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Grayson Allen, Trevon Duval lead No. 1 Duke past No. 2 Michigan State

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CHICAGO – It was not a good night for Grayson Allen Haters.

Duke’s senior star scored 23 of his 37 points in the second half and Trevon Duval added 17 points, 10 assists and five steals as No. 1 Duke knocked off No. 2 Michigan State in the opener of the Champions Classic on Tuesday night, 88-81.

Allen, who scored six points in the final minute of the first half as well, finished with seven threes on the night and carried Duke in the second half of a game where the Blue Devils were on the ropes. They were playing without Marvin Bagley III for the final 30 minutes of the game, and their front line struggled against the massive Michigan State Spartans.

All the while, Allen made big shot after big shot down the stretch.

And in the end, it didn’t matter that the top recruit in the Class of 2017 was sitting on the bench with his right eye swollen up, and it didn’t matter that two of Duke’s three remaining elite freshmen were struggling to play up to their potential.

The Blue Devils left the United Center with a win over the No. 2 team in college basketball.

That’s a scary thought.

But not quite as scary as the idea that Grayson Allen is the man that’s here to save college basketball.

Tuesday night is a night that we desperately needed in a sport that has spent the past six weeks dealing with the fall out of the biggest scandal in the sport’s history: An FBI investigation into corruption in recruiting, both by colleges and agents looking to land clients, that has left four assistant coaches and ten men in total facing federal charges. It’s what we needed for a sport whose opening night was dominated by headlines of players being held out of competition and quasi-celebrities on the UCLA roster spending time in a Chinese jail.

Hell, at halftime of the opening game of the double-header Kansas released a statement that said that their star freshman, Billy Preston, was being held out of competition while they investigated how he paid for a car that he crashed last week.

We needed a night to talk about the games, only the games and nothing but the games, and the man to do that was the center of controversy himself, Grayson Allen.

How about that?

In the big picture, the story of this game for Duke is the health of Bagley. After getting poked in the eye by a teammate midway through the first half, Bagley spent a few minutes on the ground – appearing to mouth the words “I can’t see” –  before heading back to the locker room. He returned to the court during halftime, but he did not even warm-up with the team let alone return to the court, and Coach K referred to the injury as a “scratched eye,” and everyone that I spoke to on the Duke staff did not believe the injury to be serious.

Without Bagley on the floor, Duke’s half-court offense sputtered initially. Trevon Duval took some ill-advised shots and Gary Trent struggled to find a rhythm while Wendell Carter was flat-out bad for roughly the first 30 minutes of the game. Duke did enough to get easy offense in other ways – they had 15 offensive rebounds in the first-half and forced eight Michigan State turnovers – but without Carter and Bagley to run sets through, the Blue Devils looked bogged down in the half court.

Duval managed to settle down, however, and proved himself to be one of the best players on the floor. He was an absolute menace on the defensive end, got to the rim at will and ignited Duke’s transition offense. When he figures out his shooting stroke, he’ll have a shot to be a very, very good player.

He was a big reason that Duke’s 2-3 zone was so effective, as was Javin DeLaurier, a sophomore that came off the bench and was terrific for the Blue Devils, his length and activity causing havoc for Sparty. Michigan State was able to figure things out in the second half, as Miles Bridges found his shooting stroke and Michigan State started pounding the ball into the paint. They made their run, they answered the barrage of Allen threes by trying to foul out every big man on the Duke roster.

But, again, Duke had an answer.

It was Allen.

“He’s not a good shooter,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He’s a great shooter.”

Duke’s roster is loaded with freshmen and sophomores, and not all of those highly-regarded freshmen and sophomores played well on Tuesday. Bagley was injured and did not return. Trent struggled to find his shooting stroke, although he did hit a massive shot down the stretch. Duval was terrific, but Wendell Carter was relatively ineffective until the final 10 minutes of the game. Marques Bolden is … Marques Bolden, and as well as DeLaurier played, he’s a role player. He’s on the floor to be long and athletic and full of energy, and he was long and athletic and full of energy.

Put another way, in a game that was pitted as a battle of the front courts, Michigan State won that fight.

And Duke won the game.

Because Allen put together what may end up being the best performance we see on a college basketball court this season. Two season ago, in this very same building, Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine went for 29 points, 12 boards and 12 assists as Michigan State landed a come-from-behind win against then-No. 1 Kansas. That performance put him in the driver’s seat for National Player of the Year, and while Buddy Hield did Buddy Hield things all season long, Valentine ended up splitting the National Player of the Year awards.

Allen could very well end up on that same trajectory.

“I’ve played in 90 more games than the four teammates out there with me,” Allen said with a laugh. “So I feel a little bit more comfortable and calm and confident.”

For all the stick he gets, for as much as he is demonized in the media – much of it deserved, some of it over-the-top – Allen is a helluva basketball player when he is healthy.

When we talk about how valuable talented veterans are on these one-and-done superteams, that is what we mean.

No. 19 Wichita State upends No. 5 Cincinnati 76-72

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HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. (AP) — Dave Stallworth was running the show the last time Wichita State beat a Top 5 team on the road. Landry Shamet took the lead as the Shockers did it again 54 years later.

This one, too, will be a reference point, given all that was at stake.

Shamet scored 19 points, and No. 19 Wichita State ended the nation’s longest home-court winning streak, beating No. 5 Cincinnati 76-72 on Sunday to leave the American Athletic Conference race wide open.

The Shockers (21-5, 11-3) beat a Top 5 team on the road for the first time since 1964. They led most of the way, building an 11-point lead midway through the second half and holding on. Shaquille Morris’ dunk with 5 seconds left finished it off.

The Shockers ran onto the floor for congratulatory chest bumps. Coach Gregg Marshall got a celebratory dunking in the locker room, leaving his light-colored shirt clinging to him.

“It’s tremendous,” Marshall said. “Look at my shirt. College basketball has such tremendous parity. The games are decided by great players making great plays. Landry is a tremendous player.”

The Bearcats (23-4, 12-2) had won their last 39 home games. In their first real home challenge of the season, they wound up playing catch-up and coming up short. Cincinnati hasn’t beaten a ranked team all season, falling to 0-3 with losses to Xavier and Florida.

Cincinnati and Wichita State were expected to contend for the title in the Shockers’ first season in the AAC. Wichita State gave itself a chance with a solid all-around game led by its point guard. Shamet had 16 points in the first half, when the Shockers shredded the nation’s second-ranked defense to take control.

Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin was bothered by his team’s “gross, mind-boggling defensive breakdowns,” including allowing the Shockers to get open for those two late layups. Wichita State shot 53 percent from the field, getting open 3-pointers in the first half and layups in the second half.

“We’re just not in a good place right now,” Cronin said. “I hadn’t slept much. We’re not in a good place for a lot of reasons.”

Wichita State closes the regular season by hosting Cincinnati on March 4. Houston (21-5, 11-3) also is in the running for the league title after beating Temple on Sunday.

The Shockers hit seven of eight shots during a 17-3 run that gave them a 34-23 lead. Cincinnati responded by turning up its full-court defense, forcing three quick turnovers, and going on a run that cut the deficit to 42-40 at halftime.

The Shockers showed a little defense of their own, forcing five turnovers while rebuilding their lead to 59-48 with 11 minutes left, matching its biggest of the game. Cincinnati closed to 72-70 on Trevon Scott’s dunk with 13 seconds left, but the Shockers scored on a pair of inbound passes by Landry, the last a full-court heave to Morris for a dunk that provided the final margin.

“This is what we do,” said Austin Reaves, who made the first of the two decisive layups. “We stick together on the road.”

BIG PICTURE

Wichita State: The Shockers needed a win to maintain their chances of a regular season title, and they got it with another good showing on the road. The Shockers are the most successful road team in the nation over the past five years at 47-8, including 7-2 this season.

“This is like our 50th red-out or white-out or black-out,” Marshall said. “We feel comfortable when that happens.”

Cincinnati: The Bearcats moved into the Top 5 even though they hadn’t beaten a ranked team all season. Losses at Houston and at home to Wichita State left them prepared for a plummet.

“As it gets later in the season, every team is better,” said Jacob Evans III, who had 16 points. “It’s not the beginning of conference or the season. Every team knows us well. We’ve got to be able to go to second options when they take away the first ones.”

NO LONGER A SWEET HOME

The Bearcats hadn’t lost at home since a 77-70 defeat against Temple on Dec. 29, 2015. They went 18-0 at Fifth Third Arena last season and were 13-0 at Northern Kentucky’s BB&T Arena, where they’re playing this season while their on-campus arena is renovated.

LONG TIME NO SEE

The Shockers and Bearcats played regularly as members of the Missouri Valley Conference from 1958-70, but it was their first game since 1981.

TOP 5 HISTORY

It was only the fourth time the Shockers have beaten a Top 5 team on the road. They beat No. 5 Oklahoma A&M in 1954 and topped No. 3 Loyola in 1963 and again in 1964 behind Stallworth.

TOUGH WEEKEND IN CINCY

Cincinnati had two teams in the Top 5, and both of them lost at home over the weekend. No. 4 Xavier lost to No. 3 Villanova 95-79 on Saturday at Cintas Center.cincinnati

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.

To put it into context: For all the talk about how much of a problem Duke’s defense has been, the Blue Devils are now ranked 43rd in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. They were 79th after they lost to North Carolina, the last game that Bagley played. Villanova, who many believe is the best team in the country when healthy, is 42nd.

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: