NO. 24 IRISH TOP RUTGERS: Pat Connaughton scored a season-high 21 points and led Notre Dame's impressive show from 3-point range as the 24th-ranked Fighting Irish beat Rutgers 69-61 on Wednesday night in the second round of the Big East tournament.
Tom Knight had a career-high 18 points for sixth-seeded Notre Dame (24-8), which will face third-seeded and 12th-ranked Marquette in the quarterfinals tonight.
The Irish have reached the semifinals in each of the last three years but haven't been able to get that first tournament title — and this is the Fighting Irish's last chance since they are leaving for the Atlantic Coast Conference next season.
BUFFALO PULLS AWAY FROM BALL STATE: Will Regan hit five 3-pointers en route to 36 points, and Buffalo (14-19) defeated Ball State 76-61 Wednesday night in the second round of the Mid-American Conference tournament.
Jauwan Scaife scored 28 for fifth-seeded Ball State (15-15).
SEMISTATE TICKETS ON SALE AT MERRILLVILLE: Tickets for the Class 4A North Semistate are on sale from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. today and from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday at Merrillville. Tickets are $8. The Pirates will play Carmel at 4:45 p.m. Saturday at Lafayette Jeff.
Also, fan buses will leave Merrillville at 3 p.m. Tickets are $5 for adults, $2 for students. Bus tickets are available for purchase until noon Friday. Use entrance Q to enter the school.
S.C. HIRES BRANZ: Eric Branz has been hired as coach at South Central, replacing Dan Warkentien, who retired after three seasons with the Satellites. Branz has been the junior varsity coach and varsity assistant the last three years.
"Eric's run the offseason program in the summer and done an outstanding job with the JV," S.C. athletic director Dan Klimczak said. "We're excited to have him, and we're looking forward to great things."
VU DEFEATS NAVY: Dalton Lundeen (1-0) allowed a run on five hits over seven innings, leading Valparaiso to a 7-1 win over Navy on Wednesday in Auburndale, Fla.
Bryce Hara added a solo home run for the Crusaders (5-10), and John Loeffler was 2 for 4 with two RBIs and a run scored.
FLORIDA GULF COAST RALLIES PAST VU: Valparaiso rallied for seven runs in the sixth inning to take the lead, but host Florida Gulf Coast answered with three in the seventh to win 11-10 on Wednesday.
Tarah McShane was 4-for-4 with two RBIs, while Tori Brown had a home run and three RBIs.
HIBBERT'S DOUBLE-DOUBLE LIFTS PACERS PAST WOLVES: Roy Hibbert had a season-high 27 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Pacers to a 107-91 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night.
Paul George had 17 points, and George Hill added 16 points with six assists to help the Pacers get their second win in three games.
KINGS CRUSH BULLS: Tyreke Evans had 26 points and seven assists in the Sacramento Kings' most lopsided victory of the season, a 121-79 rout of the Bulls.
Carlos Boozer scored 21 points, and Nate Robinson had 19 for the slumping Bulls.
SOX LOSE TO INDIANS: Ubaldo Jimenez pitched five solid innings, and Cord Phelps hit his second homer of spring training to lift the Cleveland Indians to a 5-2 victory over the White Sox on Wednesday.
After stringing together four hits in the second, including an RBI ground-rule double to center by Gordon Beckham and a run-scoring single by Dewayne Wise, the White Sox were held to two hits in the final six innings against Jimenez and four Indians relievers.
CUBS' CASTRO RETURNS FROM HAMSTRING INJURY: Starlin Castro returned from a hamstring injury that had sidelined him since Feb. 27, getting a single and a walk in the Cubs' 2-0 loss to the Colorado Rockies.
Cubs starter Edwin Jackson gave up one run and three hits in five innings.
BUSH LANDS WITH LIONS, WELKER TO BRONCOS: Wes Welker sure knows how to pick his quarterbacks.
The star receiver, Tom Brady's favorite target, is leaving New England and heading to Denver, where he'll join Peyton Manning and the Broncos.
Also getting new deals were Reggie Bush in Detroit, Dashon Goldson in Tampa Bay, and even Ray Lewis — with ESPN.
Day 2 of the NFL's free agency frenzy was highlighted by Welker grabbing a two-year deal with the Broncos, who had the AFC's best regular-season record last year.
Bush agreed to a four-year deal and could fill a huge hole at running back.
BLACKBIRDS ADVANCE TO THIRD ROUND: The Illiana Blackbirds have advanced to the third round of the Minnesota Junior Hockey League playoffs and will play the top seed, Wisconsin Rampage, this weekend in the Great Lakes Division finals at the Ice Plex, 9900 Terwall Terrace, Pleasant Prairie, Wis.
Game 1 will be at 7:45 p.m. Friday, Game 2 at 7:15 p.m. Saturday and Game 3 (if necessary) at 1:15 p.m. Sunday. For details, go to www.illianablackbirds.com.
HOOSIER STATE RELAYS SATURDAY: The Hoosier State Relays will take place Saturday at Indiana Wesleyan's Troyer Fieldhouse. Doors open at 6 a.m.
Class 4A and 5A events will begin at 7 a.m., while Class A, 2A and 3A events will start at 1 p.m. Local competitors include Wheeler freshman Courtney Hessling, who qualified in the 55 meters and is also on the school's 800 relay team.
Around the horn
Forest Park Golf Course in Valparaiso will host open houses from 3 to 6 p.m. Friday and 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday. For details, call Beth at (219) 531-7888 or (219) 241-1111. ... Deep River Bowmen of Valparaiso will sponsor a pheasant hunt Saturday at the Dawn to Dusk Hunt Hunt Club. For details, call Mike Tichenor at (219) 309-6279, or go to www.deepriverbowmen.com or www.dawn-to-dusk.com.