Michigan keeps exceeding expectations during another tournament run

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INDIANAPOLIS — Michigan was supposed to be in this position.

Heading to the Elite 8 behind a balanced offensive attack led by the Big Ten Player of the Year.

Except consensus preseason All-American Mitch McGary has been out of the lineup for Michigan since December 21st with a back injury that forced the sophomore big man to have season-ending surgery on January 7th.

Many left the Wolverines for dead with no chance of making it back to the Final Four after last year’s championship-game loss to Louisville. But now, No. 2 seed Michigan is one game away from doing just that after Friday’s 73-71 win over No. 11 seed Tennessee in the Sweet 16 of the Midwest Regional.

Behind a new Big Ten Player of the Year — sophomore wing Nik Stauskas — Michigan is sporting one of the most balanced offensive attacks in the country as the Wolverines look like a major threat in the Midwest thanks to its potent perimeter attack.

“We have a really confident group here,” Stauskas said. “The fact that we’ve been through that run we had last year, we just have to go out and have fun. We know what we’re capable of doing and we just try to stick to our game plan and have fun doing it.”

Michigan entered Friday’s contest shooting 39.8% from three-point range this season and that trend of hot shooting continued against Tennessee on Friday. Michigan started 7-for-9 from distance in the first half before finishing 55 percent (11-for-20) for the game.

With five different Wolverines knocking down a three-pointer, Michigan forces teams to pick and choose who to help off of on ball screens and on the perimeter. With three guys in Stauskas, sophomore guard Caris LeVert and freshman point guard Derrick Walton that can operate pick-and-rolls and hit shots from the perimeter, the Wolverines can throw a lot of different looks at an opposing defense. And that doesn’t include the offensive versatility and athleticism of sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III.

“You saw that with Texas. I feel like we had a really balanced attack in that game,” Stauksas said. “It makes it toughest for teams to guard you if you have four or five or six guys who are capable of scoring at any time. They don’t really know what to do with that. I think you saw that in the first half (against Tennessee), especially, with our spacing on the floor, they didn’t really know who to help off of, who not to help off of and it kind of led to some easy baskets.”

While Stauskas and the perimeter threats were a known commodity entering the Tournament, the continued solid play of senior forward Jordan Morgan is a huge reason why Michigan is in its current position.

Morgan and Robinson III were thought to be at a disadvantage facing Tennessee’s interior duo of senior forward Jeronne Maymon and junior forward Jarnell Stokes but Michigan held the duo to 13 points on Friday as Morgan took the potential game-saving charge on Stokes with six seconds left and the Wolverines clinging to a 72-71 lead. The senior also had a team-high 15 points and seven rebounds for Michigan after recording back-to-back double-doubles to start the tournament.

“We heard all week about they had mismatches and how we couldn’t guard them inside. I guess people forgot we play in the Big Ten and we won the Big Ten outright,” Morgan said. “So we’re not really soft around here. That’s not who we are. We lift a lot of weights. So it’s just ‑‑ I don’t know, it’s a pride thing for us. We’re not about to get punked.”

People must have forgotten that Morgan and Robinson had to defend a healthy McGary in practice last season or that they went through a tough and physical Big Ten. Michigan played a difficult non-conference schedule with games against Iowa State, Arizona, Duke and Stanford. Morgan and his Michigan teammates feel prepared to face anything by this point.

“(I told them to) have a strong chest and try to keep them off the glass and that’s what they did out there tonight,” McGary said of his frontcourt teammates against Tennessee.

Although McGary is relegated to the role of America’s most famous cheerleader during the 2014 NCAA Tournament, the sophomore dressing in uniform and warming up with his teammates before the game seemed to give Michigan an additional emotional boost.

“Obviously I’m not going to play or anything like that but I feel more connected to my teammates when I dress,” McGary said. “I think it (gave my teammates a lift for) a little bit. I also didn’t want to take credit away from them because people make such a big deal about it. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal because I’m wearing a uniform just like them.”

People made a big deal of Michigan losing Mitch McGary, but the Wolverines keep humming along and winning close games. They’re 22-4 since McGary went down with the season-ending injury and now they’re in position to potentially make another Final Four.

Not many anticipated Michigan to be in this position — given this season’s adversity — except for the confident group of Wolverines that keep hitting shots and winning close games.

“I don’t know if we’re getting lucky or what we’re doing but we just seem to have a thing about pulling out games and winning in the last couple of minutes,” Stauskas said. “Maybe that’s our toughness or resiliency to get these wins but we’ve done a great job both offensively and defensively to hold onto these games.”

Memphis guard Jeremiah Martin out for the season with broken left foot

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The University of Memphis announced on Friday that junior point guard Jeremiah Martin will miss the rest of the season with a broken left foot.

The leading scorer in the AAC this season, the 6-foot-3 Martin injured his foot in the first half of the Tigers’ win over Houston on Thursday night. Martin did not return to the game as he left the arena in a protective boot. Martin is expected to have surgery to repair the foot on Tuesday as he’s expected to miss four-to-six weeks with the injury.

While the Tigers will be significantly worse without its best offensive player, Memphis did come back to beat the Cougars without Martin on Thursday night, as they’ll still be a tough out in the American. Martin was putting up 18.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game as he was in the midst of a breakout junior campaign.

If Martin returns to school for his senior season, he’ll be under heavy consideration as one of the top 100 players in college basketball next season.

Eric Davis held out of games as Texas investigates potential ties to agent

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Texas junior guard Eric Davis is being withheld from Texas games amid allegations that he accepted money from agent Andy Miller.

Davis was one of the players named in Friday’s Yahoo Sports report as he allegedly received a $1,500 loan from former runner Christian Dawkins. Texas has launched an internal investigation as Davis will miss time while that is pending.

“We have initiated an internal review of the recent report that included allegations involving current and former University of Texas men’s basketball players,” Texas VP and athletic director Chris Del Conte said in a statement. “We are in the process of gathering facts, but I did meet with Eric Davis Jr. this afternoon and let him know we are withholding him from competition for precautionary reasons until further notice, pending the review of this situation.”

Texas plays Oklahoma State on Saturday as they’ll be without Davis for likely the foreseeable future. The 6-foot-3 junior is averaging 8.8 points and 2.4 rebounds per game for the Longhorns this season.

No. 18 Rhode Island wins first outright Atlantic-10 title

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KINGSTON, Rhode Island (AP) — At the end of the celebration, Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley was the last one to cut down the net at the basket in front of his team’s bench.

He climbed up a ladder, snipped the final strings and put it around his neck to the roars of the crowd, a small symbol for a program that has finally reached the top of the Atlantic-10’s regular season.

Jeff Dowtin scored 20 points, E.C. Matthews added 18 and No. 18 Rhode Island wrapped up its first outright A-10 regular-season title with an 81-56 victory over Dayton on Friday night.

“Just to be able to enjoy it with our fans, who have amazingly supported since I’ve been here through the climb,” said Hurley, in his sixth season with URI. “To be able to enjoy those types of moments.”

Jared Terrell had 17 points to help the Rams (22-5, 15-1) win for the 18th time in 19 games. It was their second straight after their school-record 16-game winning streak was halted by St. Bonaventure last Friday night.

In 1980-81, the Rams tied Duquesne for a share of the conference title, their only other regular-season A-10 championship.

When the game ended, blue and white confetti — the school colors — and streamers fell from the ceiling. Terrell climbed the scorer’s table, waving to the crowd.

“It was just a great feeling to embrace it with the fans,” Farrell said. “To experience this for the first time, it’s just an amazing feeling.”

Added Matthews: “It was just to give it back and show them we couldn’t have done it without them.”

Hurley said to the crowd over a microphone: “Let’s bring down this net baby, what do you say?”

Jalen Crutcher led the Flyers (13-15, 7-9) with 12 points.

“I think the cumulative effect of their pressure, I think took its toll,” Flyers coach Anthony Grant said. “Give them credit — they did a good job defensively and got it going in the second half.”

Rhode Island shot 64.3 percent in the second half and Dayton only 27.3, including missing all 10 of its 3-point attempts.

Playing for their first conference regular-season title in school history already had the sellout crowd fired up, but it picked up to a notch at the end of 7-0 spurt early in second half when Hurley walked onto the floor, waving for more noise when Dayton called timeout after the Rams went up 46-38 with 16:08 to play.

Following the timeout, URI continued its stifling, man-to-man defensive pressure and took charge with an 11-4 spurt that was capped by Matthews’ 3-pointer from the left wing that pushed its lead to 15 with 13:17 to play. The Rams had two easy breakaway baskets off turnovers in the spree.

They pushed it to 72-46 on Dowtin’s 3 with just over five minutes to play, sending Hurley to the floor again waving after another timeout.

In the opening half, the Flyers shot 58.3 percent and led most of the way despite nearly hitting their per-game average with 13 turnovers before URI closed by scoring nine of the final 11 points to take a 36-34 edge into intermission.

TURNOVER MAKERS

The Rams entered the game as one of the best in the nation, creating 16.38 turnovers per game. Dayton came in committing just 13.6 per, but finished with 22.

HOME SWEET HOME

The Rams improved to 15-0 in the raucous Ryan Center, tying the school-record for most home wins in a season. They also did it in 1987-88 when the program advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA tourney.

“We wouldn’t have been able to win this championship without the absolute electric atmosphere that has been created here all year long,” Hurley said.

ROAD WOES

Dayton fell to 1-9 on the road this season.

BIG PICTURE

Dayton: The Flyers were hoping to spoil the party by winning their third straight game to reach .500 in league play.

Rhode Island: The Rams are certainly playing the rest of the regular season and conference tourney, looking for a better seed in a probable selection to NCAA Tournament – even if they don’t win the postseason A-10 tournament.

VIDEO: No. 16 Buckeyes keep title hopes alive with thrilling win at Indiana

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — Ohio State guard C.J. Jackson relied on sheer instincts Friday night.

Instead of going with the Buckeyes’ designed final play, he changed it on the fly.

When Jackson finally got control of the pass in the closing seconds of double overtime, he faked another pass and spotted up for a 25-footer and that silenced Indiana’s crowd with 1.7 seconds left and gave No. 16 Ohio State an 80-78 victory.

“You dream of playing in buildings like this when you’re younger and just to have one of these moments is unbelievable,” Jackson said after scoring 13 points.

This wasn’t just another win for the Buckeyes (24-7, 15-3 Big Ten), either.

They needed this one to have any hope of claiming a share of the conference crown in coach Chris Holtmann’s first season. They still need No. 2 Michigan State to lose Sunday at Wisconsin.

And on a night Ohio State dealt with foul trouble and fatigue, Jackson’s brilliant switcheroo was exactly what Ohio State needed.

“We ran a similar action for Jae’Sean Tate at the end of the first OT or whatever it was, and we didn’t execute that real well. The presence of mind to get the shot up,” Holtmann said, shaking his head. “I think CJ may prefer to take a 25-footer rather than get it in a little deeper.”

He didn’t have much of a choice.

With both teams out of timeouts and Indiana clinging to a 78-77 lead after Juwan Morgan’s layup with seven seconds to go, the Buckeyes pushed the ball up the floor.

But rather than look for the trailing Tate or star forward Keita Bates-Diop, Jackson did the natural thing.

“I just felt like I had the best look we were going to get with the time left,” he said.

All the Hoosiers could muster was a half-court heave from Robert Johnson that came up well short at the buzzer.

Bates-Diop had 24 points and tied his career-high with 14 rebounds. Tate finished with 12 points, five rebounds and six assists.

Indiana (16-14 9-9) was led by Juwan Morgan with 18 points and Johnson, who had 17 in what could be his final game at Assembly Hall.

“Really disappointed for our fans and our seniors in particular,” coach Archie Miller said. “I thought we did enough at the end and we just had a breakdown at the end to contest the shot.”

But from the moment Indiana took a 61-59 lead on Josh Newkirk’s layup with 3:54 left in regulation, it was a cliffhanger.

Neither team scored after Indiana’s Justin Smith made two free throws left with 2:18 in regulation.

Neither team led by more than two in the first overtime, which ended tied at 70.

And neither led by more than one in the second overtime — until Jackson’s knocked down the long 3.

KEY STATS:

Ohio State: Kam Williams scored 15 points and Kaleb Wesson had 12 before fouling out. … Bates-Diop also finished with four blocks in 45 minutes. … Four of the Buckeyes’ starters played at least 40 minutes. … Ohio State had a 41-35 rebounding edge.

Indiana: Smith had 16 points for Indiana. … Josh Newkirk added nine points and six assists with only one turnover. … The Hoosiers scored only four points during over a stretch of 9:50 in the first half and missed their first seven shots to start the second half. … Indiana committed 12 turnovers and was 13 of 23 at the free-throw line.

HE SAID IT

“Rest,” Holtmann said when asked what his team needs now. “They are exhausted. We just rode some guys because we had too. Jae’Sean Tate literally couldn’t function, that’s why I called one of those timeouts. He couldn’t move. He (Bates-Diop) needs rest in the worst way.”

BIG PICTURE

Ohio State: No, the Buckeyes aren’t going into the conference tournament with the momentum they had hoped. And they may not get even a share of the league crown they craved. But they will be one of the top three seeds and they’ll have a few days to get things fixed.

Indiana: Fans who watched the Hoosiers season opening loss to Indiana State may not have recognized the team they saw Friday night. Indiana has progressed steadily all season, understands what coach Archie Miller expects and have learned how to challenge everyone.

Report: FBI wiretaps shows Sean Miller discussing payment for Deandre Ayton

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Sean Miller was caught on an FBI wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment for his freshman star Deandre Ayton, according to a report from ESPN.

The conversations that were intercepted were between Miller and Christian Dawkins, a former runner for ex-NBA agent Andy Miller, in which the pair discussed a $100,000 payment that would ensure Ayton’s commitment to and enrollment with Arizona.

According to ESPN, when asked by Dawkins if he should work through former Arizona assistant coach Emanuel ‘Book’ Richardson to finalize a deal, “Miller told Dawkins he should deal directly with him when it came to money.”

Richardson was fired by Arizona after he was caught up in the original FBI complaints in September. He had worked for Miller for 10 years at Xavier and Arizona. He was alleged to have accepted $20,000 in bribes to steer players to Dawkins and another financial advisor.

Ayton committed to Arizona in September of 2016. He is currently averaging 19.6 points and 10.9 boards for No. 14 Arizona and is considered by many to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

There has been speculation all season long that Arizona’s ties to this investigation could cost Miller his job.