Quinn Cook

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

Skal Labissiere has not been cleared by the NCAA

Kelly Kline/Under Armour
Kelly Kline/Under Armor
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While the timeline surrounding Cheick Diallo’s eligibility has made headlines for months now, another elite recruit at a blue blood program is still awaiting word on whether or not he will be allowed to play college basketball this season.

Kentucky center Skal Labissiere, the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2015 and a potential No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, has not yet been cleared to play this season. His guard, Gerald Hamilton, confirmed as much to ESPN earlier today.

“Not yet,” Hamilton said. “We’re just trying to get everything squared away. They are asking a few questions.

“They haven’t cleared him, but we’re sticking with our faith. There’s no real concern about anything from the Kentucky compliance people.”

Labissiere has more red flags than you can count, almost all of them pertaining to Hamilton. It was the worst kept secret in high school basketball that Hamilton more or less had Labissiere for sale. It’s why he played three different AAU programs and two different high schools in four years. Hamilton runs a non-profit called Reach Your Dream and, after a transfer rendered him ineligible for his senior high school season, Labissiere played for a team called ‘Reach Your Dream Prep’, which Hamilton founded simply to ensure Labissiere had a place to play.

Here’s how CBSSports.com summarized things back in November:

Multiple coaches who have recruited Labissiere told CBSSports.com Hamilton either directly indicated or strongly suggested pursuing Labissiere would mostly be a waste of time if they couldn’t offer assistance in helping fund his foundation. One coach from a prominent staff said: “We couldn’t even get in the door.” Another added: “We recognized what it was about early on and decided not to get involved.”

In other words, no one is surprised that the NCAA is looking into Labissiere’s situation, and it’s not hard to look at Kentucky bringing in Isaac Humphries and Tai Wynyard as a sign that they’re not completely certain that Labissiere will make it through this. The surprise is in how quiet that investigation has been over the course of the last few months.

The shame in all of this is that Labissiere is a sweet kid with an incredible back-story. He survived the devastating earthquake in Haiti despite having a house collapse on him. If he can get through this investigation, he’ll easily be one of the biggest and most likeable stars in the sport this season.

Xavier commit to enroll early, redshirt

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Xavier landed a commitment on Wednesday from four-star big man Eddie Ekiyor, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

Ekiyor, who picked the Musketeers over Miami and Florida, is a borderline top 100 recruit. He’s an athletic, 6-foot-8 post that shouldn’t have an issue adjusting to the pace and physicality of the game, although he needs to continue to develop offensively to be more than a catch-and-dunk big man down the road.

In other words, on paper, Ekiyor isn’t much different from the majority of high major big men. But what’s different about this situation is that Ekiyor will be enrolling at Xavier for the start of the spring semester, technically making him a member of the Class of 2015. Xavier won’t be rushing him through the process — he’ll redshirt the second half of the 2015-16 season — but getting him on campus early will allow him an extra six months of learning the Xavier system, developing in collegiate practices and working out with the Xavier strength coaches.

That should help him limit the adjustment phase as he transitions from high school. That’s important for the Musketeers, because there’s a chance that they could lose their starting front line — James Farr (graduation) and Jalen Reynolds (early entry) — after this season.