No. 11 UCLA uses key defensive stops late to beat Georgia in Legends Classic

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BROOKLYN, N.Y.– If UCLA’s trip to Brooklyn was written to follow some typical Hollywood script, it would probably begin with the triumphant debut of star freshman Shabazz Muhammad, having defeated the “evil” NCAA, and end with a Legends Classic championship at the brand-new Barclays Center.

This East Coast swing certainly wasn’t storybook, but the No. 11 Bruins kept it from turning into an early-season horror film, making key defensive stops down the stretch to secure a 60-56 victory and third-place finish in the Legends Classic in Brooklyn Tuesday night.

“It would have been a long plane ride home to come out of this New York trip 0-2.” said coach Ben Howland.

“We got off to a really shaky start in the first half, so we had to find our way out of a hole,” Howland said. “One day preparation for a group of guys used to playing man defense at this level is difficult.”

Muhammad, who got his first collegiate start against Georgia in place of the injured David Wear, had seven first-half points on his way to 21 points and four rebounds on the evening. Despite that strong output, arguably the nation’s best prospect is still finding his place in the flow of the UCLA offense.

On that end of the floor, the Bruins tried him in a number of different spots, including posting up, slashing to the basket, and working one-on-one on the perimeter. Not only coming to the team after eligibility issues, Muhammad has been out of basketball workouts due to injury for much of his time so far at UCLA.

“I just wanted to try to help our team out there because we were shorthanded,” said Muhammad. “Mismatches down low and smaller guys down low, I wanted to take advantage of that.”

The Bruins started slow defensively against Georgia, allowing penetration to the basket and easy shots around the rim. The Bulldogs led 15-6 at the under-eight minute media timeout.

Bad shooting, including 1-of-9 from three-point range, plagued the Bruins in the first half. They all but abandoned the perimeter in the second half and worked it inside to Muhammad and others.

“I think that he was more comfortable tonight. We’re learning to play with Shabazz for the first time,” said Howland. “I thought he did a real good job getting to the line, getting fouled, running the floor.”

UCLA led by as many as five points in the second half, coming at the 14:02 mark, but Georgia pulled even with just over eight minutes remaining and it was back and forth for much of the remainder.

A three-pointer by Georgia senior Vincent Williams with three minutes remaining pulled the Bulldogs within one, but increased defensive pressure down the stretch for the Bruins got stops when Howland & Co. needed it most.

Freshman Kyle Anderson bounced back from a zero-point performance Monday night against Georgetown to score nine points and grab nine rebounds. His team’s trip to Brooklyn was his first time playing in his hometown NYC-metro area since arriving in Westwood.

Georgia, having lost three in a row to Youngstown State, Southern Miss, and Indiana, was led by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s 16 points. The Bulldogs worked to overcome a 20-8 deficit at the free throw stripe by working the ball around efficiently and finishing with 13 assists.

“Similar to last night, in the gut of the game, the other team made the plays and we did not,” said Georgia coach Mark Fox. “But let’s give [UCLA] credit tonight.”

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

Missouri lands No. 1 player in Class of 2017 as Michael Porter Jr. commits

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Missouri and new head coach Cuonzo Martin have landed the No. 1 player in the Class of 2017 a week after he took the job as forward Michael Porter Jr. committed to the Tigers on Friday.

Formerly a Washington commit under now-fired head coach Lorenzo Romar, the 6-foot-9 Porter was released from his Letter of Intent this week and many believed he’d end up back at Missouri.

The Porter family lived in Columbia for many years as two of Michael’s older sisters play for the Missouri women’s team while Michael Porter Sr. was an assistant coach for the women’s team.

When Porter Sr. was hired to Missouri to be an assistant coach on Martin’s staff this week — after losing his assistant coaching job at Washington when Romar was fired — it all but sealed the deal that the Porters would return to Missouri and Michael Jr. would play for the Tigers.

Missouri might not be an NCAA Tournament team next season after struggling to an 8-24 finish and 2-16 record in the SEC. But Porter might be the most productive freshman entering college basketball next season as he has a chance to be dominant in the SEC.

Oklahoma State promotes assistant coach Mike Boynton to head coach

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Oklahoma State has decided to promote assistant coach Mike Boynton to head coach, the school announced on Friday.

Boynton was an assistant with the Cowboys under former head coach Brad Underwood, who left Oklahoma State to take the Illinois job last weekend. Also an assistant coach at Stephen F. Austin, South Carolina, Wofford and Coastal Carolina, Boynton is a native of New York City who played his college ball for the Gamecocks.

The hire of Boynton is surprising since he doesn’t have any head-coaching experience as it follows in the footsteps of Cal promoting assistant coach Wyking Jones earlier in the day. Boynton also notably won the job over broadcaster and former Oklahoma State guard Doug Gottlieb as Gottlieb interviewed for the job but wasn’t selected.

 

Rhode Island junior E.C. Matthews will return to school

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Rhode Island junior guard E.C. Matthews will return to school for his redshirt senior season, the school announced on Friday.

The 6-foot-5 Matthews led the Rams in scoring at 14.9 points per game this past season as he returned from a torn ACL and helped Rhode Island reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999.

Besides for being a talented scorer, Matthews is a good overall playmaker for the Rams as he also put up 4.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game.

With Matthews returning, it gives head coach Dan Hurley a huge weapon for next season as Rhode Island returns everyone besides the senior front court of Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson.

Cal promotes assistant Wyking Jones to head coach

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Cal will promote interim head coach and former assistant coach Wyking Jones to head coach, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. The story was first reported by Jon Rothstein of FanRagSports.com

A native of Inglewood, California, Jones has been an assistant coach for the Golden Bears for the past two seasons as he replaces former head coach Cuonzo Martin, who departed to take the Missouri job. This promotion comes as a bit of a surprise for some since Jones has never been a head coach at the Division I level.

Jones has spent 15 years as an assistant coach at the Division I level at places like Cal, Louisville, New Mexico, Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount — where Jones spent his playing career.

Helping Louisville to the Final Four in 2013, Jones is a respected coach and recruiter who gets a great opportunity for his first head coaching job at the Division I level with Cal.

The Golden Bears made the NCAA tournament last year but finished 21-13 this season as they missed making the field of 68. Sophomore big man Ivan Rabb has already declared for the NBA Draft and it will be interesting to see what kind of roster Jones gets to work with right away.

One of the reasons Jones might have been retained is to help Cal keep its solid five-man recruiting class from bolting. While the Golden Bears don’t have any five-star talents coming in, it is a solid foundation for the program’s future led by a four-star guard in Jemarl Baker.

Florida State freshman forward Jonathan Isaac declares for 2017 NBA Draft

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Florida State freshman forward Jonathan Isaac has declared for the 2017 NBA Draft.

The 6-foot-10 Isaac was a five-star prospect out of high school as he averaged 12.0 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. One of the most versatile defenders in the country, Isaac could protect the rim (1.5 blocks per game) and also switch out to the perimeter and cover smaller wings as well (1.2 steals per game). Also showing a solid skill level, Isaac shot 50 percent from the field, 34 percent from three-point range and 78 percent from the free-throw line.

That kind of versatility is what Isaac is banking on in the NBA Draft as he’s expected to be a top-15 pick. If Isaac can prove that he’s a reliable perimeter shooter then teams could be intrigued by him as a matchup nightmare in the front court.