SEC

Ex-NCAA scoring leader Daniel ready to return for new team

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee guard James Daniel III finally has the chance to deliver a follow-up performance to his 2015-16 NCAA scoring title, an opportunity that essentially eluded him last season.

After an ankle injury caused Daniel to play just two games last season at Howard, the 6-foot graduate transfer brings experience and offense to Tennessee’s backcourt.

“I wanted to go on the biggest stage for my last year and try to pursue my hopes and dreams since I’ve been a little kid, which was to get to the NBA,” Daniel said.

Daniel likely won’t be shooting or scoring as much as he did at Howard, where he averaged 27.1 points per game to lead all Division I players in 2015-16. He’s more interested in getting to the NCAA Tournament, something he hasn’t done and Tennessee hasn’t accomplished since 2014.

“At this point in my career I’m ready to win,” Daniel said. “That’s pretty much what I have to do. I feel like if we win, my personal goals will be met.”

Daniel believed that NCAA berth would come last season as Howard was favored to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

Those plans quickly went awry.

Daniel was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain that caused him to miss the first 14 games of the season. After returning and playing just two games, Daniel learned he had a chipped bone in his ankle. With Daniel out for the rest of the season, Howard finished 10-24.

That injury allowed Daniel to redshirt the 2016-17 season, giving him one more year of eligibility. He decided to spend that season in a bigger conference and considered Michigan, Ohio State and DePaul before selecting Tennessee.

Daniel remembered watching Tennessee games when he was younger and appreciating prolific guard Chris Lofton, who starred for the Volunteers from 2004-08. When Daniel visited Tennessee, he bonded with the team and sensed a family atmosphere.

“They’re competitive,” Daniel said. “They all want to win. That was the most intriguing part.”

Although Daniel’s ankle leaves his status uncertain for Tennessee’s three exhibition games next month in France and Spain, he’s expected to be ready in plenty of time for the start of the season.

Tennessee is counting on the additions of Daniel and Vincennes University transfer Chris Darrington to solidify a backcourt that struggled with inexperience last year.

“With Chris Darrington and James Daniel, we felt like we could get guys who liked to score and were not afraid to go make plays,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “I think that’s going to help these younger guys because they were put in situations they’d never been put in before.”

Barnes cited the maturity Daniel brings as Tennessee’s lone senior. Daniel will turn 24 on Jan. 29, about a month after Tennessee begins Southeastern Conference play. Nobody else on Tennessee’s roster is older than 20, though juniors Kyle Alexander and Brad Woodson will have their 21st birthdays before the season starts.

“He’s older than all of us, so I think I can learn some things from him,” Darrington said.

Daniel’s teammates will learn plenty about his knack for drawing fouls. Not only did Daniel lead all Division I players in scoring during that 2015-16 season, he also topped the nation in free-throw attempts with 331.

They’ll also learn about his work ethic. Daniel’s father, James Daniel Jr., remembers how his son used to take about 200 jump shots every morning before his classes started at Phoebus High School in Hampton, Virginia.

“He’s just been a workaholic,” James Daniel Jr. said. “Well, we’d call it a workaholic, but he’d probably say it was something that he loved doing.”

All that practice helped Daniel overcome his lack of height at Howard to become an NCAA scoring leader. Now he’s ready to compete at a higher level.

He got an idea of what to expect from Quinton Chievous, who made the move in reverse by leading MEAC program Hampton to the NCAA Tournament after starting out at Tennessee. Daniel said Chievous told him he “should do really well here.”

Daniel agrees.

“I don’t think they would have brought me here if they didn’t think I could compete at this level,” Daniel said.

Bill Self responds to comments from ex-Mizzou chancellor

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The Border War between Kansas and Missouri has not been played since the Tigers left the Big 12 for greener football pastures in the SEC in 2012.

Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk wants the rivalry to be renewed. Kansas head coach Bill Self has deflected those questions, previously stating, “… that’s a decision that will be made at a university level, not just at a basketball level.”

On Thursday, former Missouri Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin blamed the Self and his “big ego” for not restarting the Border War, stating that an offer was on the table for a football game between the Tigers and Jayhawks to be played at Arrowhead Stadium.

Self, the soon-to-be Hall of Fame coach, responded to those claims later that day in a text message to Matthew Galloway of the Topeka Capital-Journal:

“Tell the ex-Missouri chancellor that I coach basketball, not football,” Self wrote in a text message to The Capital-Journal. “That we would never play a game in Arrowhead or even discuss it. It’s too cold. We play our games indoors. But (I) look forward to meeting him someday if he’s ever in Lawrence.”

These comments serve as nothing more than as a deflection and Self’s disinterest in reigniting the series with Mizzou.

But it’s important that Missouri is aggressively pursuing this. There’s plenty of hype surrounding the program right now: Cuonzo Martin taking over the program, projected top pick Michael Porter, Jr. committing to the Tigers, ticket sales up, etc. If that hype can be turned into on the court success, you’d have to imagine Sterk’s pursuit of this annual game only intensifies.

SEC unveils conference schedule

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For the first time in 25 years, Southeastern Conference hoops will be played in December.

The SEC will tipoff its 2016-17 conference slate on Dec. 29 with a five-game run that includes Florida at Arkansas and Kentucky at Ole Miss.

The Gators and Hogs will play at 7 p.m. (ET) as will Georgia vs. Auburn and the Wildcats vs. the Rebels.Vanderbilt at LSU and Tennessee at Texas A&M will conclude things at 9 p.m.

It marks the first time since 1991 that the league has played prior to the new year.

Texas A&M will visit Kentucky for a 9 p.m. game on Jan. 3 while the Wildcats visit Florida on Feb. 2, with the Gators making the return trip on Feb. 25. Conference play will end on Saturday, March 4, with Kentucky’s trip to A&M the headliner of seven games that day.

The SEC tournament, which is played at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, will be played March 8-12.

For the full schedule, click here

No. 22 South Carolina remains unbeaten with win over Vandy

(AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Sindarius Thornwell had 19 points and eight rebounds and No. 22 South Carolina remained undefeated with a 69-65 victory over Vanderbilt on Saturday.

South Carolina (15-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) passed its first tough test of the season, taking its first lead on PJ Dozier’s floater with 10:54 left. Dozier then hit a reverse layup as the rare near sellout crowd at Colonial Life Center roared.

Dozier scored seven of his nine points over the next 5 minutes and the Gamecocks held off Vanderbilt (8-7, 0-3) with good defense. The Commodores missed 19 of their last 22 shots.

South Carolina and SMU are the only unbeaten teams left in Division I. South Carolina has only reached 15 wins in three of its past 10 seasons.

Riley Lachance and Wade Baldwin IV each had 13 points for Vanderbilt.

The Commodores built an 8-0 lead less than 2 minutes in as Luke Kornet hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Damien Jones had a putback.

The deficit was the largest South Carolina had faced all season. The Gamecocks also trailed for 19:45 of the first half, which was more time than they had been behind in any game.

But South Carolina kept it close. Five times the Gamecocks were down one and failed to take the lead.

Once South Carolina took over, though, Vanderbilt couldn’t respond. Nolan Cressler fouled out with 7:55 left and Jones got his fifth foul with 6:34 to go. Baldwin also fouled out at the end as the Commodores sent South Carolina to the line.

Free throws kept Vanderbilt in it. The Commodores made 11 foul shots during the final 14 minutes.

TIP-INS

Vanderbilt: Kornet returned to the starting lineup for the Commodores for the first time since injuring his knee in practice Dec. 8. He scored eight points. … Vanderbilt was picked to finish second in the SEC, but has started 0-3 in the league for the first time since 2013.

South Carolina: The Gamecocks’ 15-0 start is their best since the 1933-34 season. That team also shares South Carolina’s longest winning streak of 17 games with the 1969-70 team that went undefeated in the Atlantic Coast Conference before losing in the tournament. … This is only the third time in 25 SEC seasons the Gamecocks have started with two league wins.

UP NEXT

Vanderbilt hosts Auburn on Tuesday night.

South Carolina travels to Alabama on Wednesday night.

VIDEO: South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell crushes Clemson defender on dunk

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South Carolina moved to 10-0 on the season on Friday night as they were able to outlast in-state rival Clemson. Junior wing Sindarius Thornwell put down one of the better poster dunks of the early season by throwing it down on Clemson’s Landry Nnoko.

The former four-star recruit has been an important player for the Gamecocks the last three seasons as he’s averaging 11.7 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4 assists per game on the season.

 

Beard set to make return to action for Arkansas after arrest

Associated Press
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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Arkansas point guard Anton Beard will make his return to the court on Saturday after missing the season’s first nine games following a summer arrest on forgery charges.

Beard, named to the Southeastern Conference’s All-Freshman team last season for the Razorbacks (5-4), was arrested in July after Fayetteville police said he was seen using and exchanging counterfeit $20 and $50 bills.

He entered a pre-trial diversion program last month in an attempt to avoid prosecution, and Saturday’s game in North Little Rock with Mercer (8-2) will mark the end of his semester-long suspension.

“He feels grateful to have the opportunity still to be here,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “I am sure there are a lot of things he wants to correct. How do you correct that? By going out and doing the right thing. So, it’s a life lesson for him.”

Beard averaged 5.8 points in 18.9 minutes per game last season for the Razorbacks, who were 27-9 and finished runner-up in the SEC. He started the season’s final 16 games, including a pair in the NCAA Tournament, and he shot 35.2 percent on 3-pointers while also averaging a steal per game.

The 6-foot point guard wasn’t made available to speak publicly before his season debut, but Anderson said he’s been practicing with the Razorbacks for the last two weeks in preparation for his first game.

Arkansas has struggled at times this season to replace last season’s SEC Player of the Year, Bobby Portis, as well as second-leading scorer Michael Qualls. The Razorbacks were 2-3 following a pair of losses to Georgia Tech and Stanford in New York, but they have won three of four games since.

Without Beard, point guard Jabril Durham has flourished while averaging a team-high 30.8 minutes per game. The senior is second in the country with an average of 8.1 assists per game, and he’s also averaging nearly two steals per game.

Anderson said while Beard’s return will cut into Durham’s minutes somewhat, he expects both to become more efficient with their play – and that the two are likely to see action at the same time as Arkansas tries to extend its winning streak to three games.

“He’s not the savior,” Anderson said of Beard. “He’s just going to be a guy that’s going to come in and try to get back into the rhythm of things, because right now our guys are playing at a pretty good level.”