Golden Eagles look for giant-killing mojo in the Southland

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Shawn Glover dribbles past Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield (AP photo)

All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

During a three-year run atop the Summit League, Scott Sutton racked up some pretty impressive wins. He’s not about to let anyone, least of all his young Oral Roberts basketball squad, forget about it.

In the ’05-’06 season, ORU drubbed Southern Cal by twenty points. The next year, Sutton took his charges into Lawrence, KS and left with a stunning 78-71 upset of No. 3 Kansas on his resume. In ’07-’08, Oklahoma State and crosstown rival Tulsa felt his wrath.

In each of those seasons, the Golden Eagles went to the NCAA tournament as low-seeded auto-bid winners, and lost handily to power programs.

Then mid-major reality set in. Sutton’s team never lost more than five league games in any season since then, but losses in the Summit tourney left them outside the Big Dance, peering in. To add insult to injury, the far-flung Summit League kept adding ever more distant members, forcing the Golden Eagles to spend an unsustainable amount of money on the travel budget. When the opportunity came to join the Southland Conference a season ago, it was a fiscal no-brainer. The team never has to leave red-dirt country during conference play, and has the same single shot at making the NCAA tournament, so why not?

“It did make it a little bit easier, because you don’t have to worry about going up north and getting stuck in airports because of weather,” Sutton said. “Now we end up driving five or six hours for a lot of our trips. It has also allowed us to recruit south Texas and New Orleans more, which is great.”

(MORE: Read NBCSports.com’s Southland Conference preview here)

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Oral Roberts athletics

For Sutton and the Golden Eagles, getting that auto bid and a long-awaited return trip to the NCAA tournament has to be paramount. Nonetheless, wouldn’t a couple more marquee non-conference victories be nice? Especially if they teach David how to beat Goliath in March?

Sutton certainly isn’t ducking his opportunities. This year’s ORU slate is pretty brutal before New Year’s Day. November takes them to play at Tulsa again, then to the Little Apple to face Kansas State. Then it’s at St. Louis and at Wisconsin. In December, they visit Final Four darling Wichita State and swing on by Baylor to close out the year. For a lesser coach with a lesser team, it could be soul-crushing.

“We’re not quite as young as we look on paper,” Sutton warned. “This group ought to be able to withstand that schedule, and it’ll make us tougher and better.”

Sutton knows what he’s doing. He’s always got those wins in Lawrence and Stillwater to drag into the pregame talk, and you can bet he’ll point to future foe Gregg Marshall’s Shockers as evidence of the power of positive mid-major thinking.

“We’ve won a bunch of those games,” he said.”We mention them a lot, and it gives our guys confidence.”

(CLICK HERE to read through the rest of NBCSports.com’s feature stories)

He’ll have some decent size, led by Utah transfer Shawn Glover, and he’s always done a great job of coaching up the players who come to play for him in Tulsa. The news that Missouri State transfer and Tulsa native Drew Wilson will be immediately eligible to play after applying for a hardship waiver was more good news. Throw in former Arkansas commit Dederick Lee and the Eagles have the look of a long-term contender.

“The Sutton name is good throughout Arkansas, because of my dad,” the ORU coach said, harkening back to the eleven quality years and a Final Four appearance his legendary father brought to the Razorbacks program in the 1970’s. “Dederick committed to Arkansas early, and when he decommitted, we jumped all over him. He likes that he has a chance to come in and be an impact player right away.”

Sutton expects senior forward Glover to challenge for league POY honors, and he likes the way his recruiting classes are layered behind the big man.  With point guard Jabbar Singleton leaving his hometown of New Orleans to team up with fellow freshman Lee in the backcourt, the future looks bright for the Golden Eagles.

The Southland is forewarned, for sure. But those giant programs with Final Four aspirations had better look out for Oral Roberts in November and December as well.

If all goes as planned for Sutton and Company, March could spell even more trouble for the nation’s bluebloods.

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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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.