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How SMU’s Markus Kennedy surprised his mom before her deployment (VIDEO)

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Saturday had already been a great day for Markus Kennedy.

The 6-foot-9 center had scored 21 points and grabbed 15 boards, both career-highs, while hitting all 10 of his field goals in an 87-72 rout of then-No. 22 Memphis as the Mustangs notched another resume-building win, one that will help people forget about a loss to lowly South Florida earlier in the week and inched them just that much closer to the right side of the bubble.

It was the best performance of his career, and it just so happened to come in what was SMU’s biggest game of the season.

For most student-athletes, it doesn’t get much better than that.

You see, Kennedy’s mother, Barbara, is a sergeant in the Air Force and, on Monday morning, she was heading off to Kuwait for an eight-month deployment. According to Kennedy, this is his mother’s third tour of duty. She spent time in Germany and in Korea, but that all came when Kennedy was younger.

“We weren’t expecting to see each other before she left,” Kennedy told NBCSports.com. “That was kind of rough on me,” but what Kennedy didn’t know is that SMU had filed a waiver with the NCAA asking permission to pay for a plane ticket to fly him home to see his mother before she left.

“They surprised me after the game,” he said. “They told me I had a ticket to go home. That’s all I needed to know. Rushed in the shower, got my clothes, and I was on the way to the airport. I didn’t ask any questions, I just said thank you to who I had to say thank you to.”

There was a benefit to being unaware of the plane ticket that awaited him after the game: it meant that Barbara was also unaware of Kennedy’s impending arrival. So he enlisted the help of an aunt, who helped to set his mom up.

“My aunt, she organized this game where my mom was blindfolded and she had to feel the family member’s face to guess who they were,” Kennedy said. “When I came in, she was blindfolded. I just walked in and kneeled down, like it was just a part of the game. When she took them off, she was real surprised. She had no clue.”

Having a loved one in the military head overseas is not an easy thing to handle for anyone, let alone a 21-year old college student halfway across the country from his family.

Good on SMU for making sure that this got done.

I think we all can tell just how appreciative the Kennedys are.

“I really want to thank the NCAA and the whole SMU family for allowing me to see my mom before she leaves on Monday,” Markus wrote on Instagram. “I can’t express this feeling, thank you.”

No. 5 Xavier stumbles at Creighton, lose 70-54

Creighton's Cole Huff (13) and Toby Hegner, left, guard Xavier's Jalen Reynolds (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Mo Watson went for a career-high 32 points, seven boards and five assists as Creighton jumped out to an early 21-4 lead and never looked back, beating No. 5 Xavier, 70-54, in Omaha on Tuesday night.

 

It was a massive win for the Bluejays, who still have an outside shot at earning an at-large bid this season. (We wrote all about that here.)

As well as Creighton played, the bigger story here may actually be Xavier, who lost for just the third time this season; they had been the only top ten team with just two losses to their name.

The issue for the Musketeers tonight was two-fold, but they both are a symptom of what could be an issue down the road for this team: Xavier doesn’t really have a true point guard.

They certainly didn’t have anyone to stop Watson. By the second half, they had essentially asked Reynolds, who was playing the middle of their 1-3-1 zone to matchup with Watson. It was weird but was actually somewhat effective.

The Musketeers also started out ice cold from the floor, missing 11 of their first 13 shots, and those misses led to leak outs from Bluejays, who got layups and open threes in transition to build that 17 point lead. Once Xavier got behind, it turned into scramble mode for Xavier. They forced shots early in the clock and didn’t start pounding the ball into the paint until it was too late. What they needed was someone to be able to settle things, to ensure that offensive would get initiated and sets would get executed when they were able to get the lead down to single digits.

That 1-for-19 shooting performance from beyond the arc certainly didn’t help matters, and neither did the fact that they got just nine field goals all game from players not named James Farr or Jalen Reynolds. The most frustrating part for head coach Chris Mack? They had good shots. It wasn’t like Creighton took away everything that Xavier wanted to do.

The kids just had one of those nights where nothing went down.

Those happen.

And when you combine them with a total inability to contain the opposing team’s point guard, what you get is a 16 point loss on the road against a team that was desperate to get a good win.

Gill’s 16, ‘D’ lead No. 7 Virginia past Virginia Tech, 67-49

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AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) Anthony Gill scored 16 points and No. 7 Virginia turned the tables on state rival Virginia Tech with a 67-49 victory Tuesday night, the Cavaliers’ seventh straight.

Isaiah Wilkins added a career-best 14 points and Malcolm Brogdon had 12 for the Cavaliers (20-4, 9-3 Atlantic Coast Conference). Virginia avenged a 70-68 loss to the Hokies in Blacksburg on Jan. 4 in what rates as their worst performance of the season, and extended their winning streak at John Paul Jones Arena to 17 games.

Freshman Justin Robinson scored 16 points and classmate Chris Clarke had 11 in his first action for the Hokies (13-12, 5-7) since breaking his right foot in late December. Virginia Tech’s top two scorers, Zach LeDay (16.0 ppg) and Seth Allen (14.5), were limited to seven and six points, respectively, in part because of foul trouble.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said his team wasn’t ready to play when it lost to the Hokies earlier, but they have been surging of late and were focused from the outset. They were credited with assists and 14 of their first 15 baskets and forced 10 turnovers in the first half; they forced just eight in the last meeting of the teams.

For most of the game, the Hokies had more turnovers than field goals.

The Cavaliers led 32-20 at halftime and extended their advantage to 47-29 on a three-point play by Mike Tobey with 12:11 remaining. It capped an 11-4 run for Virginia, during which LeDay was whistled for his fourth foul. On Virginia’s next trip down court, it got the ball to Gill inside and LeDay basically backed off and let him score, quickly earning a spot on the bench.

The Cavaliers’ lead never dipped into single digits again.

The Hokies had just eight turnovers and outscored Virginia 26-6 off turnovers in their first meeting. This time, Virginia Tech had 10 turnovers by halftime and the Cavaliers had already turned them into 15 points. Virginia Tech finished with 16 field goals and 15 turnovers.

Already leading 9-6, Virginia got scoring from eight players in a 23-8 run that spanned about 8 1/2 minutes.

Gill started it with a dunk, Brogdon hit a 3-pointer, London Perrantes had a four-point play and Wilkins finished it with two free throws, giving the Cavaliers a 32-14 lead with 2:06 left in the half. They didn’t score again, and the Hokies closed within 32-20 by halftime.

TIP-INS

Virginia Tech: The Hokies shot 57.1 percent (15 of 26) from the field in the second half of their 70-68 victory against Virginia on Jan. 4. … Virginia Tech’s starting five totaled four points in the first half.

Virginia: The Cavaliers have held four consecutive opponents to 50 points or fewer.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech plays at No. 12 Miami next Wednesday.

Virginia plays at Duke on Saturday.

Follow Hank on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/hankkurzjr

The AP’s college basketball page: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org