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Final Four Notes: Murphy plays in All-Star game, Texas Tech buying into its culture

04/05/2019, 7:45pm CDT
By Daniel House

With Minneapolis hosting the Final Four, Gophers’ forward Jordan Murphy had the chance to step on the court in front of local fans. Murphy was battling through back spasms during the Gophers’ 70-50 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament. Murphy played just four minutes in his final college game, but was healthy enough to suit up for the Reese’s College All-Star Game at U.S. Bank Stadium. 

It was an excellent opportunity for Murphy, who finished his career as the top rebounder in program history. He ranks second all-time in total points and cemented his legacy as one of the top players to ever wear maroon and gold. On Friday, Murphy earned another accolade, while sharing the court with some of the top seniors in college basketball. He played on the West All-Star team, coached by 20-year NBA veteran Jason Terry. 

It didn’t take long for Murphy to do what he does best. He stepped on the floor and immediately grabbed a rebound. Moments later, he knocked down a three-pointer and slid down the baseline for a big slam. The Minneapolis crowd was fired up to see Murphy making his mark. 

"I was out there rebounding," Murphy said. "It was pretty cool to see how many fans came out to come support and see me play one more time out here. It was really something special that meant a lot to me, so I appreciate that." 

Murphy just kept grabbing rebounds the entire night and had eight by halftime. He finished the night with 13 points and 13 boards in 22 minutes of action. Now, he'll shift into the next phase of the draft process in the coming months. 

"[I'm continuing to] keep getting better, working on my game, working on my shot, and my handle, my moves, my touch and everything else. Just making sure I showcase my talents wherever I go in whatever workouts I get and just making sure I'm representing myself the right way."

Auburn players “under the weather”
The Auburn Tigers are fighting through several illnesses, according to head coach Bruce Pearl. Guards Jared Harper and Bryce Brown both weren’t feeling well, but Pearl wasn’t concerned about their availability for Saturday’s semifinal matchup against Virginia. 

“Jared is under the weather. Bryce is also. We’ve got a bunch of guys that are sniffling and hacking and coughing, but we don’t play today,” Pearl said during Friday’s press conference. “Jared would be – he would be less than 100 percent if we have to play today. If we played yesterday, Bryce would have been less than 100 percent. He’ll be fine tomorrow.”

Harper had 26 points in Auburn’s 77-71 victory over Kentucky and averaged 15.4 points and 5.8 assists per game this season. He played a big role in the team’s comeback effort, but Bryce Brown is the team’s leading scorer, averaging 16 points per game. If either of them are limited by these illnesses, it could have an impact upon the game. 

Virginia ranks sixth in defensive efficiency and has stifled opponents with all of the length and size they feature. Pearl knows he’ll need both of his top guards to hit contested shots to maximize every possible possession. 

“I think they understand that Virginia is probably the most efficient team in college basketball because they're like in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency,” Pearl said. “But they also have confidence in each other, and they also have confidence in what we do. We're going to get some open looks. We're going to get some open looks, and we'd better knock them down.”

Chris Beard and Texas Tech buying into their culture 
Much has been made of Chris Beard’s journey from the Division II coaching ranks to Texas Tech. Beard has turned the Red Raiders into one of the top defensive teams in the country. They built a deep roster spear-headed by leading scorer Jarrett Culver. Culver is averaging 18.9 points per game and hit countless cold-blooded shots to lead Texas Tech to the Final Four. Much of the credit goes to the Red Raiders coaching staff for developing a unique and energetic culture in Lubbock. During Friday’s practice, Texas Tech had the fastest tempo of any open practice session. When they sprinted onto the court, there was energy radiating throughout the gym. It continued for the full 50 minutes as Chris Beard ran from baseline to baseline with his team. When the session ended, the entire team sprinted to midcourt and shared a moment with the fans. There is a special sense of unity, focus and energy with this Texas Tech team.

Beard said the team’s success is fueled by the way they’ve dedicated themselves to the program. This year, Texas Tech players have scarified many things, including giving up fried food and Netflix after 9:00 p.m. Since his players were buying into making changes, Beard took the challenge himself. 

“You basically have to sacrifice something. In our culture, if you say you're going to do it, you'd better do it, or you're about to get roasted,” Beard said. “So me this year, it's no beer, no desserts, no candy. I haven't had any ice cream, candy, cake, beer, since first day of practice.”

Beard may have eliminated those things from his life during the season, but he has found a small loophole in the dessert policy.

“Did you know a Pop-Tart is not a dessert? It's a breakfast,” Beard said. “I've eaten a lot of Pop-Tarts, man, since October. 

Lines of the Day:

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo is excited about the Final Four being played in Big Ten country. He has a special message for Minnesota fans, “hopefully all these Gophers fans support us."

During an interview with Virginia head coach Tony Bennett, CBS Sports announcer Jim Nantz gave the Twin Cities a shoutout: “this is a fantastic Final Four city, there’s no question,” he said.

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