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Langford scores 19 as No. 6 Michigan St beats Maryland 74-68

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — Surely, there will come a time in the near future when Michigan State coach Tom Izzo will allow himself to savor another 20-win season and look forward to competing in the NCAA Tournament.

For now, however, the Hall of Fame coach has other things on his mind.

Minutes after the sixth-ranked Spartans rallied past Maryland 74-68 on Sunday, Izzo spoke softly about what it’s been like to prepare his team to play in the wake of an investigation of the program and the school involving sexual assaults by athletes and staff.

“It’s been hard to focus in on basketball,” Izzo said, “because when I do, I feel guilty.”

Michigan State’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations has come under increasing scrutiny since former university sports doctor Larry Nassar was charged with assaulting scores of girls and young women for years. Nassar has been sentenced to decades of prison time.

In the wake of that case, Izzo, his program and his current squad have received plenty of unwanted attention.

“I’ve been through a lot more than my guys have been through,” he said. “Yes, this is something that affects them, but not nearly as much. Don’t feel sorry for me or them. There’s 140-something women that we all feel more sorry for.”

Izzo would not discuss the specifics of any case, but noted: “We will cooperate with any investigation and always have. We’ve done it before and will do it moving forward. That’s all I’m going to say on it.”

Joshua Langford scored 19 points to lead a second-half surge that the Spartans to their fourth straight victory. Down by 13 at halftime, Michigan State (20-3, 8-2 Big Ten) returned to outscore the Terrapins 20-4 in the opening 5½ minutes and held on.

“We all know it’s been a time when there’s a lot of distractions,” Izzo said. “I think sometimes guys just have to focus on their job and then deal with the other stuff after, and that’s what they did.”

Izzo now has seven straight 20-win seasons at Michigan State and 18 in his 23 years at the school. This season, however, has been different than most.

“It’s been crazy,” guard Cassius Winston said. “We keep it tight in here. This is really a family. We’ve got coach Izzo’s back, he has ours. Out there, that was just us proving it.”

Winston scored 13 and Jaren Jackson Jr. added 12 for the Spartans, who shot 53 percent after halftime and finished with a 46-29 rebounding advantage.

After Maryland closed to 63-61 with 1:43 left, Langford grabbed the rebound of a miss by teammate Miles Bridges, and Winston subsequently made two free throws to all but seal the win.

Kevin Huerter led Maryland with 17 points, and Anthony Cowan Jr. and Darryl Morsell each had 12. The Terrapins (15-8, 4-6) have lost five of seven, a skid that began with a 91-61 defeat at Michigan State on Jan. 4.

“We’re getting better and I’m having fun coaching them,” coach Mark Turgeon insisted. “We’ve practiced really well. I want to continue to do that. See where it leads us.”

Maryland seemed upset-bound until the start of the second half, when the Spartans got a pair of 3-pointers from Jackson and two baskets from Langford in an 11-2 spurt that made it 39-35.

After Bruno Fernando scored in the lane for Maryland, Michigan State rattled off nine straight points to go on top for the first time.

In the first half, the Spartans went 9 for 33 from the floor, including 1 for 10 from beyond the arc.

Maryland delighted the sellout crowd of 17,950 by bolting in front 8-0, getting two 3-pointers from Dion Wiley and an alley-oop dunk by Morsell.

After missing eight of their first nine shots, the Spartans closed to 18-16 before Michal Cekovsky made three baskets in a 10-2 run that gave the Terps their first double-digit lead.

As it turned out, that wasn’t a problem for Izzo and his squad.

“A lot of things could have went wrong, but we found a way to stick together and fight through that,” Winston said.

BIG PICTURE

Michigan State: Despite scoring only 24 points in a horrid first half, the Spartans appear to have recovered from a temporary lapse earlier this month, when they sandwiched two losses around an overtime win over Rutgers. With three strong wins this week, two on the road, Michigan State has established itself as a worthy fixture in the Top 10.

Maryland: The Terrapins’ hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament for a fourth successive season are sinking quickly. “I’ve had teams in situations like this that just got it done,” Turgeon said.

VASQUEZ RETURNS

Former Maryland star Greivis Vasquez returned to promote a drive to provide school supplies for underprivileged youth. He sat courtside next to another Maryland alum, sportscaster Scott Van Pelt.

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.