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Rasheed Sulaimon climbs out of the doghouse in No. 8 Duke’s 80-63 win

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NEW YORK — There was nothing memorable about the shot.

It was one of six threes that No. 8 Duke made and one of 18 that they hoisted up in the first half of their 80-63 win over UCLA on Thursday night in Madison Square Garden. It was the kind of play that gets taught to basketball players the minute they’re able to reach the rim from the three-point line, the kind of drive-and-kick action that we’ve seen out of a Mike Krzyzewski-coached team thousands of times over the years.

As Quinn Cook penetrated to the middle of UCLA’s zone, drawing the attention Zach LaVine and Bryce Alford, he got Rasheed Sulaimon all kinds of space on the left wing. As Cook let the pass go, he knew what this shot meant for Sulaimon, what it could potentially mean for the Blue Devils.

Before the ball even reach Sulaimon’s hands, Cook knew it was buckets.

“You’re back,” he said. “You’re back.”

“Before I even let it go,” a beaming Sulaimon said in the locker room after the game. “That kinda helped me a little bit. When I made it, I just looked at him. It was a big weight lifted off my shoulders.”

“I was kind of nervous when I took it.”

There’s no surprise there.

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The doghouse.

A slump.

A bad spell.

For weeks, something had been going on with No. 8 Duke’s sophomore shooting guard Rasheed Sulaimon. You can call it whatever you want, but the bottom line is that it’s been more than a month since Rasheed Sulaimon was a relevant factor in Duke’s lineup. He scored 33 points in the Blue Devils’ first two games of the year, but in the eight games between then entering Thursday night’s date with UCLA, Sulaimon had averaged 3.0 points. He made just two of his last 16 shots from the floor. He was shooting 20% since the Champions Classic. Against Michigan, he never set foot on the court. Against Gardner-Webb, he played five scoreless minutes.

Like I said, a non-factor. And if it wasn’t for Rodney Hood being a step late to try and take a change on Jordan Adams with 9:32 left in the half, picking up his second foul, there’s no guarantee that would have changed against UCLA. Duke had already gone through their off-guard rotation. Andre Dawkins came in for Tyler Thornton at the 15:00 mark. Matt Jones got on the floor a couple of minutes later, and both were on the bench when Thornton checked back into the game with 9:57 on the clock.

Hood picked up his second foul 25 seconds later, and 47 seconds after that, Cook found Sulaimon for that three.

The box score won’t blow you away. Sulaimon finished with eight points, five boards and four assists. He played 18 minutes and shot 3-for-7 from the floor. He turned the ball over twice. In any other circumstance, this would have been a disappointing performance for a kid that was considered a potential lottery pick entering the season.

It wasn’t even a great performance from Sulaimon given the circumstances, but there was a noticeable change in Sulaimon’s play. He was more aggressive. He looked more confident. He missed four of his next five shots after knocking down that first jumper, but he didn’t stop attacking. He didn’t stop shooting when he was open. Eventually, it paid off. Sulaimon hit a three with just over two minutes left to give the Blue Devils a 74-63 lead. He fought off two Bruins to track down a loose ball at the other end of the floor on the ensuing possession, following that up with a beautiful drive-and-dish, getting a layup for Amile Jefferson that put the win on ice.

“It’s the best he’s played this year,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game, and that’s terrific news for the Blue Devils. They don’t need Sulaimon to contend for an ACC title. Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood and Quinn Cook is enough to get them into the conversation. With Tyler Thornton, Andre Dawkins and Matt Jones all on the roster, Coach K has enough pieces at that off-guard spot to make things work. If he needs shooting, he’s got Dawkins. If he needs a defender, he’s got Thornton. If he needs a guy that can do a little bit of both, he’s got Jones.

The difference with Sulaimon is that he can shoot and he can defend, but he’s by far the most talented off-guard that Duke has. He’s the best penetrator on the roster, according to Cook. He brings a different dynamic to the Blue Devil attack. He just needed to be willing to buy into the role that he was given. No one is building an offense around Sulaimon when Parker and Hood are on the roster as well.

Sulaimon needed to see rock bottom, and taking a DNP-CD on national television in Duke’s biggest win of the season to date — the Michigan game — is a good way to do that.

“He has been practicing well the last two weeks and it paid off,” Coach K said. “I was so happy he hit that big shot to put us up 74-63.”

He wasn’t alone.

At the next timeout, following Sulaimon’s game-clinching sequence, he was mobbed by his teammates at half court. In the locker room after the game, he got a bear hug from assistant coach Jeff Capel. After exiting that embrace, Sulaimon walked straight into the waiting arms of Jon Scheyer, who hugged him and slapped him on the back as he yelled “Yessir!”

“I just want to thank those guys for helping me through the tough times,” Sulaimon said.

So much for the doghouse.

“He’s out,” Rodney Hood said. “He’s officially out.”

Kansas forward arrested on suspicion of battery

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Kansas forward Carlton Bragg Jr. was charged today with one count of battery.

According to a press release sent out by the Douglas County district attorney’s office, police received a call around 1 a.m. from a woman who said that “her boyfriend had struck her and pushed her down stairs during an argument.”

The DA also included a note in the statement that, essentially, said the only reason Bragg wasn’t charged with domestic violence – he was initially arrested on suspicion of domestic battery – was due to a technicality. Since the couple is only dating and not married, under Kansas law, the assault does not constitute domestic violence.

Battery is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in prison.

Bragg, who was still in custody until an appearance in court on Friday afternoon, was held on bond of $500. Bragg plead not guilty.

“We are still trying to gather information,” head coach Bill Self told The Star. “But it is a charge which we take very seriously.”

Bragg is a 6-foot-8 sophomore that lost his spot in the starting lineup earlier this year. He is averaging 7.8 points and 5.3 boards in 16 minutes. No. 3 Kansas hosts Nebraska on Saturday.

St. John’s to lose center to transfer

PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 13: Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats has his shot blocked by Yankuba Sima #35 of the St. John's Red Storm at the Wells Fargo Center on February 13, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Villanova won 73-63. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
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Yankuba Sima will transfer out of the St. John’s program, the school announced on Friday.

“I want to thank the coaching staff and the administration for all of their support since I arrived at St. John’s,” said Sima. “I enjoyed my experience at St. John’s, but right now I feel it is best for me to explore options that will be a better fit for me as I work toward my goals.”

“We wish Yankuba the best of luck,” said head coach Chris Mullin. “I know this wasn’t an easy decision for him, but we respect and understand it. He’s a good basketball player and a good person with a bright future ahead.”

Sima started 26 of the 34 games he played with the Johnnies, including eight starts this season. He was averaging 6.0 points and 3.5 boards this year.

Frank Martin comments on Sindarius Thornwell suspension

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 26:  Sindarius Thornwell #0 of the South Carolina Gamecocks drives to the basket defended by Tyler Lydon #20 of the Syracuse Orange in the second half during the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational at Barclays Center on November 26, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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South Carolina head coach Frank Martin commented on Sindarius Thornwell’s suspension during his call-in show on Thursday.

Thornwell, who was the leading scorer for the 8-0 No. 19 Gamecocks, was suspended indefinitely last Sunday. Martin has yet to provide a reason for the suspension.

“He’s been with us at practice, he’ll travel with us, he’s excited about our team, his role on the team,” he said, according to South Carolina’s 247 site. “Sindarius is one of my favorite guys I’ve ever come across. He messed up and it is what it is. He’s like a son to me. He messed up and he’s owned up to his mess up.”

“Outside of that, I’m not going to get into anything else. He has my full support. Our job is to prepare our team to play, we don’t prepare individual players to play. It’s no different to someone rolling an ankle. We’re down because of a bad decision. We’ll be fine.”

Thornwell is averaging 18.7 points, 6.0 boards and 4.1 assists. The Gamecocks play Seton Hall in New York City on Monday night.

UCF star point guard out indefinitely with thumb injury

STORRS, CT - JANUARY 22: B.J. Taylor #1 of the Central Florida Knights carries the ball up the court in front of Ryan Boatright #11 of the Connecticut Huskies in the first half during the game at Harry A. Gampel Pavilion on January 22, 2015 in Storrs, Connecticut.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Sophomore guard B.J. Taylor is out indefinitely after suffering a hand injury, UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins confirmed at a press conference earlier today.

According to a report from 247 Sports’ UCF site, the injury is a broken thumb, which was suffered in Saturday’s win over UMass.

Taylor is not expected to miss the rest of the season but will be out for an extended amount of time. He missed all of 2015-16 season dealing with a foot injury.

On the season, Taylor, a 6-foot-2 point guard, was having an all-AAC caliber season, averaging 17.0 points, 5.0 assists and 4.3 boards.

Weekend Preview: Villanova tested by Notre Dame, bounce-backs for Xavier, Butler

Notre Dame's Steve Vasturia (32), Bonzie Colson (35) and V.J. Beachem (3) talk during the second half of a first-round men's college basketball game against Michigan in the NCAA Tournament, Friday, March 18, 2016, in New York. Notre Dame won 70-63. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
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SATURDAY’S SHOWDOWNS

No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 23 Notre Dame, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: This is a fascinating matchup for a couple of reasons. For starters, this is the first real test that undefeated Notre Dame is going to be getting this season. We honestly have no idea how good the Irish actually are, and you wouldn’t be alone in needing to see a team starting Matt Farrell and Bonzie Colson prove it before buying in.

But we also haven’t see Villanova tested in a while, either. They won at Purdue earlier this season and, since then, have more-or-less coasted to their undefeated mark. This will not only be a nice gauge game for Villanova, but it will also be a chance for them to pad an NCAA tournament résumé that will need to be strong for them to get a No. 1 seed this year.

The other part of this that’s fascinating? Both of these teams play small ball. There are going to be times on Saturday where 6-foot-5 Bonzie Colson is playing center and being guarded by 6-foot-5 Kris Jenkins, who will be at center for the Wildcats.

No. 22 Cincinnati at No. 16 Butler, Sat. 4:30 p.m.: Butler could really use this win. Coming off of a road loss to Indiana State during the week, the Bulldogs will be playing back in Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday. But here’s the thing: Cincinnati could really use this win as well, and that Bearcat program already owns a road win over Iowa State.

The matchup here will be intriguing as well. Butler plays a more open, run-and-gun style than they did under Brad Stevens. Tyler Lewis is a show-man in transition, as is Kamar Baldwin, and getting Kelan Martin spotting up or attacking a close out is always a good coaching maneuver. Cincinnati is tough and big and physical. They try to wear you down. They pound the glass. They really, really defend. How does Butler handle it?

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FIVE MORE GAMES TO WATCH

  • No. 17 Wisconsin at Marquette, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: In one of the more under-appreciated rivalries in college basketball, Marquette will be looking to land a marquee win to bolster the non-conference portion of their NCAA tournament résumé. Will
    Nigel Hayes continue to play like an all-american?
  • Utah at No. 13 Xavier, Sat. 5:30 p.m.: The Musketeers have lost back-to-back games and are really struggling to shoot the ball from the perimeter. Utah has struggled this season as they have a young roster waiting on a pair of transfers to get eligible.
  • Michigan at No. 2 UCLA, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: UCLA is now a week removed from their win over then-No. 1 Kentucky in Rupp Arena. This will be the first time they see the floor since then. Michigan had the look of a tournament team earlier in the season, but they’ve lost a pair of winnable games in recent weeks.
  • Hofstra vs. No. 6 Kentucky, Sun. 3:00 p.m.: The Wildcats will square off with Hofstra on Sunday, a game that is only really notable because it will be played in the Barclays Center.
  • No. 21 Florida at Florida State, Sun. 4:00 p.m.: The Gators looked the part of an NCAA tournament team when they lost to Duke in New York City on Tuesday. Florida State is more talented, however, but it’s difficult to trust them. This will be a big win for whoever gets it.

FIVE STORY LINES TO FOLLOW

1. Kentucky’s perimeter shooting is officially a concern: The Wildcats are currently shooting 32.2 percent from beyond the arc, which is 254th nationally. The only real threat they have from three in their starting lineup is Malik Monk, and he’s streaky. They can play Derek Willis at the four, but Willis is such a step-down on the defensive end of the floor from Wenyen Gabriel that it may not end up being a net-positive to play him, not when the Wildcats rely so heavily on their defense to create offense in transition.

I’m not sure what the answer is. I’m not even sure there is an answer. This is just what Coach Cal has to work with this season. Can they improve? Probably. The great thing about being a bad shooting team is that shooting is the easiest thing to develop. Teams without size can’t get bigger. Teams without athleticism can’t get more athletic. The only problem? There are just four months left of the season. How much better can Kentucky really get?

One thing worth noting here: The 2010 Kentucky team, the one with John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe, the one that lost in the Elite 8 because of their shooting issues, finished the season making 33.1 percent of their threes.

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 07:  De'Aaron Fox #0 of the Kentucky Wildcats dribbles the ball during the game against the Valparaiso Crusaders at Rupp Arena on December 7, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
De’Aaron Fox (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

2. Let’s see if Notre Dame is for real: The Fighting Irish are one of nine undefeated teams left in college basketball, but as good as they have been this season, Mike Brey’s club still hasn’t really beaten anyone. The Colorado win looks better after the Buffaloes beat Xavier. Beating Fort Wayne, the team that upset Indiana, is good. Northwestern and Iowa are Big Ten teams.

But none of those four wins – none of Notre Dame’s nine wins – have come against a team we know will be in the NCAA tournament. We know Villanova will be, and the interesting thing about this matchup is how well the two teams matchup, particularly up front. Neither the Irish nor the Wildcats have much size inside. If Notre Dame can pull off the upset, it will be time to start talking about them much more.

3. UCLA’s first action since the win at Kentucky: The last time that we saw the Bruins take the court they put up 97 points on Kentucky in Rupp Arena. That’s pretty good. It’s also an easy way to get a big head, especially for a team that has so many freshmen on the roster. UCLA will face off with Michigan at home on Saturday. It will be interesting to see how they come out early on in this one.

4. Bounce-back chances for Big East programs: No. 13 Xavier has lost two games in a row now, both of them coming on the road. They were felled at No. 4 Baylor before getting dropped at Colorado on Wednesday. The Musketeers will host Utah, a winnable game that could help them find a rhythm shooting the ball.

No. 16 Butler is coming off of a loss of their home, having been upset at Indiana State by the Sycamores. The Bulldogs will have a bigger test than the Musketeers, as they host a top 25 team in No. 22 Cincinnati.

5. Jonathan Isaac’s health, Florida State’s tournament hopes?: Isaac is the forgotten top ten pick. He’s been terrific this season and has a chance to play his way into the top ten if he continues doing what he’s been doing, but he’s missed the last two games with a hip injury. This is an important game for the Seminoles, as they host Florida this weekend. Will Isaac be available?