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After punishment handed down, it’s time to move past Marcus Smart’s shove

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The axes fell on Sunday evening.

Marcus Smart will be suspended for three games for shoving a fan late in Saturday night’s loss at Texas Tech. That fan, Jeff Orr, has voluntarily agreed to not attend any Texas Tech basketball games for the rest of the year.

And at this point, it is time to move on.

We have to move on.

Because we are never going to know what actually transpired between Smart and Orr. We are never actually going to know what Orr said and we’re never going to know what Smart actually heard.

After the incident, Smart could reportedly be heard on the court telling his bench that the fan had used a racial slur directed at him. Smart did not address what was said to him in the statement that he gave to the press at a press conference on Sunday, and Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford said, simply, “We’re not going to get into that. That’s something that I don’t even want to comment on.”

Orr “vehemently” denied in a statement released by Texas Tech that he did not use a racial slur when yelling at Smart. He claims he called him a “piece of crap”, and in a video that the university released along with that statement, someone can be heard yelling “piece of crap” right before Smart’s reaction.

Was it Orr that actually said “piece of crap”? Was that all he said? There is plenty of noise in the background of the video, which makes it easy to be skeptical about the clarity of what Orr is purported to have said. Could this have been a case of mistaken identity?

Along those same lines, it’s fair to question Smart’s actions as well. Did he actually hear someone use a racial slur? Did he simply react to Orr yelling at him, and say that he heard the slur to try and defend himself? Was this as simple as Orr yelling one thing and, in the craziness of the final seconds of a college basketball game, Smart hearing another?

You don’t know the answer to any of those questions. Neither do I. The only people that actually do are Smart and Orr.

The bottom line?

Both of these men were in the wrong.

As I wrote last night, Smart crossed a line that absolutely cannot be crossed. An athlete can never, EVER put his hands on a fan in that situation, regardless of what was said to him. I can guarantee that even if Smart did get called the N-word on Saturday that it is not the first time some vile, disgusting person that bought a ticket* to a game said that to him. To the best of my knowledge, he’s never lashed out at people in the stands before. He allowed his emotions and his frustrations from a disappointing season to get the best of him, and he’s learning in a very public way that it cannot happen.

“This is not how I [conduct] myself,” Smart said. “This is not how this program is run. This is not how I was raised. I let my emotions get the best of me. This is something that I have to learn from, the consequences that are coming with it.”

“I’m taking full responsibility, this is all upon me. No finger pointing.”

*(I refuse to use the word “fan” in that case.)

Orr may come off looking worse here. A man in his 50s screaming anything at a college sophomore playing a game is somewhat pathetic, especially when it comes at the end of a game that Texas Tech had all but locked up. He may not be a racist — which is a fact that many are going to ignore in this case — but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he isn’t an idiot.

And that’s why he’ll be missing the rest of Tech’s basketball games this season.

So can we leave it at that?

A 20-year old with a temper and a competitive streak that gets the best of him when he loses lost control of his emotions in a season that has been as trying as any that he’s experienced. A fan got caught up in the moment and yelled something at a player that he never expected the player to actually hear or react to.

It doesn’t make Smart a bad person. Assuming that he didn’t use a slur, it doesn’t make Orr a bad person.

We all have moments that we regret, that we have to learn from.

Few of us have those moments play out live on national television before spending a couple of days rolling through the 24/7 news cycle that twitter and the internet has created.

As soon as I’m done writing this article, I’ll stop caring about Orr.

But for Smart, this may be just what he needed. He’s been a bit frustrating to watch this season. Between the horrid shot selection, the way he whines about calls and the way that he’s reacted to losses, this season hasn’t always been flattering for him.

He needed a wake-up call, and he got it.

Johnson, Paige help No. 9 Tar Heels roll past Panthers 85-64

North Carolina's Isaiah Hicks (4) dunks against Pittsburgh during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
AP Photo/Gerry Broome
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) Brice Johnson scored 19 points to lead a dominating offensive performance that helped No. 9 North Carolina beat Pittsburgh 85-64 on Sunday.

Marcus Paige added 15 points for the Tar Heels (21-4, 10-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who shot 59 percent to stay atop the league ahead of the next renewal of their fierce rivalry with Duke.

UNC had plenty of balance, shared the ball and got out in transition in arguably their best performance in weeks, using a 13-0 second-half burst to blow the game open. UNC finished with 26 assists on 32 baskets, 24 points off turnovers and scored 16 fast-break points after managing a combined five in the past two games.

Michael Young and James Robinson each scored 15 points to lead Pitt (17-7, 6-6). But the Panthers shot 37 percent and committed 19 turnovers, and a strong effort on the glass did little to offset their troubles.

The Tar Heels were playing their first home game in two weeks after a difficult three-game road trip that started with losses at Louisville and Notre Dame. Then came Tuesday’s game at Boston College, where the Tar Heels struggled against a winless league team then had a scare when Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams briefly collapsed in a second-half huddle after an attack of vertigo and had to leave the sideline for the rest of the game.

Williams was back in the office on Wednesday’s off day, returned to practice Thursday and told reporters Friday he was fine and even cracked jokes about a two-decade history with vertigo dating to his Kansas years.

Getting back home certainly helped everyone feel better. After wrestling with shooting struggles for much of the past month, UNC’s offense kicked back into an efficient and balanced gear, while Paige – the player the Tar Heels are practically begging to jolt free from a prolonged shooting slump – looked more like his old self against the Panthers.

That included one second-half play in which he caught a crosscourt pass from Theo Pinson in transition and made sure to step back behind the arc before burying a 3-pointer.

The Panthers had lost three of four since a 5-2 league start coming in, including 65-63 on a late tip-in at No. 12 Miami on Tuesday. And Pitt again had trouble getting their offense going, failing to crack 70 points for the third straight game.

TIP-INS

Pittsburgh: Second-leading scorer Jamel Artis scored five points on 2-for-8 shooting. … Pitt finished with a 41-29 rebounding advantage. … Pitt made 9 of 21 3-point attempts.

UNC: Justin Jackson scored 14 points. … UNC made 8 of 15 shots from 3-point range and 13 of 15 free throws. … Jackson and Pinson had six assists each. … UNC managed just one offensive rebound.

UP NEXT

Pittsburgh hosts Wake Forest on Tuesday.

UNC hosts Duke on Wednesday.

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Denzel Valentine dominant as No. 8 Michigan State whips Indiana

Michigan State's Denzel Valentine (45) shoots over Indiana's Kevin Yogi Ferrell during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
AP Photo/Al Goldis
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Trailing by one point at the half, Indiana appeared to be in good shape at No. 8 Michigan State. However the fact that they were unable to slow down Denzel Valentine, who scored 15 first-half points, was a major concern for Tom Crean’s Hoosiers. Sure enough the national Player of the Year candidate continued on his tour de force in the second half, scoring another 15 points and dishing out seven assists as the Spartans rolled to an 88-69 victory.

For the game Valentine finished with 30 points, five rebounds, 13 assists and just one turnover. Of Michigan State’s 48 second half points, Valentine had a hand in 29 of them with all seven of his assists resulting in Michigan State layups. It was a dominant performance from one of the nation’s best players, a versatile guard whose four games missed due to injury may have led to some overlooking him when it comes to those national Player of the Year conversations.

When Valentine’s on everything else flows smoothly for Tom Izzo’s team, as his ability to both score and create results in quality looks for teammates who would struggle if they had to get that part of the job done themselves.

The biggest beneficiary Sunday afternoon was forward Matt Costello, who finished the game with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Of Costello’s ten made field goals (10-for-12 FG) five were assisted by Valentine, and he accounted for 13 points and seven rebounds in the second half. As a team Michigan State shot 63.3 percent from the field and assisted on 16 of their 19 made field goals in the second half, turning a tight contest into a blowout.

Tum Tum Nairn returned the court for the first time in seven games, but he played just two minutes and his time on the court will be managed carefully by Izzo moving forward. For many teams not having your point guard at full strength would represent a crippling blow, but that hasn’t been the case for Michigan State thanks in large part to Valentine. Michigan State went 4-3 in those seven games without Nairn, but the three losses were by a total of three points.

Valentine’s ability to make his teammates better will be a key factor down the stretch for Michigan State, and that skill was what led to the Spartans blowing out Indiana on Sunday.