Louisville’s unsung heroes deliver in win over Wichita State

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ATLANTA — On a team that includes Peyton Siva and Russ Smith, Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan, how many people would have guessed that the two most important players for Louisville in its 72-68 win over Wichita State in the Final Four on Saturday would be Luke Hancock and Tim Henderson.

It’s fitting, really.

The Cardinals knocked off the Shockers, a team made up of misfits that have spent their career being under-recruited and looked over, on a night when their two castoffs did the heavy-lifting.

Wichita State looked like they were pulling away. After the Shockers got an offensive rebound off of a missed free throw, Cleanthony Early, who finished with 24 points, buried a three from the left wing to give Gregg Marshall’s club a 47-35 lead. Louisville was rattled. Wichita State had done a terrific job of cutting off penetration and forcing the Cardinals into jump shots, and their struggles on the offensive end of the floor extended onto the defensive end as well.

There was no energy in that Louisville press. They hadn’t forced a turnover in almost 20 minutes of game-time. The Shockers were in complete control.

And then Hancock found Henderson wide-open in the corner for a three. 42 seconds later, after Ehimen Orukpe airballed the front-end of a one-and-one, Smith drew a defender and found Henderson.

Same spot.

Wide open.

Same result.

Henderson’s six points in 42 seconds gave Louisville life. He’s a walk-on. He scored three points in all of Big East play. He’s only set foot on the court because Kevin Ware couldn’t.

“We had a defensive game-plan to just be in the gaps and force them to shoot those shots,” Early said. It worked for the first 27 minutes until Henderson broke through. “He just happened to knock them down.”

From there, it was the Luke Hancock Show. On Louisville’s next two possessions, Hancock sliced through the Wichita State defense, finishing a pair of layups at the rim. It was the first time that Louisville had really found a way to get into the teeth of the Shocker defense.

With 6:45 left in the game, Wichita State finally committed their first turnover of the second half — and first since the 13:04 mark of the first half. In the scramble for the loose ball, Hancock found himself left alone in the corner, burying a three to give the Cardinal’s their first lead since of the second half. Wichita State kept things interesting, trading buckets and never falling behind by more than one possession until Hancock drilled another three with 2:06 left in the game. With six seconds left in the game, Hancock missed a free throw that would have put the Cardinals up by four points, but instead of giving up on the rebound, he forced a jump-ball with Wichita State’s Ron Baker, giving the Cardinals the ball back.

“He didn’t get named captain for nothing before he even played a game for us,” Siva said. “He showed his leadership out there tonight.”

Hancock is a transfer from George Mason. He’s had an up-and-down season as he’s dealt with the recovery from shoulder surgery.

There is always a run coming from Louisville. It’s what their known for. It’s why they’re so successful. Once that press gets going, it snowballs. The Cardinals forced five turnovers in a seven possession stretch at one point, and that just so happened to coincide with their comeback.

But the spark that set the run off didn’t come from any of Louisville’s all-americans or future NBA Draft picks.

It came from a pair of guys that refer to themselves as the zone-busters in practice because of their ability to shoot.

“Tim hits shots all the time,” Hancock said. “It wasn’t shocking for us for him to knock down shots like that.”

He’s more than just a zone-buster now.

He’s a run-starter.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Grand Canyon lands Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson

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Grand Canyon landed an important piece for its NCAA tournament push on Saturday night as Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson pledged to the Antelopes.

The 6-foot-3 Benson will be eligible right away as spent the past three seasons with the Ducks as a key reserve guard, helping Oregon to multiple deep NCAA tournament runs. Benson picked Grand Canyon over Wisconsin for his final season of college basketball as Benson’s brother, T.J., is an assistant coach with the Antelopes.

Benson shot 40 percent from three-point range last season while also being a steady ball handler over the course of his career at Oregon as he has only 81 career turnovers in over 2,600 career minutes with the Ducks. While Benson wasn’t asked to score a lot for a loaded Oregon team that featured multiple bucket-getters, he could be asked to do more at Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon is eligible for the NCAA tournament for the first time next season as the addition of Benson gives them an experienced guard who should be more of a factor in the WAC. The Antelopes are coming off of a 22-9 season in which they finished 11-3 in conference play.

With great facilities and a quickly-growing fan base, head coach Dan Majerle has the potential makings of a perennial mid-major conference contender if he continues to recruit well to Grand Canyon.

Colorado adds commitment from Class of 2017 point guard McKinley Wright

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Colorado landed one of the best available point guards for next season on Friday as Class of 2017 floor general McKinley Wright committed during an official visit.

A former Dayton commit who opted out of his recruitment after former head coach Archie Miller took the Indiana job, Wright was one of the best available point guards left as he played last weekend on the adidas Gauntlet in front of college coaches with D1 Minnesota.

The 6-foot-0 Wright gives the Buffaloes another ball handler and distributor as he was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball during this past season. As a senior, Wright averagedΒ 22.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game.

It’s always hard to say if spring recruits who elevate a level in recruiting after decommitting are making the correct decision, but Wright looked the part of a high-major lead guard last weekend, and Colorado wasn’t the only high-major program that was pushing hard to add Wright at this late stage.

Oral Roberts to hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills

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Oral Roberts has found its new head coach as they will hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills, as first reported by NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster.

Mills had been on staff with the Bears since 2003 as he’s been a big factor in why head coach Scott Drew has been able to turn around that program. A graduate of Texas A&M, Mills has been a full-time assistant at Baylor since the 2009 season.

“I am honored to accept this role of representing this historic institution, its students and its mission,” Mills said in a release. “Making this commitment today is a highlight of my career and I look forward with excitement to the basketball season directly ahead. Go Golden Eagles.”

Mills will replace former head coach Scott Sutton, who was relieved of his duties this offseason after 18 years at the helm.

 

Iowa commit Connor McCaffery to redshirt in basketball to pursue baseball

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Iowa commit Connor McCaffery is in a unique spot when he starts his freshman year in Iowa City next year.

Not only is the 6-foot-4 guard the son of basketball head coach Fran McCaffery, while being a four-star national basketball prospect, but Connor also has a bright future in baseball.

There was a lot of speculation as to what Connor might do for his future in athletics and he gave more clarification on what he might be looking to do on Friday.

McCaffery has decided to redshirt in basketball next season to focus on the beginnings of his baseball career at Iowa. A walk-on for both sports, the move enables Connor McCaffery to potentially play three years of basketball with his younger brother, Patrick, who is also a heralded basketball recruit for Iowa. This move also gives Connor the best chance to pursue both sports while he’ll also help out a young Iowa basketball team with its tough scholarship scenario.

Butler, Chris Holtmann agree to a contract extension

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Butler has agreed to a contract extension with head coach Chris Holtmann, the school announced on Friday, that will keep him under contract through 2025.

“Butler truly is a special place, and my family and I are thankful to be part of a great academic institution and an athletics department that is a source of pride for those who embrace Butler and The Butler Way,” said Holtmann. “Our student-athletes, our staff, and so many throughout our campus are remarkable at what they do, and I’m excited to continue to work alongside them.”

Holtmann was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to a 25-9 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. In three years with the program, Holtmann has a record of 70-31.

“Chris is a tremendous ambassador for Butler and the Butler Way, and his leadership has resulted in success both on and off the court for the talented young men in our program,” said Butler Vice President/Director of Athletics Barry Collier. “This commitment – both by our university and by Chris – allows the momentum within our program to continue.”

Holtmann was in the mix for a couple of jobs this spring, including N.C. State and Missouri.