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Give Duke credit for its big comeback vs. NC State

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Duke wasn’t going to let bad things come in threes.

Florida State had already come to Cameron Indoor and snapped the Blue Devils’ 45-game home win streak on January 21st. Reggie Cameron used his 27 points to power Miami past Duke on that same floor on Feb. 5.

So, staring a 16-point halftime deficit in the face on Thursday night against NC State, 26 points from guard Seth Curry led a dominant second half attack that paralyzed the Wolfpack and let Duke storm back and escape with a 78-73 victory in Durham, N.C.

Curry sprained his ankle early in the game, but returned to lead the Blue Devils.

“It took me a while to get back into the game,” he said. “We have been in this situation before. My team did a great job of not quitting.”

NC State was on the offensive in the first half, using their high-powered transition game to capitalize on a poor shooting effort from Duke.

Through the first 20 minutes, Duke’s backcourt had combined to shoot 4-of-19 from the floor and 1-of-13 from three-point range, while NC State was shooting at a 55% clip and held a +7 rebounding margin.

Then came the storm that the Wolfpack could not weather.

Already having had three players rack up at least two fouls in the first half, NC State registered another four fouls in the first 3 minutes of the second, which fundamentally changed the way coach Mark Gottfried’s team played at both ends of the floor.

In all, three players fouled out, including forward CJ Leslie, who was the athletic engine behind much of the Wolfpack attack in the first half. He finished with 12 points, nine rebounds, and six blocks.

Which brings about the real question: Did Duke win this game or did NC State lose it?

Dave Ommen has NC State as a 12 seed in NBC’s latest NCAA Tournament projections. The one glaring hole in their resume, though, is a signature win. It seemed they were in line for that on Thursday night at Cameron Indoor, before their second half collapse.

The hot shooting they enjoyed in the first half was neutralized by Duke’s pressure defense. Combine that with a better shooting effort from the Blue Devils, which struck at the heart of the Wolfpack’s transition game, and the unfavorable foul situation.

Put that in the momentum-strangling environment of Cameron Indoor, and it looks like Duke won this basketball game.

Credit goes to coach Mike Krzyzewski for adjusting his team’s defense and turning up the pressure for the final 10 minutes of the game, which gave the Blue Devils a crucial +10 turnover margin.

“Our big guys did a great job in the second half rebounding and playing defense,” said Curry after the game. “I could tell early in the game that they were trying to take us off the three point line. We just kept attacking.”

Austin Rivers finished with 16 points on 4-of-13 shooting. He was more of the problem than the solution in the first half, going 0-of-4 and settling for shots on the perimeter.

In the second, he showed why he was Duke’s best dribble penetrator and took better shots, while opening up the lane for kick-outs and 7-of-15 team shooting from beyond the arc in the second half.

The Blue Devils ripped off a 20-3 run to put them up by five with one minute to play. But, it really didn’t get to that point before you could feel the grip of Cameron Indoor tightening around NC State.

The contrast between the first and second halves show the concerns and the praises surrounding Duke, headed into March.

Take a look at the first half: poor rebounding, cold shooting, a perimeter defense full of holes.

And transition to the second: better shooting, defense that can force turnovers, and better shooting from the perimeter.

Which Duke will we see down the stretch?

“We put ourselves in a good position to win this conference,” said Curry. “Now we have to go on the road and get two road wins.”

One of those road games? A rematch with early-season spoiler Florida State on February 23rd.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Villanova’s Jenkins to return for senior season

Villanova forward Kris Jenkins (2) reacts to play against North Carolina during the second half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game Monday, April 4, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
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After briefly taking part in the NBA Draft evaluation process, Villanova forward Kris Jenkins announced Monday night that he’s decided to withdraw and return to school for his senior year. Jenkins, whose three-pointer as time expired gave the Wildcats the win over North Carolina in the national title game, announced the news via Twitter.

2015-16 was a breakout season for Jenkins, who moved into the starting lineup and averaged 13.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. The 6-foot-6 forward shot 45.9 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from beyond the arc, and with starters Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu graduating he’ll have even more opportunities to produce next season.

Jenkins’ decision to return leaves wing Josh Hart as the lone Wildcats going through the early entry process at this time. Hart was a first team All-Big East selection as a junior, and his return would be the final piece to the puzzle for a team that many expect to be a national title contender in 2016-17.

Jenkins and Hart wouldn’t be the only returnees who had a part in the national title run, with guards Jalen Brunson and Phil Booth, wing Mikal Bridges and forward Darryl Reynolds back as well. To that group Villanova adds Fordham transfer Eric Paschall and a recruiting class anchored by Omari Spellman and Dylan Painter with Donte DiVincenzo and Tim Delaney available after being hampered by injuries last season.

Delaney missed all of last year after undergoing surgical procedures on his hips, and DiVincenzo played a total of 74 minutes over the first nine games before having to sit due to a broken foot.

Florida State guard Rathan-Mayes to return for junior season

Florida State guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes (22) drives past Notre Dame guard Rex Pflueger, left, for a score in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Tallahassee, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)
AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser
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With their top three scorers from last season all deciding to declare for the NBA Draft, Florida State was facing the possibility of having to rebuild their backcourt ahead of the 2016-17 season. However two of those three have decided to return to Tallahassee, with rising junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes announcing on Monday that he will be back in school.

Rathan-Mayes joins rising sophomore Dwayne Bacon in returning to play another season for head coach Leonard Hamilton, with Malik Beasley hiring representation and remaining in the draft.

Rathan-Mayes had more scoring help last season and as a result was able to concentrate more on the distribution aspects of the point guard position, as he averaged 11.8 points and 4.4 assists per contest. With the return of Rathan-Mayes and Bacon, Florida State will have two of its top three scorers from last season back on campus.

The Seminoles did lose some veteran players, most notably guard Devon Bookert and center Boris Bojanovsky, but the returnees and a recruiting class led by McDonald’s All-American forward Jonathan Isaac means that they won’t lack for options next season.

Auburn lands third transfer within the last week

Auburn guard T.J. Dunans (4) and coach Bruce Pearl celebrate a 75-74 win over UAB in an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, at Auburn Arena in Auburn, Ala.  (Julie Bennett/AL.com via AP)
Julie Bennett/AL.com via AP
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After receiving commitments from former Purdue/Houston guard Ronnie Johnson and former Presbyterian forward DeSean Murray, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl continued to load up on the transfer market Monday. Forward LaRon Smith, who was named MEAC Defensive Player of the Year at Bethune-Cookman last season, announced that he will use his final season of eligibility at the SEC program.

Like Smith, Johnson will also be eligible to compete immediately for the Tigers while Murray will have to sit out next season before having two years of eligibility remaining.

The 6-foot-8 Smith played two seasons at Georgia State before transferring to Bethune-Cookman, where he averaged 7.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per contest in 2015-16. Smith played just over 25 minutes per game for the Wildcats, shooting 58.5 percent from the field.

Smith reached double figures in scoring in four of the Wildcats’ final seven games, including a 20-point, 11-rebound, three-block outing in an overtime win over North Carolina A&T. He joins a front court in need of depth following the departures of the likes of Cinmeon Bowers and Tyler Harris, with Horace Spencer, Trayvon Reed and incoming freshman Anfernee McLemore also competing for minutes in 2016-17.

SMU lands former Arkansas guard Jimmy Whitt

Arkansas guard Jimmy Whitt (24) leaps for a layup past Tennessee guard Shembari Phillips (25) during an NCAA college basketball game in Knoxville, Tenn., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. Arkansas won 75-65. (Adam Lau/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)
Adam Lau/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP
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With a five-member recruiting class set to arrive on campus this summer, SMU added a talented transfer Monday afternoon. Jimmy Whitt, who played his freshman season at Arkansas, committed to join Larry Brown’s program. Whitt, a 6-foot-4 guard from Columbia, Missouri, will have three seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2016-17 campaign.

As a freshman at Arkansas, Whitt averaged 6.1 points and 1.7 rebounds in just over 17 minutes of action per game. He reached double figures in scoring nine time, with the high being a 15-point outing in a blowout win over Missouri in mid-January. Whitt produced a stretch of four consecutive games in double figures during non-conference play, but he struggled to maintain that consistency against SEC competition.

At SMU he’ll join a perimeter rotation that will lose rising senior Sterling Brown following the 2016-17 season. Among those who will have eligibility remaining when Whitt becomes eligible are Ben Emelogu, Shake Milton, Jarrey Foster and incoming freshmen Tom Wilson and Dashawn McDowell.

 

Boise State assistant named head coach at Northern Colorado

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Courtesy UNCBears.com
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GREELEY, Colo. (AP) Jeff Linder is the new basketball coach at Northern Colorado. He spent the last six seasons at Boise State, where he was associate head coach for the Broncos since 2013-14.

Linder replaces B.J. Hill, who was fired last month amid an NCAA investigation into allegations of violations in the program.

University President Kay Norton and Athletic Director Darren Dunn announced Linder’s hiring Sunday.

Linder played high school ball in Lafayette, Colorado, and college ball at Mesa State and Western Colorado State. He began his coaching career under Colorado head coach Ricardo Patton.

In a statement, Linder said, “I look forward to returning home to the state of Colorado and continuing to build this program into something everyone can be proud of.”

Hill was 86-98 in six seasons at UNC.