Grayson Allen, Trevon Duval lead No. 1 Duke past No. 2 Michigan State

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CHICAGO – It was not a good night for Grayson Allen Haters.

Duke’s senior star scored 23 of his 37 points in the second half and Trevon Duval added 17 points, 10 assists and five steals as No. 1 Duke knocked off No. 2 Michigan State in the opener of the Champions Classic on Tuesday night, 88-81.

Allen, who scored six points in the final minute of the first half as well, finished with seven threes on the night and carried Duke in the second half of a game where the Blue Devils were on the ropes. They were playing without Marvin Bagley III for the final 30 minutes of the game, and their front line struggled against the massive Michigan State Spartans.

All the while, Allen made big shot after big shot down the stretch.

And in the end, it didn’t matter that the top recruit in the Class of 2017 was sitting on the bench with his right eye swollen up, and it didn’t matter that two of Duke’s three remaining elite freshmen were struggling to play up to their potential.

The Blue Devils left the United Center with a win over the No. 2 team in college basketball.

That’s a scary thought.

But not quite as scary as the idea that Grayson Allen is the man that’s here to save college basketball.

Tuesday night is a night that we desperately needed in a sport that has spent the past six weeks dealing with the fall out of the biggest scandal in the sport’s history: An FBI investigation into corruption in recruiting, both by colleges and agents looking to land clients, that has left four assistant coaches and ten men in total facing federal charges. It’s what we needed for a sport whose opening night was dominated by headlines of players being held out of competition and quasi-celebrities on the UCLA roster spending time in a Chinese jail.

Hell, at halftime of the opening game of the double-header Kansas released a statement that said that their star freshman, Billy Preston, was being held out of competition while they investigated how he paid for a car that he crashed last week.

We needed a night to talk about the games, only the games and nothing but the games, and the man to do that was the center of controversy himself, Grayson Allen.

How about that?

In the big picture, the story of this game for Duke is the health of Bagley. After getting poked in the eye by a teammate midway through the first half, Bagley spent a few minutes on the ground – appearing to mouth the words “I can’t see” –  before heading back to the locker room. He returned to the court during halftime, but he did not even warm-up with the team let alone return to the court, and Coach K referred to the injury as a “scratched eye,” and everyone that I spoke to on the Duke staff did not believe the injury to be serious.

Without Bagley on the floor, Duke’s half-court offense sputtered initially. Trevon Duval took some ill-advised shots and Gary Trent struggled to find a rhythm while Wendell Carter was flat-out bad for roughly the first 30 minutes of the game. Duke did enough to get easy offense in other ways – they had 15 offensive rebounds in the first-half and forced eight Michigan State turnovers – but without Carter and Bagley to run sets through, the Blue Devils looked bogged down in the half court.

Duval managed to settle down, however, and proved himself to be one of the best players on the floor. He was an absolute menace on the defensive end, got to the rim at will and ignited Duke’s transition offense. When he figures out his shooting stroke, he’ll have a shot to be a very, very good player.

He was a big reason that Duke’s 2-3 zone was so effective, as was Javin DeLaurier, a sophomore that came off the bench and was terrific for the Blue Devils, his length and activity causing havoc for Sparty. Michigan State was able to figure things out in the second half, as Miles Bridges found his shooting stroke and Michigan State started pounding the ball into the paint. They made their run, they answered the barrage of Allen threes by trying to foul out every big man on the Duke roster.

But, again, Duke had an answer.

It was Allen.

“He’s not a good shooter,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He’s a great shooter.”

Duke’s roster is loaded with freshmen and sophomores, and not all of those highly-regarded freshmen and sophomores played well on Tuesday. Bagley was injured and did not return. Trent struggled to find his shooting stroke, although he did hit a massive shot down the stretch. Duval was terrific, but Wendell Carter was relatively ineffective until the final 10 minutes of the game. Marques Bolden is … Marques Bolden, and as well as DeLaurier played, he’s a role player. He’s on the floor to be long and athletic and full of energy, and he was long and athletic and full of energy.

Put another way, in a game that was pitted as a battle of the front courts, Michigan State won that fight.

And Duke won the game.

Because Allen put together what may end up being the best performance we see on a college basketball court this season. Two season ago, in this very same building, Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine went for 29 points, 12 boards and 12 assists as Michigan State landed a come-from-behind win against then-No. 1 Kansas. That performance put him in the driver’s seat for National Player of the Year, and while Buddy Hield did Buddy Hield things all season long, Valentine ended up splitting the National Player of the Year awards.

Allen could very well end up on that same trajectory.

“I’ve played in 90 more games than the four teammates out there with me,” Allen said with a laugh. “So I feel a little bit more comfortable and calm and confident.”

For all the stick he gets, for as much as he is demonized in the media – much of it deserved, some of it over-the-top – Allen is a helluva basketball player when he is healthy.

When we talk about how valuable talented veterans are on these one-and-done superteams, that is what we mean.

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.