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NC State, 10th seed in ACC, starts Cinderella March Madness run early after miraculously winning conference

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NC State, 10th seed in ACC, starts Cinderella March Madness run early after miraculously winning conference

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This is March, Jim Valvano is smiling down somewhere.

Prior to the ACC Tournament, one could argue N.C. State was probably out of March Madness, but a miracle run has put them in.

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The North Carolina State Wolfpack, the No. 10 seed in the ACC Tournament, took home the conference title after beating No. 1 UNC 84-76 in the final.

North Carolina State Wolfpack players celebrate an overtime win against the Virginia Cavaliers in the semifinals of the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament on Friday at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C.   (Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

N.C. State pulled off upsets in their final four games to win the conference, but their last was perhaps the most impressive.

Given their recent play, it was impossible for the Tar Heels to take N.C. State lightly, but when UNC led by just one at half, it was a ballgame.

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N.C. State took a 45-43 lead with 18:17 to go, and never relinquished it. They got up to eight with less than nine minutes left, but UNC quickly cut their deficit to three. However, the Wolfpack responded with a 13-5 run to go up 11 with 3:32 to go.

UNC forced a couple of costly turnovers to get back to within seven, but they were unable to take full advantage. N.C. State went up 12 after knocking free throws with under a minute left – all but icing it.

DJ Horne led the Wolfpack with 29 points before fouling out and DJ Burns Jr. added 20, while big man Mohamed Diarra grabbed 14 rebounds to go along with his 11 points.

NC State celebrating

NC State Wolfpack guard DJ Horne (0) reacts with fans against the UNC Tar Heels during the second half at Capital One Arena.  ( Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

MICHIGAN COACH ARRESTED FOR ALLEGEDLY DRIVING WHILE INTOXICATED, SUSPENDED JUST 10 DAYS AFTER HIRING

The Wolfpack beat No. 15 Louisville, 94-85, in the first round, then manhandled No. 7 Syracuse in the second round with an 83-65 victory.

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The madness started in the quarterfinals against No. 2 Duke, who could have earned a top seed in the NCAA tournament had they won it all, but the Wolfpack stunned everyone, winning 74-69 as 11.5-point favorites – shades of Valvano’s 1983 team that survived and advanced.

N.C. State was just seconds away from their Cinderella run ending in the semifinals, but a buzzer-beater three forced overtime in the semifinals, and they eventually beat No. 3 Virginia, 73-65.

DJ Horne smiles

NC State Wolfpack guard DJ Horne (0) reacts after making a three-point basket against the UNC Tar Heels during the second half at Capital One Arena. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

The Wolfpack will find out their tournament seed on Sunday. After five games in five days, they’ll have at least four days of rest before getting back on the court.

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Umpire who ejected Yankees' Aaron Boone doubles down despite manager calling it 'embarrassing'

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Umpire who ejected Yankees' Aaron Boone doubles down despite manager calling it 'embarrassing'

A wild scene unfolded at Yankee Stadium just five pitches into the game, as home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt tossed New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone from the game. 

However, it appeared a fan screaming toward Wendelstedt triggered the veteran umpire to eject Boone, who had words with him just seconds earlier, from the game. 

After the Oakland Athletics won, 2-0, over the Yankees, Boone spoke with reporters, during which he called Wendelstedt’s move “embarrassing.” He also implied that the Yankees would be contacting Major League Baseball about it. 

Aaron Boone #17 of the New York Yankees argues with home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt #21 in the first inning during the game against the Oakland Athletics at Yankee Stadium on April 22, 2024 in New York City. (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

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The YES Network broadcast caught the moment Boone was ejected, where the manager was pleading with Wendelstedt, pointing to a fan behind the dugout and saying, “I didn’t say a f—ing thing” after he was warned not to speak. 

But Wendelstedt said, “I don’t care who said it. You’re gone!”

UMPIRE ERRONEOUSLY EJECTS YANKEES’ AARON BOONE AFTER FAN YELLS FROM STANDS

The broadcast ended up showing an alternate angle of the moment Boone was ejected, where a fan was seen in the first row just behind the Yankees’ dugout screaming something toward Wendelstedt, who reacted immediately after hearing it. 

Aaron Boone talks with umpire

Aaron Boone #17 of the New York Yankees argues with third base umpire Marvin Hudson #51 in the first inning during the game against the Oakland Athletics at Yankee Stadium on April 22, 2024 in New York City. (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

After the game, Wendelstedt told a pool reporter he had not seen a replay of the incident. 

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“Apparently what he said was there was a fan right above the dugout,” Wendelstedt said, via MLB.com. “This isn’t my first ejection. In the entirety of my career, I have never ejected a player or a manager for something a fan has said. I understand that’s going to be part of a story or something like that because that’s what Aaron was portraying. I heard something come from the far end of the dugout, had nothing to do with his area, but he’s the manager of the Yankees. So he’s the one that had to go.

“Everything you said is exactly kind of what was communicated on the field,” Wendelstedt continued. “That’s what Aaron said. He said that ‘a fan said it, a fan said it.’ I said, ‘I don’t care who said it.’ … It’s foolish to throw out a player if you don’t know who did it.”

Umpire Hunter Wendlestedt

Umpire Hunter Wendelstedt on the field during the second inning between the San Diego Padres and the St. Louis Cardinals at Petco Park on April 2, 2024 in San Diego, California. (Brandon Sloter/Getty Images)

While Boone watched the game from the clubhouse, the Yankees’ offense struggled mightily, scattering just three hits. 

The A’s finally got on the board with a two-run homer by Zack Gelof in the top of the ninth inning off Yankees reliever Victor Gonzalez. 

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Stopping Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving at forefront of Clippers' Game 2 strategy

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Stopping Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving at forefront of Clippers' Game 2 strategy

The final stats from Dallas’ dynamic backcourt of Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving from Game 1 of the playoffs Sunday told one story of how they performed at a high level with a combined 64 points, but the defense the Clippers played against the sensational pair told a story of stick-to-itiveness that resulted in the most important thing:

Winning.

And because of Terance Mann and Amir Coffey, who started in place of Kawhi Leonard (inflammation in his right knee), the Clippers took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series because those two followed the defensive game plan all the while knowing that Doncic and Irving could erupt at any time.

Doncic finished with 33 points, but he was 11 for 26 from the field and four for 12 from three-point range. Irving finished with 31 points on 10-for-18 shooting that included him going three for six from three-point range.

The task now is to try to slow down Doncic and Irving again in Game 2 on Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena.

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“It’s very challenging,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said before his team’s practice Monday. “You got two of the best scorers in the league on the same team. So, when they’re both on the court at the same time, it’s kind of hard to double-team one guy and leave the other guy. So, you got to pick your poison. I thought for the most part our guys did a good job with executing the defensive plan. We still had I think 26 points that we gave up on game-plan mistakes, which is going to happen throughout the course of a game. But I thought we did it hard, and I thought we tried to do it our best. We just made some mistakes and so we got to be better with that.”

The Clippers were at their best defending Doncic and Irving in the first half.

Doncic was four for 13 in the first half, one for seven from three-point range and scored just 11 points.

Irving was one for six in the first half, missed all three of his three-pointers and had 6 points.

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But Irving heated up in the third quarter, scoring 20 points on 8-for-8 shooting.

Doncic got going in the fourth, scoring 12 points on 4-for-6 shooting.

“They’re going to do whatever they feel like doing,” Mann said. “They both play at their own speed, at their own pace. So just like you said, just play tough, be aggressive and try to keep them in front as best you can.”

Irving joked after Sunday’s game that Lue gave Mann and Coffey cues on how to defend the point guard.

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Lue and Irving won an NBA title with Cleveland in 2015-16, making the two familiar with each other.

“You going to get a cue and then he’s going to do something else,” Mann said. “So, he’s a smart player and very good player, so I’m sure he picked up on that and started doing the counter.”

“Kyrie is a player that can score at all three levels,” Coffey said. “He could go left, he could go right. So, even with his tendencies, it kind of seems he’s got a counter to everything. So, like I said, just us trying to make it extremely tough for him. Throw some different coverages at him and just make it tough and make ‘em work for every basket.”

Coffey may get the job again and may start again with the uncertainty Leonard will play in the second game.

The plan was for Leonard to practice Monday, but Lue said they were “not doing contact.”

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“He’s going to go through practice today and we’ll see,” Lue said.

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Mark Clattenburg: The celebrity referee turned PGMOL agitator… via Gladiators

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Mark Clattenburg: The celebrity referee turned PGMOL agitator… via Gladiators

This is an updated version of an article first published on March 8.

It is two and a half years since Mark Clattenburg had his autobiography, Whistle Blower, to plug. No prisoners were taken in the book’s content or the promotional work ahead of its release.

Graham Poll, Martin Atkinson and David Elleray were all among the former colleagues Clattenburg swung for in caustic appraisals designed to settle old scores. And as for Mike Riley, his old boss at Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL), the body responsible for overseeing referees? “A boring f**ker,” was the succinct description.

Less spiteful were the words chosen for Howard Webb, a man he had known for over two decades, but Clattenburg still made it clear this was a fractured relationship he had little wish to mend.

“When Howard doesn’t need you, he doesn’t speak,” Clattenburg told The Athletic in 2021, raking up a night at Euro 2012 when Webb attended a post-match party without telling his fellow Englishman. “He’s very unique in this. Everyone sees Howard as a nice guy and he is. I would never really criticise him as a person, he’s just someone I won’t engage with in the future because I don’t need Howard Webb, the same as he doesn’t need me.”

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It is a quote that has not aged well.

A return to the Premier League as Nottingham Forest’s refereeing analyst meant Clattenburg needed the ear of Webb, who replaced Riley as the head of PGMOL in December 2022. It is among Clattenburg’s duties to liaise with Webb, to be the conduit for a club who have felt aggrieved at decisions all season.

Ever since Clattenburg’s appointment two months ago, he and Webb have been in regular contact: the pair sat together at Forest’s FA Cup fifth-round defeat to Manchester United on February 28 in seats allocated by the home club.


Howard Webb and Mark Clattenburg watch Nottingham Forest against Manchester United (Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

But the relationship is already being severely tested.

On Sunday, after a controversial 2-0 defeat at Everton in which they were denied three possible penalties, Forest took their refereeing complaints to a new level when they alleged, in a post on X, that they had warned PGMOL not to appoint Stuart Attwell to VAR duties because he was a Luton fan.

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The Athletic reported that Clattenburg did have a conversation with Webb on Friday, 48 hours before the game, but had not asked for him to be removed from VAR duties at Goodison Park.

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In his column for MailOnline published on Sunday evening, however, Clattenburg did savage his former employers, saying they should have made “smarter appointments” and decrying Attwell and on-field referee Anthony Taylor for making a “hat-trick of howlers”.

That, however, was not the first time that Clattenburg has turned attack dog since his return to English football.

A controversial ending to Liverpool’s 1-0 win at the City Ground on March 2, where referee Paul Tierney incorrectly awarded the visiting side an uncontested drop ball, saw Clattenburg put up for media duties by Nottingham Forest.

“I haven’t spoken to the referee, I’ll leave that to the club,” he said. Yet it had not been for the want of trying. “I went to go into the referee’s dressing room (after the game) but he wouldn’t allow it.”

PGMOL did not dispute that. Rules are in place that stipulate only managers and select coaching staff, listed on the official team sheets, can approach officials after a game and, even then, it is up to the referee who enters their dressing room.

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Clattenburg was denied an audience with Tierney and had been expecting events to play out differently. Webb had raised no objection to Clattenburg seeing referees post-match in a meeting the men held shortly after his arrival at Forest. It is not unusual for an analyst to accompany a manager into such a meeting and present video evidence but, importantly, as long as he is an accredited figure listed on the team sheet.

It became the sideshow that made more headlines than Darwin Nunez’s 99th-minute winner. Forest had been on the end of another refereeing mistake, one that gave Liverpool the chance to attack at the other end (albeit almost two minutes later), and it was Clattenburg’s job to tell the world about it.

Forest say they appointed Clattenburg to try and create a positive relationship with PGMOL, the body they have addressed three letters of complaint to already this season. Clattenburg is there to create direct links of discourse, they claim.

Yet PGMOL maintain that all clubs already have that option open to them. Webb has made a point of being accessible to all Premier League managers and captains since taking control of the organisation 15 months ago, fielding calls and explaining the good and bad decisions his referees have reached. They might not like what he has to say, but accountability is the broad aim.

“Clubs are aware that Howard Webb and his colleagues are open to calls at any point,” said Tony Scholes, the Premier League’s chief football officer, in February.

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The question now is whether Clattenburg is the right man to try and facilitate better relations.


Clattenburg, in his own words, started his working life as a “daft electrician from Newcastle”.

Long before he was made the Premier League’s youngest referee aged 29, he had run the lines as an assistant in the Northern League before the same grassroots level presented a platform for him to take centre stage. Clattenburg, with a name not easy to forget, earned a reputation as one of the brightest young officials climbing the ladder. At 25, he had reached the EFL, four years before he was plucked out by Keith Hackett to reach the highest level.

Clattenburg’s ability as an elite referee was rarely in question. Along with Webb, who beat him to the Premier League by 12 months, Clattenburg was as good as it got in English football.

“He was an outstanding referee,” former Premier League official Mark Halsey tells The Athletic. “He was a natural, not manufactured. His communication skills were second to none.

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“Mark was exceptional, like Howard was. And he was a perfectionist. We worked together and roomed together many times. He’d analyse every game and look at what he could and should’ve done differently. He’d beat himself up if he got a decision wrong.”

But a divisive figure? “He didn’t suffer fools,” adds Halsey. “Mark was Mark. I wouldn’t question his character. He was as honest as the day is long. He would tell you as it was and some people didn’t like that. It’s how I would want people to be. He would never go behind someone’s back like some did when we were refereeing.”

UEFA recognition followed Clattenburg’s impressive rise up the Premier League ranks, culminating at his high-water mark as an official in 2016 when he oversaw both the Champions League final and the final of Euro 2016.


Mark Clattenburg in the 2016 Champions League final – a career highlight (Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP via Getty Images)

That Clattenburg has tattoos to mark both showpiece occasions, though, helps paint a picture of the image-conscious figure that became so divisive during his time in the Premier League.

Clattenburg was more like a footballer than a referee. He made headlines for owning a Porsche Boxster that was vandalised outside his home in Newcastle and a black BMW X5 that carried the personalised number plate C19TTS (Clatts).

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Poll would report Clattenburg to PGMOL bosses after turning up for one game carrying a man bag. A separate incident in 2014, when Clattenburg used his own transport to go straight from West Bromwich Albion’s home game against Crystal Palace to an Ed Sheeran concert in Newcastle, brought a reprimand as all Premier League officials are made to travel to and from games together.

Then there were the hair-loss adverts that Clattenburg continues to promote. One video, posted on his Instagram account before Christmas, concluded with him spraying a product from a range positioned in front of the camera. “Hair loss is a worry and make no excuses, I do what I can to keep it,” he says.

It has grown hard to know how seriously to take Clattenburg since his exit from the Premier League in 2017. In the hours that followed Forest’s galling loss to Liverpool, where he was explaining the club’s grievances to media outlets in the mixed zone, he could also be found reprimanding Viper for pinning down a contestant on the BBC show Gladiators.

“This is a formal warning,” said Clattenburg, who serves as the referee on the programme, which was revived earlier this year. “I told you in the locker room, no holding.” The pivot between family entertainment and the Premier League is an awkward one.


Mark Clattenburg in his new role on BBC’s Gladiators (BBC)

As is the relationship between Clattenburg and Webb. It began in the late 1990s when they met during fitness testing at Lilleshall before, according to Webb, becoming “quite friendly” as they climbed the refereeing ladder.

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Webb was there to toast his colleague’s success, too. Clattenburg’s first Premier League game, a 3-1 win for Everton away to Crystal Palace in 2004, was followed by a flight back to Newcastle, where he was joined for “a night on the lash” with Webb. In his own autobiography, The Man in the Middle, Webb says Clattenburg thanked his colleague for “getting him through (that first game) unscathed”.

The falling out at Euro 2012, where Clattenburg was part of Webb’s support team in Poland and Ukraine, has clearly rankled, but a call from one to the other in 2017 was hugely significant. Webb’s exit from the head of refereeing in Saudi Arabia had created a vacancy and Clattenburg, increasingly disillusioned with PGMOL, was encouraged by his former colleague to take up the opportunity. Clattenburg’s salary would be £525,000 a year tax-free, a huge climb on his basic annual Premier League wage of £100,000.

It marked the start of a well-paid tour of the world. Eighteen months in Saudi Arabia were followed by spells overseeing refereeing in China, Egypt and Greece, where he became personally known to Nottingham Forest and Olympiacos owner Evangelos Marinakis in an unforgiving and hostile environment for referees. Marinakis has previously accused Greek referees of being “rigged”, while Olympiacos vice-president, Kostas Karapapas, threw a black mini-skirt at Takis Baltakos, president of the Greek football federation, last season.


Clattenburg’s return to England with Forest — the first appointment of its kind in English football — raised eyebrows throughout English football.

Many Premier League clubs were sceptical of the value he would bring, instead echoing the feelings expressed by Gary O’Neil, whose Wolverhampton Wanderers side have suffered from a number of high-profile errors this season.

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“I’m fine with our relationship with the PGMOL,” he said. “They’re always very clear and honest with me. They are always open to communicating after games. So no, I don’t feel the need for it (a Clattenburg equivalent) here.”

The referees themselves are said to be nonplussed yet relaxed by Clattenburg’s appointment. They know they will be subject to one of Clattenburg’s pre-match reports before they take charge of a Forest match.

Webb has yet to publicly comment on Clattenburg’s return, but plenty of others have.

“I’m disappointed with Nottingham Forest,” said Gary Neville. “It’s as if, ‘Look at all of this, woe is me’. I get it, some teams feel as though they’ve been hard done to, some teams feel they’ve had bad decisions against them, but to employ an ex-referee to tell you why you’re having decisions against you. For me, I think it’s a step too far.”

Neville went further himself on Sunday, saying that Clattenburg should quit his role at Forest in the wake of their allegations on X.

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“Mark Clattenberg must resign,” said Neville. “If he saw those words go out (questioning) the integrity of a referee and claims someone is a cheat for supporting another club, then he’s supporting what is being said. He would lose all credibility with referees in the game. He should stand down and distance himself from that statement.”


Evangelos Marinakis shows his anger at the end of Forest’s defeat to Liverpool (Jon Hobley | MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

But while Clattenburg’s work with Forest is considered unusual, or even ill-advised, in England, in Europe such an arrangement is deemed far more commonplace.

Former Serie A referee Gianpaolo Calvarese was hired by Jose Mourinho, not someone traditionally sympathetic to officialdom, when in charge of Roma, while Carlos Megia Davila has been on Real Madrid’s payroll since 2009.

It is also a common practice in rugby union, where head coaches recruit former officials to backroom teams. Steve Lander, formerly an international referee, was an advisor to England when they won the World Cup in 2003.

“Why can’t Mark have a role at Nottingham Forest?,” asks Halsey, an ally of Clattenburg’s. “He’s been out of the Premier League for a number of years. Why can’t he be that liaison between a club and PGMOL, stopping the managers and owners from getting into trouble?

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“It can only help relationships. Forest have taken the initiative and employed a former referee as a consultant. Mark is ideal to do that.”

Either way, just as when he was refereeing himself, Clattenburg has found himself in the eye of a storm in the Premier League. With Forest’s relegation battle only likely to become more fraught in the weeks ahead, things are unlikely to settle down.

(Top photo: Kieran Galvin/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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