URI loses in overtime in N.I.T. semis

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URI loses in overtime in N.I.T. semis

Associated PressNEW YORK -- North Carolina wrappedup last season by cutting down the nets during a championshipcelebration, and the goal all along has been to do it again this year.
Box score
The Tar Heels will have their chance Thursday night, under much different circumstances.Deon Thompson had 16 points and 13rebounds, helping North Carolina survive a frantic final few secondsand defeat Rhode Island 68-67 in overtime Thursday night in the NITsemifinals.Will Graves added 14 points and TylerZeller had 13 for the Tar Heels (20-16), who will try to makebittersweet history against Dayton by becoming the first school tofollow a national title with an NIT championship at Madison SquareGarden."We enjoyed playing the last Mondaynight last year, and you know, we play the last Thursday night thisyear," coach Roy Williams said. "Playing the last Monday night isbetter, there's no question about that. But I do believe that if you'replaying - if they keep playing until there's only one team standing -it's very important to be that one team."The Tar Heels have played with asense of desperation during the NIT, almost as if they have a chip ontheir shoulder, and that was borne out when they scored the final fivepoints of regulation to force overtime.In the extra session, North Carolinahad possession with about 5 seconds left and the shot clock about toexpire when Larry Drew II forced up a shot. The rebound eventuallywound up in the hands of Rhode Island's Lamonte Ulmer, who lost controlof the ball as he rushed up court moments before the buzzer sounded,never coming close to getting off a shot.Rhode Island coach Jim Baron thoughthe had been tripped and a foul should have been called, an opinion thatNorth Carolina coach Roy Williams readily supported."We got the rebound and we wereaiming to push it down the other end," Baron said. "I thought there wassome contact and he tripped."Ulmer finished with 18 points and 10rebounds for Rhode Island (26-10), which was trying to reach the NITchampionship game for the first time since the 1945-46 season. KeithCothran scored 23 points and Delroy James finished with 13."Those guys played with a tremendousamount of heart," Baron said. "That's why I told them how proud I was,they put it all out there."The final seconds of overtime mirrored a frenetic end to regulation.The game was tied 59-all when Jamesmissed two free throws with 28.6 seconds left. North Carolina trackeddown the rebound and, after a timeout, Drew allowed the shot clock torun down to 6 seconds before taking a closely guarded 3-pointer thatnever had a chance."One of the players said in the locker room, 'Sometimes it helps to win ugly,' " Williams said, "and we did win ugly today."Defense played a big part in it.The Tar Heels ended up with 27offensive rebounds and 60 total, compared to 45 for the Rams. RhodeIsland also turned the ball over 18 times, including that criticalmiscue with the seconds ticking down in overtime."We didn't execute very well and youhate to end the game like that in such an ugly way," Drew said, "butsometimes that's how it is in the game of basketball."It sure was a strange sight to seeNorth Carolina, the bluest of the bluebloods, playing on a Tuesdaynight at Madison Square Garden - especially when the most importantgames are being played at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.Injuries and inexperienced combinedto send the Tar Heels' season spiraling out of control, and they didn'trecover until their chances of making the NCAA tournament - anddefending the title they earned by beating Michigan State last March -had disappeared entirely.Relegated to playing in a tournamentfor also-rans, the Tar Heels went on the road to defeat MississippiState and Alabama-Birmingham before knocking off a Rhode Island teamthat had the best RPI of any program that failed to make the NCAAtournament.The season still ended up being asuccess for Rhode Island, which could have matched the school recordfor wins in a season had it won the NIT championship.The Rams' faithful certainly turnedout in droves for the semifinals, easily outnumbering the Tar Heelsfans clad in baby blue. They kept cheering until the final turnover inovertime, imploring a veteran team for one more night in the spotlight.Instead, it will be North Carolina playing for yet another championship.Even if it's not what anybody expected."You know, I have a greatappreciation of this tournament, I have a great appreciation of thetradition, the history of the NIT," Williams said. "If you win thistournament, you have to feel good about it."

Quotes, notes and stars: Swihart flashes power and speed

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Quotes, notes and stars: Swihart flashes power and speed

BOSTON - Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox' 10-3 win over the Colorado Rockies:

 

QUOTES

"I felt a little cramp. I'm fine. I appreciate John and everybody looking out (for me). We obviously don't want anything to happen like last year, but I'm good.'' - Dustin Pedroia, who left the game in the fifth after experiencing some tightness in his right hamstring.

"It's nice to be able to get deep into the game. That's my goal every time. My goal is nine innings, so if I don't get nine innings, I'm a little disappointed because I want to be able to go out there and pitch as many innings as I can.'' - Steven Wright.

"I think my release point was just a little off. That definitely makes it hard, especially when it's moving, because it's not a consistent release point.'' - Wright on the early-inning unpredictability of his signature pitch.

"Even when I was catching, I pride myself on running. I want to be an athlete back there. I want to run the bases, steal bases, things most catchers aren't known to do.'' - Blake Swihart, who hit two triples.

 

NOTES

* Jackie Bradley Jr. extended his hitting streak to 29 games.

* Xander Bogaerts extended his hitting streak to 18 games.

* David Ortiz tied Paul Molitor for 12th on the all-time doubles list with 605.

* Ortiz has driven in multiple runs in three straight games

* Dustin Pedroia has a career batting average of .340 in interleague play, the highest ever for someone with 500 or more at-bats.

* Travis Shaw drove in three runs and now has 68 RBI in his first 111 games since Fred Lynn and Jim Rice in 1974-75.

* Blake Swihart became the third Red Sox hitter this season to post two triples in the same game.

* The Red Sox clinched their fifth straight home series win.

* The Sox are 21-8 since April 24 and are 13-2 in their last 15 home games.

 

STARS

1) Steven Wright

Backed by some rare run support, Wright evened his record at 4-4 with seven-plus innings and his eighth quality start this season.

2) Travis Shaw

Shaw produced two hits and knocked in three runs, making him the fourth Red Sox player this season to reach 30 RBI.

3) Blake Swihart

Swihart got to flash both his power and his speed by hitting two triples to the triangle, motoring around the bases.

 

Some questions and answers when it comes to Miller contract

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Some questions and answers when it comes to Miller contract

A day after the Bruins announced a much-maligned four-year contract extension for defenseman Kevan Miller, B’s general manager Don Sweeney held court with the media to equal parts explain/defend the $10 million deal. Sweeney pointed to the very high character of a hardnosed player in Miller, and the relatively low mileage given that he’s played only 159 games at the NHL level.

There was also mention made of the room to grow in Miller’s game, though it’s difficult to imagine a much higher ceiling for a 28-year-old player than what the former UVM produced showed in 71 games last season.

“Kevan brings incredible character. His signing provides us with the necessary depth on our defense that all teams need. His relative low-mileage, having just played 160 games, we identified that we think Kevan has room for continued growth and development,” said Sweeney. “We certainly saw that in his play this year when he had an expanded role. Relative to the free market place, very, very comfortable with where Kevan fits into our group, and this provides us with the opportunity to explore the marketplace in every way, shape, or form, in having Kevan signed.”

Here’s the reality: Miller is a 5-6, bottom pairing defenseman on a good team, and a top-4 defenseman on a team like last year’s Bruins that finished a weak 19th in the league in goals allowed. The five goals and 18 points last season were solid career-high numbers for a player in the middle of his hockey prime, but he barely averaged 19 minutes of ice time per game as a front top-4 defenseman. Miller struggles with some of the fundamental needs in today’s NHL if you’re going to be a top-4 D-man: the tape-to-tape passes aren’t always accurate, there’s intermittent difficulty cleanly breaking the puck out of the defensive zone and Miller was exploited by the other team’s best players when paired with Zdeno Chara at points last season.

Certainly Miller has done some good things racking up a plus-55 rating during his three years in Boston, but executives and officials around the league were a bit surprised by the 4-year, $10 million contract extension. It’s viewed as a slight overpay in terms of both salary and term, but it’s more the redundancy of the contract that’s befuddling to some.

“Miller is certainly a rugged guy, but you already had one of those at roughly the same value in Adam McQuaid. I believe that you can’t win if you have both McQuaid and Miller in your top 6 because they are both No. 6 D’s in my mind,” said a rival NHL front office executive polled about the Miller contract. “You look at the playoffs and the direction that the league is headed in, and you need to have big, mobile defenseman that can quickly move the puck up the ice. You have too much of the same thing with Miller and McQuaid, and I think you can’t win with that in this day and age.”

The one facet of the four year Miller contract that might make it okay for some Bruins fans: the tacit connection to the Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes. According to several sources around the league, the Bruins taking care of Miller now will very likely have a positive impact on their chances of landing Vesey when he becomes a free agent on Aug. 15, and makes them the front-runner for the Harvard standout’s services. Both Miller and Vesey are represented by the same agent in Peter Fish, and those are the kinds of behind-the-scenes connections that many times factor into free agent signings and trades around the NHL.

So many, this humble hockey writer included, may owe Sweeney a slight apology if paying a $10 million premium for a bottom-pairing defenseman in Miller now pays dividends in landing a stud forward like Vesey that’s drawing interest all around the league.