No. 18 UConn knocks off Boston College, Eagles losing margin for error for at-large

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From Nov. 20th thru Dec. 1st, I’ll be on the road, hitting 21 games in 11 days. To follow along and read my stories from the road, click here.

NEW YORK — Deandre Daniels finished with 23 points and Shabazz Napier added 19, 11 of which came in the second half, as No 18 UConn survived upset-minded Boston College 72-70 in the opening round of the 2K Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.

Daniels scored 15 of his 23 points in the first half to help the Huskies build a lead that reached 11 on a number of occasions, but BC’s stars Olivier Hanlan and Ryan Anderson brought the Eagles back down the stretch. Napier missed a free throw with less than a minute left that gave the Eagles life, but Hanlan missed at the rim on the ensuing possession and Boatright was fouled during the scrum for the rebound. His two free throws put the Huskies up four.

The knock on BC coming into this game was their ability to defend on the perimeter. They had been torched by the likes of UMass, Toledo and Providence, all of whom have quality guards. That also happens to be UConn’s strength with the likes of Napier, Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun. But BC actually held their own. Napier had 20, but it was a quiet 20; he made some big shots down the stretch, but he certainly didn’t dominate the game and he struggled getting to the rim at times. Boatright had just nine points on the night, and combined the duo shot 8-for-26 from the floor.

“They were doubling on the pick and rolls,” Napier said, “and when we penetrated the paint they played great help defense, we weren’t knocking down our shots. ”

The issue for Steve Donahue’s club on this night was on the offensive end of the floor. No one on the UConn can guard Anderson, yet the Eagles couldn’t — or wouldn’t — get him enough touches on the block in the second half. There were multiple possessions where he had Phil Nolan or Amida Brimah sealed and the BC guards simply didn’t give him the ball. He still finished with 22 points, on just eight shots, while going to the line 11 times. That would have been less of an issue if Hanlan went off for 38 points again, but he didn’t. He struggled for most of the first 35 minutes of the game.

“It was not only me and Ryan, the whole team, we had all five guys looking at him,” Napier said of Hanlan.

Hanlan’s a talent, however, and he was at his best in the final minutes. But at this point, BC is really just a two-man show. Anderson and Hanlan combined for 39 of their 68 points, and when going up against a team that is as talented as the Huskies are, that’s not going to cut it, even when they have an off-night.

UConn moves to 5-0 on the season, while BC drops to 1-4.

I can safely say they are the best 1-4 team in the country, and while I still think this group is good enough to win a game or two in the tournament, the hole that they have dug themselves may be too much to work their way out of. The only two relevant games left on their non-conference are VCU on the road and Harvard. Then it’s the ACC schedule, which certainly won’t be easy.

BC will have plenty of chances to build a resume that is strong enough to earn an at-large bid, but November’s not yet over and they are already to a point where their margin of error is very slim.

“All these failures are going to make us tougher, stronger,” said Donahue. “We have to stay the course. I think we’re going to be a good basketball team.”

If the Eagles want to avoid being forced into having to win the ACC’s automatic bid, they’re going to have to turn their season around in a hurry.

N.C. State adds grad transfer Sam Hunt

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N.C. State added its fourth transfer this offseason. Like ex-Baylor guard Al Freeman, the latest one is eligible to play next season.

Sam Hunt, a double-digit scorer the past two seasons at North Carolina A&T, officially enrolled at North Carolina State on Monday morning.

“Sam is a great young man and will bring much needed depth to our backcourt,” N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts said in a statement. “I want guys who are excited about being a part of our program and Sam really wants to be here.

“Sam is a combo guard that can space the floor with his ability to shoot the basketball. He is a good fit for the system and will bring a wealth of experience to our roster.”

Hunt, the 6-foot-2 guard, averaged 12.7 points per game last season, a dip from the 15.4 points per game he posted for the Aggies as a redshirt sophomore.

Hunt joins a roster that lost its three leading scorers from a season ago, one that ended 15-17 (4-14 ACC). Dennis Smith Jr. is a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Maverick Rowan also pursued a professional career and Terry Henderson was denied an additional year from the NCAA.

The Wolf Pack bring back forwards Abdul-Malik Abu and Omer Yurtseven as well as Torin Dorn.

Keatts, who took over the program after leading UNC Wilmington to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, has already built for the future. UNC Wilmington transfer C.J. Bryce, 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game for the Seahawks, has followed him to Raleigh. Utah transfer Devon Daniels committed to the Wolf Pack the same day as Bryce. Both will have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules. Bryce will have two years of eligibility while Daniels will have three.

LaVar Ball stars in an uncomfortably entertaining segment on WWE’s Raw

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LaVar Ball’s statements and antics over this past year always seemed better suited a professional wrestling ring.

It was only natural that the patriarch of the Ball family — and the head of the Big Baller Brand — made an appearance on WWE’s Monday Night Raw at the Staples Center for an awkwardly entertaining segment with WWE Intercontinental Champion The Miz.

With sons, Lonzo — in his first appearance in the Staples Center as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers — and LaMelo looking on, LaVar was the center of attention. When The Miz mentioned something about a partnership between the two, the scripted interview went south. It resulted in LaVar saying nonsensical things like, “There’s only two dudes better than me, and I’m both of ’em!” before later taking off his shirt. When Dean Ambrose, a WWE superstar feuding with The Miz came out on to the ramp, LaVar didn’t quite grasp the concept that that was his cue to stop talking.

This segment was somehow entertaining and cringeworthy at the same time.

Now that Lonzo is beginning his NBA career, maybe it’s time LaVar try something different. A manager in the WWE may just be his true calling. He’s certainly had plenty of practice.

Maryland lands commitment from five-star 2018 forward

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Maryland added to its 2018 recruiting class with its second commit, the newest addition being a five-star in-state product.

Jalen Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward from Baltimore powerhouse Mount St. Joseph, committed to the Terrapins, making the announcement on Twitter.

“I believe that I can academically and athletically achieve my goals at home through my commitment to the University of Maryland … Go Terps,” he tweeted as part of a long passage.

Smith is listed as the No. 13 overall recruit in the Class of 2013 by Rivals. He joins four-star swingman Aaron Wiggins in Mark Turgeon’s current recruiting class.

Playing for Team Takeover on the Nike EYBL circuit, Smith is averaging 10.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game.

Recent grad’s joyride reportedly did $100,000 of damages to Mizzou Arena

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A recent graduate and temporary employee of the University of Missouri took an early morning joy ride that reportedly could rack up around $100,000 to Mizzou Arena.

According to Dave Mater of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nathaniel J. Contant, 23, who graduated from the school in December 2016, drove his Volkswagen Passat through a gate and eventually on to the floor of the 15,000-seat on-campus arena.

At 7:15 a.m. Sunday, MU police were dispatched to Mizzou Arena for a report of property damage. Officers determined that around 4 a.m., the suspect drove his vehicle through a closed gate on the south side of the arena. He ran through a garage door and drove into a dock area where he damaged several golf carts that were stored in the area. He also drove his car onto the basketball court. The man couldn’t leave through the area he used to enter the building, so he drove through the arena’s press gate.

Contant, unsurprisingly, is no longer an employee of the university. He’s being charged with second-degree burglary and first-degree property damage, both of which are felonies. He was released on a $4,500 bond.

The motive for this early-morning joyride remains unclear.

Despite the hype surrounding the upcoming Mizzou season — one that includes the debut of new head coach Cuonzo Martin and the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft Michael Porter, Jr. — Twitter users couldn’t help but poke fun at the dismal recent history the Tigers have had.

(h/t Kansas City Star)

Vance Jackson transfers to New Mexico

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With more than a handful of departures this offseason, New Mexico is set to have a new-look roster for the 2017-18 season. On Monday, Paul Weir, now at the helm of the program, landed a player who should make an impact in the three remaining seasons of eligibility he has left.

Vance Jackson, who spent this past season at UConn, decided to make the move from Storrs to Albuquerque, picking the Lobos over Rutgers, San Diego State, TCU, and Washington.

The 6-foot-8 rising sophomore will have to sit out next year due to NCAA transfer rules before resuming his collegiate career in the fall of 2018.

“The coaches — they trust in me,” Jackson told Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal last month during his official campus visit. “We’re on the same page. They see a vision.”

Weir, who led New Mexico State this past season to a NCAA Tournament appearance in his one and only season as head coach, succeeded Craig Neal in April.

This offseason has been headlined by transfers, though, those mostly were about players leaving the program. Jackson is the second transfer to land at UNM with Akron’s Antino Jackson electing to use his final season of eligibility with the Lobos. Antino Jackson is a graduate transfer, allowing him to play immediately next season.

Vance Jackson, who was rated as the No. 80 overall player in the Class of 2016 by Rivals, averaged 8.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game while shooting just under 40 percent from three for the Huskies as a freshman.