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Alex Oriakhi and Jabari Brown help No. 22 Missouri escape upset vs. South Carolina

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With coach Frank Haith’s name swirling in reports of alleged NCAA violations all week, Missouri escaped what would have been a bad loss at home against South Carolina Tuesday, pulling away in the final minute to win, 71-65.

Up just one, 66-65, with 0:17 remaining, Earnest Ross drove the lane and kicked it out to transfer Jabari Brown in the left corner, who nailed a three and pushed the Missouri lead to two possessions.

Missouri would seal the game with free throws. Brown finished with 17 points on 5-of-16 shooting and seven rebounds.

The Missouri offense, as it has all season, begins with point guard Phil Pressey. When Pressey is able to get into the lane and collapse the defense, it opens up a world of opportunities for Alex Oriakhi, Jabari Brown, Laurence Bowers (when he’s available), and others.

Tuesday night, Missouri was without both Bowers and guard Keion Bell.

South Carolina kept Pressey out of the lane in the first half Tuesday and even when he was able to kick out to shooters, they couldn’t connect. He had just two assists in the first 20 minutes.

The Tigers shot 1-of-14 from three-point range in the first half, missing Bowers’ occasional touch from the outside due to injury, and still thinking about the absence of suspended guard Michael Dixon.

South Carolina used a zone to disrupt Missouri’s flow and took them out of their comfort zone in the half court.

In the second half, Missouri tried to change the pace. Instead of allowing South Carolina to get settled into their zone defense, the Tigers pushed the pace. Led by Pressey, Missouri ripped off an 18-2 run over 4:58 in the middle of the second half to take the lead by five points, 48-43, with 11:52 to play.

Pressey then got into foul trouble, more or less extinguishing the spark that had ignited the Tigers.

Without much help from beyond the three-point line, big man Alex Oriakhi proved to be indispensable. He powered his way to a double-double of 18 points and 11 rebounds.

Until Bowers returns for Missouri as another legitimate scoring option on the perimeter, Oriakhi will continue to carry the weight of expectations on the interior. If the Tigers cannot get out in transition like South Carolina kept them from doing in the first half Tuesday, Haith will look to Oriakhi on the interior for production.

A loss to upstart Ole Miss was excusable. Missouri’s loss to Florida likely said more about the Gators than it did about the Tigers. But Tuesday night, Missouri dodged a bad loss at home.

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

Brandone Francis-Ramirez transferring out of Florida

Florida State center Jean Marc Christ Koumadje (21) fouls Florida guard Brandone Francis-Ramirez (2) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, in Gainesville, Fla. (Matt Stamey, The Gainesville Sun via AP)
(Matt Stamey, The Gainesville Sun via AP)
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Brandone Francis-Ramirez is transferring out of the Florida program, the school announced on Wednesday.

A former top 40 recruit, Francis-Ramirez had his two seasons in Gainesville ruined by an academic issues and a loss of confidence. He was academically ineligible in 2014-15, practicing with the team during the second semester. He was granted a redshirt for the year, but he struggled to find any kind of a rhythm this past season. There was a two-month stretch in the middle of the year where he shot 6-for-58 from the floor and 2-for-31 from three.

On the season, he shot 20.2 percent from the floor and 16.9 percent from three.

“I want it to work out for him,” Gators coach Mike White said in a release. “We really appreciate what Brandone did here and wish him the best.”

One of Villanova’s title game stars undergoes knee surgery

Phil Booth, Jack McVeigh
(AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
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The forgotten star of the national title game underwent an arthroscopic on his left knee on Wednesday.

Phil Booth, who scored a season-high 20 points in the 2016 National Title game, will be a junior next season and one of the guys called upon to help replace Ryan Arcidiacono, who graduated. He should be ready to go by the middle of the summer; according to a statement put out by the program, Booth will need 6-to-8 weeks to heal.

“Phil is as mentally tough a young man as we have had at Villanova,” head coach Jay Wright said in the release. “He continually impresses our coaching staff with his outstanding attitude. Phil will attack this recovery challenge with great determination, as he does everything in life.”

Booth averaged 7.0 points and 2.2 assists this past season.

Jennings becomes seventh player to transfer from Kentucky

Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell watches his team during the team's regional semifinal in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament against Washington in Lexington, Ky., Friday, March 25, 2016. Washington won 85-72. (AP Photo/James Crisp)
(AP Photo/James Crisp)
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell has announced that sophomore forward Alexis Jennings will transfer, the seventh Wildcat to leave the program since last fall.

Jennings’ departure comes a week after Mitchell publicly addressed the mass exodus of players and assistant coaches and stressed the need for building stability. Jennings figured to be part of that process and the coach said in a release Wednesday night that “it saddens us that Alexis did not see a path for her at Kentucky. … She felt it was in her best interest to finish her career elsewhere and we owe her that opportunity.”

The 6-foot-2 Jennings started 18 of 33 games last season and averaged 10 points and 7.1 rebounds.

DePaul adds 2018 commit

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Wisconsin guard John Diener has committed to DePaul, his grassroots program announced Wednesday night.

The 6-foot-4 Class of 2018 guard ends his recruitment rather early with offers also from instate schools Green Bay and Milwaukee. He’s known as a shooter and becomes the first commit for Dave Leitao in the 2018 class.

Diener, who plays with the Wisconsin Playground Warriors in the spring and summer, commits to the Blue Demons with them coming off a disappointing campaign, Leitao’s first in Chicago. DePaul went 9-22 overall and 3-15 in the Big East, finishing only ahead of St. John’s.

DePaul has been recruiting the Midwest hard with incoming 2016 recruits from La Lumiere School in Indiana, Sagninow, Mich. and locally in Chicago.

Four-star guard Fisher commits to TCU

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Jamie Dixon’s presence is already being felt in the Big 12 and on the recruiting trail.

TCU received its first commitment of the Dixon era when four-star 2016 point guard Jaylen Fisher announced his decision to join the Horned Frogs on Wednesday.

“Due to how comfortable my family and I are with the coaching staff,” Fisher posted from his Twitter account, “and the emphasis the university has put on making basketball a priority, I’m committing to be a student-athlete at TCU.”

Getting a consensus top-75 prospect, who was once committed to UNLV, is a heck of a coup for being just a couple months on the job. It instantly shows the Frogs are going to be a player for some of the country’s top players, which is a necessity if you have designs on making a move up the ladder of arguably the country’s best league in the Big 12.

Maybe the most gratifying thing for TCU, though, is the reason Fisher publicly stated for making his decision, the school’s “making basketball a priority.” The hoops program has suffered immensely in the Big 12 (while the football program has flourished), winning a total of eight games in their four seasons (including a winless 2014), but the school sank $72 million into renovating its arena, made an aggressive move in firing Trent Johnson and then went out and got its dream candidate, Dixon, an alum. Fisher’s commitment is the first time those moves have shown that commitment to basketball paying off.