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Rowdies take impressive win over MLS’s Montreal in exhibition

If you want to join them, well, first you beat them.

The Tampa Bay Rowdies, who have announced their plans to pursue admission into the MLS, took a symbolic step toward their goal Saturday night when they beat the Montreal Impact. The Impact was the Eastern Conference runners-up last season.

However, the Rowdies dominated play most of the evening, taking a 2-0 lead en route to their victory. Joe Cole and Deshorn Brown, a training guest, scored the goals within six minutes of one another late in the first half. Montreal’s only goal came from the penalty spot in the 71st minute.

“It’s nice to get a win, even though in preseason, the result isn’t the most important thing,” coach Stuart Campbell said. “It’s about the performance, the amount of work and improving the players’ fitness. You could see how hard the players worked tonight. For many of them, it was their first 90 minutes of the preseason.”

The Rowdies finished the Suncoast Invitation with a 1-1 record. The loss came to Philadelphia, which scored a late goal after Tampa Bay had substituted liberally.

“The movement that Montreal has and the attacking quality they use, they’re a very good team,” Campbell said. “We limited them to very few chances. I can’t remember many clear-cut chances they had. That’s one of the best teams in MLS. If you finish above Montreal, you’re not going to be far from winning the championship.”

After a back-and-forth first half that showed flashes of quality but with chances lacking, the Rowdies opened the scoring in the 34th minute with a quickly-taken free kick.

Rowdies winger Leo Fernandes drew a foul just outside the 18-yard box, and, before Montreal could set up defensively, the Rowdies took the free kick with Brown feeding Cole wide of the 6-yard box.

Cole’s shot on goal was deflected past Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush by Laurent Ciman and Tampa Bay took a 1-0 lead in the 34th minute.

Just six minutes later, Cole nearly scored his second of the match, but Bush made a big save. Brown pounced on the rebound and smashed it with his left foot to double Tampa Bay’s lead before halftime.

Despite the normal second-half substitutions that come standard in preseason matches, the Rowdies maintained control of the match save for Piatti’s penalty in the 71st minute, sealing a positive result.

“We wanted to go out and get a result, but really we wanted to put on a good performance,” Campbell said. “It’s fantastic to go out there and beat an MLS team that had a very good year last year and will no doubt have another very good year this year.”

Tampa Bay is back in action next week when it travels to Tampa to take on the University of Tampa Spartans on Saturday, March 4.

The Rowdies open their inaugural USL season March 25 against Orlando City B at Al Lang Stadium.

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Despite loss to Wildcats, Gators still can win SEC Tournament

Although the Florida Gators lost to the Kentucky Wildcats in Lexington on Saturday, they still have a good opportunity to gain the automatic NCAA Tournament bid in two weeks. Kentucky overcame a 12-point first half deficit to beat Florida, 76-66, snapping the Gators’ nine-game winning streak.

Florida’s defense is often good enough to get them a victory when they shoot poorly, but not on Saturday. Very few come into Rupp Arena and leave with a win, especially those who can shoot only 37 percent from the field, which the Gators did on Saturday.

When Florida makes a respectable amount of their shots, they are extremely difficult to beat. On February 4, they shot 48 percent and throttled the Wildcats 88-66 in Gainesville.

Kasey Hill shot lights out at home against Kentucky, but scored only four points on Saturday. Canyon Barry had 14 points three weeks ago, but only three on Saturday.

As a team, the Gators were more impressive on their home floor than the Wildcats were on theirs. With the SEC Tournament set to be played on a neutral court in Nashville, Tenn., Florida would have every opportunity to beat Kentucky should they meet.

Of course they will have to do a better job of containing prized freshman Malik Monk, who exploded for 30 points in the second half to almost singlehandedly lead his team to the victory. He finished with 33.

“He took the game over. He was amazing,” said Florida Coach Mike White. “It was probably the best performance against us all year.”

Kentucky (14-2 SEC) has all-but-clinched the top seed in the tournament and the Gators (13-3 SEC) are in good shape to earn the second seed. Make no mistake that Big Blue Nation will be well represented at the Bridgestone Arena, but nowhere near the 23,000-plus that crams into Rupp Arena for Wildcat home games.

A UF/Kentucky matchup is no certainty. South Carolina or Arkansas, Florida’s next opponent, will have something to say about it. Georgia played the Gators tough both times they squared off this year.

One thing Florida or Kentucky would wish to avoid is a matchup with the tournament host, Vanderbilt. If the season ended today, Vanderbilt would have the seventh seed, meaning a potential quarterfinal matchup with the Gators. Both teams have road dates with Vandy still remaining before the regular season ends.

While the Gators certainly miss the presence of big man John Egbunu, out for the season with a knee injury, their good defense has seemed to get even better. It needs to stay at this high level for them to have a chance to win the tournament, and earn the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament that comes with it.

Many questions remain to be answered, but not matter what happens this week, Florida and Kentucky will be favored to meet again in two weeks.

March Madness is almost upon us.

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Clemson’s 46-point improvement not enough to beat Florida State

Any team would be pleased to make a 46-point improvement in the span of three weeks. On Saturday, the Clemson Tigers did just that, but still lost to the Florida State Seminoles.

Saturday’s 76-74 FSU victory was a far cry from the 109-61 pasting administered on Clemson three weeks ago, on February, but the Seminoles were still able to escape with a vital road win. The victory was only the second win for the Seminoles away from home in their last seven road games.

The problems befalling FSU during road games did not occur on Saturday. The team lost its poise before, but they withstood multiple Clemson runs throughout the game. In fact, the Seminoles trailed by three points with 2:24 remaining, but closed the game on a 7-2 run.

Florida State also suffered from free throw woes during their road skid, but that was not a problem on Saturday. The Seminoles converted 23 of 28 attempts from the line.

During the bad old days, the turnovers mounted, leading to several easy baskets by opponents. On Saturday, they turned the ball over only 10 times.

They clearly did not shoot as well as they did during the February 5 romp, but that was a once-in-a-season type of effort. They did the little things well and did just enough to win.

Xavier Rathan-Mayes played with poise, leading the team with 15 points and seven assists while committing only one turnover. Jonathan Isaac had 14 points and Dwayne Bacon 12.

“Knowing we can get down on the road and win in tough situations and play the way we did is definitely optimistic for us,” said Rathan-Mayes.

A vital defensive effort came in the final eight seconds, when Clemson had a chance to tie or win. The Seminoles were able to keep the ball out of the hands Tigers’ star Jaron Blossongame, who led all scorers with 24 points. Instead, Marcquise Reed missed the final shot at the buzzer.

With the win, Florida State temporarily moved into second place in the ACC with an 11-15 conference record. They are 23-6 overall.

This is a very important win for us,” said FSU Coach Leonard Hamilton. “It keeps pace and gives us the opportunity to control our destiny.”

On Tuesday, they travel to Duke to take on a Blue Devils team intent on revenge. Florida State blitzed Duke 88-72 last month in Tallahassee.

If the Blue Devils can improve on their performance by 15 points, Seminole Nation will be pleased.

 

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Jameis Winston: Comments about girls were ‘poor word choice’

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, who was accused of raping another student when he was in college, said he made a “poor word choice” in comments about women in a 40-minute talk to students at a Florida elementary school earlier this week.

When the students – third- through fifth-graders at Melrose Elementary in St. Petersburg – started getting fidgety, Winston told the boys to stand up, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

“All my young boys, stand up. The ladies, sit down,” Winston told the children. “But all my boys, stand up. We strong, right? We strong! We strong, right? All my boys, tell me one time: I can do anything I put my mind to. Now a lot of boys aren’t supposed to be soft-spoken.”

The quarterback went on to say, “But the ladies, they’re supposed to be silent, polite, gentle. My men, my men (are) supposed to be strong.”

Several hours later, Winston was asked by reporters about the speech and reflected about what he’d said. He said he was making an effort to interact with a young boy in the audience who didn’t appear to be paying attention. He said he didn’t want to single him out so he asked all the boys to stand.

“During my talk, I used a poor word choice that may have overshadowed that positive message for some,” he said.

The newspaper reported that some adults in the room were troubled by Winston’s comments, but didn’t want to comment publicly.

Bonnie Volland, a speech language pathologist at Melrose, said Winston’s message about children being able to accomplish anything was positive. But when he told the boys to stand up and that they are strong, some of the girls took note.

“One of the girls turned around and looked at me and said, “I’m strong, too,” Vollnad told the Times.

Winston was accused of raping a student in 2012 when they were both Florida State University students. Winston has said they had consensual sex. He was not arrested. Winston and the accuser settled a civil lawsuit in December.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Gators, Seminoles to face teams seeking revenge for earlier blowouts

The Florida Gators and Florida State Seminoles men’s basketball teams face somewhat similar challenges on Saturday. Both will be on the road to face teams they hammered at home just a few weeks ago.

Let’s be honest; the 13th-ranked Gators have the more difficult task, but the way FSU has played on the road over the last month, they will have their hands full as well.

Florida heads to Lexington, Ky. for a 2:00 p.m. tipoff to face a Wildcat team itching at the chance to get at them. The Gators humiliated Kentucky 88-66 on February 4 at the O’Connell Center.

Florida, especially Kasey Hill, shot lights out during the game prompting Kentucky Coach John Calipari to comment about guys like Hill “being better than they are.” Hill, his teammates and Coach Mike White know the challenge before them.

“I think we can go up there, and if we play really well, have a chance to win,” said White after Tuesday night’s victory over South Carolina. “I do. I think that. I think our guys think that, but everybody has got to be a little bit better.”

Few teams come into Rupp Arena and escape with a victory. The 11th-ranked Wildcats have lost two home games this year, but both were to top-10 teams UCLA and Kansas.

The stakes could not be higher. Both have identical 23-5 records and both are 13-2 in the conference. With only three SEC games remaining, the winner will likely become the league’s top seed in the SEC tournament.

“It will be difficult, and everybody’s better at home,” said White. “It’s a difficult challenge.”

For 19th-ranked Florida State, any road game is a monstrous challenge. At noon, they will face a Clemson squad they defeated by 48 points in Tallahassee just three weeks ago.

FSU was raining three-pointers on the Tigers in that game, but the shots have not been falling away from the Tucker Center for the Seminoles. Making free throws has also been a challenge.

While the crowd at Littlejohn Coliseum at Clemson is not Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium (FSU’s next stop next week), they can make it a tough place to play. This Clemson team has beaten a good Wake Forest team twice, won at South Carolina and lost a heart breaker at Duke just days after the debacle in Tallahassee.

“I’m glad we’re playing a game on the road this Saturday,” said Seminoles Coach Leonard Hamilton. “Let’s see if we can go on the road and play with that same level of confidence that we did (Monday).”

Hamilton was referring to Florida State’s last game, a 104-72 rout of Boston College in Tallahassee.

Because of their road woes, FSU has fallen into a four-way tie for second place in the ACC after once sharing the lead with North Carolina. Now standing at two games behind the Tar Heels, a regular season ACC title now seems highly unlikely.

“We’ve kinda dug a hole for ourselves,” said Hamilton. “Now we have to go on the road Saturday to see if we can duplicate (Monday’s) game.”

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Tampa Bay Bucs release highly paid cornerback Alteraunn Verner

Alteraunn Verner was still getting paid like star.

His performance, however, was that of a backup.

The two could not be reconciled, and so Verner was released by the Tampa Bay Bucs on Thursday.

Verner, 28, signed a four-year, $25.5 million contract in 2014, but his play didn’t measure up. The last two seasons, Verner started only nine games, including three in 2016. However, he was due to make $6.5 million in the coming year, even though he had been essentially replaced by free agent Brent Grimes and No. 1 draft pick Vernon Hargreaves. Verner was scheduled to be the fifth-highest paid Buc on the team’s salary cap list.

Verner’s most memorable moment of the last year came in the Seattle game, two days after his father died. Verner had a key interception in the Bucs’ victory.

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Should Jameis Winston be hammered for clumsy statement?

Now that he has fumbled, are we to hammer Jamies Winston?

Now that he has said the wrong thing, does it matter if he was doing the right one?

Winston, the quarterback with the troubled past for the Tampa Bay Bucs, had good intentions. Really he did. On an off-day, he chose to speak to the children at Melrose Elementary School. He said later that he noticed one small boy who wasn’t paying attention, and he tried to get him involved.

At that point, Winston said something inappropriate. And, from the reports, there are those who will not forgive him.

“All my young boys, stand up. The ladies, sit down,” Winston said, as quoted by the Tampa Bay Times and others. “But all my boys, stand up. We strong, right? We strong! We strong, right? All my boys, tell me one time: I can do anything I put my mind to. Now a lot of boys aren’t supposed to be soft-spoken. You know what I’m saying? One day y’all are going to have a very deep voice like this (in deep voice). One day, you’ll have a very, very deep voice.

“But the ladies, they’re supposed to be silent, polite, gentle. My men, my men (are) supposed to be strong. I want y’all to tell me what the third rule of life is: I can do anything I put my mind to. Scream it!”

It should go without saying that no one should tell girls to be silent, or to suggest that they are not strong. For that clumsy wording, Winston was wrong.

On the other hand, he was at Melrose to deliver a positive message. Should he be roasted for it?

Yes, Winston had his problems while at FSU, being accused of domestic violence, singing a rap song that was crude. But this was merely saying something the wrong way, wasn’t it? No one should defend what Winston said. Still, you get the feeling that Winston was trying to fire up the boys rather than put down the girls. Don’t you?

ESPN — which defended Winston in a video — did bring up his sexual assault reports in its report.

“I was making an effort to interact with a young male in the audience who didn’t seem to be paying attention, and I didn’t want to single him out so I asked all the boys to stand up,” Winston said. “During my talk, I used a poor word choice that may have overshadowed that positive message for some.”

On the other hand, Winston just turned 23. He will get smoother in his messages. He will be all-inclusive.

And, yes, he’ll learn that girls are strong, too.

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Dolphins re-sign six of their greats, includng quarterback Dan Marino

Good news for Miami fans.

The Miami Dolphins have signed Dan Marino all over again.

And if that isn’t enough, the Dolphins signed Bob Griese. And Larry Little. And Nat Moore and Kim Bokamper and Sam Madison.

The Dolphins re-signed six of their former icons, in fact, who promptly retired as Dolphins. They did it, they said, to emphasize the bond between the organization and the team’s alumni. The six combined for 25 Pro Bowls, three Hall of Fame selections and two MVPs.

The team did not explain why it didn’t re-sign and retire Larry Csonka, Mercury MorrisMark Duper, Mark Clayton, Nick Buoniconti, JackeScott or A.J. Duhe, among others.

“I’m enthusiastic about being a part of this team and trying to help create something special,” Marino said. “I love being a Miami Dolphins even if it’s for one more day. I’m proud to be a part of the franchise.”

Marino joked that he had been a free agent for 16 years and no team had called.

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Triplets reunited as Tampa Bay Lightning continues playing well

Once again, they were magic.

Once again, they were so electric you could almost see sparks on the ice. Nikita Kucherov. Ondrej Palat. Tyler Johnson.

The Triplets.

Stop them if you can.

You remember the Lightning’s Triplets, don’t you? In 2014-15, they were the most amazing line in the National Hockey League. They led the NHL in scoring that year, and given their tender ages, it seemed they would be a success for years to come.

Ah, but injuries happened, and the line was split up, and they appeared as a trio only every now and then.

Have you looked lately? The Tampa Bay Lightning line is clicking again, a one-two-three punch that can still take over games. They were solid in Colorado, getting off 13 shots. Then, in a keeper of a win against Edmonton, they were good again in a 4-1 victory.

Palat scored two goals. Kucherov scored one and had three assists. Johnson had two assists. And the Lightning pointed for the seventh straight game. At what may be their last chance, the Bolts are finally playing well again.

“It’s not that you put them together and all of the sudden the magic starts,” said coach Jon Cooper. “It’s playing the right way before that happens. Everyone had been defending really well. All of the sudden, you have the puck more, you have the puck in the right places more.”

Tuesday night’s game was an answer as to why the team had been spinning its wheels. The Bolts need more Triplets.

“It’s fun,” said defenseman Anton Stralman. “I’ve got the best seat in the house to watch it. They have that something extra and tonight they really brought it.”

Said Johnson: “It’s been great. We haven’t had much opportunity to play together the last couple of years. Maybe a period or two here or there. There haven’t been too many times (we played together) the entire game. Last game, we played well. We had a lot of chances to score, but it just didn’t go in for us. Now they’ve started to go in and we even had more opportunities.”

So will the Triplets stay together?

“It’s getting results, so I hope so,” Johnson said. “I like playing with those guys. They’re fun to play with. They make the game a lot better.”

Palat scored the first two goals for Tampa Bay. But Edmonton came back on goal by Iiro Pakarinen, then had another goal disallowed on an off-sides. It was a rare challenge won by Tampa Bay.

Kucherov added a third goal, and Vlad Namestikov was awarded a goal when he was hooked on an empty netter with one second to play.

Tampa Bay is home Thursday night against Calgary.

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FSU has tough schedule to contend with in 2017 football season

If FSU is indeed going back to the college football playoffs this season, it will have to walk across broken glass to get there.

According to Bleacherreport.com, the Seminoles will play the fifth-toughest schedule in America in 2017, including an opening game against Alabama in Atlanta.

Jimbo Fisher’s Seminoles also play Miami, at Clemson, Florida and Louisville (with Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson.) Even with 16 returning starters and quarterback Deondre Francois, that’s tough duty.

Florida isn’t far behind. The Gators play the 7th-hardest schedule, starting with a neutral site game against Michigan. They play Tennessee, LSU and Georgia.

According the report, Michigan will play the toughest schedule in America, followed by Alabama, Ohio State and Rutgers.

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