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NCAA: Murray State leads Butler 26-22 at half

Donte Poole is not known for his 3-point shooting, but his fall-away, hand-in-the-face prayer hit nothing but net as the halftime buzzer sounded, giving Murray State a 26-22 lead over fifth-seeded Butler.

The Bulldogs are shooting just 28 percent from the field, while the 13th seed Racers have overcome eight first-half turnovers by outrebounding Butler 22-12. They're 20 minutes away from moving on in the West Regional, where they would get the Syracuse-Gonzaga winner.

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Tony Easley already has two blocked shots for Murray State, and has 159 for his career, to go with seven rebounds against Butler. He hasn't been nearly as proficient on offense, though, going just 1 of 5 from the field.

The Racers have struggled as a team, shooting 7 of 20 over the first 16 minutes. They've also coughed up the ball seven times while Butler has just one turnover. All of it adds up to a 22-18 deficit — which would be more lopsided if the Bulldogs hadn't missed six straight shots themselves.

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With the firing of Todd Lickliter at Iowa, a lot of folks in the Midwest are hoping that Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl is open to returning. He coached under Dr. Tom Davis before becoming a head coach at Southern Indiana, UW-Milwaukee and now Tennessee.

Happy birthday to the feisty Vols' coach, by the way. He turned 50 on Thursday.

Ohio is doing its best to spoil the festive weekend for Pearl, just as it spoiled the weekend for third-seeded Georgetown. The Bobcats took a quick 10-7 lead on Tennessee in the Midwest Regional.

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The coaching carousel has already begun, with St. John's and Seton Hall firing their coaches this week. Other jobs are sure to come open after the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, and several athletic directors will be looking at Butler coach Brad Stevens.

After taking over for Todd Lickliter in 2007, the 33-year-old Stevens has twice been Horizon League coach of the year, won three regular-season and two tournament titles, and is 85-14 overall. Pretty nice resume.

His biggest problem may not be his fault, though. ADs are sure to look at the failure of Lickliter to win at Iowa and reason that the two coaches employ very similar styles. They maximize talent that may not be at the same level as players at major conferences, primarily by keeping the score low, and that system rarely translates to high-profile success.

Then again, Stevens also worked for a time under Ohio State coach Thad Matta. And his teams have been dominant in the Big Ten.

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The Racers were stuck in neutral early against Butler, with just one field goal — a 3-pointer by Isacc Miles — in the first 7 minutes. The Bulldogs love playing at a pace that can best be described as trudging along, so everything was copacetic at that point.

Then the Racers' Jeffery McClain finally got his team in gear with a bucket inside, and the Murray State began hurrying the ball up court. B.J. Jenkins hit a 3-pointer, Ivan Aska added another bucket inside, and a quick 7-0 spurt trimmed the lead to two.

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Mizzou guard Zaire Taylor upped the ante on the debate over which conference is better — the Big 12 or Big East — by noting that the Big 12 had seven out of 12 make the NCAA tournament, while the Big East had eight out of "something like 30."

Actually, it's 16, and only three are left after Villanova lost to Saint Mary's in the first game of the second round. The Big 12 hits the court later in the day overall No. 1 seed Kansas plays Northern Iowa, Baylor plays Old Dominion and Kansas State plays BYU. All of the Big 12 schools are favored.

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The battle of the mid-majors is under way in San Jose, where 13th-seeded Murray State is taking on a Butler team that's becoming quite accustomed to playing in the NCAA tournament.

Murray State coach Billy Kennedy was firing up his team in the locker room before they took the floor, and don't expect the Racers to get nervous. They've already racked up 31 wins this season while dominating the Ohio Valley Conference.

Butler is going after its 22nd straight victory and second trip to the regional semifinals in four years. The Horizon League champs beat UTEP in the first round behind a 25-point performance by Shelvin Mack, who hit seven 3-pointers.

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Ohio coach John Groce majored in math and taught it in high school, but even he probably had a hard time figuring out how these numbers add up to where the Bobcats find themselves.

They lost 14 games in the regular season, finishing below .500 in the Mid-America Conference, and had to win the league tournament as a No. 9 seed just to make the NCAA tournament. Then they stunned just about everyone by beating third-seeded Georgetown.

Tennessee will try to prevent the Bobcats from making history. Cleveland State in 1986 and Chattanooga in '97 are the only No. 14 seeds to reach the regional semifinals.

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A Gael-force wind has blown tiny Saint Mary's into the round of 16 with a 75-68 victory over second-seeded Villanova. Omar Samhan led the way with 32 points, one shy of his career high, and Mickey McConnell hit a trio of 3-pointers and had 15 points.

Scottie Reynolds went 2 of 11 from the field in a forgettable end to his sterling career. The Villanova senior was 4 of 24 in the NCAA tournament, one of the big reasons another beast from the Big East is heading home before the second weekend.

Saint Mary's will play Old Dominion or Baylor on Thursday.

The West Coast Conference repeatedly has said it deserves multiple bids to the NCAA tournament, and the Gaels are joining Gonzaga in taking that argument to the court. The Bulldogs play Syracuse on Sunday, but for now, the little conference that could is 3-0.

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Mickey McConnell showed a nasty crossover to shake a Villanova defender, then banked in a deep 3-pointer from somewhere near Federal Hill, giving Saint Mary's a 68-65 lead.

Reggie Redding was stuffed at the other end by — who else? — Omar Samhan, and the small but vocal contingent of Gaels fans are on their fleet in Providence.

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It's 65-all with 95 seconds to go in Providence. Samhan just picked up his third foul, but it looks like he's out of trouble.

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Omar Samhan is putting together one of the truly impressive individual performances of this year's NCAA tournament, with 32 points — one shy of his career high.

Villanova is countering with balance, especially as Scottie Reynolds struggles to find his shot. Nova has only turned the ball over five times in the game, but a key mistake with 4½ minutes left led to a 3-pointer by Matthew Dellavedova and a 64-61 Gaels lead.

Maalik Wayns came back to score on a nifty drive for Villanova, and the lead is one.

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BYU star Jimmer Fredette had the highest-scoring game of the first round, with 37 points. But he did it on 13 of 26 shooting. Compare that to Omar Samhan, who has 32 points for the Gaels on 13 of 16 shooting, along with 6 of 8 from the foul line.

Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher make up a potent backcourt combination for Villanova, but they won't be the reason the Wildcats are still alive if they manage to pull this one out. The two are a combined 5 of 22 from the floor.

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Villanova finally took the lead, thanks to Maalik Wayns' pass through the defense to Antonio Pena for a layup. Ben Allen unwisely grabbed him for the foul but couldn't keep him from scoring. The three-point play made it 51-51 with 10:07 left, and another bucket inside made it 53-51 — the Wildcats' first lead since there were 16 minutes left in the first half.

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The Wildcats used a 9-2 run to get within 47-42, and Omar Samhan scored and drew a foul at the other end. Maybe Villanova ought to start fouling him BEFORE he takes a shot?

Samhan maintains a blog — more like a vlog, because it's mostly videos — that can be found at http://omarsamhan50.wordpress.com/ He interviewed Mickey McConnell after beating Richmond in the first round of the tournament, and asked him about shutting down Scottie Reynolds.

Well, McConnell is doing a terrific job against the Wildcats' star. Reynolds is just 1-for-8 shooting and has five points.

Samhan, meanwhile, has 24 points on 10 of 13 from the field.

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Villanova has been a scrappy team all season and is doing it again in Providence. Maalik Wayns grabbed a rebound and, after a loose ball, Reggie Redding knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner to get with 45-40 early in the second half.

Redding pumped his first when the shot went down, and the Wildcats finally are coming alive. Early in the game they looked like the team that lost five of seven coming into the tournament, now they're looking like the team that won 20 of its first 21.

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The first wave of games from the women's tournament is over, and the favorites are playing up to their seeds. Second-seeded Tennessee routed Austin Peay 75-42, sixth-seeded St. John's beat Princeton 65-47, fifth-seeded Michigan State beat Bowling Green 72-62, and seventh-seeded LSU handled Hartford 60-39.

Basketball isn't the only NCAA tournament going on. The vaunted Iowa wrestling program has already locked up its third straight team title with five individuals in the finals Saturday night. Cornell is in second place, but can hold this over Iowa: The Big Red men's basketball team is still alive in the NCAA tournament, taking on Wisconsin on Sunday.

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Halftime here winding to an end in the first game in the round of 32. Saint Mary's leads 38-31, down from a 12-point lead. Omar Samhan is the story with 15 points and six rebounds. He also has two fouls, and coach Randy Bennett has been moving him in and out of the lineup to keep him out of more serious foul trouble.

He played just 12 minutes in the half, a low for the Gaels starters.

In all, Saint Mary's has a 20-12 rebounding edge. Corey Stokes leads Villanova with 10 points and three boards, and Scottie Reynolds has five points on 1-for-7 shooting.

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Every time the Wildcats go on a run, energizing a crowd in Providence that heavily favors Villanova, Omar Samhan comes through inside. His three-point play after Nova closed within 33-29 quieted just about everybody in the building.

And the big guy certainly recognized it, pulling a Dikembe Mutombo and putting his finger to his lips in the universal "Shhhh!" signal. The referees warned Samhan for taunting.

Samhan finished the half 7 of 9 from the field for 15 points, along with six rebounds — both of those totals roughly half of Villanova's entire team. The Gaels lead 38-31 at the break, which could have been more lopsided if Corey Stokes didn't get a gift foul on a loose ball with 4 seconds remaining and hit both free throws.

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Scottie Reynolds missed his first five shots before making a layup with about 5 minutes left in the first half against Saint Mary's. He was still Villanova's leading scorer early, with five points thanks to three free throws.

Reynolds went 2 for 15 in the opener but did plenty of damage from the foul line. His struggles go back to Madison Square Garden, where he managed only 10 points in a loss to Marquette during the Big East tournament.

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Omar Samhan is getting a breather, and the Gaels subbed in another big guy in Ben Allen.

Allen scored 20 points against Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference title game, the kind of performance that served as something of vindication for him. He began his career at Indiana but struggled to get on the court, so he transferred about 9,000 miles west. The change was stark, going from a school with 38,000 kids to one with fewer than 4,000, but perhaps the greatest irony is that the basketball is better in California.

Saint Mary's is playing in the second round of the NCAA tournament, after all, while the Hoosiers labored to a 10-21 finish with just four Big Ten victories.

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Omar Samhan hasn't stopped playing hard despite his two fouls. He's 6 of 8 from the floor and is scoring at will inside. His 12 points and six rebounds have pushed the Gales back to a 27-19 lead, forcing Villanova coach Jay Wright to call a timeout.

Nova went on a quick spurt to knot the game, but Saint Mary's answered back with a 10-2 run: 3-pointers from Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova sandwiched between two gimme's inside from Samhan. The Gales have a 12-2 advantage in the paint.

Villanova continues to struggle from the field, where it is just 6 of 19. The Wildcats had similar troubles in squeezing by Robert Morris in the first round.

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Omar Samhan picked up his second foul with 11:25 left in the first half, a charge under the basket. He went to the bench with 8 points and four boards. That's good news for smaller Villanova, which has started to push the tempo with their stellar guard play.

The Wildcats trailed 17-11 until Scottie Reynolds used his veteran savvy to force a foul on a 3-point shot. He made all three free throws — after going 15 of 16 in the opening round — to get Villanova back within three. Moments later, Dominic Cheek added a 3-pointer off the bench to knot the game 17-all.

Just that quickly.

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President Barack Obama correctly predicted 13 of 16 winners Friday after getting 12 right on the opening day, which means he was in 160,161st place on ESPN's game. Doesn't sound good until you realize the First Fan is in the 96.6th percentile.

The Big East has been a big bummer for the commander in chief. Four of his seven losses have been by teams from the conference that received a tournament-high eight bids. His Final Four is still intact, though, with Kansas, Kansas State, Kentucky and Villanova.

He has Villanova beating Saint Mary's in the opening game Saturday, and also has Baylor and Butler winning later in the day.

Now, about that health care business.

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Omar Samhan is already causing problems for Villanova, with six points on 3-for-4 shooting in the first 5 minutes. He also has three rebounds, after going for 29 points and 16 boards in the Gaels' opening win over Richmond.

The Wildcats are hoping to use speed rather than trying to match Samhan's size, going with four guards in the starting lineup. Corey Stokes replaced forward Antonio Pena.

Villanova coach Jay Wright also started guards Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher, who were benched in the opening minutes of their first-round game for an unspecified "teaching moment."

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Saint Mary's has a chance to keep the double-digit mojo going from the first round of the NCAA tournament. Eight teams seeded 10th or higher won a game in the first round, matching last year's total and one off the record set in 2001.

The Gaels will be joined later by Murray State, Old Dominion, Washington and Ohio, which felled third-seeded Georgetown in the biggest upset of the first two days.

"This is what happens in March Madness," Murray State freshman guard John Jenkins said.

Indeed.

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Villanova and Saint Mary's open the second round of the NCAA tournament, and the key to the game could be the Wildcats' porous defense. They have allowed 72.9 points per game this season, better only than Seton Hall and Providence in the Big East, and ranked 278th out of 334 Division I teams nationally in points allowed.

Villanova also has very little size to deal with the Gaels' 6-foot-11 twin towers, Omar Samhan and Ben Allen, which means youngsters Maurice Sutton and Mouphtaou Yarou had better grow up in a hurry.

The opener will be followed by a couple of upset-minded teams going for their second straight stunner: 13th-seeded Murray State against fifth-seeded Butler, and 14th seed Ohio against No. 6 seed Tennessee.

The evening games begin with Northern Iowa against overall No. 1 seed Kansas, and a couple of 3-11 games: New Mexico against Washington and Old Dominion against Baylor. The nightcaps will feature second-seeded Kansas State against Jimmer Fredette and BYU, and No. 1 seed Kentucky against Wake Forest.

Time for tip-off in Providence.