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Providence advances to regional final with blowout win over Quinnipiac

03.28.14 at 8:59 pm ET
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Providence reached the NCAA tournament for the first since 2001 this season, and now the Friars are heading to the national quarterfinals for the first time since 1989 after beating Quinnipiac, 4-0, Friday in a first-round game in Bridgeport, Conn.

Flames draft pick Jon Gillies made 37 saves to pick up his fourth shutout of the season, while fellow Calgary prospect Mark Jankowski opened the scoring 3:37 into the game. Anthony Florentino, Shane Luke and Trevor Mingoia all added goals in the second period to put the game well out of reach.

The win sets up a regional final against Union (Saturday, 3 p.m. ET), one full of interesting storylines. Friars coach Nate Leaman was Union’s head coach for eight years before leaving for Providence in 2011, and he helped lead the Dutchmen to their first-ever NCAA tournament appearance in his final season there.

His replacement at Union was Rick Bennett, who had been on Leaman’s staff for his last six years there. Bennett has led the Dutchmen to NCAAs in each of his three seasons at the helm and now has a chance to take them to their second Frozen Four in the last three years.

Perhaps even more interesting for the purposes of  Saturday’s game is that Bennett played at Providence and is a member of the PC Athletics Hall of Fame. He later spent five years as an assistant with the Friars.

With a win over Union, Providence would reach its first Frozen Four since 1985, when it fell to Rensselaer in the national championship game.

Vermont falls to Union in first round of NCAA tournament

03.28.14 at 5:03 pm ET
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Vermont’s first NCAA tournament game since 2010 didn’t go well at all. The Catamounts took eight penalties and got outshot, 39-25, as they fell to Union, 5-2, Friday afternoon at the East Regional in Bridgeport, Conn.

Union, the ECAC champion and No. 1 seed in the region, opened the scoring 4:15 into the first on a shorthanded goal by Matt Hatch. Vermont captain Chris McCarthy tied the game with 6:42 left in the first, but Max Novak reclaimed the lead for the Dutchmen just 1:09 later on a power-play tally.

Novak struck again on the power play late in the second to make it 3-1, and then Mat Bodie scored midway through the third to make it a three-goal lead. McCarthy cut the lead to 4-2 with his second goal of the game (and 18th of the season) before Hatch sealed the win for Union with an empty-netter.

The Catamounts never really gave themselves a chance in the first two periods, as they took four penalties in each frame and found themselves trailing in shots, 31-12, heading into the third.

Despite the disappointing finish, Vermont fans have to be encouraged by the team’s turnaround this year. After back-to-back NCAA appearances in 2009 and 2010 (including a Frozen Four appearance in ’09), the Catamounts won eight games in 2010-11, six in 2011-12 and 11 in 2012-13 before jumping up to 20 this season.

They will have some retooling to do for next year, as they graduate their leading scorer in McCarthy, as well as mainstays Connor Brickley, H.T. Lenz and Nick Bruneteau. There’s also a chance that junior defenseman Michael Paliotta, a Blackhawks draft pick, could turn pro, although it doesn’t sound like that’s expected.

Freshman sensation Mario Puskarich – the Hockey East Rookie of the Year — will be back, though, as will goalie Brody Hoffman.

UMass football to leave MAC after 2015 season

03.26.14 at 3:17 pm ET
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UMass’ football team will leave the Mid-American Conference after the 2015 season, the school announced Wednesday.

Athletic director John McCutcheon said the decision was made after the MAC exercised a contract clause that offered UMass full-time membership in the conference for all sports. If UMass declined the offer, it would be able to remain a football-only member for just two more years. The school declined and will now leave the league after the 2015 season.

“While the report is not complete,” McCutcheon said, “we believe full membership for all sports in the MAC is not a good fit for us. Because most of the MAC schools are in the Midwest, the additional travel would strain our athletic budget and pose considerable time management challenges for our student athletes. We are confident that, within the next two years, we will find a more suitable conference for our FBS football program.”

“We remain committed to FBS football,” McCutcheon added. “Many institutions have successfully navigated this challenging period of conference realignment and we will do the same.”

In its first two seasons in the MAC (and FBS), UMass went 2-14 in conference play and 2-22 overall. The school changed coaches after this past season when it fired Charley Molnar and brought back Mark Whipple, who led the team to a Division I-AA national championship in 1998.

Celtics assistant Walter McCarty expresses interest in BC job

03.25.14 at 1:27 pm ET
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Celtics assistant coach Walter McCarty is not hiding his interest in the Boston College coaching vacancy.

McCarty, a University of Kentucky product who played 7 1/2 of his 11 NBA seasons in Boston, joined the Celtics this season after serving as an assistant to Rick Pitino at Louisville for three years (2007-10) and then working one year as a Pacers assistant under Jim O’Brien in 2010-11.

“I’m very interested,” McCarty told the Boston Herald’s Steve Bulpett. “I want to be highly considered. I love the city. I have great ties in the city. I have a great foundation here, especially with recruiting.

“If you look at Louisville’s 2013 national championship team, four of those five starters were my guys. So I’m very confident in my ability to coach and lead a program. I think that I’m ready.”

Added McCarty: “This city loves basketball, and that’€™s a great university. I think the people in the area and the students can be re-engaged with the basketball program. There’€™s a good fan base. It just needs to be revived and be resurrected with the right person in place who can re-engage the community, who can engage the fan base and bring them back together.

“And it also has to be a person who can bring players to campus who will be a part of not just the program, but the community. I think if you bring the right type of players here and put a good product on the floor, you can do that.”

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Harvard’s tourney run ends vs. Michigan State

03.22.14 at 11:29 pm ET
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Harvard rallied from a 16-point second-half deficit to take a two-point lead with just over seven minutes to play, but fourth-seeded Michigan State recovered and ended the Crimson’s season with a 80-73 decision Saturday night in an NCAA tournament game in Spokane, Wash.

Branden Dawson scored 26 points on 12-of-15 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds for the Spartans (28-8), who advance to play the winner of Sunday’s Virginia-Memphis game in next week’s East Regional semifinals. Gary Harris added 18 points and five assists, and he hit a pair of big 3-pointers down the stretch.

Wesley Saunders scored 22 points for 12th-seeded Harvard (27-5). Brandyn Curry came off the bench to score 12 points, Steve Moundou-Missi had 11 points and 11 rebounds, and Siyani Chambers contributed 10 points and four assists.

The Crimson trailed by 12 at the half and then 16 at 49-33 after a Dawson dunk 2 1/2 minutes into the second period, and it appeared they would not be able to keep up with the talented Spartans, a popular pick to win the tournament. It was again a 16-point margin at 52-36 with under 16 minutes remaining when Harvard started its comeback with a pair of Curry 3-pointers. That began a 19-3 run that was capped by a Saunders steal and dunk that tied the game at 55 with nine minutes to play.

Harris hit a trey to put the Spartans back up by three, but Harvard kept up the pressure and grabbed the lead at 62-60 on a 3-pointer from the corner by Laurent Rivard with just over seven minutes left.

Travis Trice had the answer for Michigan State on its ensuing possession, hitting a 3-pointer that put his team ahead to stay. Harris hit a trey with 5:37 left to cap an 8-0 run, and Michigan State was back in control with a 68-62 lead. Harvard could get no closer than four the rest of the way, and Michigan State hit 7-of-8 free throws in the final minute to put the game out of reach.

After surviving the scare, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was highly complimentary of his counterpart and good friend, Tommy Amaker.

“He did a heck of a job with that team,” Izzo said in a TNT on-court interview after the game. “I told my guys in four huddles, ‘They are not going to quit, man. I know this guy.’ Give him a lot of credit. We did some goofy things, but boy, the way they came back, they played so hard, they got their hands in passing lanes. I give a lot of credit to Harvard.”

Harvard was coming of an upset of fifth-seeded Cincinnati on Thursday, its second-ever NCAA tournament victory — and second in two years. Michigan State, meanwhile, is making its 12th Sweet 16 appearance in the last 17 years.

UMass-Lowell dominates UNH, wins second straight Hockey East title

03.22.14 at 9:29 pm ET
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Making mistakes is bad. Making them against UMass-Lowell, a structurally sound team that rarely makes any mistakes of its own, is even worse. And making them in a conference championship game against UMass-Lowell is worst of all.

The River Hawks scored two goals off New Hampshire mistakes in the first period Saturday night, and that was all they needed to win their second straight Hockey East tournament title. They tacked on two more goals to make it a 4-0 final, ending UNH’s season in the process.

“It’s huge for the program,” said senior forward Joe Pendenza, who had three assists Saturday night. “It’s tough to explain how it’s been and how it feels. After our freshman year, we had our doubts. We won five games. We weren’t sure what was going to happen with a new coach coming in.

“The one common thing coming out of that was that we never wanted to experience that again. We wanted to win. We wanted to do something. We’ve been very fortunate to do something special here.”

Lowell’€™s first goal came with 7:48 left in the first period. Nick Sorkin failed to clear the zone, and goaltender Casey DeSmith compounded the problem by failing to cover a bad-angle shot from Pendenza. Sophomore forward A.J. White (1 goal, 2 assists) made the Wildcats pay by flipping the loose puck past DeSmith.

The River Hawks capitalized on another mistake three minutes later. UNH defenseman Brett Pesce held onto the puck a split second too long, allowing Josh Holmstrom to tie him up and force a turnover. White grabbed the puck and fed Pendenza on the doorstep, but DeSmith made a great diving save. Unfortunately, no one from UNH was there to clear the rebound, and Holmstrom finished off the play he started.

Lowell didn’€™t need any more offense after that, but it got two more goals in the second when Joe Gambardella and then Jake Suter found the back of the net. In a perfect illustration of the team’s balanced scoring and offensive depth, the River Hawks ended the weekend with eight goals from eight different players.

“It’s been a point of emphasis since I arrived,” Lowell coach Norm Bazin said of the depth. “I think to have a great team at Lowell, you have to have multiple threats. We don’t have the 50- or 60-point guy, but we have an awful lot of good hockey players. We feel if it can come from any line, it makes us a real threat.”

The four goals were more than enough given the fact the River Hawks had Connor Hellebuyck in net. The sophomore goalie made 30 saves to pick up his second shutout in as many nights, and his third in a row at TD Garden dating back to last year’€™s championship game against Boston University. The Jets draft pick was named tournament MVP for the second year in a row, making him the first player in league history to earn that honor twice.

“Connor’s stellar. There’s no question that you don’t win a championship without a good goalie,” Bazin said. “He’s provided us with great goaltending all year. Dougie Carr has had an exceptional season also. It’s just that we’ve got Connor. We feel either one of them can give us a great start, and Connor’s been carrying the ball here lately.”

UPDATE: The River Hawks will head to Worcester next weekend for the Northeast Regional, where they will take on Minnesota State in the first round of the NCAA tournament. They could potentially meet Boston College in the regional final.

Here is the complete NCAA bracket:

West Regional (St. Paul)
1. Minnesota vs. 16. Robert Morris
8. Notre Dame vs. 9. St. Cloud State

Northeast Regional (Worcester)
2. Boston College vs. 15. Denver
7. UMass-Lowell vs. 10. Minnesota State

East Regional (Bridgeport)
3. Union vs. 13. Vermont
6. Quinnipiac vs. 11. Providence

Midwest Regional (Cincinnati)
4. Wisconsin vs. 14. North Dakota
5. Ferris State vs. 12. Colgate

UNH beats Providence to reach first Hockey East title game since 2007

03.21.14 at 10:38 pm ET
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The 2008 and 2010 New Hampshire teams that won the regular-season title didn’€™t get here. The 2009, 2011 and 2013 squads that had a spot in the NCAA tournament locked up didn’€™t get here either. But the 2014 Wildcats team, one that finished fourth in the regular season, and one that needs a conference title just to qualify for NCAAs, is heading to the Hockey East championship game, a place the program hasn’€™t been since 2007.

The Wildcats beat Providence 3-1 in Friday night’€™s semifinals, led by their top scorer, Kevin Goumas. The senior center scored twice in the game, giving him five goals in his last two games, 24 points in his last 13, and 52 points in 39 games on the season. The Wildcats will take on defending champion UMass-Lowell Saturday night as they look to win their first tournament title since 2003.

“It’s been on my mind the last week or so, especially with playoffs coming around,” Goumas said of his collegiate career potentially ending. “The way I’ve been playing, just go out there and make sure it’s not my last game. I want to take care of business here in Hockey East first, but I also want one more chance to get to the NCAA tournament and a national championship.” Read the rest of this entry »

UMass-Lowell advances to Hockey East title game with blowout win over Notre Dame

03.21.14 at 7:23 pm ET
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Notre Dame was the lowest seed at TD Garden for Hockey East’€™s championship weekend, but you could have easily made the case that the Fighting Irish were the favorites to win it all. They entered Friday’€™s semifinals with an 8-1-1 record in their last 10 games, including three wins over regular-season champion Boston College in the last three weeks. And they had given up just 1.50 goals per game during that stretch.

So much for that theory. UMass-Lowell ripped the Fighting Irish to shreds Friday night, scoring two goals in the first and two more in the second en route to a 4-0 win. The second-seeded River Hawks advance to Saturday night’€™s conference championship game, where they will have a chance to win their second straight tournament title. They will take on the winner of Friday night’€™s second semifinal between Providence and New Hampshire.

“The first time’s hard, but the second time’s even harder,” said senior forward Derek Arnold when asked about getting back to the title game. “We put ourselves in a position to go after another championship, and we’re going to prepare properly tonight and tomorrow to go for that.”

“I think Hockey East has gotten more difficult in one year,” added Lowell coach Norm Bazin. “That’s the onset of Notre Dame coming into the league and everyone else getting better. It’s a great league. When you have seven of our 11 teams in the top 20 in the country, enough said.”

The River Hawks dominated the game’€™s first 10 minutes and finally got on the board with 9:47 left in the first. Sophomore defenseman Christian Folin, who is widely considered the top undrafted player in college hockey, took a pass at center point from A.J. White and fired a shot that deflected in off Notre Dame defenseman Kevin Lind‘€™s skate. Read the rest of this entry »

UMass routed by Tennessee in NCAA tournament

03.21.14 at 5:37 pm ET
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UMass’ first trip to the NCAA tournament since 1998 was a short one, as the sixth-seeded Minutemen were routed by Tennessee, 86-67, on Friday afternoon in Raleigh, N.C.

Tennessee (23-12), an 11th seed that knocked off Iowa in a first-round game, advances to play 14th-seeded Mercer, which shocked third-seeded Duke, 78-71, in the day’s opening game.

Jarnell Stokes scored 26 points and grabbed 14 rebounds for the Volunteers, who shot 53 percent. Jordan McRae contributed 21 points, Josh Richardson had 15 points and five assists, and Jeronne Maymon had 11 points and 11 rebounds.

Maxie Esho and Chaz Williams scored 12 points apiece for UMass (24-9), which shot 42 percent.

UMass scored the game’s first basket (a Derrick Gordon jumper), but it was the only lead the Minutemen would have. Tennessee’s lead reached double digits eight minutes into the game, and the Vols led by 19 at the break, 41-22.

UMass opened the second half with a quick 6-0 run and later closed the gap to 10 at 46-36 with 14:21 left after a Sampson Carter 3-pointer. Tennessee responded with a 9-2 run, and UMass never threatened again.

Former UConn coach Jim Calhoun reportedly interested in BC opening

03.21.14 at 2:20 pm ET
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Jim Calhoun, who won three national championships at UConn before stepping away in 2012, is interested in the Boston College vacancy, according to multiple reports.

However, Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarwoski reports that “the interest isn’t mutual.”

 

A Braintree native who attended American International College and coached at Northeastern from 1972-86, Calhoun spent 26 seasons at UConn, winning titles in 1999, 2004 and 2011. He was replaced by Kevin Ollie after having some health issues, including breaking a hip in a bicycle accident after the 2011-12 season. His career record is 873-380.

Now a special assistant to UConn athletic director Warde Manuel, the 71-year-old Calhoun said recently that he is in good health, and while he declined comment about BC, he told ESPN on Friday: “I would not be opposed to talking to anyone about basketball.”

BC announced Tuesday that Steve Donahue would not return for a fifth season.

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