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No. 21 Memphis shows improved mental toughness in win over No. 5 Oklahoma State

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Less than two weeks ago America had its most recent opportunity to watch Josh Pastner’s Memphis Tigers in a “big” game, as they visited Stillwater to take on Oklahoma State. With the amount of talent on the roster, the Tigers were expected to put up a fight at Gallagher-Iba Arena. Instead Marcus Smart went off in the first half and Memphis didn’t respond when punched in the mouth, resulting in a 101-80 defeat that wasn’t as close as the final margin would indicate.

That was the backdrop for Sunday’s rematch in the title game of the Old Spice Classic, with many wondering if Memphis had what it took to win a high-profile contest such as this one. Could the Tigers respond with the mental toughness needed to win a game of this magnitude? Sure enough Memphis did, coming back from a ten-point halftime deficit to beat the Cowboys 73-68 to take home the Old Spice Classic crown.

Shaq Goodwin, named MVP of the event, led the way with 17 points and eight rebounds and his steal of a Marcus Smart pass in the game’s final seconds proved to be the difference. And the guards who didn’t show up in the first meeting did so in the rematch, with Chris Crawford (16 points) and Michael Dixon Jr. (12 points) both hitting key shots down the stretch and Joe Jackson and Geron Johnson also contributing. The most important feat for the Memphis perimeter: their work in defending Marcus Smart.

Smart scored 39 points in the first meeting, doing just about whatever he wanted on that night. In the rematch Smart shot 4-for-13 from the field, finishing with 12 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three turnovers. Memphis made Smart work for everything, especially in the second half, and if the national Player of the Year candidate got past the guards there was a big man (or two) waiting for him in the paint.

As a team the Cowboys shot 8-for-21 from the field in the second half and turned the ball over nine times (by comparison, Memphis committed just two in the half), and while their poor execution can be noted Memphis’ defensive effort should be mentioned as well. Memphis landed the first blow in the second half, immediately going on a 7-0 run to cut the deficit to just three points. Would that have happened in Stillwater just 12 days prior? Probably not.

The headlines will focus on Josh Pastner’s team getting a Top 25 victory, and given how the Tigers have struggled in such games since Pastner was hired that’s certainly fair. But there’s also value in the improved mental toughness displayed by Memphis, and that’s something that can benefit the Tigers as the season rolls on.

Washington lands commitment from Mamoudou Diarra

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For the second time this summer, Washington has landed a commitment from a forward in the Class of 2017.

On Friday, it was Mamoudou Diarra that pledged his future to Lorenzo Romar. Diarra is a 6-foot-8 combo-forward that is currently unranked by Rivals but was targeted by a number high major program.

Washington landed a commitment from Michael Porter Jr. earlier this summer, and given Porter’s standing as the potential No. 1 player in the class, the Huskies will be in the mix for the best crop of freshmen in the country in 2017-18. Romar has also landed commitments from four-star guard Jaylen Nowell and three-star guard Blake Harris.

RELATED: How the Michael Porter Package Deal came to fruition

Diarra played his high school basketball in St. Louis.

Xavier lands second top 100 commitment in 2017

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Xavier landed a key commitment on Friday morning in Naji Marshall, one of the Musketeers’ top targets in the Class of 2017.

Marshall is a la 6-foot-5 wing from Washington D.C. that is currently ranked 62nd in the 2017 class by Rivals. He’s a scorer that has shown off a versatile offensive game, averaging better than three assists on the Under Armour Association circuit.

This is the third commitment from head coach Chris Mack in the class and the second top 100 player to pledge to the Musketeers. Marshall picked Xavier over Pittsburgh, South Carolina, Rhode Island and Virginia Tech, among other.

Four-star 2018 guard Coby White commits to North Carolina

North Carolina coach Roy Williams, center, reacts with his team behind him after a play during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament against Pittsburgh, Thursday, March 10, 2016, in Washington. North Carolina won 88-71. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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With guards Jalek Felton and Andrew Platek having committed in their 2017 recruiting class, North Carolina received a commitment from one of the better guards in the Class of 2018 Thursday night. Four-star guard Coby White, who’s ranked 61st in his class by Rivals.com, made his pledge to Roy Williams’ program. News of White’s commitment was first reported by Scout.com.

The 6-foot-4 White is a native of Wilson, North Carolina, where he attends Greenfield HS, and he played his grassroots basketball for the CP3 16U basketball program this summer. His commitment to UNC comes just a couple days after the ACC school offered him a scholarship.

White took an unofficial visit to UNC in June, and his play in July ultimately led to the program making the aforementioned scholarship offer. By the time White enrolls in Chapel Hill, current veterans such as Joel Berry II and Nate Britt will be out of eligibility. Among the perimeter would could potentially be on campus in 2018 are freshmen Seventh Woods and Brandon Robinson, and sophomore Kenny Williams.

White is the second commit in the 2018 class for the Tar Heels, with 6-foot-7 guard Rechon Black being the first.

Point guard Small to transfer from Oregon

SPOKANE, WA - MARCH 18:  Kendall Small #21 of the Oregon Ducks shoots over Derek Mountain #40 of the Holy Cross Crusaders in the second half during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on March 18, 2016 in Spokane, Washington.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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After navigating a lack of depth at the point to win the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles and earn the program’s first-ever one seed in the NCAA tournament, Oregon will have no such issues in 2016-17. Dylan Ennis, who missed most of last season with a foot injury, is back for another season as is returning starter Casey Benson. Add in freshman Payton Pritchard, whose shooting ability can help a team that struggled from three a season ago, and Dana Altman has multiple players to call upon at that spot.

That left Kendall Small, who played just under eight minutes per game as a freshman, in a spot where it would have been tough to earn more playing time as a sophomore. As a result he’s decided to transfer, with the news first being reported by Scout.com.

In addition to the three guards mentioned above, sophomore Tyler Dorsey also has the ability to make plays with the ball in his hands. Small will have three seasons of eligibility remaining at whichever school he chooses to transfer to, and he’ll have to sit out the 2016-17 season per NCAA transfer rules.

A 6-foot guard from Anaheim, Small’s best outing came in Oregon’s 77-59 win over Savannah State on November 23. In that game Small accounted for nine points, four assists and three rebounds in 23 minutes of action. But he played double-digit minutes in just four games after the Ducks began Pac-12 play in early January, the last of which being Oregon’s win over Holy Cross in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

LIU Brooklyn loses second-leading scorer Hermannsson to pro ranks

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 27: Bryan Sekunda #22 of the Stony Brook Seawolves attempts a pass around Martin Hermannsson #24 of the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds in the first half at Madison Square Garden on November 27, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
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After finishing tied for sixth place in the Northeast Conference last season, LIU Brooklyn will look to make the climb up the conference standings under head coach Jack Perri in 2016-17. However that climb got a bit tougher Thursday, as it was announced that guard Martin Hermannsson has decided to forego his final two years of eligibility and turn pro.

Hermannsson, a native of Iceland, has signed with French Pro B division team Etoile de Charleville-Mézières Ardennes.

Hermannsson was one of two first team All-NEC honorees for the Blackbirds last season, with redshirt junior forward Jerome Frink being the other. Hermannsson, a 6-foot-3 guard, finished the season with averages of 16.2 points and 4.7 assists per game, shooting 45.8 percent from the field and 36.0 percent from three. Originally on track to return the highest scoring tandem in the NEC, LIU Brooklyn has to account for the loss of their starting point guard and second-leading scorer without much time to do so before classes begin.

With Hermannsson moving on, the Blackbirds will call upon veterans such as seniors Joel Hernandez and Iverson Fleming to carry the load on the perimeter. LIU Brooklyn will also have to account for the loss of guard Aakim Saintil, who averaged 12.6 points and 4.7 assists in his lone season of eligibility. LIU Brooklyn will add two freshmen to its backcourt in Julian Batts and Ashtyn Bradley, and they’ll have an even greater opportunity to earn minutes than anticipated.

h/t Blackbirds Hoops Journal