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March 23, 2017
PROVISO | Of the three former Proviso East standouts whose respective teams either made the NCAA or NIT men’s basketball tournament—Jevon Carter, Sterling Brown and Paris Lee—one remains in the hunt for a 2017 championship.
Carter, now one of West Virginia’s top players, played a big role in lifting the Mountaineers to the Sweet 16 following victories over Bucknell (86-80) in the first round last Thursday, and fifth-seeded Notre Dame (83-71) in a second-round contest last Saturday.
However, the collegiate careers of both Brown and Lee—teammates on Proviso East’s Class 4A state runner-up club—reached an end.
Brown and SMU were edged by USC, 66-65, in a first-round matchup last Friday. The Mustangs were seeded sixth in the East Regional.
Lee, whose Illinois State Redbirds were left out of the NCAA tourney field, had one of the NIT tournament’s No. 1 seeds. The senior was instrumental in the Redbirds’ triumph against UC Irvine last week, but the Redbirds were stunned Monday night by the University of Central Florida, 63-62.
The Mountaineers punched their ticket to the Sweet 16 for the second time since 2015 thanks to ousting Notre Dame. Carter and backcourt mate Daxter Miles Jr. combined for 42 points with Carter netting a team-high 24 on eight of 15 shooting from the floor.
“All year we’ve been telling ourselves that we’ve got the best group of guards in the country, and we truly believe that,” Carter said after the game. “When it’s time for us to play, we go out there and give it our all. We are going to put forth 100 percent and we’re going to live and die with it.”
Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey called Carter “an assassin out there. He’s just a great college guard.”
West Virginia, which led the entire game, takes a 28-8 record into its West Regional semifinal game against top-seeded Gonzaga on Thursday. Gonzaga knocked off Northwestern—the only Illinois club to earn a spot in the NCAA tourney this season—last Saturday. Thursday’s Sweet 16 appearance also will be Carter’s second with the Mountaineers. He was a freshman in 2015.
Carter continues to lead the Mountaineers in scoring (13.3 points per game), steals, assists, total defensive rebounds and minutes played.
The Mountaineers actually had a more difficult game in the first round. Bucknell limited Carter to 11 points and Miles Jr. to two—and closed to within 63-60 at one point during the second half—but WVU ended up with five players in double figures.
The Mustangs and Brown were hoping to avenge their crushing first-round lost UCLA 60-59 on a controversial goaltending call in the final seconds when they last appeared in the NCAA tournament two years ago. The NCAA leveled sanctions against the program prior to the start of the 2015-16 season, thus preventing the Mustangs from going to the NCAAs last March.
But more disappointment befell SMU last Friday. The Mustangs, winners of 30 games this season, were eliminated by Southern California (the 11th seed) after a USC player sank a three-pointer in the closing seconds that overcame SMU’s 65-63 lead. The loss snapped a 16-game Mustang winning streak.
USC outscored the Mustangs—who played just six players throughout the game—23-12 over the last 11 minutes.
Brown, in what was his final game in an SMU uniform, tallied 17 points. He and roommate Ben Moore, who played his high school ball at Bolingbrook, finished their SMU careers as the two players with the most victories in school history.
Brown has indicated that he wants to play professional basketball. If he makes it to the NBA, he’ll follow in the footsteps of his older brother, Shannon Brown, who suited up for several NBA clubs.
Lee, the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year this season, hoped to achieve a personal goal of making it to the Big Dance at least once before he graduated. Yet the NCAA tournament selection committee didn’t give the Redbirds, who lost the conference championship game to Wichita State, an at-large bid, leaving Lee “pretty upset, mad-sad, shocked.”
“Everybody was hurt that we didn’t get in,” Lee said at a press conference prior to the NIT tournament. “Out of my four years, a goal of mine was to at least get to the NCAA tournament once. I didn’t achieve that goal so I was upset. This was probably one of the most stressful weeks I’ve had in college because I was so anxious to see if we would get in, but we didn’t.
“You can take it (not making the NCAA tourney) two ways: You can try to prove yourself and make a point, or you can just come out there and play basketball,” he added. “I’ve always been one to just go out there and play ball. I felt like we got overlooked.”
The Redbirds, whose 28 wins set a school record—they also won a program-best 17 games in the MVC—had home-court advantage throughout their stay in the NIT. They hadn’t lost a game all season on their home court, and that streak continued when they defeated UC-Irvine in their inaugural NIT contest, 85-71, last week, with Lee scoring 13 points. But that streak, as well as Lee’s brilliant career, reached an end Monday night.
Lee was limited to nine points vs. UCF, which overcame a 36-23 halftime deficit and won the game by sinking two free throws in the final 1.3 seconds. But Lee leaves ISU as its all-time leader in career steals with 247. He also scored over 1,200 career points.