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Tyler Ennis, C.J. Fair once again display late-game poise for No. 1 Syracuse (VIDEO)

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In the history of the Petersen Events Center, No. 25 Pittsburgh had never lost a game against a top five opponent. Nine games, nine wins for the Panthers. And on Wednesday night it looked as if Jamie Dixon’s Panthers would make it 10-0, with their mastery of the offensive glass being a big reason why they led No. 1 Syracuse for the majority of the game.

But as they’ve done all season long the top-ranked Orange, specifically senior forward C.J. Fair and freshman point guard Tyler Ennis, made the big plays they needed to make in order to win. That tandem combined to score Syracuse’s final 13 points of the game, with Ennis making the biggest play of the season to date. That play: a three-pointer from about 35 feet out to give the Orange the 58-56 win, moving their record to 24-0 overall and 11-0 in the ACC.

(MORE: Is Pitt now a bubble team?)

As noted Syracuse has been down this road on multiple occasions this season and one reason why they continue to win tight games is the presence of Ennis, who is one of the nation’s most important players. Against Pittsburgh Ennis finished with 13 points and five assists, but the amazing stat is what the freshman did for the first time this season.

According to ESPN Stats Info, Ennis’ turnover with 3:14 remaining was the first that he’s committed in the final five minutes of a game this season. While many freshmen tend to experience seasons similar to a ride on a roller coaster, the smooth and seemingly never-rushed Ennis has been a model of consistency for the Orange this season. And given their lack of depth at the position, with Michael Gbinije seeing some spot duty at the position in order to give Ennis a break, Syracuse needed that to be the case.

In fact Ennis has been even better than advertised, and his combination of talent and poise has helped make Syracuse one of the favorites to win the national title.

But even with the last-second heroics, this wasn’t a one-man effort for Syracuse. Fair scored ten of his 14 points in the second half, Trevor Cooney added 11 points and both Gbinije and Rakeem Christmas added seven apiece for a team that played just six players against a deeper Pittsburgh squad. Syracuse scored just 58 points but they averaged 1.07 points per possession on the night, and when judging this team offensively it’s better to look at their efficiency as opposed to simply observing how many points they’ve scored.

Entering Wednesday, Syracuse ranked fifth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and 18th in turnover percentage per kenpom.com. The Orange may not run, but they take full advantage of the possessions they do get. However in the aftermath of Thursday’s win there is an important area the Orange need to address, especially with reserve center Baye Moussa Keita sidelined with a sprained right knee.

That concern: rebounding. Pittsburgh managed to rebound 47.1% of its missed shots, outscoring Syracuse 15-3 in second chance points. Luckily for Syracuse their starting center, Chrismas, was able to stay on the floor after battling foul trouble on Sunday night against Clemson. That meant Syracuse didn’t have to use Jerami Grant in the middle of the 2-3 zone too often, and given the way Talib Zanna (seven offensive rebounds) hurt the Orange on the glass things could have been worse had that been the case.

However even with that concern the Orange found a way to win, with Fair and Ennis once again making the needed plays in crunch time. Some teams simply know how to finish out games, and by now it’s clear that Syracuse fits the bill.

Coach Cal softball game raises $300K for La. flood relief

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John Calipari is known for his ability to amass talent. Over the weekend, that quality helped raise $300,000 for Louisiana flood relief.

The Coach Cal Celebrity Softball Classic brought Kentucky stars like Keith Bogans, Andrew Harrison and Karl-Anthony Towns and the likes of former UK quarterback Tim Couch and NFL Hall of Famer Chris Carter to Lexington to help aid Louisiana in conjunction with the Red Cross after the area suffered major flooding earlier this month.

“I didn’t want to really do a softball game,” Calipari said according to his website, “but then we decided to do it and then Louisiana happens and now you have a cause. … It’s kind of neat. You have a cause, you have a why.”

Towns’ team was the 18-12 victor over Team Calipari on the day.

“This is amazing,” Towns said on CoachCal.com. “This is something that we get a chance to rarely do. We get to help the community out but at the same time have fun. There’s nothing better than doing something that we would do for free but for charity. This is something we’re going to have a lot of fun doing today.”

The softball game was played the same weekend as the John Calipari Basketball Fantasy Experience which generated $1 million that will be shared with 14 charities.

‘Noles add legacy guard to 2017 class

ACC Basketball Tournament: Florida State v North Carolina
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Florida State has added another solid member to its 2017 recruiting class.

Anthony Polite, a 6-foot-6 guard from Florida, pledged to the Seminoles on Tuesday morning.

“Officially committed to Florida State University #Nole Nation,” Polite wrote on Twitter.

Polite chose Leonard Hamilton’s program out of a final top-five that also included Pitt, Memphis, Texas Tech and Miami. He also sported offers from TCU, Boston College, Kansas State and Utah, among others.

“It was a really tough decision,” Polite said according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “Miami had a great coaching staff. I just thought FSU would be the best fit for me and I had more of an opportunity to talk to the players at Florida State.”

Polite, whose father played for the Seminoles during his college career, averaged 21.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists last year as a junior playing for St. Andrew’s in Boca Raton, Fla.

“Anthony Polite is a skilled wing who can handle the ball and distribute a bit,” NBCSports.com recruiting analyst Scott Phillips said. “Florida State still needs to help Polite improve his perimeter jumper, but his commitment gives them another talented playmaker from the wing who can handle and attack the rim.”

Regarded as a three-star prospect, Polite join power forward RaiQuan Gray and fellow guard Bryan Trimble in the Seminoles’ 2017 class. It doesn’t have the star power of Hamilton’s group last year, which included five-star Jonathan Isaac and four-star Trent Forrest, but they can be important pieces for a Florida State team that has just one senior on the 2016-17 roster.

Kansas players make weight room gains – and losses – this summer

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - JUNE 18: Udoka Azubuike #105 in red runs back for defense the NBPA Top 100 Camp on June 18, 2015 at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Kelly Kline/Getty Images)
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Summer is the time to refine not only players’ skill sets, but also their bodies. Kansas’ highly-touted freshman duo of Josh Jackson and Udoka Azubuike have fulfilled the latter thanks to the Jayhawks’ strength and conditioning program.

Azubuike has dropped 27 pounds from his 7-foot frame while the wiry Jackson has added 17 pounds, according to the Kansas City Star.

“These guys have goals,” Adrea Hurdy, Kansas’ long-time assistant director for sports information, told The Star. “They come here in part because we have the resources to help them attain their goals.

“They want the challenge and want to become better people, better basketball players and better athletes.”

Only 16 years old, Azubuike arrived in Lawrence having been consistently listed as weighing around 270 pounds throughout his prep career. Getting leaner while still maintaining – and increasing – strength is a significant development for such a young player, who was a consensus top-50 player in the 2016 class.

Jackson, the country’s top rated incoming freshman, now weighs in at slightly over 200 pounds at 6-foot-8. Six-foot-10 forward Carlton Bragg,a sophomore, also got in on the body-changing as he’s put on 26 pounds to head into the fall at 247 pounds.

Kansas is a likely top-five preseason team with returners like Frank Mason III, Devonte Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk, and having newcomers like Jackson and Azubuike along with sparsely-used but talented returnees like Bragg making gains in the weight room will only make them more formidable as they look to capture an astounding 13th-straight Big 12 title.

 

Texas bolsters 2017 frontcourt

Texas head coach Shaka Smart calls a play during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Kansas State in Manhattan, Kan., Monday, Feb. 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
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Shaka Smart has added another four-star forward to his 2017 recruiting class.

Texas picked up a commitment Tuesday from 6-foot-8 Jericho Sims of Minnesota, according to multiple reports.

Sims, who visited Texas this past weekend, is ranked in the top-50 by Scout and in the top-75 by ESPN and 247Sports. He joins Royce Hamm, a top-100 forward from Houston, as members Smart’s second recruiting class at Texas.

“Jericho Sims is a late-blooming big man who has a lot of room to grow in terms of upside,” NBCSports.com recruiting analyst Scott Phillips said. “A good athlete with a good frame to work with, Sims should help immediately on the glass and defensively but his offense will be a work in progress.

“Texas has a large recruiting class and targeted Sims later than many, so this is a nice commitment for the Longhorns.”

The commitment represents a significant get for the Longhorns, who beat out the likes of Kansas, Iowa State, Ohio State, Connecticut and Sims’ hometown Gophers, whom his father played basketball for in the 1970s and his brother football more recently.

Sims and Hamm both are players that could help Smart and his staff transition more back to the Havoc style of play Smart employed at VCU as both have the length, speed and athleticism to help the Longhorns dial up the pressure and push tempo.

Five-star 2017 point guard Trevon Duval down to 10 schools

CHARLOTTE, NC - JULY 9: Trevon Duval during the 2015  Under Armour All-America Basketball Camp on July 9, 2015 at Queens College in Charlotte, NC. (Photo by Ned Dishman/Under Armour)
(Photo by Ned Dishman/Under Armour)
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Five-star point guard Trevon Duval is the most electrifying lead guard in the Class of 2017. The native of Delaware dominated the Under Armour circuit this spring and is currently regarded by many as a top-five player in the class by most recruiting services.

Now he’s down to 10 schools as his recruiting is starting to become more of a focus. The 6-foot-2 Duval is down to Arizona, Cal, Kansas, Maryland, Oregon, St. John’s, Seton Hall, UCLA, USC and Villanova.

Things are still early in the process for Duval and it will be interesting to see if he schedules any official visits soon.