For Maryland, being lucky is better than being good if it’s only for one night

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Alex Len finished with 10 points and six boards, tipping in an errant Pe’Shon Howard shot with just 0.9 seconds left on the clock as the Terps knocked off No. 14 NC State at the Comcast Center, 51-50.

Maryland had twice taken a ten point lead — the second of which came midway through the second half at 42-32. But the Wolfpack came storming back, using a 16-3 run to take a 48-45 lead on a Scott Wood three. After a pair of free throws and a bucket from Len, Lorenzo Brown, who finished with a game-high 17 points, hit a pull-up jumper to give the Wolfpack a 50-49 lead, setting up Maryland’s final possession.

That possession worked out swimmingly. With 5.2 seconds left on the clock, Howard took the inbounds and drove left, throwing up a runner — “He said it wasn’t a miss, it was a pass,” Led said with a chuckle after the game — that happened to fall right into the hands of the future lottery pick.

Said Turgeon, “We were pretty lucky at the end.”

The play looked eerily reminiscent of the play that won NC State and Jim Valvano the 1983 national title against Houston’s Phi Slama Jama team, and Seth Allen drew a chuckle from reporters after the game when asked if he had every seen Lorenzo Charles’ title-winning, buzzer-beating putback. “I’m too young,” he said, “I just turned 18.”

The irony would be too much — NC State losing on the same kind of play that won them their only national title! — if it wasn’t a sign of a bigger issue for Maryland. The play that Howard ran wasn’t at all what Mark Turgeon drew up in the huddle. According to Len, Turgeon wanted the ball going to Logan Aronhalt. According to Turgeon, however, the play was “supposed to be an up-screen for Alex. We down-screened.” According to the tape, the play was for Howard to drive baseline, throw up a pair that happens to fall into Len’s hands and for Terp fans to storm the floor.

I’m not sure anyone knows what was supposed to happen.

Lucky, indeed.

The reason this is a concern is that Maryland has struggled in close games this season, and a big reason for that is shoddy late-game execution. They had a chance to knock off Kentucky in their season-opener but couldn’t get a shot off on the game’s final possession when they were down by three. In a three-point loss to Florida State, Allen had a three blocked on the final possession of the game. On Sunday, in a 54-47 loss at Miami, the Terps couldn’t execute offensively for 40 minutes, let alone down the stretch.

“Kentucky, we needed a three but we didn’t pass it,” Turgeon said. “Florida State, we didn’t drive it. We settled for a jump shot.”

Which brings us back to Wednesday night, where the Terps escaped despite the fact that, once again, they couldn’t run the play that Turgeon drew up in the huddle.

“We were 0-for-timeouts,” Turgeon said. “There wasn’t one timeout where they did what I wanted them to. Not one. It’s frustrating. We practiced timeouts two days ago. Lined up, practiced it. It’s where we are right now. It’s not a lot of fun. You’re sitting there and Pe’Shon’s looking at me, dribbling the ball at half court like, ‘What?’ after we drew up the play in the timeout. It’s frustrating.”

Timeouts aren’t the only time where the Terps struggle to execute offensively.

“Eventually, when I have a program long enough, we’re going to execute a lot better than we did,” Turgeon continued. “I can’t add enough stuff because they cant’t consume it all right now. We’re really limited with some of the stuff we can do.”

“They can do it in practice, but as soon as the lights are on, they don’t know.”

That’s a problem, and one that goes well beyond their struggles getting to get Len the ball in a position to score on Wednesday or Howard’s inability to make a shot since the calendar turned.

Len is going to make a lot of money in the NBA, and it’s likely going to be sooner rather than later; he’s a lottery pick. But outside of the Big Ukranian, the Terps don’t really have all that much scoring punch. They do, however, have a bunch of grinders — guys like Dez Wells, and Shaquille Cleare, and Charles Mitchell. It’s quite reminiscent of the teams that Turgeon put together at Texas A&M, where he built a program known for defense and offensive execution. They didn’t put up huge numbers or ride a wave of one-and-doners to NCAA tournament glory.

It was workmanlike. It was blue-collar. It worked.

And until the Terps reach a point where they can thrive on their offensive execution instead of headlong, 1-on-1 drives at the rim and hoisting up first-pass threes, they are going to continue to underperform. And rest assured, right now, this group is underperforming.

Having said that, at the end of the day, Maryland got a win. They knocked off the No. 14 team in the country. The beat the Wolfpack four days after the Wolfpack beat Duke. They got a win that is going to look good on their tournament resume and give them hope and confidence heading into one of the most difficult stretches on their schedule. Three of their next four games are on the road: at North Carolina, at Duke and at Florida State.

They can be excited about this win, but there is still a lot of season to be played and even more work to be done to get better.

“It’s just one game,” Turgeon said. We’re going to celebrate,  I was happy for the guys and the sutdents, storming the court and all.”

“[But] we just talked about how we haven’t won a big game since Grieivis Vasquez was here. I didn’t come here to be mediocre. The players didn’t come here to be mediocre. I asked them why they came here. I told them I came here to be a part of something much bigger than myself.”

“I came here to do great things. This is one great thing. Hopefully, this will lead us to other great things.”

You just can’t rely on luck to make that happen.

VIDEO: Presbyterian’s Toss for Tots night earns technical foul for charity

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Presbyterian College held an cool and unique fundraiser this week.

In a game against Toccoa Falls, the Blue Hose held what will now be an annual Toss for Tots event. It was simple: after the first basket of their game on Thursday night, fans in attendance were asked to throw a stuffed animal onto the court, with every stuffed animal earmarked for a local elementary school.

Presbyterian ate the technical foul for the cause:

In total, 108 stuffed animals were “donated”.

The program had partnered with Bailey Elementary School, where there are 103 students. On Friday, the team delivered every student at the school one of the stuffed animals for Christmas. Head coach Dustin Kerns told NBC Sports that the team spent some times with the kids today as well, reading to the team and putting a smile on their face.

“Proud of our team,” Kerns, who is in his first year with the program, said. The win against Toccoa Falls was the fifth in a row for the Blue Hose, the first time the program has accomplished that since going to the Division I level. They are not 6-5 on the season after winning five games a year ago. “It was fun seeing out program give back.”

Presbyterian Sports Information Dept
Presbyterian Sports Information Dept

Rape charges will not be filed after last year’s incident in Kansas basketball dorm

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The Douglas County District Attorney’s office will not file sexual assault charges stemming from a report that a 16-year old girl was raped nearly a year ago in the Kansas basketball dorm.

“After an exhaustive review of all available reports, evidence and testimony, our office has determined there is not sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt a sexual assault occurred,” District Attorney Charles Branson told the Lawrence Journal-World. “Unless additional evidence or reports come to light there is insufficient evidence to prove a crime was committed.”

What’s more, a suspect in the investigation was never actually identified, the paper reported. All five witnesses in the rape report were members of the men’s basketball team. The incident allegedly occurred in McCarthy Hall, which is a dorm where 40 Kansas students live, including all members of the men’s basketball team.

No. 8 Kentucky maturing, more challenges ahead for freshmen

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky coach John Calipari hasn’t hidden his frustration about the learning curve of his latest group of talented freshmen.

And while the No. 8 Wildcats are starting play better, they’re bracing for more challenges ahead.

Kentucky has struggled to put away opponents such as Utah Valley, Vermont, Troy and Harvard, efforts that players and Calipari acknowledge have contributed to a perceived lack of national respect. On the other hand, their lone loss — a 65-61 setback to Kansas — showed their ability to compete with college basketball’s heavyweights.

“It was one of the big games they got to see,” sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel said. “The feeling and high intensity of the game, people watching, the fight in a big game like that, it really started to hit. Some players really started to get rolling off of that.

“We’re starting to get better as a team, individuals are getting better and we’re trending upward and trying to stay on that path.”

Kentucky (8-1) has begun running away from opponents, a promising trend it hopes to continue against upcoming Power Five conference foes.

Saturday’s home game against Virginia Tech (9-1) opens a daunting year-ending stretch for the Wildcats that includes next weekend’s matchup against UCLA in New Orleans; their annual in-state rivalry showdown against Louisville on Dec. 29; and their Southeastern Conference opener against Georgia on New Year’s Eve.

Though Calipari still hopes February will reveal Kentucky’s true strengths, he’s eager to see how the Wildcats stack up against the Atlantic Coast Conference Hokies, who lead the nation in scoring at 96.2 points per game and rank second in 3-point shooting at 47 percent.

“They have three or four guys that can absolutely make 3s,” Calipari said Friday while listing other Tech strengths. “They’re looking for layups and kicking it out for 3s and they’re getting to the line because of it.

“They’re not afraid. They go on the road in big games. Their home games are craziness. This is plugged into our schedule at a time where we need to learn about us, and we will.”

After a busy November without much practice time, Kentucky has welcomed a lighter December schedule that has allowed the Wildcats more time for workouts and to build chemistry.

The Wildcats have a long way to go, but games such as last week’s 93-76 win over Monmouth are encouraging for Kentucky fans.

Besides continuing their solid shooting — the Wildcats rank 22nd at nearly 51 percent — redshirt freshman guard Hamidou Diallo (23 points) and forward PJ Washington (20) posted career scoring highs against Monmouth. Kentucky also succeeded with a smaller lineup and has been effective playing a zone defense, which Calipari disdains but has used because of his team’s length.

“They’re as long as anybody in the country,” Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams said of Kentucky. “We’ll have to work really hard to get the same shots we’ve been getting.”

Kentucky remains short-handed with freshman forward Jarred Vanderbilt (foot) and guard Jemarl Baker (knee) sidelined by injuries. But the Wildcats appear to be developing depth.

They faced Monmouth without sophomore forward Sacha Killeya-Jones (sprained ankle) before starting guard Quade Green left in the second half after being poked in the eye. Both will be available against the Hokies and return knowing that the bench can fill the void after it combined for a season-high 27 points.

Granted, Monmouth is not a barometer for success against the likes of Tech, UCLA or Louisville. But considering Kentucky’s early struggles, any growth is welcome.

“We think highly of ourselves as a team,” Gabriel added. “I think we deserve more credit than we’re getting, so we’re going to go out there and try to earn it.”

Arizona State rising fast beyond the desert

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TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona State has taken college basketball by devilish hurricane, running and gunning its way into the national consciousness while igniting an often-blase local fan base.

Even the Sun Devils’ rivals down south have taken notice.

“Bobby Hurley, he’s en route right now to be one of the coaches talked about for national coach of the year because of what he’s done with their program,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said of the coach of his biggest rival. “He’s played a tough nonconference schedule. It shows some guts to play who they play. Their results speak really clearly. They might be underrated where they’re at right now.”

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, at least not yet.

The Sun Devils were expected to be better in Hurley’s third season in the desert. They returned three senior guards and finally got them some front-court help with the addition of Romello White and De’Quon Lake.

Kodi Justice, ASU’s 6-foot-5 guard, would no longer have to guard 7-footers. Arizona State would be better defensively and on the glass. The guards would not have to carry the entire load.

Even so, the Sun Devils were projected to be at the middle of the Pac-12, picked to finish sixth.

The big jump was supposed to be next season, when a trio of transfers will be eligible and could possibly lead the Sun Devils to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2014.

This breakneck band of Devils spun the narrative forward a year early.

Playing with a confidence bordering on cocky and with an offensive freedom afforded them by their coach, the Sun Devils have pushed their way into the national spotlight.

They made a blip by beating Xavier, No. 15 at the time but now No. 10 in the AP Top 25 . Blew the Musketeers away, actually, turning a 15-point first-half deficit into a 102-86 rout with an onslaught of fast breaks and 3-pointers.

Arizona State next moved into the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2008-09, coming in at No. 20 after the win over Xavier. The Sun Devils climbed four spots the next week.

The catapult launched last Sunday: Arizona State 95, No. 2 Kansas 85. At Allen Fieldhouse.

One of the biggest wins in program history led to another bit of history: A No. 5 ranking this week, ASU’s highest since reaching No. 3 in 1980-81. The Sun Devils even garnered the first No. 1 votes as a program. Five of ’em, actually.

Now Arizona State is 9-0 and being mentioned as a possible national-title contender. Yeah, really.

“I knew the success was going to be better, but you don’t expect necessarily when you look at a schedule to run the table up to this point, and beat the type of teams we’ve beaten,” Hurley said. “So you just appreciate it and then you kind of move on and get ready for the next battle.”

Arizona State’s success starts with its quartet of fearless guards, turning Arizona State into “Guard U.”

With carte blanche from Hurley to shoot from anywhere at almost any time, they’ve gone from carrying the load last season to ferrying the Sun Devils closer to college basketball’s upper echelon.

Tra Holder has transformed himself from steady freshman to unquestioned, sometimes nasty senior floor leader. He scored 40 points against Xavier and leads Arizona State with 21.2 points per game. He also grabs 5.6 rebounds, dishes out 5.2 assists and won consecutive Pac-12 player of the week honors, a first by a Sun Devil since James Harden in 2008.

Shannon Evans II followed Hurley from Buffalo, had to sit out a season as a transfer and was solid as a junior, averaging 15 points per game. The 6-1 guard had become go-to guy 1-A this season, second on the team with 19 points while matching Holder in assists. Big shots? He’s go those, too, including a clutch 3 to kill a Kansas rally in one of the loudest atmospheres in the game.

Justice plays with Pete Maravichian flair, has a range that seems to extend to the opposing team’s free-throw line.

Then there’s Remy Martin. The freshman guard is more spiced rum than cognac, playing with a confidence and intensity well beyond his years.

Martin treats irritation by the opposing team’s point guard as the highest honor, often nodding his bouncy hair in approval when he officially finds his way under their skin. He was the spark off the bench against Kansas, finishing with 21 points and five steals.

“They are now freed up to be who they are more,” Hurley said. “I think they would have shown that on a more regular basis last year if I had done my job a little better and sooner and gotten them some help.”

That help is here and the Sun Devils are running and gunning with it.

Follow John Marshall on Twitter @jmarshallap

Oklahoma State dismisses two players

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STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma State has dismissed junior Davon Dillard and freshman Zack Dawson from the team for failing to meet unspecified standards set by the program.

Coach Mike Boynton says he could not “make compromises in our core values when it comes to individual players.” Dillard and Dawson were suspended before the season for reasons the school has not disclosed. Dawson missed one game and Dillard missed the first five.

Oklahoma State (7-2) faces No. 19 Florida State (9-0) in Sunrise, Florida, on Saturday.