Cameron Payne didn’t expect to fill Isaiah Canaan’s void at Murray State, but he did

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Cameron Payne (AP Photo)

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The 2013-2014 season was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Ohio Valley Conference powerhouse Murray State.

They lost the face of their program, a legend at a school with quite a bit of basketball pedigree, when all-american Isaiah Canaan graduated. The team’s heart and soul, double-double machine Ed Daniel, departed as well. Then just a couple of weeks before the season was supposed to start, Zay Jackson, who was slotted in as the team’s starting point guard, tore an ACL.

What that meant was in a year where the Racers were looking to replace two of the most successful players in program history, they would be doing it with just a single point guard on the roster, a freshman name Cameron Payne.

And that ended up being the best thing that could have happened to Racers.

Murray State got out to a rough start last season, losing five of their first seven games. Payne had a decent start to the season, but impressive box scores hid the fact that his efficiency wasn’t always the best. In his first career game, at Valparaiso, Payne finished with 21 points, five boards and four assists … while shooting 6-for-24 from the floor. He was 7-for-20 from the floor in a loss at Auburn. He fouled out against Middle Tennessee State in Murray. He had six turnovers at Saint Mary’s.

Part of that was simply being a freshman playing his first collegiate games. Part of it was that he was still learning the offense and the way head coach Steve Prohm wanted him to play the point guard position. And part of it was that he needed to become a better decision maker.

“He has the ability to make a special play every possession, but just make the great play when you have to make the great play,” Prohm told NBCSports.com last week. “Hit singles and doubles, make the homerun play when you have to.”

RELATED: NBCSports.com’s Ohio Valley Conference Preview

It didn’t take Payne long to start putting it all together, and has he morphed into one of the most productive freshman in the country — at any level — Murray State started to play like one of the nation’s best mid-major programs. They won 20 of their next 26 games, won the Western Division of the OVC with a 13-3 record and, despite losing in the OVC tournament, finished the season with a title, winning the CIT.

And Payne?

Well, he only averaged 16.8 points, 5.4 assists, 3.6 boards and 1.7 steals. Not bad for a freshman.

The way Payne tells it, the freedom to play through mistakes early in the season afforded him the confidence he needed. When a player doesn’t after to worry about getting yanked out of the game for making one mistake, when he doesn’t have the pressure of knowing that he’ll hear the horn every time he turns the ball over, it makes the game a lot easier. Particularly for a freshman.

“It helped my confidence a lot [because] you can make mistakes,” Payne said. “There wasn’t a backup point guard. When I made a mistake, I would play through it because I had to.”

It didn’t take long for the Racers’ rabid fan base to figure out that they may have landed themselves a player that could fill the void that Canaan left. While the two play very different positions — Payne is a lanky, high-IQ playmaker that is best when the ball in his hands, while Canaan was a big-time scorer and shooter that was at his best moving off the ball — Prohm says that both players have the mental make-up to handle being the center of a town’s attention.

One thing you have to understand is that in Murray, Kentucky, there is nothing other than the Racers. “If they didn’t have Murray State basketball,” Prohm says, “I don’t know what they’d do here.” The players are celebrities in town. The home games are always sold out. It’s like Friday Night Lights, only on the college hardwood instead of the high school gridiron. Prohm knew right away that Payne, like Canaan, would be able to handle that responsibility.

“They understand the commitment that it takes to play at Murray State,” Prohm said. “Their personalities are the same in that they’re great for community because they can interact with anybody. They give back, they sign autographs, they tweet, they take pictures with the fans, they let people know that they’re invested in this program and community.”

That’s not the only thing that the two have in common. Both players ended up at Murray State are being overlooked as bench players on loaded AAU teams. For Payne, a Memphis native, he was a role player on a team that included Johnathan Williams of Missouri and Nick King of Memphis. Murray State first saw him when he helped win a the U16 Peach Jam title in 2011, and they made him a priority. While other programs joined in the pursuit later on — including Wichita State — Payne appreciated the loyalty that the Racer staff had showed him.

Prohm knew that they had just landed a kid that could one day make an all-league team. What he didn’t realize, however, was that he would be in the mix for OVC Player of the Year in his first season in town.

“I can’t sit here and say that I knew he was going to have the freshman year that he’d have,” he said.

Payne is happy with how things turned out. Instead of being bitter about “only” playing at an OVC school, he’s reveling in proving, on a nightly basis, that the big boys missed out when they didn’t recruit him. And while he may not be on TV every night, he still gets to experience being the Big Man On Campus.

Even his headband has a twitter account.

“When I first came, I was like, ‘should I wear a headband, should I not,'” Payne said. “But then I ended up wearing the head band, and it became a thing. When Ed [Daniel] was here, it was his afro.”

“I actually found out during the seaosn. They kept mentioning me and I ended up following it, and the people that made it, they started shooting me DMs. I was really excited about that. It was really fun. I’ve got something that symbolizes me now.”

Duarte’s 30 points leads No. 12 Oregon past USC 79-70 in double OT

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EUGENE, Ore. (AP) Paying close attention paid off for Oregon’s Chris Duarte.

The junior guard had 30 points, 11 rebounds and eight steals, and the No. 12 Ducks outlasted Southern California 79-70 in double overtime Thursday night.

“I was watching the point guard’s eyes. I was watching everybody’s eyes. So I knew where they were going to pass the ball,” Duarte said. “So I took that as an advantage.”

Oregon teammate Payton Pritchard added 24 points and seven assists, becoming the first Pac-12 player to reach 1,500 career points, 600 assists and 500 rebounds. When the achievement was noted on the video scoreboard at Matthew Knight Arena in the second half, the crowd gave the senior guard a standing ovation.

Pritchard is the sixth player in Pac-12 history with 1,500 points and 600 assists, joining Oregon State’s Gary Payton, Arizona’s Damon Stoudamire and Jason Gardner, USC’s Jordan McLaughlin and UCLA’s Tyus Edney.

Oregon (16-4, 5-2) led by 11 in the second half but USC rallied with a 17-2 run to take a 62-58 lead, capped by Jonah Mathews’ 3-pointer with 1:24 left.

C.J. Walker and Pritchard hit consecutive layups to tie it at 62 and send the game to overtime.

Pritchard’s 3-pointer in the first extra period gave the Ducks a 65-64 lead, but Ethan Anderson’s layup and free throw put the Trojans up by two. Duarte made free throws for the Ducks to tie it again, and Mathews and Pritchard both missed shots down the stretch.

Duarte and Pritchard each hit a pair of free throws that gave Oregon a four-point advantage to open the second overtime. Duarte’s 3-pointer put the Ducks up 74-68, and USC couldn’t catch up.

Duarte’s eight steals were one shy of the school record.

“He was the difference in the game,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “No doubt about it.”

Onyeka Okongwu had 23 points and 14 rebounds for the Trojans (15-4, 4-2).

“You’ve got to take care of the ball. Some ill-timed passes that went to the other guys. We just have to make the right basketball play,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “Give them credit, they’re a good defensive team.”

It was Oregon’s third overtime game in league play.

Oregon was coming off a 64-61 overtime win at Washington last weekend. The Ducks overcame a 16-point deficit and won it on Pritchard’s 3-pointer with 3.4 seconds left. But Oregon lost to Washington State 72-61 last Thursday, resulting in a fall from No. 8 to No. 12 in the AP Top 25.

USC had won nine of its last 10 games and three straight, including last Saturday’s 82-78 overtime victory against Stanford. The Trojans came back from a 21-point deficit in the second half to beat the Cardinal.

The Ducks built an early 15-7 lead after Duarte’s fast-break layup and 3-pointer. Oregon stayed in front, but USC closed to 24-23 on Daniel Utomi’s jumper.

The teams went to the break with Oregon ahead 32-30. Utomi led all scorers with 10 points.

Okongwu’s layup for USC tied it at 32 to start the second half but the Ducks responded with a 10-0 run, capped by Duarte’s jumper off a dish from Pritchard. Okongwu’s dunk ended the Trojans’ scoring drought.

Okongwu made consecutive baskets to pull USC to 56-53, and Matthews tied it with a 3-pointer to top off an 11-0 Trojans run. Pritchard answered with a layup for Oregon.

Freshman forward Chandler Lawson’s layup stretched the Ducks’ lead to 49-38 midway through the second half.

“A lot of things we’ve got to work on. But we got some defensive stops when we needed it, we got some big rebounds when we needed it, and just found a way to win the game,” Altman said. “We’ve been doing that too much, though. We’ve got to find a way to get our offense cranked a little bit.”

Lawson made his first start for the Ducks after he had 16 points and 12 rebounds against Washington. Oregon was without center N’Faly Dante, who was questionable for the game after hurting his knee against the Huskies.

Pritchard was one of just two Division I players averaging at least 19 points, five assists and four rebounds per game, joining Pepperdine’s Colbey Ross.

BIG PICTURE

USC: The Trojans started 4-1 in conference play for the first time since 2016. USC went 5-0 to open conference play in 2002. … Enfield said afterward that this loss stung. “We’ve played a few close games this year. We won three or four close ones,” he said. “We were right there and we lost. It hurts when you lose a game and have a chance.”

Oregon: Pritchard is closing in on Oregon’s career record of 614 assists held by Kenya Wilkins. … Pritchard has won 96 games as a Ducks player, one shy of Oregon’s career leader, Johnathan Lloyd. … Sabrina Ionescu, star guard for the No. 4 Oregon women, was at the game and was interviewed by the Pac-12 broadcast team during the first half.

UP NEXT

USC visits Oregon State on Saturday.

Oregon hosts UCLA on Sunday.

More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Top25

Indiana’s late-run beats No. 11 Michigan State 67-63

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Joey Brunk scored 14 points, including a key layup with 1 minute left to play, and Jerome Hunter made two late free throws Thursday night to close out Indiana’s 67-63 victory over No. 11 Michigan State.

The Hoosiers (15-4, 5-3 Big Ten) have won two straight and four of their last five. It was coach Archie Miller’s 50th win since taking the job three seasons ago.

Cassius Winston had 13 of his 17 points in the second half to lead the Spartans (14-5, 6-2), who lost their third straight in the series.

Michigan State had a chance to force overtime after forcing a turnover, calling timeout and sending Winston through the lane. He flipped the ball to Xavier Tillman for a layup, but the ball rolled off the rim and Hunter grabbed the rebound.

His free throws sealed the win.

The Hoosiers needed everything they had to earn this one after blowing a seven-point halftime lead.

Michigan State rallied by making its first six 3-point attempts in the second half and finally took a 51-48 lead on Rocket Watts’ 3 with 11:05 to go.

It remained a one-possession game the rest of the way.

But Aljami Durham finally gave Indiana what it needed – a 3 with 1:52 left – to break a 60-60 tie. Brunk’s layup made it 65-62.

BIG PICTURE

Michigan State: Trips to Indiana just haven’t been kind to the Spartans lately. On Jan. 12, they were routed at Purdue. This time, they got beat in the closing minutes. Clearly, Michigan State performed closer to expectations than it did at Purdue. But another slow start cost them another game. They will return to Indiana for the conference tournament in March.

Indiana: It doesn’t seem that long ago that the Hoosiers struggled to make shots. But they’ve figured out how to limit the 3s and take advantage of their size and athleticism inside, and it’s made a huge difference. If Indiana’s offense stays in sync this weekend, they just might crack the Top 25 for the first time.

STAT PACK

Michigan State: Aaron Henry had 12 points, while Gabe Brown had 10 points and four 3s. Xavier Tillman finished with nine points and 10 rebounds. … The Spartans had 13 turnovers, but only gave up six points off those turnovers. … Michigan State started the game by missing its first nine 3s. It wound up 9 of 21 from beyond the arc.

Indiana: Trayce Jackson-Davis had 12 points and four rebounds, while Durham finished with 11 points and four 3s. … Race Thompson had four points, two blocks and two steals before leaving the game late in the first half after a hard foul. He sat on the bench the entire second half. … Nine of the 10 Hoosiers who appeared in the first half scored. Only Jerome Hunter, who logged four minutes, was shut out. … NBA star Victor Oladipo attended the game. The two-time All-Star is expected to make his season debut with the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday.

UP NEXT

Michigan State: plays two of its next three on the road, including Sunday’s stop at Minnesota.

Indiana: hosts another ranked opponent, No. 17 Maryland, on Sunday.

Three Things To Know: Marcus Carr beats Ohio State, Indiana wins, Yoeli’s back

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There were no brawls, but there is still plenty to talk about after a full slate of games on Thursday night.

Here are the three things that you need to know:

1. THE BIG TEN STAYS WILD

It was another bonkers night in the toughest conference in the country on Thursday.

Let’s start with the early game.

Ohio State lost for the sixth time in the last seven games, blowing an 11-point second half lead after Marcus Carr, who finished with 21 points, his a three with 3.3 seconds left on the clock to give the Gophers a 62-59 win.

Daniel Oturu added 11 points and six boards, all of which came in the second half, as he shut down Kaleb Wesson to give Minnesota the season-sweep of the Buckeyes.

Minnesota is now 5-4 in the Big Ten and 11-8 on the season, and while this loss drops Ohio State into 12th place in the Big Ten standings, the work that they did in the early part of the season combined with the depth and strength of the conference they play in means that, as of now, this is still a Quad 1 win for Minnesota.

The late game was just as crazy.

No. 11 Michigan State trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half before storming back to take a lead in the final four minutes. But Indiana responded, and caught a lucky break as Xavier Tillman missed a wide-open tip-in with less than a second left on the clock that would have forced overtime.

The Spartans are now 6-2 in the Big Ten, putting them in a tie for first place with Illinois, while Indiana an absolutely enormous win for Archie Miller and this program. With No. 17 Maryland coming to town on Saturday, this was critical for Archie Miller, whose lack of success has gotten the locals riled up.

This should give him some breathing room.

2. YOELI CHILDS IS BACK

It hasn’t really been discussed much nationally to this point, but BYU is a really good, really dangerous team this season when they are at full strength.

The problem has been that they’ve barely been at full strength.

Their best player is Yoeli Childs, a 6-foot-9 center with all the tools that make him an intriguing NBA prospect and, in turn, an absolute monster in the WCC. But he missed the first nine games of the season because of a paperwork issue withdrawing from last year’s NBA draft, and then had to sit out the last four after injuring his finger.

But he’s back now.

And he put everyone on notice with a 26 point, nine rebound outburst in a 74-60 win at Pacific.The Cougars are a very real at-large candidate with the size and shot-making to threaten Gonzaga. Keep an eye on them.

3. HOUSTON SURVIVES UCONN

In one of the weirdest end-of-game sequences I can remember seeing, No. 25 Houston managed to find a way to survive UConn’s upset bid.

Here’s what happened: The Cougars, who trailed for the entire game, finally took the lead late in the second half. They had pushed the lead out to six points, when UConn’s Jalen Gaffney scored with 7.3 seconds left to cut it to four. But after he scored, Houston’s DeJon Jarreau said something to Danny Hurley and was given a technical foul. After Gaffney made both free throws, Jarreau then committed a five-second violation on the ensuing inbounds.

UConn ball.

But this is the strangest part: Since UConn was in foul trouble, they brought in a walk-on — Temi Aiyegbusy — to commit a foul. But no time went of the clock on the turnover, so he had to remain on the court for the UConn possession. The ball ended up in his hands in the corner, and he passed up on a three took a pull-up that missed.

Houston grabbed the rebound, made their free throws, and that was that.

Three Things To Know: Memphis embarrassed; Luka Garza shows out again

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The story of the night in hoops was Zion Williamson’s return to the basketball court.

But there was plenty of action in the college ranks that is worthy of talking about.

Here are the three things that you need to know:

1. No. 20 MEMPHIS LOST BY 40 TO TULSA

That is not a typo.

The 20th-ranked team in the country went into Tulsa, Okla., and lost to the Golden Hurricane, 80-40. Tulsa was up 40-17 at halftime. This was a butt-whooping that was so bad that all Tulsa needed to do was score a single point in the second half and they would have been able to get the win.

Memphis shot 28 percent from the floor. They were 2-for-21 from three. They finished the night with more turnovers (20) and fouls (22) than field goals (16). This was the worst loss that a top 25 team has suffered against a ranked team in 27 years, since UConn beat then-No. 12 Virginia by 41 points.

For Tulsa, this is a massive, massive win. They are currently sitting all alone in first place in the American standings, a half-game up on Houston.

So good for Frank Haith.

But the story here is Memphis, because the Tigers, considered title contenders before the season began, look anything-but right now.

“We let our defense dictate our offense,” head coach Penny Hardaway told reporters after the game. “We didn’t play any defense today. I think today was the first day we’ve done that ll year. I don’t know if guys overlooked Tulsa because of the name. We did our due diligence as a coaching staff to let them know what was going to happen with the matchup zone and how hard they play.

“It’s pretty embarrassing.”

2. LUKA GARZA WENT NUTS AGAIN

If it seems like Garza is putting up monster numbers every games, it’s because he is.

On Wednesday night, the Hawkeyes welcomed newly-ranked Rutgers to campus and sent them home with an entertaining, hard-fought, 85-80 win. And Garza was the star of the show. He finished with 28 points, 13 boards, four blocks and two steals in the win, anchoring the paint as Iowa out-scored Rutgers 47-37 in the second half.

The big fella is now averaging 23 points and 10.5 boards.

Iowa has now won four straight games to move into a tie for third in the Big Ten standings — with Rutgers, among others — and they have won eight straight games in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. They are a third of the way through a three-game homestand as well.

3. VIRGINIA TECH TAKES DOWN NORTH CAROLINA

Virginia Tech kept up their push to finish as the fourth-best team in the ACC with a 79-77 double-overtime win over North Carolina.

The Hokies are now 14-5 overall and 5-3 in the ACC, but the more interesting story might actually be the Tar Heels.

They are 8-10 on the season and 1-6 in the ACC. They have been a disaster for the last month, but there may be some reinforcements on the way in the shape of Cole Anthony. If he returns and the Tar Heels, who are 2-7 in his absence but have wins over Alabama and Oregon with him, get things back on the right track, they are likely going to find themselves in an incredibly awkward situation on Selection Sunday.

Big 12 hands down Kansas-Kansas State fight suspensions

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The Big 12 handed down suspensions to four Kansas and Kansas State players for their role in the fight that occurred in Phog Allen Fieldhouse on Tuesday night.

Silvio De Sousa, who tried to fight three different Kansas State players and picked up a stool during the melee, received a 12 game suspension from the conference. David McCormack, who went into the stands to confront James Love III, received a two game suspension. Love was given eight games for part in the fight, while Antonio Gordon, the freshman that turned a messy situation into a fight, was hit with a three game suspension.

“This kind of behavior cannot be tolerated and these suspensions reflect the severity of last evening’s events,” said Commissioner Bob Bowlsby.  “I am appreciative of the cooperation of both institutions in resolving this matter.”

In the final seconds on Tuesday night, after DaJuan Gordon stole the ball from him at halfcourt, De Sousa blocked Gordon’s shot and towered over him. That sparked an incident that turned into a full-fledged brawl, as De Sousa threw punches at three different players on Kansas State before picking up a stool as the fight spilled into the handicapped section of Kansas seating.

Self called the fight “an embarrassment” after the game, adding on Wednesday that “we are disappointed in [De Sousa’s] actions and there is no place in the game for that behavior.”

McCormack will be eligible to return for Kansas on Feb. 1st when they play Texas Tech at home. De Sousa will be available to play in the final game of the regular season at Texas Tech. Gordon can return on Feb. 3rd, when the Wildcats host Baylor, while Love will be out until late February. But he has played just one game and two minutes on the season, so there is no clear indication of when he will actually put on a Kansas State jersey again.