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Five Takeaways from No. 8 Creighton’s win over No. 12 Butler

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Creighton had a strong overall performance on Wednesday night as the No. 8 Bluejays ran past No. 12 Butler for a 75-64 home Big East win.

Here are five takeaways from Creighton’s impressive win.

1. Creighton’s defense is getting better — Creighton’s top-10 offense has been praised repeatedly this season but its defense also appears to be improving.

The Bluejay defense has never been bad this season — they ranked a respectable 69th in KenPom defensive efficiency entering Wednesday — but this team appears to be more focused on that end of the floor from the start of the season.

Butler was held to 41 percent shooting on Wednesday night as they were 32 percent from three-point range and only shot seven free throws. Creighton defended without fouling and made perimeter looks very tough. The Bluejays also clearly had the right gameplan for Bulldogs star Kelan Martin as they held him scoreless in the first half and made things frustrating for him all night.

Creighton doesn’t need to be a defensive juggernaut to win its games, but they do need to show that they can get late stops in a tight game like they couldn’t during the Villanova loss. This game obviously didn’t give the Bluejays a test in that department but their defense was so good early that they didn’t need to get stops to win.

2. Butler needs Kelan Martin to show up in Big East play — Junior forward Kelan Martin is Butler’s leading scorer and best player. The 6-foot-7 forward is averaging north of 17 points per game this season. But he’s had a slow start in Big East play.

Wednesday saw more of the same. Martin missed his first eight shots and was held scoreless in the first half as the Bulldogs fell behind big and never recovered. To start the second half, Martin found himself on the bench as he finally started to make some shots once he re-entered the game.

So far in five Big East games, Martin is only shooting 30 percent (20-for-66) from the field. At 6-for-27 from three-point range during that same span, Martin has also struggled to find his perimeter shooting stroke during conference play. Clearly, Martin needs to make some adjustments because the Big East seems to be more familiar with his game and is having an easier time of slowing him down.

Much like Wisconsin senior forward Nigel Hayes, Martin could stand to tone down the number of perimeter looks he is taking at the moment. Martin has always hovered around 37 percent from three, and that’s a respectable number, but he’s now attempting over six attempts a game from three even though he’s been off the last five games.

3. With Justin Patton rolling, Creighton’s offense becomes a juggernaut — Watching Creighton has been fun for a number of reasons this season but the continued development of freshman center Justin Patton continues to be thrilling to witness. The 7-footer has really stepped up his overall game lately as he’s been more productive while getting the lion’s share of the minutes at center.

When Creighton’s guards like Mo Watson and Marcus Foster can get to the rim, Patton becomes a valuable dump-off option. With the amount of shooting that Creighton has on the roster it also gives Patton plenty of room to operate on the interior. If Cole Huff is knocking down shots, it makes the Bluejays such a matchup nightmare on the offensive end because they have so many unique weapons and ways to score.

Patton only finished with 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting but that all came in the first half as Butler’s bigs had no answer for him. Since Creighton’s guards could get in the paint whenever they wanted, Patton’s post touches weren’t as necessary in this one, but Patton’s confidence is growing immensely as the season goes on.

4. Butler can have struggles containing dribble penetration against good guards — One of Butler’s major issues during Wednesday night’s loss was the ability to slow down guards like Watson, Foster and Khyri Thomas from doing what they wanted off the bounce.

In the first half, the Bluejays built their commanding lead by attacking the rack and sharing the scoring balance and the second half saw a strong takeover performance from Watson. The senior was simply unguardable for Creighton in the second frame as he was able to touch the paint whenever he wanted on his way to 21 points and seven assists.

Butler has some strong defensive players and strong defensive principles, but senior Tyler Lewis isn’t a good on-the-ball defender and his size makes him susceptible to being beat. It’s going to be interesting to see how Butler adjusts its perimeter defense after this game to prepare for elite guards. The good news is that Butler isn’t going to have to face many top-10 offenses with killer backcourts, but it was still concerning to see how much they were getting beat.

5. Nobody else is going to beat Creighton at home — Sorry, Big East. No disrespect, Xavier. But I’d be stunned if Creighton lost another home game this season.

Creighton’s dismantling of Butler was an impressive effort on both ends of the floor as the Bluejays made a good, disciplined team look average for most of the game. With Villanova already having won at Creighton this season, I don’t see another Big East team going into CenturyLink Center and picking up a win.

The Bluejays have always been a tough out at home over the years as it is, but with how talented this team is and how they’re playing right now, it would take a huge effort to earn a win there.

Louisville’s Deng Adel and Ray Spalding to test draft process

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A season that began with the firing of Rick Pitino in mid-October came to an end Tuesday night, as Louisville lost to Mississippi State 79-56 in a Postseason NIT regional final. There are a lot of questions to be answered, most notably who will lead the program moving forward after interim head coach David Padgett led the Cardinals to 22 wins.

As for the players, two announced following the loss that they will be going through the NBA Draft process. Junior wing Deng Adel and junior forward Ray Spalding both confirmed that they will be entering the NBA Draft but not hiring agents, so as to preserve their collegiate eligibility should they decide to return to school.

This will be the second time that Adel has entered the NBA Draft, doing so last spring before making the decision to return to school.

Playing just over 33 minutes per game, the 6-foot-8 Adel averaged 15.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists per contest, shooting 44.8 percent from the field and 35.0 percent from three. Moving into the starting lineup after serving as a reserve in each of his first two seasons at Louisville, the 6-foot-10 Spalding averaged 12.3 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 27.4 minutes per game.

Mississippi State advances to NIT semifinals at MSG

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Quinndary Weatherspoon scored 19 points and grabbed 14 rebounds and Mississippi State advanced to the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden in New York with a 79-56 victory over Louisville on Tuesday night.

Mississippi State (25-11) will face Penn State (24-13) on March 27.

Lamar Peters opened the second quarter with a 3-pointer and Mississippi State led by at least nine points the rest of the way. Weatherspoon scored eight points during a 12-3 run to start the third for a 51-31 advantage and MSU cruised.

Aric Holman added 16 points and eight rebounds for Mississippi State, which has won its most games since the 2009-10 season. Xavian Stapleton and Nick Weatherspoon each chipped in with 12 points. Abdul Ado had three blocks to tie Jarvis Varnado for the most blocks by a MSU freshman with 67.

Ray Spalding paced Louisville (22-14) with 13 points and 11 rebounds for his 11th double-double of the season. The Cardinals shot 35 percent from the floor and were outrebounded 42-32.

Gregg Marshall does right by Alex Lomax with NLI release

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Memphis introduced Penny Hardaway as its new head coach Tuesday morning, with the former Tiger great and Memphis native making his triumphant return to campus.

And it didn’t take long for Hardaway’s hiring to have an impact on the recruiting trail either, as the point guard who led Hardaway’s Memphis East squad to its third straight TSSAA AAA state title is expected to play for his longtime mentor.

Alex Lomax, who signed a National Letter of Intent to play for Gregg Marshall at Wichita State, requested to be released from his NLI on Tuesday. It didn’t take Marshall long to make his decision, granting Lomax’s request and citing the unique circumstances in his statement as to why.

“Obviously, we take commitments to the Shocker program very seriously, but this is a very unique situation where a young man’s mentor and coach since the 5th grade has become a Division I head coach,” Marshall said. “Allowing him out of his NLI without any penalty is the right thing to do.”

The National Letter of Intent, for those who may not be too familiar with it, is a document that when signed binds the recruit in question to the school they’ve committed to. If the circumstances surrounding the recruitment change, getting released from the NLI can be incredibly difficult. Coaches and universities have no obligation to release a recruit once they sign, and it seems like every year we run into a situation where a coach is refusing to so.

Kansas point guard Devonte’ Graham is only a senior this season because, after signing an NLI with Appalachian State, he was not given a release and forced to go to prep school for a year. That’s not as uncommon as you might think.

That is also perfectly within the bounds of the rules, if not the laws of being a decent human being.

Wichita State and Marshall could have taken this opportunity to make life miserable for Lomax, and there would have been those who rushed to say that since the young man made a commitment he should stick by it no matter what. Lomax was a noteworthy recruiting win for the program during its first season in the American Athletic Conference, as the Wichita State went into Memphis and landed a pledge from a prospect who was likely to be a key part of the program’s plans moving forward.

But the hit that comes with allowing Lomax to leave without fuss is far less severe than what happens if Wichita State and Marshall make things difficult for him.

Faced with the opportunity to do the right thing and help out a young player, Marshall and Wichita State did just that.

The program should, and will, be applauded for it.

Stevens’ 30 points leads Penn State past Marquette in NIT

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Lamar Stevens tied his career high with 30 points, Tony Carr added 25 and Penn State beat Marquette 85-80 on Tuesday night to advance to the NIT semifinals.

The Nittany Lions (24-13) will face either Mississippi State or Louisville at Madison Square Garden in New York on March 27. They advanced to the NIT semis for the first time since winning the 2009 tournament.

Stevens hit three crucial buckets in the final three minutes, including a dunk off an alley-oop pass from Josh Reaves for an eight-point lead with one minute left. The 6-foot-8 Stevens then maneuvered through a couple Marquette players to secure a rebound off Andrew Rowsey’s missed 3 with 46 seconds left.

Carr went 5 of 8 from the foul line over the final 30 seconds to give Marquette another chance. Rowsey hit a 3 and a layup to get the Golden Eagles as close as 83-80 with six seconds left before the Golden Eagles ran out of time.

Rowsey, a senior, scored 29 points for Marquette (21-14).

The Golden Eagles had whittled a 14-point deficit early in the second half to 72-68 with 2:39 left on three foul shots by Rowsey. Penn State went nearly three minutes without a bucket and got sloppy with the ball and the sharpshooting Golden Eagles started hitting 3s to get back in the game.

Report: Joseph Chartouny to transfer from Fordham

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After three seasons at Fordham, guard Joseph Chartouny will be leaving the school to play his final year elsewhere. News of Chartouny’s transfer was reported Tuesday afternoon by ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, and the 6-foot-3 guard from Montreal will be eligible immediately as a graduate transfer.

Chartouny made 28 starts for the Rams this season, averaging 12.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 3.3 steals in 36.0 minutes per game. Leading the nation in both total steals and steals per game, Chartouny was an Atlantic 10 All-Defensive Team selection.

In three seasons at Fordham Chartouny, the 2016 Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year, averaged 11.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 2.9 steals per game. Given his abilities as a defender and a distributor, Chartouny stands to be a popular player amongst programs looking to add an immediately eligible contributor who also has ample experience at the Division I level.

With Chartouny reportedly moving on, Fordham head coach Jeff Neubauer has a significant hole to fill in his backcourt rotation for 2018-19.

Transfers Antwon Portley (Saint Peters’s) and Erten Gazi (DePaul) will be eligible next season, with reserve Cavit Havsa set to be a junior next season. Fordham’s also landed three perimeter recruits in its 2018 class, with three-star point guard Nick Honor among that trio.