Vikings stunned by late comeback

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Vikings stunned by late comeback

From Comcast SportsNet Monday, September 19, 2011
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Josh Freeman and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers retreated to the locker room after an awful first half, still confident they could win despite a 17-0 deficit. The comeback, after all, is what Freeman has perfected in his 26-game career. LeGarrette Blount's 4-yard touchdown run with 31 seconds left sent the Buccaneers past the stunned Minnesota Vikings 24-20 on Sunday, completing another rally guided by Tampa Bay's calm young quarterback. "He doesn't blink," coach Raheem Morris said. Eight of Freeman's 14 career victories have come when the Bucs (1-1) went ahead in the fourth quarter or overtime. Given how overwhelmed they were before halftime, outgained 284 yards to 62 during the first two quarters, this might have been the most impressive. "Arguably our worst half of football since I've been a head coach," Morris said. After expressing frustration he wasn't more involved last week, Blount finished with 71 yards and two scores on 13 carries. "We just came together and collectively said, 'This is not how we play football. Let's go out and do what we do best,'" Freeman said. There was no screaming, throwing chairs or drastic readjustments to the game plan. The Bucs simply emerged with the kind of steadiness and confidence down the stretch that the Vikings (0-2), still led by a bunch of veterans, haven't shown yet. "We have to have that attitude that we can't be stopped," quarterback Donovan McNabb said. Freeman found Arrelious Benn for a 25-yard touchdown pass over Cedric Griffin with 6:39 remaining to cut Minnesota's lead to three points. A 19-yard leaping catch by Dezmond Briscoe and a 15-yard late hit penalty on Jared Allen set up the score. Freeman told Benn to watch for the ball because the Vikings were focusing on Blount. "He just ran by him, straight up," Freeman said. "There's just nothing special about that play." Morris said he thought his young team "blinked" last week in the 27-20 loss to Detroit, when the Lions led at the half and held on. This time, the Bucs didn't flinch. "If we thought we were going to lose in the second half, we would've stayed in the locker room," linebacker Quincy Black said. Tampa Bay even overcame a couple of costly mistakes. The Bucs recovered an onside kick after Blount's first touchdown, but Freeman threw off his back foot for Kellen Winslow into the end zone. Husain Abdullah returned the interception 32 yards. Then an illegal shift penalty wiped out what would've been a terrific touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone by Mike Williams, and they settled for a field goal by Connor Barth to pull within 17-10. "With the bitter taste in our mouths from last week, we had to be better," Blount said. Adrian Peterson had 25 carries for 120 yards and two touchdowns in the first half for the Vikings (0-2), who blew a healthy lead for the second straight week and were booed off the field when their desperation drive was stopped around midfield as the clock ran out. "Wow. You're not supposed to give away a game like that," Peterson said. McNabb was much better than in his Minnesota debut, finishing 18 for 30 for 228 yards and effectively using the rollout often to find open receivers in the middle of the field. But Freeman was the better quarterback when it counted most, completing 22 of 31 passes for 243 yards, one touchdown and one interception. "I thought Josh did a wonderful job of keeping his composure, being a great leader and leading his team to a big victory," McNabb said. "When the chips were down, they were able to keep confidence in themselves. Josh did a great job leading the charge, but this is a game we should've won." The Vikings showed better balance than the week before. But in mixing up their play calls, they might have strayed too far in the second half from Peterson, who plowed and danced through Tampa Bay's front seven for much of the afternoon. The Bucs needed several ankle tackles to bring him down in the first half, and the Vikings had touchdown drives of 90 and 75 yards. The Vikings were flawless on defense before halftime, but their tackling was substandard again down the stretch and Freeman was able to find cracks in the coverage with better protection. The Bucs began the go-ahead drive at their 39-yard line and got to the Vikings 16 by the two-minute warning, but coach Leslie Frazier chose not to use any of Minnesota's three timeouts -- leaving only 24 seconds for the offense after Percy Harvin fumbled the kickoff and was tackled at the 10. "I really had confidence we were going to stop them," Frazier said. NOTES: The Vikings have started 0-2 in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2001-02. They started 0-4 in 2002. ... After failing to complete a pass to a tight end in the opener, McNabb connected three times with Visanthe Shiancoe and targeted TEs a total of nine times. ... The Buccaneers have won five straight games in this series, dating to 2001, when they were together in the old NFC Central division. ... Through the first half, Blount's season totals were 10 carries and 19 yards. He now has 18 rushes for 90 yards. ... Bucs LB Mason Foster had 10 tackles and a sack.

Jimmy Butler records triple-double as Bulls beat Cavaliers again without LeBron James

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AP

Jimmy Butler records triple-double as Bulls beat Cavaliers again without LeBron James

Winning a game against a LeBron James led team has proven to be an easier task than most for the Chicago Bulls in the last couple regular seasons.

And winning without James has proven to be a herculean task for the Cleveland Cavaliers since his return in 2014.

So putting those two events together seemed to produce an inevitable result at Quicken Loans Arena, with James out due to illness, as the Bulls pulled away from the Cavaliers 117-99 Saturday night.

The win marks the fourth straight for the Bulls, pulling them over .500 for the first time in nearly two months and they lead the season series 3-0 over the NBA Champions.

Of course, if James were healthy perhaps the Cavaliers would look more cohesive but without him, only Kyrie Irving was in double figures amongst the starters for most of the night. Irving was unguardable with 34 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

After the lead rose to 20, Irving went to work to get the Cavaliers back in it by scoring eight in the quarter and cutting the lead in half with 2:30 left. But without James, the Bulls were able to hold off the Cavaliers with baskets from 
Cristiano Felicio and Nikola Mirotic, who had his second straight big game with 14 points and 10 boards.

A third-quarter flurry from the Bulls gave them some breathing room after a back-and-forth 24 minutes. The Cavs threatened to blow the game open with a 65-59 lead to start the third but the Bulls quickly turned the tables, getting stops and leaking out for fast breaks.

Dwyane Wade corralled weak-side rebounds and popped it ahead to Butler and Bobby Portis for layups. 

Butler then hit two triples in succession to give the Bulls a 76-67 lead.

He struggled from the field but hit four triples on his way to 16 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, and Wade was one rebound short—one Felicio rebound attempt with seconds remaining, from getting a triple-double with 20 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds in 34 minutes

But the 3-point shooting has been a welcome addition since the trade of Doug McDermott, their best 3-point shooter.

Denzel Valentine followed up his sterling showing Friday night with another competent and confident performance, hitting three triples to score 11 and at least competing on the defensive end.

Cameron Payne made his debut as a Bull and hit two triples in the first half, both passes off the ball as he hasn't had enough time to grasp the offense, only going through a morning walkthrough with the coaching staff after the team arrived in Cleveland.

All in all, the Bulls had their ninth game with 10 or more triples, hitting 15.

Northwestern's sluggish stretch continues with loss at Indiana, how does it affect NCAA tournament hopes?

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AP

Northwestern's sluggish stretch continues with loss at Indiana, how does it affect NCAA tournament hopes?

On the verge of being in the NCAA tournament isn't the same as being in the NCAA tournament.

Northwestern has fans sweating as what looked like a surefire first-time trip to the Big Dance is getting increasingly bubblicious with each game.

The Wildcats are in some kind of a rut at the worst possible time, with losses in five of their last seven games. It's a stretch that could potentially take them from what seemed to be "lock" status to the bouncy NCAA tournament bubble real quick.

The latest blow to Northwestern's chances came Saturday night in Bloomington, with Indiana stealing a 63-62 victory in an odd game.

The Cats looked good through the middle part of the first half, finally getting some offensive contributions from Scottie Lindsey in the leading scorer's third game back from a four-game absence. Lindsey scored nine first-half points, getting a pair of steals that turned into breakaway dunks and knocking down a 3-pointer. Everything seemed to be clicking for Northwestern, which built a 12-point lead, before Indiana exploded on a 22-0 run to close the first half. That stretch featured four 3-pointers, including Devonte Green's half-court, buzzer-beating heave that will make all the highlight shows.

The Cats, though, responded, dominating for much of the second half. A 10-point halftime deficit was long gone thanks to Northwestern outscoring Indiana by a 23-6 margin through the first 10 minutes of the second half. The Cats' defense kept the Hoosiers to just three made baskets during that time. Northwestern held onto its lead, though Indiana did start to chip away. Still the Cats were ahead by eight with three minutes to play thanks to a big Bryant McIntosh banked-in 3-pointer.

A McIntosh free throw with 93 seconds left made it a seven-point game, but the Hoosiers scored the next eight points, clamping down on the defensive end and taking advantage of the Cats' misses at the ends of uneventful possessions. James Blackmon Jr.'s 3-pointer made it a two-point game with 38 seconds left, and after another empty Northwestern possession, Thomas Bryant got a game-tying dunk at the other end. Lindsey fouled Bryant on the play, and the Indiana center got a fortunate bounce on the free throw, giving the Hoosiers a one-point lead with two seconds left. McIntosh's half-court shot hit the rim but didn't fall, and the Cats lost in agonizing fashion.

Northwestern held a nine-point scoring advantage after halftime, but it was just barely not enough. The Cats shot 39 percent from the field on the game and were 4-for-18 from 3-point range. Northwestern scored 16 points off 16 Indiana turnovers, but the Hoosiers won on the boards and had a 21-7 edge in bench scoring.

McIntosh finished with 22 points, though he was 8-for-18 from the field. Lindsey had 13 points but was 6-for-15. Dererk Pardon had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Vic Law again struggled, scoring just four points on 1-for-7 shooting.

Though not allowing that 22-0 run would have been the best way to avoid defeat, a lot of attention will be paid to Lindsey's mental error of fouling Bryant in the game's final seconds. Northwestern has talked all year long about this year being different, how this team has found a way to win — or perhaps a way not to lose — the close games they've lost in years past. But this looked more similar to that type of outcome, and it couldn't have come at a worse time.

There are just two games remaining on the regular-season schedule for the Cats: two home games against Michigan and Purdue. The Wolverines are hot, playing as well as just about anyone in the Big Ten right now after scoring a double-digit win over the Boilermakers on Saturday. The Boilers are still in first place in the conference standings. The next two games present an incredible challenge for a Northwestern team that's having trouble finding its footing at season's end.

Did Saturday's loss cost Northwestern a spot in the NCAA tournament field? According to the bracket-projection people, the Cats' spot has been secure since the win at Wisconsin. Even this week's loss at Illinois was followed by a video from ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi in which he assured Northwestern fans that the Cats would be going dancing.

But this has the potential to be a crash-and-burn finish to the regular season. Should games against Michigan and Purdue end in losses, Northwestern would be looking at a four-game losing streak with losses in seven of its last nine games. That would put an incredible amount of pressure on the team's trip to Washington for the Big Ten Tournament if the Cats are sitting on the bubble a week and a half from now.

Northwestern is still looking for its school-record 21st win. For a long while during the second half Saturday, it looked like it would come in Bloomington. Then it didn't.

For a long while, it's looked like Northwestern would get into the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history, too.