Joe Jackson hopes to add to his legend at Memphis during senior season

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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.

Basketball means just a little bit more in the city of Memphis.

Tiger basketball faithful pack the FedEx Forum with 18,000-plus fans a night whether its Memphis Madness or a rivalry game against Tennessee, and for local kids like senior guard Joe Jackson, Memphis Tigers basketball is really the only thing that matters.

Memphis has a young and charismatic coach in Josh Pastner, but the Tigers have long been able to keep local Memphis talent home — regardless of the coach — and the tradition continues with Jackson, a former McDonald’s All-American and last season’s Conference USA Player of the Year.

“I was in such awe about coming to Memphis that I was going there regardless,” Jackson told NBC Sports. “I love Coach Pastner but I mean if the football coach was my basketball coach I would play for him, I’ll put it like that. When you’re from Memphis, people don’t understand until they come and live down here. It’s a way of living: Memphis basketball. Once you grow up in the city, you know.”

During his freshman season at Memphis, Jackson mentioned his desire to be remembered as a legend during an interview with ESPN.com’s Dana O’Neil. Words like “legend” aren’t often mentioned by freshmen, but Jackson’s background in the basketball-rich history of Memphis allowed him to carry on with such lofty aspirations.

The 6-foot-1 point guard told O’Neil in that December, 2010, interview, “I want to be remembered,” Jackson said to O’Neil. “I want to be a legend. I want to be a hero. I want old people to see me on television and say, ‘Look at that kid. He made it. He did it. That’s who I want you to be like.”’

(CLICK HERE to read NBCSports.com’s American Athletic Conference Preview)

Origin stories for legends often come with a difficult journey; Joe Jackson’s came with the baggage of being the first big-time local recruit to stay and play for the Tigers during the social media era.

After a celebrated high school career that included Mr. Basketball of Tennessee and amassing 3,451 points at local basketball powerhouse White Station High School, Jackson was up-and-down during his first two seasons at Memphis as he adjusted to the rigors of major college basketball while facing enormous local expectations.

“There hasn’t been a more scrutinized player, or pressure on a player, coming from the city than Joe Jackson,” Pastner told NBC Sports. “All these other guys that came before him were great players but they didn’t have the Twitter and the social media where everything was instant. I’m very proud of him, he’s come a long way. And he continues to get better.”

Although Jackson was inconsistent his first few seasons in college, he continued to work with Pastner. He thrived when the games really mattered, however, as Jackson always stepped up when it came time for the postseason. Jackson was the Conference USA Tournament MVP in his freshman and sophomore campaigns and credits Pastner for staying on him.

“It was rough early; just to play in college. He stayed on me. I feel like I worked for everything and I learned it from him. He doesn’t baby players. He made me better,” Jackson said of Pastner.

By Jackson’s junior season — his most complete season at Memphis — he helped the Tigers to a perfect 16-0 season in C-USA as the Tigers captured their second consecutive conference regular season title to go along with its third straight C-USA Tournament win with Jackson at the point. For the season, Jackson led the Tigers in scoring and assists and averaged 13.6 points, 4.8 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game while shooting 51 percent from the field and 44 percent from three-point range.

On top of his tremendous junior season, Jackson also earned his degree from Memphis in organizational leadership in three years as he spends his senior year working towards a minor in nonprofit development.

“Joe Jackson has had a marvelous three-year career to this point and I expect him to have a great senior year,” Pastner said. “I love where Joe’s come from, how far he’s progressed in every area. And to do what he’s been able to do and graduate in three years? I’m so proud of this young man.”

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

But for all that Joe Jackson has accomplished, is he a legend in Memphis?

The Tigers have only won one NCAA Tournament game with Jackson — last season’s 54-52 win over Saint Mary’s — and he might need to do more in the tournament this season to fully solidify his status.

Given Jackson’s and Memphis’ accomplishments, he and the Tigers shouldn’t be doubted this season as they go from Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference. The American should prepare the Tigers for the postseason — and improve their seeding — thanks to the facing opponents like Louisville, UConn and Cincinnati.

The Tigers and Jackson feel prepared for the American and embrace the new competition it brings.

“It’s going to be a fun thing to play against a bunch of teams we’ve never played against and it’s going to be a challenge for us; more than we’ve ever had since I’ve been in school,” Jackson said. “We’re just looking forward to going out and playing basketball in front of a different crowd and atmosphere with more fans. We just want to play well and win the conference and get some well-deserved national attention. So it’s a great opportunity for us to do our thing as a team and go out my last year in the right fashion.”

The first three years of Joe Jackson’s career at Memphis will be a hard act to follow for his senior season, but the pressure that the local point guard once faced is behind him. Jackson earned his degree and has taken the Tigers to the postseason in each of his three years on campus.

The rest of Jackson’s mission to become a legend in Memphis will be icing on the cake to an already great career as he focuses on ending his career on a high note.

“To be from the city and to be a role model to the kids by not getting in trouble, getting through some struggles early in my career and just persevering, that shows people that I know how much it means to play on the Tigers, especially being from Memphis,” Jackson said. “I mean of course (I want to be a legend). I may be a legend here in the city of Memphis. That’s something you should want to be from your city. Just because Memphis basketball is ridiculous sometimes; I just feel like it’s so important to me. People look at me as a high school legend and now I want to be looked at as a college legend.”

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

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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 St 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 BC 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

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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.

Miles Kelly leads Georgia Tech to 79-77 win over rival Georgia

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 02 Northeastern at Georgia Tech
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ATLANTA – Georgia Tech’s Miles Kelly hit another winning shot against a state rival.

Terry Roberts endured a nightmarish final minute for Georgia.

Kelly hit a long 3-pointer and then a drove for the game-winning floater with 23 seconds remaining as the Yellow Jackets rallied to beat Georgia 79-77 on Tuesday night.

Kelly hit the winning shot in similar fashion against Georgia State on Nov. 12. He did it again to beat the Bulldogs, finishing with a team-high 17 points after failing to score in the first half.

“I’m going to continue to keep shooting, no matter how many times I miss,” Kelly said.

Roberts missed a 3-pointer, turned the ball over twice with bad passes, and was called for an offensive foul as he was trying to drive for the basket that would’ve sent the game to overtime.

“A tough finish for us,” Georgia first-year coach Mike White said. “We were in position to steal one on the road.”

A pair of second-chance buckets seemingly put Georgia (7-3) in control with a 77-73 lead.

The Bulldogs wouldn’t score again as Kelly led the comeback for the Yellow Jackets (6-3) – with a big assist from Roberts.

He had a chance to essentially seal it for the Bulldogs, but his jumper beyond the arc clanked off the rim.

Georgia Tech grabbed the rebound and raced down the court, where Kelly swished a 3 from well behind the stripe that brought Georgia Tech within a point with about a minute left.

Trying to work the ball inside, Roberts made an ill-advised entry pass that was deflected and stolen by Deivon Smith, setting up Kelly’s drive for the basket that put the Yellow Jackets back ahead,

Roberts tried a drive of his own, only to have it blocked by Jalon Moore. Georgia retained possession, but Roberts’ inbounds pass was stolen by Moore, who was fouled and made one of two free throws.

Roberts took the ball again and hurriedly dribbled toward the basket, only to be called for an offensive foul when he sent Smith flying.

“Just sacrificing my body for the team,” Smith said.

Georgia stole an inbounds pass around midcourt, giving Karlo Oquendo one last shot to launch a 3 that still would’ve won it for the Bulldogs. It bounced off the rim.

The game was tight throughout. Neither team led by more than eight, and a sequence in the second half showed just how tightly these rivals were matched.

With both squads playing at a frenetic pace and showing little regard for defense, the lead changed hands on eight straight possessions as the teams traded baskets.

Stunningly, they combined to score on 19 straight possessions before Georgia’s Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe missed a pair of free throws with 5:17 remaining.

FIRING UP THE CROWD

Perhaps the biggest cheer of the night came when Georgia Tech football coach Brent Key addressed the crowd at halftime.

Key, who served as interim coach for the last eight games of the season, was introduced Monday as the full-time choice for job.

He fired up the fans by getting them to chant “To hell with Georgia” over and over again. When a smattering of Bulldogs fans responded with barks, Key smiled and egged on the Yellow Jackets crowd to drown them out.

He also declared Georgia Tech to be the “greatest school in the entire state, the entire country,” following up his vow the previous day to not back down from the defending national champion and top-ranked Bulldogs.

BIG PICTURE

Georgia: This will be a tough one to swallow for Roberts, who led his team with 16 points and seven assists. The Bulldogs lost despite shooting 53.4% from the field.

Georgia Tech: Four players scored in double figures, and two others players finished with eight points. But it was Kelly, as usual, who had the ball in his hands at the end of a tight game.

UP NEXT

Georgia: After a nearly two-week break, the Bulldogs return to Atlanta on Dec. 18 to face Notre Dame at State Farm Arena in the Holiday Hoopsgiving event.

Georgia Tech: Head to North Carolina on Saturday for the Atlantic Coast Conference opener against the struggling Tar Heels.