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Haas, Swanigan lead No. 16 Purdue past Rutgers

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — While power forward Caleb Swanigan grabs the majority of the attention with his 22 double-doubles during what has become a special sophomore season, No. 16 Purdue is at its best when 7-foot-2 junior center Isaac Haas is almost as — or more — productive.

Haas had 24 points and 11 rebounds Tuesday night, and Swanigan added 12 points and 17 rebounds in the Boilermakers’ 74-55 victory over Rutgers.

Purdue (21-5, 10-3 Big Ten) led 45-39 with just over 12:30 remaining, but from the 11:15 mark until he left the game with 2:20 to play, Haas scored 16 points, and the Boilermakers pulled away for their fourth consecutive victory.

“I just kind of got into a rhythm,” said Haas, who scored a season-high 26 points in a Nov. 22 victory over Utah State in Mexico. “I was really trying to focus on rebounding, doing what I need to do for the team to win and accepting my role. It just kind of came to me tonight.”

Nigel Johnson scored 23 points to lead Rutgers (13-14, 2-12), which had no answer for Purdue’s big men.

“They’ve got two great players,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “What a luxury bringing (Haas) off the bench. They caused many problems, and they surround those guys with good shooters. I thought we did a decent job on Swanigan. Obviously, Haas was Swanigan tonight. They are a good basketball team that poses lots of problems for people.”

Boilermakers coach Matt Painter got what he was looking for from Haas during the final 20 minutes.

“His footwork was great,” Painter said. “He kept it simple. He got them down deep and used his post moves. He was the difference in the game in the second half. With Isaac, you try to keep him fresh, but when he plays like that, you don’t want to take him out.”

Thanks to 28 from Haas and Swanigan, Purdue outrebounded Rutgers 45-28. Purdue shot 47.5 percent to 35.9 for the Scarlet Knights.

Purdue struggled with turnovers in the first half (8) and led 33-26 through 20 minutes when Johnson was 5 of 6 from the field, including 4 of 4 from 3-point range, for 14 points, but the Scarlet Knights missed a chance to pull closer when the rest of their roster was 5 of 22 from the field.

Haas had eight first-half points, and Dakota Mathias and Carsen Edwards each added six. The Boilermakers outrebounded the Scarlet Knights 23-10 in the first half.

BIG PICTURE

Rutgers: While Johnson and Corey Sanders comprise an impressive backcourt, the Scarlet Knights lack the frontcourt strength to compete with a physical team such as Purdue, which got 36 points and 28 rebounds from Haas and Swanigan.

Purdue: The Boilermakers are 7-1 since a Jan. 12 loss at Iowa and continue to impress with a blend of interior and perimeter offense, plus great man-to-man defense when they need it.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Having won four in a row and seven of eight, Purdue would be positioned to rise in the next poll if it can beat Michigan State on Saturday in Mackey Arena.

MONSTERS IN MACKEY

Since losing on New Year’s Day to Minnesota in overtime in Mackey Arena, Purdue has beaten Wisconsin, Illinois, Penn State, Northwestern and Rutgers on Keady Court by an average margin of 19.8 points. Now 6-1 at home in Big Ten play, the Boilermakers have Michigan State on Saturday and Indiana on Feb. 28 left at home.

UP NEXT

Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights travel to Northwestern on Saturday.

Purdue: The Boilermakers host Michigan State on Saturday.

Bluiett back to Xavier for senior season

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Xavier lost one significant piece to the professional ranks this spring, but will return another.

Trevon Bluiett, the team’s leading scorer last year, announced via social media that he will be back to play his senior season with the Musketeers.

Chris Mack will return the bulk of a roster that struggled February only to make a run to the Elite Eight, but getting Bluiett for a final season makes the Musketeers especially dangerous. The 6-foot-6 Bluiett scored a team-high 18.5 points per game last year while also putting up 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per night. He shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range, the second-best mark on the team. His return, even with point guard Edmond Sumner going pro amid his ACL tear recovery, makes Xavier one of the top teams in the Big East heading into the 2017-18 season.

Bluiett himself is enough to keep Xavier relevant in the league, but when he’s coupled with the likes of returners JP Macura, Sean O’Mara and Quentin Goodwin, plus a recruiting class featuring two four-star prospects, it’s not difficult to see a path for Mack’s group to a place where they can compete with the likes of Villanova and Seton Hall atop the league.

Welsh and Holiday returning to UCLA

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UCLA sustained some major, though expected, attrition from its roster this spring. On Tuesday, the Bruins announced a pair of significant contributors that will be back.

Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday will both return next season to the UCLA program, according to the school.

Welsh, a 7-foot center, averaged 10.8 points and 8.7 rebounds as a senior last year for the Bruins. He shot 58.5 percent from the floor and blocked 1.2 shots per game, and decided to declare for the NBA Draft without an agent before ultimately deciding to return to Westwood.

“Thomas has worked hard all spring,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said in a statement. “We supported him testing the NBA waters and are excited to have him returning for his senior year. He simply continues to develop each and every season.

“Thomas will be one of the top centers in college basketball next year and, undoubtedly, has a great chance to be a first-round pick in next season’s draft.”

The 6-foot-1 Holiday averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 assists last season while sharing a backcourt with Lonzo Ball, whose departure, along with those of TJ Leaf, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton will leave UCLA with a very different look next season. The positive results, however, may not fluctuate too significantly with Welsh and Holiday coming back to play alongside two five-star recruits, Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, as well as Lonzo’s younger brother LiAngelo.

West Virginia’s Macon forgoing final year

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West Virginia’s attempt to dethrone Kansas atop the Big 12 took a bit of a hit Tuesday.

Elijah Macon, a 6-foot-9 forward, announced his decision to forego a fifth year in Morgantown in order to pursue a professional career.

“First things first I would like to say thank you Bob Huggins and Erik Martin for believing in a young 15-year-old boy growing up from the Southside of Columbus, OH losing my mother and still having you guys push me to be the man I have become,” Macon said according to the school. “I can do nothing but thank you for all you and Mountaineer Nation (have) done for me. Unfortunately, I will not be returning for my senior season at WVU and instead sign with a(n) agent and play professional basketball. Thank you guys for all the love and support!”

Macon wasn’t a major contributor for the Mountaineers last season, averaging 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 16 minutes per game, but he was an experienced and tough player who was well-versed in Huggins’ style and demands. Given the pace that the newly-fashioned Press Virginia plays at, depth is also paramount for them as a program.

Macon’s departure, though, may have been expected or at least partly anticipated by West Virginia. The Mountaineers signed five players in its most recent recruiting class, putting them one over their allotment of 13, so something had to give. West VIrginia will stay have interior depth, anchored by junior Esa Ahmad, so the loss of Macon is one they likely can weather, even if it may take some time to acclimate the newcomers.

“Elijah is in the process of completing classes during this summer school period that ends June 2 and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in August,” Huggins said in a statement released by the school. “I respect his decision to become a professional basketball player and to go make money to support his family. He had a great four years with us, and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Key returning to Alabama for sophomore season

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Alabama’s top scorer is returning to school.

Braxton Key has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will be back with the Tide for his sophomore season, the school announced Tuesday.

“I spoke to coach Avery (Johnson) just over a week ago and informed him of my decision to withdraw my name from the NBA Draft and return to the University of Alabama for my sophomore season,” Key said in a statement. “I made that official when I sent my paperwork to the NBA league office Monday morning. I want to express my appreciation to my teammates, Coach Johnson and the entire coaching staff for giving me their full support while I went through this process.

“I am excited for the future of the Alabama basketball program and looking forward to getting to work as we prepare for next season. Roll Tide and Buckle Up!”

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the field as a freshman. He gives Alabama four returning starts to pair with one of the country’s highest-regarded recruiting classes, headlined by five-star guard Collin Sexton. The Tide will also have an eligible Daniel Giddens, who previously transferred in from Ohio State.

Key didn’t seem likely to stay in the NBA draft, especially after he wasn’t invited to the combine, but his ultimate decision is a huge one for Avery Johnson as he looks to break through in his third season in Tuscaloosa with his first NCAA tournament appearance. 

Report: Justin Jackson to return to Maryland

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Maryland forward Justin Jackson is expected to return to school for his sophomore season, according to a report from FanRag Sports.

Jackson is an intriguing talent, a 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-3 wingspan that shoots 44 percent from three. But he’s also still developing his offensive game and consistency on the defensive end of the floor, which is why he was projected as a second round pick in this year’s draft.

With Jackson back in the fold, Maryland is a borderline top 25 team. They lost Melo Trimble to the professional ranks, but that’s something that Mark Turgeon has prepared for. With a sophomore class that also includes highly-regarded point guard Anthony Cowan and sharp-shooter Kevin Huerter, the Terps have a promising season ahead of them.