Keith Appling leads No. 2 Michigan State to a 78-74 win over No. 1 Kentucky

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CHICAGO — No. 2 Michigan State, the national title favorite chocked full of veteran all-americans, had completely outclassed their more hyped counterparts from Kentucky on Tuesday night, riding the hot hands of Adreian Payne and Gary Harris to a first half lead that grew to as much as 15-points.

But Kentucky came back. They fought and they scrapped and they rode the broad shoulders of potential No. 1 pick Julius Randle, tying the game at 66 when Randle knocked down a pair of free throws with just under five minutes left in the game. The Wildcats had all the momentum, making their run despite the inability to make a free throw, and the fans in green and white had come to expect the worst.

Keith Appling had an answer, however. The senior point guard put a bow on one of the best games of his career, drilling a three from the corner to break the tie. On the ensuing inbounds, Andrew Harrison, Kentucky’s freshman point guard, threw the ball directly to Harris, who went right to the rim and scored, giving the Spartans a five point lead they would never relinquish. Tom Izzo’s club would go on to win 78-74.

Appling finished with 22 points, eight assists, seven boards and four steals while Harris chipped in with 20 points and Payne added 15 of his own.

Branden Dawson finished with eight points and nine boards, three of which came on the offensive end. His tip-in with 5.8 seconds left in the game was the final margin, giving the Spartans a two-possession lead.

Down the stretch, it was the veteran leadership of Michigan State that shined through. The Spartans made big plays when they were needed. They hit big shots in pressure moments. And outside of a questionable turnnover by Appling in the final minute, generally played flawless basketball when the lights were shining the brightest.

Kentucky? They missed open threes. They couldn’t hit free throws, going 20-36 from the charity stripe. The Harrison twins reacted poorly on too many calls that didn’t go their way. You know what that’s a sign of? Youth. Inexperience. A bunch of freshmen playing their first game with real pressure.

The talent on the Wildcats roster is simply undeniable. Julius Randle finished with 27 points and 13 boards, numbers that would have looked even better if he hadn’t committed eight turnovers. Trust me when I say this: the hype surrounding Kentucky is real. It’s deserved.

And if anything, a loss this early in the season will help. You wanna know a good way to burnout a bunch of 19 year olds? Turn every game they play into the pursuit of a perfect season.

Kentucky will be fine.

There’s no shame in losing the way Kentucky lost.

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 averaged 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.