In the end, the injury to Georges Niang was the death of Iowa State’s tournament run

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NEW YORK — No. 7 UConn didn’t have an answer for Dustin Hogue.

He was 15-for-19 from the floor, finishing with a career-high 34 points while spending the majority of the first 30 minutes being the sole reason that No. 3 Iowa State remained within striking distance of the Huskies. The Huskies made the decision to use whoever was guarding Hogue as a help defender, and Hogue made them pay. Rim cuts, offensive rebounds, he was even rewarded with a number of isolations in the second half.

The problem was that he didn’t get help until UConn was up 49-32 midway through the second half, and while Melvin Ejim finally hit some jumpers late and DeAndre Kane finally looked like more than a senior that was trying to do just a little bit too much in the second half, the Cyclones till lost, 81-76.

“UConn had a very good game plan I thought defensively,” Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg said after the game. “They got us standing around a little bit.”

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In the first half, it was obvious how much the Cyclones missed Georges Niang. Kane spent the first 20 minutes trying — but not succeeding — to go into takeover mode. He was just 2-for-7 from the floor in the first 20 minutes while Melvin Ejim hit just 1-for-11 from the field before hitting a pair of jumpers in the final 30 seconds. The length of Amida Brimah was just too much for the Cyclones inside, and while he was only credited with one block, he changed six or seven shots around the rim, shots that the Cyclones normally.

“They did a good job in packing in the paint,” Hogue said. “We really didn’t move the ball too much and we got real stagnant in our iso.”

The other thing that UConn did was take the air out of the ball offensively. They didn’t allow the Cyclones to get out and run, and they did it the easiest way possible: they made shots. It’s possible to turn a made shot into a fast break, but it’s not an easy thing to do, and as a result Iowa State was forced to try and attack UConn’s set defense. There’s a reason the Huskies were in KenPom’s top ten in adjusted defensive efficiency this past season.

What Niang provided the Cyclones was a matchup nightmare. There aren’t many power forwards in the country with Niang’s offensive repertoire: he can score with his back to the basket, he can score facing-up from 15 feet and he has enough handle to bring the ball up the floor and get the Cyclones into their sets.

But more importantly, he would have forced Kevin Ollie into a nearly impossible personnel decision.

With Niang on the floor, the Cyclones would have had three forwards that stood at least 6-foot-7 with the ability to play on the perimeter, meaning that not only would one of UConn’s bigger guards — Niels Giffey or Lasan Kromah — would have had been forced to guard Hogue or Niang instead of Kane.

The difference that would have had was evident down the stretch. When Kane got hot, when he started scoring late, it was when the Huskies went to a three-guard lineup and Shabazz Napier was forced to guard him.

Injuries are a part of sports, and every athletes and coach will freely admit that.

But it’s a shame when, five months into a season, loses a player that is so integral to what they do.

“To lose a guy like Georges niang and still go out and beat a North Carolina and have an opportunity, after being down 17 [to UConn], tell you everything you need to know about this group of guys,” Hoiberg said.

“I’ve been a fan of Iowa State basketball since I was a little kid, and seeing this program taken to new heights because of guys like [this]. … Couldn’t be more proud of this group.”

N.C. State adds grad transfer Sam Hunt

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N.C. State added its fourth transfer this offseason. Like ex-Baylor guard Al Freeman, the latest one is eligible to play next season.

Sam Hunt, a double-digit scorer the past two seasons at North Carolina A&T, officially enrolled at North Carolina State on Monday morning.

“Sam is a great young man and will bring much needed depth to our backcourt,” N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts said in a statement. “I want guys who are excited about being a part of our program and Sam really wants to be here.

“Sam is a combo guard that can space the floor with his ability to shoot the basketball. He is a good fit for the system and will bring a wealth of experience to our roster.”

Hunt, the 6-foot-2 guard, averaged 12.7 points per game last season, a dip from the 15.4 points per game he posted for the Aggies as a redshirt sophomore.

Hunt joins a roster that lost its three leading scorers from a season ago, one that ended 15-17 (4-14 ACC). Dennis Smith Jr. is a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Maverick Rowan also pursued a professional career and Terry Henderson was denied an additional year from the NCAA.

The Wolf Pack bring back forwards Abdul-Malik Abu and Omer Yurtseven as well as Torin Dorn.

Keatts, who took over the program after leading UNC Wilmington to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, has already built for the future. UNC Wilmington transfer C.J. Bryce, 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game for the Seahawks, has followed him to Raleigh. Utah transfer Devon Daniels committed to the Wolf Pack the same day as Bryce. Both will have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules. Bryce will have two years of eligibility while Daniels will have three.

LaVar Ball stars in an uncomfortably entertaining segment on WWE’s Raw

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LaVar Ball’s statements and antics over this past year always seemed better suited a professional wrestling ring.

It was only natural that the patriarch of the Ball family — and the head of the Big Baller Brand — made an appearance on WWE’s Monday Night Raw at the Staples Center for an awkwardly entertaining segment with WWE Intercontinental Champion The Miz.

With sons, Lonzo — in his first appearance in the Staples Center as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers — and LaMelo looking on, LaVar was the center of attention. When The Miz mentioned something about a partnership between the two, the scripted interview went south. It resulted in LaVar saying nonsensical things like, “There’s only two dudes better than me, and I’m both of ’em!” before later taking off his shirt. When Dean Ambrose, a WWE superstar feuding with The Miz came out on to the ramp, LaVar didn’t quite grasp the concept that that was his cue to stop talking.

This segment was somehow entertaining and cringeworthy at the same time.

Now that Lonzo is beginning his NBA career, maybe it’s time LaVar try something different. A manager in the WWE may just be his true calling. He’s certainly had plenty of practice.

Maryland lands commitment from five-star 2018 forward

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Maryland added to its 2018 recruiting class with its second commit, the newest addition being a five-star in-state product.

Jalen Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward from Baltimore powerhouse Mount St. Joseph, committed to the Terrapins, making the announcement on Twitter.

“I believe that I can academically and athletically achieve my goals at home through my commitment to the University of Maryland … Go Terps,” he tweeted as part of a long passage.

Smith is listed as the No. 13 overall recruit in the Class of 2013 by Rivals. He joins four-star swingman Aaron Wiggins in Mark Turgeon’s current recruiting class.

Playing for Team Takeover on the Nike EYBL circuit, Smith is averaging 10.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game.

Recent grad’s joyride reportedly did $100,000 of damages to Mizzou Arena

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A recent graduate and temporary employee of the University of Missouri took an early morning joy ride that reportedly could rack up around $100,000 to Mizzou Arena.

According to Dave Mater of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nathaniel J. Contant, 23, who graduated from the school in December 2016, drove his Volkswagen Passat through a gate and eventually on to the floor of the 15,000-seat on-campus arena.

At 7:15 a.m. Sunday, MU police were dispatched to Mizzou Arena for a report of property damage. Officers determined that around 4 a.m., the suspect drove his vehicle through a closed gate on the south side of the arena. He ran through a garage door and drove into a dock area where he damaged several golf carts that were stored in the area. He also drove his car onto the basketball court. The man couldn’t leave through the area he used to enter the building, so he drove through the arena’s press gate.

Contant, unsurprisingly, is no longer an employee of the university. He’s being charged with second-degree burglary and first-degree property damage, both of which are felonies. He was released on a $4,500 bond.

The motive for this early-morning joyride remains unclear.

Despite the hype surrounding the upcoming Mizzou season — one that includes the debut of new head coach Cuonzo Martin and the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft Michael Porter, Jr. — Twitter users couldn’t help but poke fun at the dismal recent history the Tigers have had.

(h/t Kansas City Star)

Vance Jackson transfers to New Mexico

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With more than a handful of departures this offseason, New Mexico is set to have a new-look roster for the 2017-18 season. On Monday, Paul Weir, now at the helm of the program, landed a player who should make an impact in the three remaining seasons of eligibility he has left.

Vance Jackson, who spent this past season at UConn, decided to make the move from Storrs to Albuquerque, picking the Lobos over Rutgers, San Diego State, TCU, and Washington.

The 6-foot-8 rising sophomore will have to sit out next year due to NCAA transfer rules before resuming his collegiate career in the fall of 2018.

“The coaches — they trust in me,” Jackson told Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal last month during his official campus visit. “We’re on the same page. They see a vision.”

Weir, who led New Mexico State this past season to a NCAA Tournament appearance in his one and only season as head coach, succeeded Craig Neal in April.

This offseason has been headlined by transfers, though, those mostly were about players leaving the program. Jackson is the second transfer to land at UNM with Akron’s Antino Jackson electing to use his final season of eligibility with the Lobos. Antino Jackson is a graduate transfer, allowing him to play immediately next season.

Vance Jackson, who was rated as the No. 80 overall player in the Class of 2016 by Rivals, averaged 8.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game while shooting just under 40 percent from three for the Huskies as a freshman.