Joel Berry II’s value shows as No. 7 North Carolina survives Tennessee

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No. 7 North Carolina survived a serious upset bid on Sunday evening, outlasting Tennessee 73-71 thanks to a game-saving blocked shot from freshman big man Tony Bradley.

Bradley finished with 10 points and 10 boards off the bench and Nate Britt had 1 points, seven assists and five steals all while Kenny Williams led the way with 12 points.

Here are three things we learned about the Tar Heels Sunday:

1. Joel Berry II is really important to North Carolina: Berry has been one of the best point guards in college basketball this season. Picking up from where he left off as a sophomore, Berry is the second-leading scorer for the Tar Heels and the leader in assists. He brings an element to the roster that North Carolina otherwise doesn’t have. Not only is he a threat to score in the half-court, he’s the second-leading three-point shooter on the team and the best playmaker on the roster.

In the last two games – which Berry has missed with a sprained ankle – we’ve really gotten a feel for just how valuable he is. Offensively, everything just runs more smoothly for the Tar Heels when he’s on the floor, and there’s two reasons for that.

  • A) Nate Britt is a really good back-up point guard, but UNC is at their best when he’s a back-up. He’s a good passer, a pest defensively and a guy that is really effective in transition. But he’s not much of a threat on the offensive end of the floor. Defenses can sag off of him and clog the middle or focus more of their attention on Jackson. Part of the reason that Stilman White played more minutes than Seventh Woods on Sunday was that Roy Williams needed that shooting threat on the floor.
  • B) Not only does the middle get more clogged, but defenses are able to focus their energies on Justin Jackson, who has been UNC’s leading scorer this season. Against Tennessee, Jackson finished just 3-for-15 from the floor and struggled to get into any kind of rhythm throughout the night because he struggled to find any kind of clean look at the rim.

2. Roy Williams can trust his youngsters: That may be the single-most important thing to come out of this game. UNC was more-or-less down three starters on Sunday night: Berry was injured and both Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks spent the evening glued to the bench with foul issues. As a result, Williams had to rely on lineups littered with youth and, frankly, guys that just aren’t good enough to be playing 20 minutes for North Carolina.

But here’s the thing: they all seemed to deliver. Freshman Tony Bradley finished with 10 points and 10 boards, finishing off the game with a blocked shot. Freshman Brandon Robinson had a huge tip-in to give UNC a 70-69 lead in the final two minutes, adding three assists in 17 minutes of playing time. Kenny Williams was the team’s leading scorer with 12 points. Seventh Woods only played eight minutes and had three turnovers, but he made two huge plays, scoring on a beautiful spin move in transition and, on the very next play, notching a steal and scoring a layup in transition. Those four points kept Tennessee from creating some distance midway through the half. Even Stilman White and Luke Maye got a chance to get some experience playing meaningful minutes against high-major competition.

Getting tested early in the season isn’t a bad thing.

3. Roy Williams still defends last-second shots the same way: You guys all remember this shot, right?

Well, the criticism was that Williams didn’t guard the inbounder – who, in that case, was named Kris Jenkins – opting to place Brice Johnson in front of the rim to swat away a layup attempt.

He did the same thing on Sunday afternoon, subbing in Bradley to act as an eraser at the rim. It worked because Lamonte Turner drove straight at the hoop, trying to force a shot over Bradley instead of giving the ball up to the trail-man, who was open:


Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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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.

South Carolina, Staley cancel BYU games over racial incident

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley have canceled a home-and-home series with BYU over a recent racial incident where a Cougars fan yelled slurs at a Duke volleyball player.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to start the season at home against BYU on Nov. 7, then play at the Utah campus during the 2023-24 season.

But Staley cited BYU’s home volleyball match last month as reason for calling off the series.

“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff,” Staley said in a statement released by South Carolina on Friday. “The incident at BYU has led me to reevaluate our home-and-home, and I don’t feel that this is the right time for us to engage in this series.”

Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, a Black member of the school’s volleyball team, said she heard racial slurs from the stands during the match.

BYU apologized for the incident and Richardson said the school’s volleyball players reached out to her in support.

South Carolina said it was searching for another home opponent to start the season.

Gamecocks athletic director Ray Tanner spoke with Staley about the series and supported the decision to call off the games.