NCAA Latest: Auburn takes slim halftime lead on UNC
The Latest on the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament (all times Eastern):
Auburn scored the final six points of the first half to take a 41-39 lead over top-seeded North Carolina into the locker room in the first Midwest Region semifinal.
There were five lead changes in the up-and-down first half. The last of them came at the buzzer, when J’Von McCormick went the length of the floor and got a finger-roll to go.
The Tigers have already hoisted up 19 3-pointers — the school record for an NCAA Tournament game is 32. The Tar Heels are firing away, too, going 5 of 15 from beyond the arc.
It’s the second time in three games that UNC has trailed at halftime in the tournament.
With Michigan State freshman Aaron Henry doing his best Draymond Green impersonation, the No. 2 seed Spartans are dominating No. 3 LSU in their East Region semifinal.
The Spartans lead 40-28 at halftime after leading by as many as 17. The 6-foot-6 Henry’s led the way with a do-everything performance of 13 points, seven rebounds and four assists so far that are all game-highs.
A 3-pointer just before the end of the half by Tremont Waters let LSU go into the break with a hint of momentum, but still down by double digits.
Waters leads the Tigers with 10 points as they try to get a step closer to their first Final Four berth since 2006.
The scoreboards froze inside the Sprint Center with 6:59 left in the first half and Auburn and North Carolina tied 26-all, forcing the public address announcer to continually update the score.
The game continued because the game clock and shot clock above each backboard were correct.
Still, it made for a strange and embarrassing situation for the host venue in Kansas City. Officials were working frantically courtside to get the ribbon boards between the lower and upper levels working correctly, to say nothing of the giant video boards hanging over the court.
North Carolina freshman Nassir Little is playing after dealing with flu-like symptoms all week.
Little checked in against Auburn just before the midway point of the first half. He was considered a game-time decision, and coach Roy Williams said he would monitor the forward’s minutes even if he was able to play.
Also worth watching is key reserve Brandon Robinson, who was hit on his way to the rim and immediately reached for the back of his left leg.
He shook off the tightness, made one of two foul shots and remained in the game. But anything that slows him down could affect a team that likes to run in a fast-paced game.
Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey continues to follow Auburn in the NCAA Tournament, first tailing the Tigers to Salt Lake City for the opening weekend and now to Kansas City, Missouri, for the Sweet 16.
Auburn is playing the top-seeded Tar Heels for a spot in its second Elite Eight.
Once known only for its football, the SEC landed four teams in the Sweet 16. Tennessee fell to Purdue in overtime on Thursday night, while LSU faces Michigan State in Washington, D.C., and Kentucky plays Houston in the nightcap in Kansas City. (edited)
NCAA president Mark Emmert is also in Kansas City.
LSU is making a last-minute lineup change before facing Michigan State in the Sweet 16.
Shortly before tipoff, the No. 3-seeded Tigers announced they would put freshman guard Javonte Smart in the starting five.
He takes the spot that originally was supposed to go to junior guard Marlon Taylor.
An LSU spokesman called it a coach’s decision.
Smart is the player at the center of published allegations that led to the suspension of LSU head coach Will Wade.
Smart hasn’t started a game since February.
There is plenty of Carolina blue in the stands at Sprint Center for the top-seeded Tar Heels’ game against No. 5 seed Auburn in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
There is also some Jayhawk blue, too.
Roy Williams still has plenty of friends and fans in the Kansas City area from his days just down Interstate 70 in Lawrence. Williams won 418 games during his time coaching Kansas, and nearly captured a national title, before the tug of his alma mater proved too much to overcome.
Williams has since won three championships in Chapel Hill.
Bettors at sportsbooks are sensing (or perhaps just hoping) that Houston may upset Kentucky in the Sweet 16.
Betting data released by William Hill on Friday night shows 55 percent of money and a similar share of tickets backing Houston as a 2-point underdog to Kentucky in their regional semifinal. It’s the only game of the four left in this round of the NCAA Tournament to have more action on the underdog.
William Hill says the game also has the most action among the four games, with 27 percent of the money wagered on Houston-Kentucky rather than one of the other games.
Early betting on the Elite Eight shows heavy support for Gonzaga over Texas Tech and Purdue as a 4 1/2-point underdog to Virginia.
North Carolina freshman Nassir Little took part in Friday afternoon’s shootaround at Sprint Center and could play when the top-seeded Tar Heels face No. 5 seed Auburn in the Sweet 16.
Little had flulike symptoms this week, missing practice Wednesday in Chapel Hill and Thursday when the team arrived in Kansas City. Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said he could barely lift a fork when the team had lunch Thursday and there was “no way he can play” in that state.
A school spokesman said that Little had improved enough to shoot Friday, but that Williams would ultimately decide at game time whether the 6-foot-6 forward would play.
Little scored 19 points in the Tar Heels’ first-round win over Iona. He had 20 against Washington in the blowout win that sent North Carolina to the Sweet 16.
Duke is facing a familiar foe in the Sweet 16 — one of the only four teams to win against the Blue Devils this year.
Five days after escaping Central Florida and 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall, the Blue Devils play fellow ACC team Virginia Tech on Friday.
The Hokies have won a game against the Blue Devils in each of the past three seasons. They know what to expect and will not be intimidated by the bracket’s No. 1 overall seed.
Virginia Tech point guard Justin Robinson says it’s just another game for his team, and they’ll be ready for whatever comes toward the end.
Robinson didn’t play in the teams’ lone meeting this season. Neither did Duke’s flying freshman Zion Williamson. R.J. Barrett played sick.
The Hokies won the Feb. 26 game in Blacksburg 77-72 after Ty Outlaw hit a tiebreaking 3-pointer with less than two minutes left.
The NCAA Tournament had a superb point guard duel in the opening round between Murray State’s Ja Morant and Marquette’s Markus Howard.
Another one comes Friday in the East Region, when LSU’s Tremont Waters squares off against Michigan State’s Cassius Winston City.
Winston was the Big Ten player of the year, averages 18.9 points per game and was third nationally with 7.5 assists.
Waters was the SEC co-defensive player of the year after finishing third nationally with 2.97 steals per game. He averages 15 points and 5.9 assists per game. He also hit the winning shot with 1.6 seconds left to lift the Tigers over Maryland in their NCAA opener.
Winston says the teams play to go against the best, but he can’t get caught up in an individual matchup.
Friday’s South Region game between top-seeded North Carolina and No. 5 Auburn should be the polar opposite of the low-scoring games Thursday night.
The Tar Heels (29-6) and Tigers (28-9) like to play fast. As in look away from your TV and you might miss a basket — or three.
North Carolina averages 14.6 seconds per offensive position, fifth-fewest nationally, and is third in Division I with 86 points per game.
Fast and effective.
Auburn has hit the fourth-most 3-pointers in Division I history with 421 and uses its pressure defense to create waves of baskets in transition. Kansas found out the hard way how quickly the Tigers can get rolling, falling behind 17 points before the first half was halfway over.
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