Elijah Stewart had a chance to put PC away at the line.

He missed the front end of a one-and-one, and Jacobs also missed the front end of a one-and-one with just 12 ticks left. Providence secured the rebound, Dunn missed a jumper and the Friars retained possession as the ball went out of bounds. With three seconds remaining, Edwards waited patiently to inbound the ball from the baseline, and found Bullock after a double screen under the basket for a game-winning layup with 1.5 seconds left.

A halfcourt heave by USC fell short, and just like that the Friars had their first NCAA Tournament win in 19 years.

“Kris and Ben took a lot of the attention away,” Bullock said in describing the last play. “I guess Drew saw me and made a great play and I just finished it.”

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Holy Cross edges Southern in NCAA First Four game

03.16.16 at 9:33 pm ET
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Robert Champion celebrates Holy Cross' NCAA Tournament victory over Southern. (Rick Osentoski/USA Today Sports)

Robert Champion celebrates Holy Cross’ NCAA Tournament victory over Southern. (Rick Osentoski/USA Today Sports)

Robert Champion hit 6-of-8 shots en route to a game-high 19 points and Holy Cross continued its improbable postseason run with a 59-55 victory over Southern in an NCAA Tournament First Four game Wednesday night in Dayton, Ohio.

The Crusaders, who began the night with a 14-19 record, the worst of any team in the tournament, have won five straight. The first four came in the Patriot League tournament, as they won the title as a 9 seed (of 10 teams). Now as a 16 seed, they advance to play the West Region’s top seed, Oregon. That game is Friday in Spokane, Washington.

Point guard Anthony Thompson added 12 points for the Crusaders, while forward Malachi Alexander contributed seven points, eight assists and eight rebounds.

Adrian Rodgers had a team-high 14 points for Southern (22-13), but he was just 1-of-7 from behind the arc. As a team, the Southwestern Athletic Conference champion Jaguars hit just 3-of-20 treys.

Holy Cross jumped out to an early 12-point lead and took a 27-22 advantage into the locker room. Southern opened the second half on a 7-1 run to take its first lead of the night at 29-28 on a Rodgers jumper 4 1/2 minutes into the period. The game stayed tight the rest of the way.

With just under a minute to play and the game tied at 52, Champion nailed a long 3-pointer to give Holy Cross the lead for good. Champion and Cullen Hamilton each hit two free throws in the final 30 seconds to keep Southern out of reach.

The win was Holy Cross’ first in NCAA Tournament play since 1953.

Providence ready for USC, reputation boost

03.16.16 at 8:13 pm ET
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RALEIGH, N.C. — Talk is cheap, sure. Excuses are cheaper. For the Providence Friars, they know there are no more excuses when it comes to postseason play.

It has been 19 years since Providence last won a game in the NCAA Tournament, a 71-65 decision over Tennessee-Chattanooga on March 21, 1997. It was a Sweet 16 game against the Mocs in Birmingham, Alabama, and the win led to a memorable contest against eventual national champ Arizona two days later — a game the Friars dropped in overtime (96-92).

Since then, Providence has been in the NCAAs four times (2001, 2004, 2014 and 2015), with four straight first-round knockouts. The current team can only lay claim to having been a part of one of those defeats, last year in Columbus, Ohio, to Dayton, but these Friars are aware of the perception.

Regular-season success? Postseason failure.

“From a programmatic development standpoint, this is our fifth year running this organization, and to continue to move our program forward we need to try to advance in this tournament in order to build our brand and our program,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said. “We want our program to be one of the elite schools in the country.”

Despite losses the past two years, it hasn’t been all bad for the Friars, however. Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, Providence is 7-9 in tournament play, 4-5 as the lower-seeded team. That’s where this PC team stands going in as a No. 9 seed against eighth-seeded Southern Cal. The seven wins, however, have come over just two years — 1987 (four wins on the way to the Final Four) and 1997 (three wins to the Elite Eight).

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BC’s Thatcher Demko, Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey, UNH’s Andrew Poturalski among 10 Hobey Baker finalists

03.16.16 at 12:34 pm ET
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Boston College junior goalie Thatcher Demko, Harvard senior forward Jimmy Vesey and New Hampshire sophomore forward Andrew Poturalski are three of the 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award, which honors college hockey’s top player.

Demko, a Vancouver Canucks draft pick, is tied for first in the country with a .938 save percentage and leads the country with 10 shutouts, which is a school record. He has a 25-6-4 record and helped lead BC to a share of the Hockey East regular-season title.

Vesey, a Nashville Predators draft pick, is a finalist for the second year in a row, as he made it to the Hobey Hat Trick last year before losing out to Boston University’s Jack Eichel. He has 23 goals and 21 assists in 30 games, putting him third in the country in goals per game and tied for third in points per game.

Poturalski, who signed with the Carolina Hurricanes after UNH’s season ended last week, had 22 goals and 30 assists in 37 games, tying him for sixth in the country in points per game.

Yale goalie Alex Lyon is also a finalist, as are Michigan linemates Kyle Connor, JT Compher and Tyler Motte. Robert Morris forward Zac Lynch, Michigan Tech forward Alex Petan and St. Cloud State defenseman Ethan Prow round out the top 10.

Connor, who leads the country in both goals and points, should be the favorite to win the Hobey, but Demko and Vesey would be the two players joining him in the Hobey Hat Trick if it were up to this writer.

If you’re interested in more college hockey awards talk, as well as a preview of Friday’s Hockey East semifinals, check out this week’s College Puckcast:

College Puckcast – Hockey East championship weekend preview, postseason awards with Ryan Lambert

Providence’s trip South starts with a few bumps

03.16.16 at 7:22 am ET
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It had absolutely nothing to do with basketball, or the game preparation for the USC Trojans. But if you’re into good karma vs. bad karma as a predictor of things to come, let’s just say Providence’s NCAA trip didn’t start out as it might have been planned.

The Friars’ trip south to Raleigh, North Carolina, was delayed by more than three hours Tuesday, largely due to difficulties with arrangements made by the travel company responsible for booking all travel — for all NCAA tournament teams — around the country.

In this particular instance, the charter airline company apparently failed to provide adequate staff for security screening required from charter departure areas on site at T.F. Green airport. This wasn’t a case of going through normal security procedures through the regular airport terminal, as the team usually walks right onto a plane for chartered travel.

With a lack of TSA staff to provide screening, and thanks to a union rule that wouldn’t allow pedestrian traffic on the tarmac, the basketball team and support group (roughly 150 people) were forced to wait more than three hours to board.

When screening finally had been completed, the team, staff, cheerleaders and band boarded a bus to travel a distance of approximately 100 feet to enter the aircraft for the flight south — about the same distance as a full-court fast break.

The flight proceeded normally thereafter, despite the delay in getting away. The Providence travel party used the same plane that carried the University of Buffalo into Providence earlier in the afternoon for the Bulls’ NCAA game(s) at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.

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Providence set for NCAAs, will face USC

03.13.16 at 9:44 pm ET
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For a third straight year, the Providence Friars are making their way into the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. But unlike the last two seasons, if appearances and initial impressions mean anything, these Friars are set upon making this strictly a business trip.

Providence was selected to play in the East Regional as the ninth seed, with first- and second-round games to be held in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Friars will face eighth-seeded Southern Cal out of the Pac-12 Conference, with tip-off on Thursday night at approximately 9:45 p.m. The winner of the Friars-Trojans matchup stands to face top-seeded North Carolina on Saturday.

The No. 9 seeding came as a surprise for some, to be sure. Based on a four-game winning streak leading into a Big East semifinal loss to Villanova and a strong non-league record, Providence had been mentioned somewhere in the range of a 7 or 8 seed. And based on the rather lukewarm response from the team as Providence’s name was revealed on the bracket, perhaps the Friars have a chip beginning to grow on their shoulders.

“We’re happy we’re in the tournament,” PC coach Ed Cooley said immediately after the Friars’ selection was announced. “There was a lot of love to the Pac-12 with regards to their seedings, but we’re just happy to be in there, happy to be playing and looking forward to playing [USC].”

Said Friars forward Jalen Lindsey: “We’re here. We made it to the tournament. It doesn’t matter who we play or when we play, we’re just ready to play and hopefully get a win.”

That will be the goal, of course, after two first-round exits the last two seasons in the Big Dance. While Providence has now reached the NCAAs for a third straight year — the first time since 1975-78 to accomplish the feat — the Friars have not won a tournament game since 1997 (vs. Chattanooga in the Sweet 16). That’s five straight defeats (1997, 2001, 2004, 2014, 2015) over the course of 19 years.

“I think this year we’re looking forward to getting into the next round,” guard Junior Lomomba said. “We’ve been here before, we’ve made it to the tournament. So now we just want to make it to the next round.”

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BC beats Vermont in overtime to advance to Hockey East semifinals

03.13.16 at 7:58 pm ET
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It’s rare that someone calls hockey “a game of inches” and it’s not an eye roll-inducing cliché. Sunday’s Game 3 between Boston College and Vermont was one of those games where it was a perfectly appropriate term to use, though.

Two and a half minutes into overtime, Vermont’s Mario Puskarich threw a puck on net that led to a giant scrum in the crease. The puck bounced around, slowly rolled toward the goal line, and spun on its side right on the goal line before being cleared away. The Catamounts came that close to pulling off a quarterfinal upset at BC for the second year in a row.

It was so close that while it was under review, some on the BC bench were expecting the worst.

“I had no idea, but my man there, Adam Gilmour, said, ‘Coach, I think it went in,’” said BC coach Jerry York. “Talking to one of the referees, he said it was absolutely right on the line. It was so close. It was a hair from being fully across the goal line. We really dodged a bullet there. Maybe that’s when you get home ice, you get the hockey gods with you.”

Seven minutes later, BC’s Ryan Fitzgerald (a Bruins prospect) took a pass from Gilmour and fired a shot from the slot that deflected off a Vermont player’s stick and into the net to give the Eagles a 4-3 win and send them to the Hockey East semifinals at TD Garden for the first time in three years.

BC will take on Northeastern in the second semifinal at 8 p.m. Friday night, while Providence will face UMass Lowell in the first semifinal at 5 p.m.

“I’m very excited for our kids,” York said. “We had a stretch there where we seemed to go to the Garden every year. Then when you don’t go for two years in a row, it seems like a decade.”

The Catamounts took their first lead of the game 4:37 into the third when Conor O’Neil buried a rebound off Yvan Pattyn’s point shot for his second goal of the game. BC answered with 9:30 left in regulation when JD Dudek tipped in Casey Fitzgerald’s slapper from the point for his first career goal.

Each team came close to winning it in regulation. With 1:35 to go, Fitzgerald walked in from the right circle and fired a shot that Vermont goalie Packy Munson stopped, then followed up on his own rebound and got another shot off that Munson had to turn aside. Then with under 50 seconds to go, Catamounts defenseman Ori Abramson fired a shot off an offensive-zone faceoff win that deflected off something and required a reactionary kick save from Thatcher Demko to send the game to overtime.

The Eagles opened the scoring 4:02 into the game when Teddy Doherty found Zach Sanford in front with a nice pass from the left boards. Sanford then spun to his backhand and flipped a shot past Munson for his 13th goal of the season.

The Catamounts answered 4:49 later on a pretty redirect by Craig Puffer off Rob Hamilton’s shot from the point. There weren’t too many great scoring chances in the first outside of the two goals. The most notable probably a nice save by Munson on a Colin White rebound bid with just under four minutes left in the period.

BC retook the lead 1:56 into the second when Dudek threw a shot on net from the right circle and Colin White knocked home the rebound while getting taken down for his 18th goal of the season and first since Feb. 12.

The most controversial moment of the game came 40 seconds later when Vermont appeared to tie it. Pattyn crashed the net and pushed a rebound over the line, but the goal was called back after a lengthy review due to what the refs deemed a “distinct kicking motion.” The controversial part is that, at least on the replays shown in the arena, there didn’t appear to be anything “distinct” — in fact, it was hard to tell if the puck even went off Pattyn’s skate.

“I looked at it from our angle, and I don’t have the same angles that the referees are looking at, but what I saw was the puck went under his skate, that he never really made contact with the puck,” said Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon. “Again, that’s only one angle. They have, I would think, multiple angles. We have to trust the officials on that. Those guys did a great job tonight. … When it goes to review, you have to just trust the officials. They spent an appropriate amount of time to look at it, for sure.”

The Catamounts did eventually tie the game at 2-2 with 3:32 left in the second, though. Puffer threw a shot to the net that hit a skate in front and bounced right to O’Neil, who buried it before Demko could get reset.

With the loss, Vermont ends the season with a 15-22-3 record, but Sneddon said he’s encouraged for next year given the way his team played in the postseason — the Catamounts swept UConn in the opening round last weekend before taking heavily-favored BC the distance this weekend.

“As bummed out as I am that we lost tonight, I’m equally excited about what we have returning, coming in, and the character that we displayed this weekend,” Sneddon said. “I think we have a lot of exciting things in place for next year.”

College hockey roundup: Lowell, Northeastern, Providence, Harvard, Dartmouth complete sweeps

03.12.16 at 10:27 pm ET
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LOWELL — What was supposed to be the marquee series of the Hockey East tournament came to a rather anticlimactic end thanks to a dominant performance from UMass Lowell. The fourth-seeded River Hawks never gave fifth-seeded Boston University a chance to force a Game 3, as they took control of Saturday’s game right from the get-go, scored three times in the first 31 minutes and went on to win 5-0 to complete the series sweep and advance to the Hockey East semifinals at TD Garden on Friday.

Kevin Boyle stopped all 24 shots he faced to pick up his seventh shutout of the season, breaking Connor Hellebuyck’s program record for most shutouts in a season. That’s a remarkable accomplishment in and of itself for the senior, but it’s made even more remarkable by the fact that Boyle was cut from UMass three years ago after his sophomore season before transferring to Lowell and totally reviving his career under head coach Norm Bazin and assistant coach Cam Ellsworth, who works with the River Hawks’ goalies.

“I think it’s loud and clear when a kid ends up first in Hockey East in goals against and save percentage,” said Lowell coach Norm Bazin. “I think he’s a first-team all-leaguer, and he’s a Hobey Baker candidate. He’s a poised kid. He’s continued to develop over his two years here. We’ll be sorry to see him leave.

“I think Kevin’s been our difference-maker this year. When you’re first star now 10 times, you break the single season record for shutouts, what else can you say? He lets his play do the talking. We’re extremely proud of Kevin. The goalie coach, Cam Ellsworth, has done an outstanding job with him.”

Jake Kamrass opened the scoring 3:07 in when he took a wrist shot from just inside the blue line that somehow beat Sean Maguire glove-side. Lowell continued to control play and extended its lead to 2-0 6:26 into the second when Joe Gambardella snuck a shot under Maguire’s pads from the right side, leading to Maguire getting pulled.

C.J. Smith got behind the BU defense and made it 3-0 four minutes later, and then scored again early in the third. Smith finished the series with two goals and three assists. John Edwardh closed out the scoring with 11:30 remaining on a backhand finish after making a nice move around Charlie McAvoy.

BU had controlled 5-on-5 play for much of Friday’s Game 1, a 3-2 Lowell win, but that wasn’t the case Saturday. They couldn’t generate much of anything in terms of great offensive chances, struggled to execute even some easy breakouts and just seemed pretty flat in general.

The River Hawks will be looking to reach the Hockey East championship game for the fourth year in a row. They won the tournament in 2013 and 2014 and lost to BU in the final last year. The Terriers, meanwhile, will have a week off to regroup before the NCAA tournament, which they’re more than a 99 percent lock to make.

“I’d like to congratulate Lowell on a great series,” said BU coach David Quinn. “They’re a real good team. They certainly know how to play playoff hockey. And they’re a better hockey team than we are right now.”

Elsewhere in Hockey East…

-After falling behind 2-0, Vermont scored four straight to stun top-seeded Boston College with a 4-2 win and force a decisive Game 3 Sunday at 4 p.m. at Conte Forum. Liam Coughlin had a goal and two assists, Brian Bowen and Rob Hamilton each had two points, and Packy Munson stopped 43 of the 45 shots he faced. BC was playing without top defenseman Ian McCoshen and Vermont was missing forward Brady Shaw, both due to one-game suspensions. The Catamounts will be looking for a repeat of last year’s quarterfinals, when they pulled off a two-games-to-one upset at BC.

-Northeastern continued to role, beating Notre Dame 6-4 in South Bend to complete a series sweep and improve to 18-1-2 over their last 21 games. The Huskies turned a 1-1 game into a 4-1 lead with goals from Kevin Roy, Garret Cockerill and Dylan Sikura just 3:20 apart early in the second. Northeastern eventually built up a 6-2 lead before two late Notre Dame goals made the final score line look closer than the game was. Roy had two goals and two assists on the night and now has 10 goals and seven assists in his last 11 games. The Huskies last reached the Hockey East semifinals in 2011 and haven’t won the tournament since 1988. Notre Dame is pretty much locked into an NCAA tournament spot despite the sweep.

-Providence beat Merrimack 2-0 to complete the series sweep and advance to the Garden for the fourth time in the last five years. The game was scoreless through 50 minutes, but Garrett Gamez broke the deadlock with 9:21 remaining and Kevin Rooney added an empty-netter in the final minute. Nick Ellis made 20 saves in picking up his fourth shutout of the season.

And in the ECAC…

-Harvard smoked Rensselaer, 8-2, to complete a series sweep and advance to the ECAC semifinals in Lake Placid on Friday. The game was tied 2-2 after one, but then the Crimson scored twice in the second and four more times in the third. Jimmy Vesey had two goals and an assist and Sean Malone had a goal and two assists to lead the way. Harvard is looking to defend its ECAC tournament title.

-Charles Grant stopped 46 of the 47 shots he faced to lead seventh-seeded Dartmouth to a 2-1 win and an upset sweep over second-seeded Yale. After Yale opened the scoring, Tim Shoup and Kevin Kilistoff scored five minutes apart late in the first to give the Big Green a lead they wouldn’t relinquish, despite getting outshot 47-15 in the game. This is Dartmouth’s first trip to the ECAC semifinals since 2011.

Seton Hall claims Big East title; Providence waits on NCAAs

03.12.16 at 9:58 pm ET
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NEW YORK — If you go by tournament seedings, No. 3 Seton Hall’s win over No. 1 Villanova on Saturday night could be described as an upset.

But if you had the chance to watch the Pirates play against the Wildcats — or really, watch any of the college basketball postseason play thus far around the country — you know the word “upset” doesn’t much exist in any language.

Behind the take-charge play of Big East Tournament MVP Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall stunned Villanova with outstanding shooting early and solid defense late to beat the Wildcats 69-67 at Madison Square Garden.

Rallying from a 13-point second-half deficit after trailing by 11 at the half, Villanova tied the game at 50 on a Kris Jenkins 3-pointer with 9:22 to play. The Cats then grabbed their first lead since a 9-8 edge early in the game on another Jenkins trey with less than a minute to play at 67-64.

Not to be denied, Whitehead (26 points) and the Pirates closed out an outstanding tournament effort by scoring the final five points of the game — four from Whitehead — with the sophomore guard completing a three-point play on a driving layup and a foul by the Wildcats’ Jenkins with just 18 seconds remaining.

Jenkins missed a 3 with 11 ticks remaining, and a putback attempt from Josh Hart looked as if he was fouled on the play. The officials — woefully inconsistent on contact fouls throughout this tournament, as well as throughout the season — let the players decide the outcome.

Angel Delgado grabbed the rebound, was fouled by Ryan Arcidiacono, and hit one of two from the line before a final attempt by Arcidiacono fell short at the buzzer.

“Both teams played so hard and unbelievable, they played a great game,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard, co-Coach of the Year in the Big East with Villanova’s Jay Wright, said in the postgame din. “These guys haven’t had a bad day at practice all year. I just let my kids play. They have so much confidence from what we give them in instruction, we just let them go.”

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