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Payton, GM take blame for ‘bounties’

Saints coach Sean Payton, foreground, has taken responsibility for bounty program by former assistant Gregg Williams, background. (Associated Press)
Saints coach Sean Payton, foreground, has taken responsibility for bounty program by former assistant Gregg Williams, background. (Associated Press)

NFL: Almost a week after the NFL pointed to them for failing to stop a bounty program involving some two dozen Saints players, coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis apologized and took the blame for violations that “happened under our watch.”

“These are serious violations and we understand the negative impact it has had on our game,” Payton and Loomis added. “Both of us have made it clear within our organization that this will never happen again, and make that same promise to the NFL and most importantly to all of our fans,” Payton and Loomis said in a joint statement Tuesday.

Payton and Loomis also said New Orleans owner Tom Benson “had nothing to do” with the bounty pool.

The league’s investigation, released Friday, said the bounty program was funded primarily by players for the past three seasons and was overseen by former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

Williams admitted to running the program and apologized within hours after the report surfaced.

The NFL said it confirmed Benson was unaware of the program, and that he told Loomis to stop it immediately, but that Loomis did not.

The league also said Payton, though not directly involved, was aware of the bounty pool, but did nothing to stop it.

Williams now is defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams.

He met with NFL security officials on Monday as part of the league’s ongoing investigation.

Once it concludes – the league says there is no timetable – Roger Goodell likely will hand out the stiffest penalties of his 51/2 years as commissioner.

Western Kentucky makes NCAAs at 15-18

COLLEGE MEN: Teeng Akol put the finishing touches on Western Kentucky’s remarkable basketball run.

Akol scored 23 points and Western Kentucky rallied for a 74-70 win over North Texas on Tuesday night in the championship game of the Sun Belt conference tournament at Hot Springs, Ark.

The win caps a stunning run for the Hilltoppers (15-18), who earned their first NCAA tournament berth since 2009 by winning four games in as many days.

George Fant finished with 17 points to help the Hilltoppers rally from a 13-point deficit in the second half.

Western Kentucky began the season 5-11, resulting in the firing of former coach Ken McDonald on Jan. 5.

South Dakota State advances: Griffan Callahan hit a 3-pointer with 1:30 left in overtime and South Dakota State got stops the last two times Western Illinois had the ball to beat the Leathernecks 52-50 in the Summit League tournament championship at Sioux Falls, S.D.

The Jackrabbits (27-7) earned the Summit’s automatic NCAA tournament bid and will make their first NCAA appearance as Division I members.

Detroit qualifies: Ray McCallum Jr. scored 21 points to help Detroit beat Valparaiso 70-50 night in the championship game of the Horizon League tournament at Valparaiso, Ind.

Jason Calliste scored 17 points and LaMarcus Lowe added 14 for the Titans, who qualified for the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1999.

Detroit (22-13) had lost both regular-season meetings with the Crusaders (22-11) and trailed this game by three at halftime.

Stuckey scores 34 in win over Lakers

NBA: Rodney Stuckey scored 34 points, and the Detroit Pistons overcame a tying shot by Kobe Bryant at the end of regulation, beating the visiting Los Angeles Lakers 88-85 in overtime.

Bryant, who had tied the game at the buzzer to force the extra session, missed from 3-point range in the final seconds of overtime.

Garnett, Pierce lead Celtics: Kevin Garnett grabbed 13 rebounds to pass Shaquille O’Neal and move into 12th on the NBA’s career list, and Paul Pierce scored seven of his 30 points in overtime to lead the Boston Celtics to a 97-92 victory over the Houston Rockets.

Boston has won five straight since the All-Star break, including two in a row in overtime. Houston has lost four in a row.

UConn women top Irish in Big East final

COLLEGE WOMEN: Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis scored 19 points and Bria Hartley added 18 to help No. 4 Connecticut beat third-ranked Notre Dame 63-54 at Hartford, Conn., and win its fifth straight Big East basketball tournament championship.

UConn’s Geno Auriemma became the sixth coach to reach 800 career victories, reaching the milestone in fewer games than anybody else.

The Huskies denied Notre Dame its first Big East tournament title.

The Irish (30-3), who won the outright regular-season title for the first time, have made the tournament championship game six times and lost each one to the Huskies (29-4).

Pens’ Crosby begins contact workouts

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has been cleared for contact, a big step toward his return from concussion-like symptoms.

Crosby went through drills with his teammates on Tuesday, the first time he’s been a full participant in practice since the symptoms returned after a loss to Boston on Dec. 5.

Crosby missed more than 10 months following a pair of hits to the head in January 2011. He had two goals in his season debut against the New York Islanders, his only goals in the last 14 months.

Blues are penalty killers: Jaroslav Halak won his sixth straight start to match a career best and St. Louis’ penalty killers ran their streak to 32 stops in a row, lifting the Blues to a 5-1 victory over the visiting Chicago Blackhawks.

Andy McDonald scored two goals and Vladimir Sobotka had a short-handed score for the Blues, who are tied with the New York Rangers with a league-best 91 points.

Flyers knock off Red Wings: Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Max Talbot scored goals to lead the Philadelphia Flyers to a 3-2 win over the visiting Detroit Red Wings.

The Flyers won on the night they retired former defenseman Mark Howe’s No. 2 and raised the number to the rafters.

He is the fifth Flyer to have his number retired, joining Bernie Parent, Barry Ashbee, Bill Barber and Bobby Clarke. Howe was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last November.