Duke holds off VCU to advance to Battle 4 Atlantis final

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Duke handled the “havoc” VCU pressure and escaped the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis with a 67-58 win.

Mason Plumlee had 17 points and 10 assists to led the way for Duke. He also helped break the Rams’ full court pressure defense. VCU missed six consecutive free throws (two of them were the front-end of a one-and-one) when the Rams trailed the Blue Devils 56-50 for a scoreless stretch that lasted nearly three and a half minutes.

But the biggest factor in Friday night’s game was the play of Duke sophomore point guard Quinn Cook and Duke’s ability to limit turnovers.

In the quarterfinals against Memphis, VCU’s havoc pressure forced 22 turnovers, but against Duke, the Rams could only come away with eight. Duke was rushed at moments, but for the most part kept composure, kept the floor spread and most importantly got to the line, where they shot 24-of-27.

Cook’s play in the last possession of the first half and the initial run of the second half was the turning point for the Blue Devils. Cook to a tough right-handed layup that banked in to give Duke a 29-28 lead going into halftime. To begin the second half, the first nine points for Duke came off passes from Cook.

On the first play, Cook was able to find Plumlee at the hoop for an easy bucket. Later in transition, Cook took a lead pass from Rasheed Sulaimon and like a hot potato quickly got rid of it to Plumlee for the alley-oop. Duke started off the half on a 15-4 run to open the lead to 44-32.

VCU came back, gaining momentum, cutting the lead to 54-50 with a Juvonte Reddic layup with over nine minutes to play. Cook scored on a layup from Plumlee to make it 56-50 and that’s when the free throw woes began for VCU. At the time the Rams were 10-of-11 from the line, but six straight free throws clanked off the rim at a crucial moment of the game. Following Cook’s layup at 8:18, Duke didn’t score again until a pair of Seth Curry’s free throws at 4:58 remaining.

What Duke did was it took away two of VCU’s strengths. Duke only coughed the ball up eight times – three were from Cook, who had a game-high nine assists. The Blue Devils defense also didn’t let the Rams connect from deep, only shooting four-of-20 from behind the arc.

Duke got 15 points from Curry, with Sulaimon adding 12. Cook scored nine points. VCU was led by Reddic’s double-double of 16 points and 12 rebounds.

Duke plays the winner of Missouri-Louisville.

Terrence is also the lead writer at NEHoopNews.com and can be followed on Twitter: @terrence_payne

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.