North Carolina proved a lot in its loss to Duke


Its official — North Carolina is back.

And yes, I know, that is a weird thing to say after the No. 20 Tar Heels blew a 16-point lead to No. 5 Duke on Wednesday night, getting outscored 50-30 in the second half of a 79-73 loss. Its even weirder when you consider that Kyle Singler, the preseason national player of the year, was just 3-17 from the floor.

But it’s true.

Wednesday night’s performance confirmed it for me.

Duke might not be an invincible as we all thought they were before Kyrie Irving injured his toe, but even without their star freshman, the Blue Devils are a very good basketball team. They are even better playing at home, especially when the Tar Heels are in town.

Which is what made the first half of this game so impressive.

For the first 20 minutes, the Tar Heels looked as good as any team in the nation. They played outstanding defense, they dominated the paint, and their fast break was as potent as the one led by Ty Lawson in UNC’s 2009 championship season. The Heels flat out wiped the floor with one of the best teams in the nation. On the road. In the sport’s biggest rivalry. On ESPN.

That’s impressive, and it proves that this team has the ability to play with anyone in the country. That they are good enough to make it to, and possibly past, the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

But this is still a young North Carolina team. Not just in age, but in experience. Their starting point guard has been a starting point guard for just five games. He has played only two games without a platoon at the position. All told, there are six freshmen and sophomores in their rotation. Tyler Zeller is playing his first injury-free season, Justin Knox is a senior but in his first year with the Heels, and Justin Watts is a life-long role player.

For every member of the Tar Heels, it’s safe to say that this was the biggest game where they have played a significant role in their collegiate career. Zeller and Watts were on the 2009 title team, but they played very limited roles. Knox played at Alabama for three years. The sophomore class experienced an NIT season their rookie year. The Heels have played on national television this season, but none of those games — not against Illinois, not against Kentucky, not in Puerto Rico — can possibly match the level of intensity and public interest of a Duke-UNC game just three days after the nation’s consciousness officially switches to hoops.

Just like you have to develop a jump shot or your post game, you have to develop the ability to perform under pressure and play in the clutch. Winning is a learned skill.

Duke has it. Duke’s learned it. The Blue Devils, after all, are the reigning national champions and returned a majority of the core from that team.

Including Nolan Smith.

Simply put, Smith was sensational in the second half against the Tar Heels. He scored 22 of his career-high 34 points. He penetrated at will against a better-than-you-think Carolina defense. He controlled the tempo of the game, which took UNC out of their rhythm. Most importantly, he made the plays early in the half that gave the Blue Devils hope and sparked their comeback.

While Singler struggled, Seth Curry picked up his slack. Steph’s younger brother scored 18 of his 22 points in the second half, including 14 points in a 33-12 surge that gave the Heels a 60-55 lead. Even the Plumlees, who were, for the most part, dogged by Zeller and John Henson tonight, were tough in the paint during that stretch, getting some key rebounds.

Carolina was never able to mount an answer.

Part of the issue was that UNC got away from getting the ball inside. Zeller had 24 points and 13 boards on the night, while Henson added 14 points and 12 boards. They settled for too many jumpers. Marshall was no longer able to find teammates when he penetrated. Since Carolina wasn’t getting any stops, they weren’t able to get out in transition.

The bottom line is this — down the stretch, Duke made the plays they had to make to win. North Carolina didn’t.

Duke was experienced enough and calm enough to execute under pressure. North Carolina wasn’t.

The Tar Heels looked like a Final Four team in the first half. They looked like the inexperienced, NIT team that lost by 20 to Georgia Tech in the second half.

But as this group continues to gel, to learn, and gain confidence, expect the Heels to trend towards the former, not the latter.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Biden celebrates LSU women’s and UConn men’s basketball teams at separate White House events


WASHINGTON – All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.

The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.

“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”

The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.

LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more female athletes in college and high school. He said most sports stories are still about men, and that that needs to change.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Folks, we need to support women sports, not just during the championship run but during the entire year,” President Biden said.

After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.

LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.

Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”

“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”

“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We’ve made so much progress and we still have so much more work to do.”

The president added that “the way in which women’s sports has come along is just incredible. It’s really neat to see, since I’ve got four granddaughters.”

After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.

“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”

A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the U.S. can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.

Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.

“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.

Marquette’s Prosper says he will stay in draft rather than returning to school

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MILWAUKEE — Olivier-Maxence Prosper announced he is keeping his name under NBA draft consideration rather than returning to Marquette.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decision.

“Thank you Marquette nation, my coaches, my teammates and support staff for embracing me from day one,” Prosper said in an Instagram post. “My time at Marquette has been incredible. With that being said, I will remain in the 2023 NBA Draft. I’m excited for what comes next. On to the next chapter…”

Prosper had announced last month he was entering the draft. He still could have returned to school and maintained his college eligibility by withdrawing from the draft by May 31. Prosper’s announcement indicates he instead is going ahead with his plans to turn pro.

Prosper averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds last season while helping Marquette go 29-7 and win the Big East’s regular-season and tournament titles. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

He played two seasons at Marquette after transferring from Clemson, where he spent one season.

Kansas’ Kevin McCullar Jr. returning for last season of eligibility

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Kevin McCullar Jr. said that he will return to Kansas for his final year of eligibility, likely rounding out a roster that could make the Jayhawks the preseason No. 1 next season.

McCullar transferred from Texas Tech to Kansas for last season, when he started 33 of 34 games and averaged 10.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. He was also among the nation’s leaders in steals, and along with being selected to the Big 12’s all-defensive team, the 6-foot-6 forward was a semifinalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.

“To be able to play in front of the best fans in the country; to play for the best coach in the nation, I truly believe we have the pieces to hang another banner in the Phog,” McCullar said in announcing his return.

Along with McCullar, the Jayhawks return starters Dajuan Harris Jr. and K.J. Adams from a team that went 28–8, won the Big 12 regular-season title and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where it lost to Arkansas in the second round.

Perhaps more importantly, the Jayhawks landed Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, widely considered the best player in the portal, to anchor a lineup that was missing a true big man. They also grabbed former five-star prospect Arterio Morris, who left Texas, and Towson’s Nick Timberlake, who emerged last season as one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.

The Jayhawks also have an elite recruiting class arriving that is headlined by five-star recruit Elmarko Jackson.

McCullar declared for the draft but, after getting feedback from scouts, decided to return. He was a redshirt senior last season, but he has another year of eligibility because part of his career was played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a big day for Kansas basketball,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “Kevin is not only a terrific player but a terrific teammate. He fit in so well in year one and we’re excited about what he’ll do with our program from a leadership standpoint.”

Clemson leading scorer Hall withdraws from NBA draft, returns to Tigers

clemson pj hall
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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson leading scorer PJ Hall is returning to college after withdrawing from the NBA draft on Thursday.

The 6-foot-10 forward took part in the NBA combine and posted his decision to put off the pros on social media.

Hall led the Tigers with 15.3 points per game this past season. He also led the Tigers with 37 blocks, along with 5.7 rebounds. Hall helped Clemson finish third in the Atlantic Coast Conference while posting a program-record 14 league wins.

Clemson coach Brad Brownell said Hall gained experience from going through the NBA’s combine that will help the team next season. “I’m counting on him and others to help lead a very talented group,” he said.

Hall was named to the all-ACC third team last season as the Tigers went 23-10.

George Washington adopts new name ‘Revolutionaries’ to replace ‘Colonials’

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WASHINGTON — George Washington University’s sports teams will now be known as the Revolutionaries, the school announced.

Revolutionaries replaces Colonials, which had been GW’s name since 1926. Officials made the decision last year to drop the old name after determining it no longer unified the community.

GW said 8,000 different names were suggested and 47,000 points of feedback made during the 12-month process. Revolutionaries won out over the other final choices of Ambassadors, Blue Fog and Sentinels.

“I am very grateful for the active engagement of our community throughout the development of the new moniker,” president Mark S. Wrighton said. “This process was truly driven by our students, faculty, staff and alumni, and the result is a moniker that broadly reflects our community – and our distinguished and distinguishable GW spirit.”

George the mascot will stay and a new logo developed soon for the Revolutionaries name that takes effect for the 2023-24 school year. The university is part of the Atlantic 10 Conference.