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Once again whole, Delaware looks to complete run to CAA title

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For many teams the loss of two starters during conference play would be a critical blow, one that would prove to be incredibly difficult to overcome. But for others such an issue doesn’t prove to be as problematic, with the Delaware Blue Hens being a prime example. In late-January point guard Jarvis Threat and forward Marvin King-Davis were lost for a month due to suspensions for separate violations of athletic department policy, and given the talent possessed by preseason favorite Towson the Blue Hens’ CAA title hopes could have taken a serious hit.

But that wasn’t the case for Monte Ross’ club, which went 6-2 in the eight games that followed the suspension and currently hold a one-game lead in the CAA entering the final week of regular season play. While King-Davis is one of many contributors in the front court the same can’t be said of Threatt, who was averaging 17.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game at the time of his suspension.

Threatt may be just one player in Delaware’s talented backcourt but he’s an important piece, and the loss of their point guard robbed the Blue Hens of the depth they enjoyed at the position.

“I thought we were talented enough to overcome it,” Ross told NBC Sports. “We had a suspension earlier in the year with Devon Saddler and we were able to overcome that, and I thought we would be able to do the same thing with these guys being out and we have.

“My biggest concern was the fact that our depth at point guard was null and void. It was just Devon, but thankfully he didn’t get hurt or get in foul trouble. I thought with Marvin in the front court we had some depth, but Jarvis in terms of being a point guard the only other option we had was Devon Saddler.”

Without Threatt more would be asked of Saddler in regards to the point guard role, and throughout the eight-game stretch he answered the call. In those games Saddler, currently averaging 3.5 assists per game, dished out 5.8 helpers per contest while boasting an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.1. But for as good as Saddler’s been when it comes to both scoring, as he’s averaging 20.4 points per game, and distributing his biggest assist to the Delaware program this season may have come off the court.

Senior guard Davon Usher was in need of a new home after making the decision to leave Mississippi Valley State with the Delta Devils ineligible for postseason play. Saddler was able to get his childhood friend to make the move to Delaware, and all parties have benefitted from the partnership. Usher’s scoring an average of 19.8 points per game, putting up 26.5 points per game in the Blue Hens’ last eight contests. And if there’s one area in which Usher’s improved throughout the course of his one season in Newark, it’s been in regards to the quality of his shot attempts

“I think his comfort level has risen. He realizes he’s going to get the ball, he’s taking good shots and he’s not settling,” noted Ross. “I thought early in the year he was settling for jump shots because he is a good shooter, but he also has a really good ability to get into the lane and finish. I thought he got away from that a little bit. But now he’s really making himself a threat where teams have to guard the drive and the jump shot.”

Counting Threatt, who along with King-Davis will return on Wednesday night when Delaware visits UNCW, the Blue Hens have five players scoring in double figures with sharpshooter Kyle Anderson and forward Carl Baptiste being the others. And in regards to Baptiste, he’s taken advantage of the extra opportunities that have come as a result of the graduation of Jamelle Hagins.

To use the word “replace” in regards to Hagins would be a bit unfair, as he left the school as the program’s all-time leader in both rebounds and blocked shots. Losing a player of his caliber makes it difficult to simply say “next man up” and expect similar production.

But even with this being the case Delaware needed Baptiste, who began his college career at Saint Joseph’s, to prove himself capable of leading the way inside. And to this point in the season the senior’s done so, averaging 10.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. And before falling one point short in a 69-65 loss to Drexel on Sunday afternoon Baptiste had posted three consecutive double doubles, and for the season he’s had seven such outings.

“Carl has always been a very skilled big man for us. What I tell people all the time is that he just didn’t get the opportunity because we had Jamelle,” Ross said. “He didn’t get as much of an opportunity as he’s getting now. And when we [increased] his minutes he’s really performed admirably.”

On the season Delaware’s averaging just over 79 points per game, and with the return on Threatt offensive production shouldn’t be a concern for a group that’s failed to score at least 70 points in three of its 14 conference games. But in order for the Blue Hens to earn the program’s first NCAA tournament berth since 1999, not only will they need to successfully reincorporate King-Davis and Threatt into the rotation but they’ll need to shore things up on the boards as well.

In conference play Delaware, while a good defensive team in regards to shooting percentages, ranks seventh in the CAA in opponents’ offensive rebound percentage with teams grabbing 32.7% of their missed shots against the Blue Hens. Games tend to slow down and get tighter in tournament play, and the failure to close out a solid defensive sequence by grabbing the ensuing rebounds could make all the difference between cutting down the nets and heading home early without the ultimate prize.

“We want to make sure that we’re sharp defensively, because I think that always gives you a chance,” said Ross. “When you get into tournament play the game slows down and there’s a lot less transition, so it’s about being able to execute in the half-court. I want to make sure that we’re able to execute, that we’re able to guard and make sure the “apple cart” won’t be upset with [Jarvis and Marvin] coming back.”

If Delaware can accomplish those tasks, both the CAA title and the program’s first trip to the NCAA tournament in 15 years are well within their reach.

South Carolina star to miss Monday night game

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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Sindarius Thornwell will not play on Monday against Seton Hall, according to a report from ESPN. South Carolina will be playing the Pirates in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Thornwell was suspended indefinitely from the team last weekend. Frank Martin discussed the suspension on the radio on Thursday.

“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. “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.”

Josh Hart leads No. 1 Villanova past No. 23 Notre Dame

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 10: Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats drives to the basket as Bonzie Colson #35 and Martinas Geben #23 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish defend during the first half of a college basketball game at Prudential Center on December 10, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
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Josh Hart put on a show on Saturday as the senior willed No. 1 Villanova to a 74-66 win over No. 23 Notre Dame.

The matchup of unbeatens in New Jersey was tight throughout, but Hart put together one of the best performances any player will have all season, finishing with a career-high 37 points, 11 rebounds and four assists as Hart looked completely unstoppable.

With most of Villanova’s roster struggling on the offensive end, Hart took it upon himself to take over the second half. The Wildcats (10-0) only shot 25 percent (4-for-16) from three-point range but Hart’s aggressiveness attacking the basket was the difference. Hart finished 10-for-14 from the field and went 14-for-14 from the free-throw line as he put together the signature performance that could eventually help land him Player of the Year honors.

Notre Dame (9-1) put together a strong first half to jump out to a 41-36 halftime lead but the Irish’s offense didn’t perform at the same level in the second half. The first half saw a tremendous effort from junior point guard Matt Farrell as he torched the Villanova defense for 12 points and six assists in the game’s opening half.

Villanova’s defense made halftime adjustments and did a much better job of defending ball screens and forcing turnovers as Farrell and Notre Dame’s offense was slowed down in the second half. Farrell finished with 18 points but he didn’t pick up any assists in the second half as he finished with six. Steve Vasturia also added 18 points for Notre Dame while Bonzie Colson chipped in 11 points.

This win was a good one for Villanova because they were able to beat a tough opponent when most of the roster wasn’t performing up to standard expectations. The Wildcats definitely don’t want to rely on Hart that much during most games but the Villanova defense deserves credit for performing better in the second half after looking very poor at times during the first. Eric Paschall also provided a really nice lift for Villanova off the bench as he went 4-for-4 from the field, finishing with eight points and giving good energy on the defensive end.

Free-throw shooting was also an important factor in this one as Villanova was 20-for-22 from the charity stripe. With their ability to close out games at the line while having perhaps college basketball’s best closer in Hart, Villanova is looking like the toughest defending national champion we’ve seen since the back-to-back Florida titles 10 years ago.

Alleged victim of Carlton Bragg Jr. assault held in jail

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Carlton Bragg Jr.’s battery case took an interesting twist Saturday morning.

On Friday afternoon, a 19-year old woman was arrested at the same address that Bragg was arrested. She was charged with suspicion of battery at 4:42 p.m., after Bragg’s appearance in court, and it was filed under the same case number as Bragg’s. The Kansas City Star is reporting that the woman is Bragg’s girlfriend.

According to Douglas County Sheriff’s records, the woman is still in custody.

NBC Sports is not identifying the woman as she has not yet been charged with a crime.

Bragg was charged with battery, a misdemeanor, Friday afternoon after an early morning arrest. He was accused of striking his girlfriend and pushing her down stairs. He has been suspended indefinitely by Kansas head coach Bill Self and will not play in Saturday afternoon’s game at Phog Allen Fieldhouse against Nebraska.

Self commented on Bragg’s status during a pregame radio appearance on Saturday.

(H/t: Jesse Newell)

Oklahoma State adds 2017 commitment from guard Amauri Hardy

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Oklahoma State added an important commitment from one of the best available Class of 2017 guards on Friday as Amauri Hardy pledged to the Cowboys.

The 6-foot-2 Hardy is regarded by some recruiting services as a top-100 player as he gives head coach Brad Underwood a key commitment for Oklahoma State. A quick scoring guard who plays with a lot of energy, Hardy had a solid summer with The Family as the Michigan native offers up some insurance for Oklahoma State at guard.

Since Phil Forte is exhausting his eligibility after this season and sophomore point guard Jawun Evans is having a monster year and could go pro, having Hardy’s commitment is a good backup plan. If Evans does return for his junior season, Hardy can provide valuable backup minutes while also being able to play a bit off the ball alongside Evans.

Hardy joins four-star guard Zach Dawson and three-star forward Latravian Glover in Oklahoma State’s Class of 2017 recruiting efforts.

VIDEO: Taylor University celebrates 20th anniversary of Silent Night tradition

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Taylor University celebrated the 20th anniversary of its Silent Night Game on Friday night.

The Division III school in Upland, Indiana has one of the best traditions in college sports as Taylor has its fanbase stay completely silent until the team scores its 10th point of the game. Upon scoring the team’s 10th point, the Taylor students go ballistic as they storm the court and temporarily stop the game. Dressing up in all sorts of group costumes, the Taylor students bring out some of the best ideas you’ll see from any college fanbase in the country.

As for the game, Taylor jumped out to a 37-9 lead on Lincoln Christian University and never looked back as they won 99-68. The win moves Taylor’s record to 20-0 all-time in Silent Night games.

Jake Heggeland was the game’s high scorer with 18 points for Taylor while Evan Crowe broke the Taylor silence for the second consecutive year.