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Jonah Travis steals the show as Harvard returns Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry

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BOSTON — The expectations have never been higher for the Harvard men’s basketball team. The Crimson made their second consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament last March, making it to the Round of 32 after upsetting No. 3 New Mexico. Tommy Amaker’s team returns virtually every key player while adding highly-touted recruit Zena Edosomwan and having Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry rejoin the program.

The Crimson got a good fight from the Crusaders, but in the end Curry, Siyani Chambers, and reserve forward Jonah Travis made the plays down the stretch to come away with an 82-72 win in the finale of the Coaches vs. Cancer tripleheader at the TD Garden. Travis’ 20-point, 10-rebound performance in 22 minutes overshadowed the return of Casey and Curry, but also showed how scary this Harvard team can be.

“I think naturally a lot of the players on our team are unselfish,” Harvard forward Wesley Saunders said. “That is kind of something we don’t have to worry about. We do it naturally. So anybody, on any given night as the opportunity to have a great game just as Jonah showed. He came in and dominated the game.”

Casey had the first bucket on the night with a two-handed slam, though those would be two of his four points on the evening, being saddled with foul trouble that ended when he got hit with his fifth with more than six minutes to go in the contest. Travis, who played 16.5 minutes per game last season, doubled his scoring average from a year ago in the first half when he had 12 points and grabbed four rebounds coming off the bench.

“I know what coaches expects of me,” Travis said. “And that’s when I’m on the court to come in with energy and come in there with a bang and provide what we need when I’m in there. I know what I need to do.

“My job is to provide energy for the team and if that helps them get over the hump or the slow start we had then that’s what I need to do. They needed me to grab rebounds, set screens and score when I was open, and that’s what I did.”

One of the questions for the Crimson was how the would incorporate Casey and Curry — two captains from the 2011-2012 team that made the program’s first tournament — back in to the lineup with some much talent. Casey was plagued with foul trouble, but Curry and returning point guard Siyani Chambers looked good playing alongside each other in the Crimson back court.

“It’s great to have those two,” Saunders said. “They compliment each other really well. Just to have more ball handlers on the court, who can relieve pressure and make plays for everybody on the court is a luxury to have and I think they really are the driving force of our team. They are the two-headed monster that makes our team go.”

Chambers entered the break with zero points and two assists, but after Holy Cross took a one-point lead with under six minutes to play, Chambers responded with a one-man 7-0 run, capped off by a corner three he drained off an assist by Curry.

“We had kind of thinking that for a while to have both of those kids on the floor for us as much as possible together,” Amaker said. “I think our team functions better when they are out there. They can penetrate and drive a little bit more and they are our two best playmakers in addition to Wesley. The more ball handlers and playmakers you can have on the floor, in our system, the better.”

The bad news for Harvard came after the game when Amaker announced that Kenyatta Smith is out indefinitely with a leg injury. The 6-foot-8 junior hurts the Crimson, but Travis’ career night showed something that could be a season-long theme for the Ivy League favorite.

“In any given day, in any given night it could be anyone who provides the necessary play or plays that can propel us to having a positive performance,” Amaker said.

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.

 

Report: Izundu’s San Diego State transfer ban rescinded

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Washington State transfer Valentine Izundu will be visiting San Diego State after all.

Coach Ernie Kent has rescinded his restriction on the 6-foot-10 graduate transfer from visiting the Aztecs, according to a report from the Spokesman-Review, citing an anonymous source. Izundu will also be reportedly visiting Fresno State and UNLV.

Izundu had previously been barred from considering the Aztecs by Kent because of suspcisions of tampering. Izundu vigorously denied that was the case as at the center of the dispute was a trip he made to San Diego for spring break. He publicly said he did not have any contact with the SDSU coaching staff , though he attended an Aztecs NIT game.

Kent, though, appears to have relented, as many coaches who have similarly faces public pressure in such situations before him have. In this era where so much attention is being paid to player rights and welfare, there only seems to be growing public sentiment against programs restricting transfers beyond the absolute bare minimum is rarely going to go over well. It may make things more difficult for coaches and programs, but it’s the deck is largely already stacked in their favor in most every other instance.

Ex-Michigan State player Keith Appling faces weapons charges

Keith Appling
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DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) Authorities say former Michigan State basketball player Keith Appling faces charges including carrying a concealed weapon after he was found in possession of guns and marijuana in suburban Detroit.

The Wayne County prosecutor’s office says 24-year-old Appling was arrested outside a Dearborn club on Sunday night. Club security called police after seeing a man pull a gun from the trunk of a car.

Prosecutors say Appling was in the driver’s seat of the car when police arrived. Officers found a handgun under the driver’s seat, a loaded weapon in the trunk and a small amount of suspected marijuana.

Weapons and marijuana possession charges were announced Wednesday.

The court says he doesn’t have a lawyer on record.

Appling played for the Spartans from 2010-2014 and plays for the NBA’s development league.

UNLV transfer to finish career at Michigan State

UNLV forward Ben Carter, right, celebrates after his team defeated Oregon in an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Dec. 4, 2015, in Las Vegas. UNLV won 80-69. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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Former UNLV center Ben Carter announced on Wednesday that he will be transferring to Michigan State to finish his collegiate career.

Carter, who began his career at Oregon, averaged 8.6 points and 6.0 boards in his one season with UNLV before tearing his ACL in late January. He spent two seasons with the Ducks before transferring to Vegas, which is why he’s eligible immediately for the Spartans.

And that’s the biggest reason that Tom Izzo and company targeted him.

The Spartans lost Deyonta Davis to the NBA Draft after one season, a fact that became an inevitability midway through the year but one that the Spartans didn’t necessarily plan for heading into last season. Carter isn’t going to be an instant impact kind of player, particularly not when he’s coming off of an ACL injury, but he is a big body and a veteran presence on a front line that wasn’t going have much of either.