Friday’s Pregame Shootaround: Harvard looks to make NCAA tournament return

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GAME OF THE DAY: Harvard at Yale, 7:30 p.m. (NBC Sports Network)

The Crimson play their second-to-last game of the season against the only team capable of catching them in the Ivy League race. If Tommy Amaker’s team gets the win, they get the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive season. But that’s easier said than done, as the Bulldogs won the first meeting on February 8. Yale forward Justin Sears was the difference-maker, as he accounted for 21 points and 11 rebounds. Also of note was Yale’s defensive effort, as they limited Harvard to 39% shooting from the field and 7-for-21 from three.

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: Eastern Kentucky vs. Murray State, 10:00 p.m. (ESPNU)

The second semifinal in the OVC matches the two (Murray State) and three (EKU) seeds, and the two teams haven’t met since January 8. Steve Prohm’s Racers won that meeting, 77-64, shooting 51% from the field and attempting 28 free throws (making 19) to Eastern Kentucky’s eight (making six). Freshman Cameron Payne and forward Jarvis Williams scored 19 points apiece for the Racers in that meeting, with Williams making all nine of his shots from the field. EKU, which has won five straight games, is led by the veteran trio of Glenn Cosey, Corey Walden and Marcus Lewis.

CONFERENCE TOURNAMENTS

  • Big South: Quarterfinals begin
    The Big South moves to the quarterfinal round after playing for first-round games on Wednesday, and among the teams in action are host Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers face Charleston Southern, an 81-71 winner over Campbell on Wednesday. These teams haven’t met since January 8, when the Buccaneers beat the Chanticleers 70-58 in Charleston. Regular season champion High Point also begins its tournament, matchup up with Winthrop in the first game of the day.
  • Horizon League: Wright State, Valparaiso enter the fray
    The Horizon League bracket favors those who finish highest in the standings, meaning that champion (and host) Green Bay and Cleveland State won’t play until Saturday’s semifinals. Friday night, Wright State and Valparaiso play their first games with the Raiders facing Oakland and Valpo taking on Milwaukee. Wright State swept the Golden Grizzlies during the regular season, and the Crusaders did the same to Milwaukee.
  • Missouri Valley: No. 2 Wichita State looks to snap a streak
    The primary focus regarding the Shockers will be whether or not they can pick up three more wins and enter the NCAA tournament 34-0. But, the program hasn’t won the conference tournament since 1987. They’ll look to take the first step towards ending that dry spell with a win over Evansville Friday afternoon. The game that may provide the most suspense in St. Louis: Illinois State – Missouri State, with the home team winning both regular season meetings.
  • OVC: Belmont looks to return to the title game
    Eastern Kentucky – Murray State will be good, but so will Belmont’s matchup with Morehead State. Rick Byrd’s Bruins went 14-2 in OVC play, and two of those wins came against the Eagles. Belmont won the second meeting by just three points on January 29, with J.J. Mann scoring 22 points and the Bruins closing the game on a 10-0 run. Drew Kelly scored 23 points in that game for the Eagles, who led 73-66 with 1:19 remaining.
  • SoCon: Day one in Asheville
    The SoCon tournament gets going with a triple header in Asheville, with Georgia Southern and UNCG favored to advance to Saturday’s quarterfinals. The opener matches Samford and Appalachian State, with the Mountaineers having won both regular season meetings. Jason Capel’s team beat the Bulldogs 63-57 on February 27, with Tommy Spagnolo (21 points, ten rebounds) sparking a late rally. As for the other two games, the individual matchup between Furman’s Stephen Croone (19.3 ppg, 3.7 apg) and Georgia Southern’s Jelani Hewitt (20.0, 3.2) should be fun to watch.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK
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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.