Rust is showing in Ellington, South Carolina’s two-sport star

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source: Getty ImagesLEXINGTON, Ky. – Bruce Ellington was South Carolina’s best player as a freshman.

The diminutive but obscenely athletic point guard led the team in minutes played, scoring and assists. He took 110 more field goals than anyone else on the roster and shot 65 more threes. He wasn’t only the guy that had the ball in his hands at the end of a clock, he was the guy that had the ball in his hands, period.

That is why his decision to hit the gridiron for Steve Spurrier this season was so concerning for Darrin Horn’s team. Throw in the transfers of Murphy Holloway and Ramon Galloway and the graduation of Sam Muldrow, and the Gamecocks were looking at a season with a roster stocked with youth and a star player coming off of three months worth of pounding from playing football in the SEC.

And as you might expect, there has been a bit of an adjustment period for Ellington.

“Not having played consistently for the last six months will affect whether he can make shots or not,” Horn told reporters after the Gamecock’s 79-64 loss to Kentucky on Saturday afternoon. “So we just gotta throw him out there like the other guys. Let him play and if he gets tired, pull him out.”

You could see the rust against Kentucky.

Ellington did knock down one deep three and he had a couple of nice drives to the rim, but he finished the game 3-13 from the floor. He wasn’t moving slowly and he is clearly well on his way to being in perfect basketball shape, but basketball isn’t like football, where a smaller guy is going to be able to get by on physical tools alone.

It doesn’t matter how difficult it is to stay in front of Ellington if he can’t make a defense pay for letting him penetrate.

But prior to Saturday’s game, Ellington had been on fire. Against South Carolina State on Tuesday, he was 3-5 from the floor and 3-3 from three in 13 minutes. On December 28th, Ellington went 5-7 from the floor and 5-6 from three in 25 minutes in a win over Wofford. Do the math, and Ellington had hit eight of his last nine threes heading into the Kentucky game.

“I’m getting into the rhythm now, getting into the gym and focusing on basketball,” Ellington said after the game. “I’m getting it back.”

Making that stat all the more impressive is that on Monday, Ellington had on shoulder pads and a helmet as he helped South Carolina truck Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl, contributing 73 yards in his role as kick returner. One of those returns went for 45 yards.

“I thought I was going all the way,” he said during a media session on Thursday. “But some guy came — I guess he got off a block — and tackled me. I thought I was gone.”

After the game, Ellington went back to his home in Moncks Corner, SC, rather than travel back to campus with the football team. In the morning, he made the drive to the basketball team’s shootaround and officially started the 2011-2012 season as a full-time point guard. Up until now, Ellington has spent most of his time as a football player, joining up with the hoops team over the last month or so as football had some time off between the end of the regular season and their bowl appearance. During that time, Ellington was practicing and playing games with the basketball team, which, when combined with the return of Brenton Williams from an injury, means that Darrin Horn finally has a full deck.

“Not that tough, really,” Horn said when I asked him how difficult it has been to reintegrate Ellington in with this group. “He’s a phenomenal kid, a great teammate. He has the ability to come out and do what you saw today. He’s not shooting the ball well, but he had four assists and zero turnovers. That’s probably more impressive when you’re playing this kind of defense.”

The Gamecocks had a tough start to the season, losing five of their first seven games. Included in that stretch were losses to Elon, Tennessee State and USC and a squeaker against Mississippi Valley State. But prior to the Kentucky loss, USC had won six of seven, with five of those victories coming with Ellington in the lineup. While Williams’ return and the fact that Horn can now practice with a full roster have definitely factored into the recent improvement, given Ellington’s ability and the position that he plays, it would be foolish to chalk this up as simply a coincidence.

That improvement gets all the more interesting when you consider the fact that Ellington, while still rusty, has actually been better than he was last season. His offensive rating is up to 100.4 from 87.8 last year while his shooting percentages are improved across the board — 35.1 (2PT)/36.1 (3PT)/75.0 (FT) this year vs. 34.2/30.8/63.5 last season.

What happens when he, you know, isn’t rusty any more?

“You give him another two weeks, three weeks, a month, and you’re going to see a different player,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said after the game. “The other ball he was using? It was oblong. This one’s round. Now he’s using this one and he’s still out there doing the things he did.”

Whether or not that prediction comes to fruition, the one thing you can count on is the leadership and competitiveness that Ellington brings every time he sets foot on the basketball court. Five months on a football field didn’t take that away from him.

As freshman Damien Leonard said, “he’s still the same old Bruce.”

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

Tennessee center Tamari Key out for season with blood clots

Saul Young/News Sentinel/USA TODAY NETWORK
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee senior center Tamari Key will miss the rest of this season because of blood clots in her lungs, coach Kellie Harper said.

Doctors found the issue during testing. Key is expected to make a full recovery after treatment from University of Tennessee doctors, Harper said, adding that her sole concern is Key getting the medical care she needs to heal and return to full strength.

Key missed the first game of her career in a win Tuesday night over Chattanooga after playing her first 99.

“This is much bigger than basketball. We are so grateful that this medical condition was caught,” Harper said in a statement. “Our entire program will be right beside Tamari during this process and welcomes prayers and positive thoughts from Lady Vol Nation and beyond.”

The Lady Vols opened the season ranked fifth but currently are 5-5.

The 6-foot-6 Key from Cary, North Carolina, currently is Tennessee’s third-leading scorer averaging 8.4 points a game and averaged 4.2 rebounds per game. She started all 34 games as the Lady Vols reached their first Sweet 16 since 2016 last season and set the school record with 119 blocked shots.

Key had 18 blocks this season and 295 for her career, five away from becoming the eighth woman to reach that mark in Southeastern Conference history.

No. 7 Tennessee beats Eastern Kentucky, win streak hits 7

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Saul Young/USA TODAY NETWORK
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tyreke Key scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second half and finished with 17, and No. 7 Tennessee overcame a sluggish first half and beat Eastern Kentucky 84-49 on Wednesday night.

“Tyreke is handling the ball now,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “That’s all new to him. He keeps getting better.”

The Volunteers (8-1) struggled in the first half but still built an 11-point lead over Eastern Kentucky (4-5) on the way to their seventh straight victory.

Key led Tennessee in scoring before leaving with a cramp in his right leg with 6:15 left in the game. Julian Phillips had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Zakai Zeigler and Uros Plavsic added 13 points apiece. Olivier Nkamhoua scored 10.

“I’m still settling in,” said Key, a transfer from Indiana State who didn’t play last year while recovering from an injury. “This is a new role. I’m taking steps every day and keep learning.”

Eastern Kentucky, which came into the game averaging 83.5 points, was held well below that total due to 17% (6 for 35) shooting from long range and 22% (15 for 68) overall. Leland Walker led the Colonels with 13 points.

It was the seventh time this season Tennessee has held its opponent to 50 or fewer points.

“(Tennessee) is the best defensive team in the country,” Eastern Kentucky coach A.W. Hamilton said. “I think they’re the best team in the country.”

At one point in the first half, Tennessee was shooting 20% and still leading by 10 points. The teams combined to shoot 4 of 32 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes. The Vols, who shot 24% (8 of 34), led 32-21 at the break.

“If we can’t make shots, can you find a way to win the game?” Barnes said. “When the shot’s not going in, find a way to play. The first thing we talk about is our defense.”

Tennessee shot 41 free throws. Phillips, a true freshman, was 7 of 10.

“(Phillips) has learned the pace of the game,” Barnes said. “I’m not sure there’s been a more effective freshman in the country (this season).”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Since its early season slip against Colorado, Tennessee has had a steady ascent in the rankings. The Vols’ next two games – neutral site (Brooklyn) against No, 13 Maryland (Dec. 11) and at No. 10 Arizona (Dec. 17) – will go a long way toward justifying the No. 7 ranking.

BIG PICTURE

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels’ run-and-gun style of offense had them averaging 83.5 points through their first eight games. They ran into a defensive buzz saw in Tennessee, which was yielding just over 51 points.

Tennessee: Santiago Vescovi sat out his second straight game with a shoulder problem. He is expected to be ready to play Sunday against Maryland. . The Vols have won seven in a row since their loss to Colorado.

UP NEXT

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels host Boyce College on Saturday.

Tennessee: Take on No. 13 Maryland on Sunday at the Hall of Fame Invitational in New York.

Hoggard scores career-high 23, Michigan State snaps 2-game skid

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Matthew OHaren/USA TODAY Sports
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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A.J. Hoggard scored a career-high 23 points, Joey Hauser had 12 points and 15 rebounds and Michigan State beat Penn State 67-58 on Wednesday night to snap a two-game losing streak.

Michigan State (6-4, 1-1 Big Ten) avoided going .500 or worse after 10 games for the first time in 18 seasons.

Hoggard blocked an open layup with less than a minute to play and Hauser grabbed the rebound before being fouled and making two free throws at the other end for a 66-58 lead.

Hoggard, Hauser and Tyson Walker combined for 31 of Michigan State’s 32 second-half points.

The Michigan State defense allowed only one made field goal in the final five minutes. Penn State was just 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the second half after 7 of 18 before halftime.

Walker scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half for Michigan State. Hoggard, who entered third in the conference in assists at 6.3, had six rebounds, two assists and one key block.

Hoggard gave Michigan State 35-33 lead – its first since 4-2 – after back-to-back three-point plays with 59.3 seconds left in the first half. It was tied at 35-all at the break.

Seth Lundy scored 16 points and Jalen Pickett had 13 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists for Penn State (6-3, 0-1)

Michigan State hosts Brown on Saturday. Penn State, which hadn’t played since a double-overtime loss to Clemson on Nov. 29, plays at No. 17 Illinois on Saturday.

No. 7 Virginia Tech posts 9th straight win, beats Boston College 73-58

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Erica Denhoff/Getty Images
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BOSTON — Reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Elizabeth Kitley had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Cayla King scored 16 on Wednesday night to lead No. 7 Virginia Tech to a 73-58 victory over Boston College, the Hokies’ ninth straight win.

Taylor Soule, one of two BC transfers on the roster for Virginia Tech (9-0, 1-0 ACC), added nine points and five rebounds. Soule scored more than 1,500 points and grabbed almost 700 rebounds in four seasons at BC, earning All-ACC honors three times.

Andrea Daley scored 15 points and Maria Gakdeng scored 14 for BC (7-4, 0-1). They each grabbed six rebounds.

Virginia Tech scored 17 of the game’s first 21 points and led by as many as 19 in the third quarter before BC cut the deficit to 10 in the fourth. Leading 64-54 with under three minutes left and the shot clock expiring, Kayana Traylor hit a 3-pointer for the Hokies.

Gakdeng missed two free throws for BC, and then Kitley scored from inside to make it a 15-point game.

Clara Ford, who also played four years in Chestnut Hill, pitched in 2 points in 2 minutes against her former team.

BIG PICTURE

At No. 7, the Hokies have the highest ranking in the program’s history. With the victory over BC, a 10th straight win against North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday would leave Virginia Tech in position to move up even higher should a top five team falter.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech: Hosts North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday.

Boston College: Hosts Albany on Saturday.

Michigan’s Jaelin Llewellyn out for season with knee injury

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan point guard Jaelin Llewellyn is out for the rest of the season with an injured left knee and is expected to have surgery next month.

Wolverines coach Juwan Howard made the announcement three days after Llewellyn was hurt in a loss to Kentucky in London.

Llewellyn transferred to Michigan from Princeton last spring and that seemed to lead to Frankie Collins transferring to Arizona State after a solid freshman season for the Wolverines.

Llewellyn averaged seven points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in eight games at Michigan. He was an All-Ivy League player last season and averaged nearly 16 points over three seasons at Princeton.