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Thornwell helps South Carolina beat Tennessee 70-60

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) South Carolina is off to its fastest start to Southeastern Conference competition in two decades.

The Gamecocks understand that will matter a whole lot more if they also have a quality finish.

Sindarius Thornwell scored 22 points Wednesday as South Carolina defeated Tennessee 70-60 for its third straight victory. South Carolina (13-3, 3-0 SEC) is off to just its second 3-0 start in Southeastern Conference competition since joining the league in 1991-92.

The Gamecocks also had a 3-0 start to league play in 1996-97 and went on to post a 15-1 SEC record and earn the conference’s regular-season title that year.

“It means a lot just because I remember times we were 0-3 starting SEC play,” Thornwell said. “It means a lot. We’ve kind of preached to the young guys how much it means and how much every game counts.”

South Carolina is chasing its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2004. South Carolina won its first 15 overall games last year – including a 2-0 start in SEC play – but landed in the NIT after fading down the stretch.

“Every game’s going to be a grind,” Thornwell said. “It doesn’t get any easier from here, so we try to stay focused and prepare every game like it’s our last and try to keep winning.”

The Gamecocks also have earned back-to-back SEC road wins for the first time since 2011. In its last road game, South Carolina won 67-61 at Georgia on Jan. 4.

South Carolina’s defense and tenacity helped the Gamecocks withstand their offensive struggles on a night when each team committed 22 turnovers.

“Between turnovers and fouls and bad decisions, we just made this a prehistoric game today,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. “It’s unbelievable, the inability to understand time, score and make better decisions. I can’t speak for (Tennessee). I’m speaking for our team. But it’s a win, and we did play hard.”

Tennessee (8-8, 1-3) shot just 32.7 percent and struggled to score one night after announcing that junior guard Detrick Mostella had been dismissed from the team. Mostella had been averaging 10.5 points per game to rank second on the team.

The difference in the game came from 3-point range, where South Carolina shot 7 of 13 while Tennessee was just 1 of 11. That disparity led to Tennessee’s third straight loss.

“I just think we’ve got too much character with this group. These guys, they’re not going to quit playing,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “They realize there’s a long way to go, and we’re working toward being a better team.”

South Carolina’s Hassani Gravett, who entered the night averaging just 4.2 points per game, scored 12 points. Duane Notice added 11.

Grant Williams scored 15 points and Robert Hubbs III and Lamonte Turner had 12 each for Tennessee.

BIG PICTURE

South Carolina: The Gamecocks won by relying on the defense that has carried them all season. South Carolina is allowing just 60 points per game. Opponents are shooting 36.8 percent overall and 27.8 percent from 3-poiont range against the Gamecocks. South Carolina entered the night ranked fifth among all Division I teams in field-goal percentage defense, eighth in 3-point percentage defense and ninth in scoring defense.

Tennessee: The Vols clearly missed Mostella, who had a team-high 26 3-poiint baskets this season while providing instant offense off the bench. Tennessee made a single basket during one stretch of nearly 13 1/2 minutes in the first half. The Vols finished the first half with 14 turnovers and only six baskets.

KEY STAT

South Carolina has gone 10-0 in games Thornwell has played. The Gamecocks went 3-3 when Thornwell was serving a suspension last month.

STREAK (BARELY) STAYS ALIVE

Tennessee extended its string of consecutive games with at least one 3-pointer to 183 only after Turner made a shot that bounced high off the rim and fell through with 1:51 remaining. The last time Tennessee failed to make a single 3-pointer was in a 77-67 loss to Duke on Nov. 21, 2011.

NEXT UP

South Carolina hosts Mississippi on Saturday.

Tennessee is at Vanderbilt on Saturday.

More AP College Basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Andy Kennedy resigns from Ole Miss effective immediately

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Andy Kennedy announced that, effective immediately, he will be stepping down as the head coach at Ole Miss. Tony Madlock will serve as the interim head coach for the remainder of the season.

The reason is simple: Kennedy wanted to “relieve any external pressure being felt by our current players” and he did not believe that last week’s announcement that this would be his final season in Oxford accomplished that.

“It has become readily apparent to me that my continued presence as the head coach is proving detrimental to these players finishing the season in a fashion that is representative of The Standard for this program that has been clearly established and maintained for over a decade,” Kennedy said in a statement. “Yherefore, I believe that it is in everyone’s best interest that I exit my role as head coach effective immediately. We all know that “clean breaks” are always best, and I should have realized this last Monday. My apologies.”

On Saturday, Ole Miss lost by 17 points at Mississippi State. That came two days after Kennedy went viral for a brutally honest criticism of what his team was going through.

“I can’t get to them,” he said. “I can’t reach them.”

It’s sad that this is the way that it had to end for the best basketball coach that Ole Miss has ever had. But it had to be done.

No. 12 Duke beats No. 11 Clemson as defensive resurgence continues

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Grayson Allen finished with 19 points, four assists and four steals, scoring 17 of his points in the first half, and Wendell Carter added 15 points, 10 boards and three blocks as No. 12 Duke won their fourth straight game without Marvin Bagley III, 66-57.

No. 11 Clemson was short-handed as well, and that’s something that needs to be noted. Not only are they playing without Donte Grantham, who tore his ACL earlier this year, but Shelton Mitchell was not in the lineup after suffering a nasty concussion at Florida State on Wednesday.

The Tigers were a No. 3 seed when the bracket reveal occurred last Sunday, but like Ohio State and Oklahoma, they have now lost back-to-back games; 11 of the top 16 teams have lost a game in the last week.

But the story here more than anything is Duke.

Yes, Allen finished with 19 points and continues to play well without Bagley on the floor. Getting him into a rhythm is critically important for this team. He was averaging 14.7 points in 24 games with Bagley. He is averaging 22.3 points in the last three games that Bagley has missed, and that does not include the 37-point outburst he had when Bagley went down with an injury against Michigan State.

Coach K also has had a chance to develop some confidence in his bench. Javin DeLaurier had 10 boards on Sunday. Marques Bolden didn’t play a done of minutes, but he still finished with five points, three boards and a pair of blocks. He was, generally speaking, a positive influence on the game.

But here is the most important and perplexing nugget: Duke, for the third straight game, was excellent defensively. They’ve now allowed fewer than 1.0 points-per-possession in each of the last three games. They are clearly not the same time offensively without Bagley’s presence on the floor, but it is impossible to ignore what they have been defensively in the last 10 days without him.

The question we need to ask is whether or not that will continue once Bagley makes his return.

Because the only thing standing between Duke and a Final Four is their inability to defend.

No. 8 Ohio State falls at No. 22 Michigan, Michigan State moves into first in Big Ten

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After all of the drama and the speculation about whether or not Ohio State or Purdue was the best team in the Big Ten, water has seemingly found its level.

On Sunday afternoon in Ann Arbor, No. 8 Ohio State lost their second straight game, falling 74-62 at No. 22 Michigan and allowing No. 2 Michigan State — who had one of college basketball’s greatest comebacks on Saturday at Northwestern — to slide into sole possession of first place in the Big Ten with just one week left of the regular season.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman led the way with 17 points while Jordan Poole added 15 off the bench in the win.

The Wolverines did a good job of slowing down Ohio State’s all-american forward, Keita Bates-Diop. KBD finished with 17 points and seven boards, but he shot just 5-for-17 from the floor. Jae-Sean Tate led the way with 20 points and 15 boards for the Buckeyes.

There was a special moment before this game even started as Austin Hatch, a two-time survivor of plane crashes that killed his entire immediate family, took part in the team’s Senior Day.

VIDEO: Michigan celebrates plane crash survivor Austin Hatch’s Senior Day

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If you don’t know the story of Michigan senior Austin Hatch, you should.

He’s survived two plane crashes in his life. The first, in 2003, robbed him of his mother, 11-year old sister and five-year old brother. In 2011, to celebrate his commitment to the Wolverines, Hatch’s father flew them up to the family’s vacation home, but the plane crashed into a garage killing Hatch’s dad and his stepmom and leaving Austin critically injured.

He had a severe brain trauma, a punctured lung, broken ribs and a broken collarbone, and in order to manage the swelling in his brain, he was put into a medically-induced coma for eight months.

He managed to return and even played for the Wolverines during the 2014-15 season, but he eventually made the decision to retire from basketball at the end of the year. He did, however, remain a part of the program and on Sunday, during Michigan’s Senior Day, he warmed up with the team and was introduced to the crowd as a starter and no, I’m not crying, YOU’RE crying:

Bubble Banter: All of Sunday’s bubble action in one place

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Sunday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

YET TO PLAY

SETON HALL
NEBRASKA
HOUSTON
TEMPLE
PENN STATE