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Xavier clinches an NCAA tournament bid as head coach Chris Mack goes rogue

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NEW YORK — Chris Mack went rogue.

That’s the only way to explain why, with 39 seconds left and a 57-56 lead, Mack picked Kamar Baldwin, Butler’s best free throw shooter on the season, to shoot two. Kethan Savage had just been fouled going to the rim, but a hard fall directly on the small of his back forced Savage to the sideline.

That meant that Xavier was allowed to pick one of the other four players on the floor to shoot the free throws.

There was Kelan Martin, a 77.4 percent free throw shooter, and Andrew Chrabacsz, a 75.0 percent free throw shooter. Then there was center Nate Fowler, a sophomore center who stands 6-foot-11 and shoots 76.9 percent from the line, but he’s only been to the charity stripe 39 times this season and averages under 12 minutes a night.

Fowler would have been the savvy pick.

Xavier’s staff, however, recommended everyone except Kamar Baldwin, Butler’s best free throw shooter this season. And that’s precisely who Mack went with. Like I said, he went rogue, but it was a savvier decision than you may realize. A freshman playing in his first Big East tournament game, and he hadn’t shot a free throw all night?

It worked.

Baldwin went 1-for-2 from the line, and on the ensuing possession, a Trevon Bluiett jumper gave the Musketeers the lead for good. Xavier would go on to win 62-57, a win that should end all the speculation about whether or not the Musketeers are an NCAA tournament team. Xavier entered Thursday having lost six of their last nine games. Those three wins — their only three wins since Feb. 4th — all came against DePaul. Overall, the Musketeers were 5-9 since their star point guard, Edmond Sumner, went down with a torn ACL.

That was enough to raise the question: Is this truly a tournament team?

“We have competitive guys,” Mack said. “They understand what’s at stake. I don’t know how you can’t. [It’s] 2017. Everywhere we go, guys have their phones up to their noses. So I’m sure they’re snapchatting, but at the same time they’re probably checking twitter and seeing the bottom line. We’re aware of all that stuff.”

The answer, in all likelihood, was that Xavier probably had done enough to earn an at-large bid even if they had lost on Thursday, but getting that monkey off their back will make Selection Sunday just that much less stressful.

It also puts the Musketeers in position to make a real run at the Big East title.

They’ll play the winner of Creighton-Providence in the semifinals on Friday night, and neither of those teams are imposing. A win there and a trip to the title game — likely against Villanova — wouldn’t be a bad thing for this group. Even without Edmond Sumner, Xavier is a talented team. They’re physically tough, but not so much mentally. Leadership has been an issue for this group. When this going gets tough, they’ve had a tendency to fold.

The opposite was true on Thursday.

The Musketeers won a game as a scrappy underdog, which is exactly the kind of program they’ve been during their most successful March runs.

And Thursday’s win gives them a chance to do it again this year.


NCAA denies extra-year request by NC State guard Henderson

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The NCAA has denied North Carolina State guard Terry Henderson’s request for another year of eligibility.

Henderson announced the decision Friday in a statement issued by the school.

The Raleigh native played two seasons at West Virginia before transferring to N.C. State and redshirting in 2014-15. He played for only 7 minutes of the following season before suffering a season-ending ankle injury.

As a redshirt senior in 2016-17, he was the team’s second-leading scorer at 13.8 points per game and made a team-best 78 3-pointers.

Henderson called it “an honor and privilege” to play in his hometown.

SMU gets transfer in Georgetown’s Akoy Agau

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SMU pulled in a frontcourt player in Georgetown transfer Akoy Agau, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. Agau is immediately eligible for next season as a graduate transfer.

The 6-foot-8 Agau started his career at Louisville before transferring to Georgetown after one season. Spending two seasons with the Hoyas, Agau was limited to 11 minutes in his first season due to injuries. He averaged 4.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game last season.

Coming out of high school, Agau was a four-star prospect but he’s never lived up to that billing in-part because of injuries. Now, Agau gets one more chance to make a difference as he’s hoping to help replace some departed pieces like Ben Moore and Semi Ojeleye.

South Carolina loses big man Sedee Keita to transfer

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South Carolina big man Sedee Keita will transfer from the program, he announced on Friday.

The 6-foot-9 Keita was once regarded as a top-100 national prospect in the Class of 2016, but he never found consistent minutes with the Gamecocks for last season’s Final Four team.

Keita appeared in 29 games and averaged 1.1 points and 2.0 rebounds per game while shooting 27 percent from the field.

A native of Philadelphia, Keita will have to sit out next season before getting three more seasons of eligibility.

Although Keita failed to make an impact during his only season at South Carolina, he’ll be a coveted transfer thanks to his size and upside.

Mississippi State losing two to transfer

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Mississippi State will lose two players to transfer as freshmen Mario Kegler and Eli Wright are leaving the program.

Both Kegler and Wright were four-star prospects coming out of high school as they were apart of a six-man recruiting class that is supposed to be a major foundation for Ben Howland’s future with the Bulldogs.

The 6-foot-7 Kegler was Mississippi State’s third-leading scorer last season as he averaged 9.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Kegler should command some quality schools on the transfer market, especially since he’ll still have three more years of eligibility after sitting out next season due to NCAA transfer regulations. Kegler’s loss is also notable for Mississippi State because it is the second consecutive offseason that Howland lost a top-100, in-state product to transfer after only one season after Malik Newman left for Kansas.

Wright, a 6-foot-4 guard, was never able to find consistent minutes as he was already behind underclass perimeter options like Quinndary Weatherspoon, Lamar Peters and Tyson Carter last season. With Nick Weatherspoon, Quinndary’s four-star brother, also joining the Bulldogs next season, the writing was likely on the wall that Wright wasn’t going to earn significant playing time.


N.C. State lands second transfer of day with Utah’s Devon Daniels

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A big recruiting day for N.C. State continued on Saturday afternoon as Utah transfer and guard Devon Daniels pledged to the Wolfpack.

Earlier in the day, N.C. State and new head coach Kevin Keatts landed another quality transfer in UNC Wilmington guard C.J. Bryce.

The 6-foot-5 Daniels just finished his freshman season with the Utes in which he put up 9.9 points 4.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 57 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range. Just like Bryce, Daniels will have to sit out the 2017-18 season due to NCAA transfer regulations before he has three more seasons of eligibility.

N.C. State now has two potential starters on the perimeter for the 2018-19 season with the addition of Bryce and Daniels as it will be interesting to see what kind of talent the Wolfpack can get around them.