No. 2 Syracuse beats No. 17 Duke in the Game of the Year

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“We’ve had a lot of games in here that have been great, but there’s never been a game as good as this one.”

That’s what Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim told Shannon Spake after the No. 2 Orange knocked off No. 17 Duke, which is a strong statement but one that Boeheim could very well be correct about. The hype entering this game was out of control — the two winningest college basketball coaches of all time, two storied programs playing their first game as ACC rivals, 35,446 fans in the Dome, I could go on and on and on —  but this was one of the rare occasions where the game was as good as the pregame show.

C.J. Fair led the way for the Orange, finishing with 28 points, while Jerami Grant added 24 points and 12 boards as Syracuse overwhelmed the smaller Blue Devils in the paint. But Duke countered, hitting 15 threes, pounding the offensive glass and putting five players in double figures.

And it played out to perfection.

The Orange would make a run pounding the ball into the paint. Duke would respond by hitting a couple of threes to get back into the game. Back and forth, over and over again, with the most notable stretch being the trio of second half three-pointers that Tyler Thornton hit on consecutive possessions to keep Duke within striking distance as Syracuse looked ready to pull away.

The crescendo came at the end of regulation, when Rasheed Sulaimon, who finished with 16 points and seven assists, went the length of the court to hit a three and force overtime:

The Orange would go on to win in overtime, the beneficiary of a somewhat friendly whistle down the stretch that allowed them to remain undefeated, but someone had to end up losing this game.

Focusing strictly on who ended up winning this game would belie a bigger point: what we saw at the Carrier Dome on Saturday was two teams capable of making the Final Four in Arlington playing about as well as they can play.

For the Orange, that meant feasting on the mismatches that get created when Fair and Grant are on the court together. Fair inparticular. He is the prototype combo-forward at the college basketball level. He’s a face-up scorer that’s big enough to score in the post, athletic enough to get his shot off against anyone and comfortable enough on the perimeter to cross a defender over and hit a pull-up jumper in his face. We saw his full arsenal on Saturday, and it was nothing short of impressive. The same can be said for Tyler Ennis, whose 14 points and nine assists were as unnoticeably sensational as always.

On the other side of the ball, the undersized Blue Devils scrapped for everything inch they could get. Whether it was the 14 points, seven boards (six offensive) and five assists from Amile Jefferson or the relentless of Jabari Parker attacking the rim despite getting swatted five or six times, the Blue Devils weren’t intimidated by the longer wingspans and bigger verticals of the Orange. At the end of the day, they fought hard enough that their 15 threes buoyed them, which is more or less what the goal for this Duke team has been all season long.

In the end, it all came down to one play: Rodney Hood driving the lane, down one with 15 seconds left, going up to try to dunk over Rakeem Christmas. Did he get fouled? Was it a clean block? We can debate it all day long, but the refs didn’t blow their whistle and the Orange escaped.

They head into the season’s stretch run without a blemish on their record. Duke sits three games back in the ACC standings but ahead of where they were at the start of the day — miles ahead of where they were at the start of the week — in the eyes of anyone with a semblance of basketball intellect.

The best news of all?

We get to do it all over again in three weeks, this time at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Good luck trying to get a ticket to that game.

Report: Texas’ Jones to test NBA possibility

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Both of Texas’ McDonald’s All-Americans from its 2016 class will test the NBA waters.

Andrew Jones will declare for the draft, but will not hire an agent, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The 6-foot-4 guard joins Jarrett Allen, the Longhorns’ star center, in utilizing the rule change that became available to players last year in which they can declare, workout for teams, attend the NBA combine and still return to school.

Jones averaged 11.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as a freshman. He shot 42.5 percent from the field overall and 32.8 percent from 3-point range.

Allen seems the likelier candidate to remain in the draft as a potential lottery pick, but Jones came to Austin with similar one-and-done possibilities given his status as one of the class’ top recruits.

Texas, of course, is hoping both return, not just because they’re both big talents, but because incoming and highly-touted recruit Matt Coleman fills the major hole in last year’s lineup – point guard. If the three of them can share the floor together, Year 3 of the Shaka Smart era will be much more interesting.

Morrow announces transfer from Nebraska

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Nebraska was once again hit with a surprising and damaging transfer.

Ed Morrow, Jr., who led the Huskers in rebounding last year, announced his intention to transfer, the school announced Wednesday.

“I support Ed in his decision to transfer schools and wish him well,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said in a statement. “We appreciate his hard work over the last two years. Although I am disappointed, we will continue to recruit young men who are committed to our mission of building Nebraska Basketball with a culture of success in all areas…life, school and winning basketball at its highest level.”

The 6-foot-7 sophomore’s departure is a major hit to the Huskers, who are coming off a 12-19 year in which Miles’ job security was called into question. It almost assuredly will be again this year as Nebraska hasn’t been able to build on its 2014 NCAA tournament appearance, instead putting together three-straight losing seasons.

Morrow’s decision is surprising not only given he’d been a productive member of the team – averaging 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game – but because he was born in Nebraska before attending high school in Chicago and both his parents were Nebraska student-athletes his father winning a national title on the football team in 1994 and his mother an all-Big Eight performer on the basketball team.

“I want to say thank you to my teammates, coaches, the fans and the University of Nebraska athletics department for giving me the opportunity to play Division I basketball,” Morrow said in a statement. “It is hard to leave home, and Nebraska is my home. I was born and raised here, it is my parents’ alma mater, and I have a lot of friends here. But sometimes you have to venture out to pursue dreams and aspirations in a career. This is a sacrifice I have to make to better myself.”

Morrow’s transfer comes a year after Andrew White surprised Nebraska with his decision to graduate and transfer to Syracuse, which no doubt impacted the Huskers’ poor 2016-17 record.

Miles was on the hot seat at the end of last season and will assuredly begin this season there as well. A roster hit like Morrow won’t do much to help him improve the situation. Nebraska does, however, have three starters returning while Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland is eligible, as is Miami (Fla.) transfer James Palmer, Jr.

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

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Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.

 

UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

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UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

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South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.