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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.

Villanova’s Jenkins to return for senior season

Villanova forward Kris Jenkins (2) reacts to play against North Carolina during the second half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game Monday, April 4, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
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After briefly taking part in the NBA Draft evaluation process, Villanova forward Kris Jenkins announced Monday night that he’s decided to withdraw and return to school for his senior year. Jenkins, whose three-pointer as time expired gave the Wildcats the win over North Carolina in the national title game, announced the news via Twitter.

2015-16 was a breakout season for Jenkins, who moved into the starting lineup and averaged 13.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. The 6-foot-6 forward shot 45.9 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from beyond the arc, and with starters Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu graduating he’ll have even more opportunities to produce next season.

Jenkins’ decision to return leaves wing Josh Hart as the lone Wildcats going through the early entry process at this time. Hart was a first team All-Big East selection as a junior, and his return would be the final piece to the puzzle for a team that many expect to be a national title contender in 2016-17.

Jenkins and Hart wouldn’t be the only returnees who had a part in the national title run, with guards Jalen Brunson and Phil Booth, wing Mikal Bridges and forward Darryl Reynolds back as well. To that group Villanova adds Fordham transfer Eric Paschall and a recruiting class anchored by Omari Spellman and Dylan Painter with Donte DiVincenzo and Tim Delaney available after being hampered by injuries last season.

Delaney missed all of last year after undergoing surgical procedures on his hips, and DiVincenzo played a total of 74 minutes over the first nine games before having to sit due to a broken foot.

Florida State guard Rathan-Mayes to return for junior season

Florida State guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes (22) drives past Notre Dame guard Rex Pflueger, left, for a score in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Tallahassee, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)
AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser
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With their top three scorers from last season all deciding to declare for the NBA Draft, Florida State was facing the possibility of having to rebuild their backcourt ahead of the 2016-17 season. However two of those three have decided to return to Tallahassee, with rising junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes announcing on Monday that he will be back in school.

Rathan-Mayes joins rising sophomore Dwayne Bacon in returning to play another season for head coach Leonard Hamilton, with Malik Beasley hiring representation and remaining in the draft.

Rathan-Mayes had more scoring help last season and as a result was able to concentrate more on the distribution aspects of the point guard position, as he averaged 11.8 points and 4.4 assists per contest. With the return of Rathan-Mayes and Bacon, Florida State will have two of its top three scorers from last season back on campus.

The Seminoles did lose some veteran players, most notably guard Devon Bookert and center Boris Bojanovsky, but the returnees and a recruiting class led by McDonald’s All-American forward Jonathan Isaac means that they won’t lack for options next season.

Auburn lands third transfer within the last week

Auburn guard T.J. Dunans (4) and coach Bruce Pearl celebrate a 75-74 win over UAB in an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, at Auburn Arena in Auburn, Ala.  (Julie Bennett/AL.com via AP)
Julie Bennett/AL.com via AP
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After receiving commitments from former Purdue/Houston guard Ronnie Johnson and former Presbyterian forward DeSean Murray, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl continued to load up on the transfer market Monday. Forward LaRon Smith, who was named MEAC Defensive Player of the Year at Bethune-Cookman last season, announced that he will use his final season of eligibility at the SEC program.

Like Smith, Johnson will also be eligible to compete immediately for the Tigers while Murray will have to sit out next season before having two years of eligibility remaining.

The 6-foot-8 Smith played two seasons at Georgia State before transferring to Bethune-Cookman, where he averaged 7.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per contest in 2015-16. Smith played just over 25 minutes per game for the Wildcats, shooting 58.5 percent from the field.

Smith reached double figures in scoring in four of the Wildcats’ final seven games, including a 20-point, 11-rebound, three-block outing in an overtime win over North Carolina A&T. He joins a front court in need of depth following the departures of the likes of Cinmeon Bowers and Tyler Harris, with Horace Spencer, Trayvon Reed and incoming freshman Anfernee McLemore also competing for minutes in 2016-17.

SMU lands former Arkansas guard Jimmy Whitt

Arkansas guard Jimmy Whitt (24) leaps for a layup past Tennessee guard Shembari Phillips (25) during an NCAA college basketball game in Knoxville, Tenn., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. Arkansas won 75-65. (Adam Lau/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)
Adam Lau/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP
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With a five-member recruiting class set to arrive on campus this summer, SMU added a talented transfer Monday afternoon. Jimmy Whitt, who played his freshman season at Arkansas, committed to join Larry Brown’s program. Whitt, a 6-foot-4 guard from Columbia, Missouri, will have three seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2016-17 campaign.

As a freshman at Arkansas, Whitt averaged 6.1 points and 1.7 rebounds in just over 17 minutes of action per game. He reached double figures in scoring nine time, with the high being a 15-point outing in a blowout win over Missouri in mid-January. Whitt produced a stretch of four consecutive games in double figures during non-conference play, but he struggled to maintain that consistency against SEC competition.

At SMU he’ll join a perimeter rotation that will lose rising senior Sterling Brown following the 2016-17 season. Among those who will have eligibility remaining when Whitt becomes eligible are Ben Emelogu, Shake Milton, Jarrey Foster and incoming freshmen Tom Wilson and Dashawn McDowell.

 

Boise State assistant named head coach at Northern Colorado

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Courtesy UNCBears.com
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GREELEY, Colo. (AP) Jeff Linder is the new basketball coach at Northern Colorado. He spent the last six seasons at Boise State, where he was associate head coach for the Broncos since 2013-14.

Linder replaces B.J. Hill, who was fired last month amid an NCAA investigation into allegations of violations in the program.

University President Kay Norton and Athletic Director Darren Dunn announced Linder’s hiring Sunday.

Linder played high school ball in Lafayette, Colorado, and college ball at Mesa State and Western Colorado State. He began his coaching career under Colorado head coach Ricardo Patton.

In a statement, Linder said, “I look forward to returning home to the state of Colorado and continuing to build this program into something everyone can be proud of.”

Hill was 86-98 in six seasons at UNC.