Thursday’s College Basketball Recap: Porter, Jr. returns, Sexton soars and Duke/UNC set for Round 3

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PLAYER OF THE DAY

He didn’t make the game-winning shot, but Kamar Baldwin set it up. And he had an otherwise monster night.

The Butler sophomore scored 32 points on 12 of 20 shooting, had four rebounds and three assists to help the Bulldogs secure a 75-74 win over Seton Hall in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament.

Down a point with just 12 seconds to play, Baldwin went the length of the floor, getting to the rim and getting a good look at a layup that would have put Butler up one. Well, Baldwin’s attempt spun out, but he’d drawn enough defensive attention to free up Tyler Wideman on the offensive glass. Wideman’s put-back put the Bulldogs into the Big East semis.

Baldwin’s breakout game has to be a welcome sight for LaVall Jordan’s team as Baldwin had struggled to score in recent weeks. He’d broken double-digits just once in the last four games and was averaging just 8.75 points per game over that same stretch. Getting Baldwin right would help the Bulldogs keep playing awhile longer.

THE REST OF SATURDAY’S STARS

  • THEO PINSON, North Carolina: The Tar Heel senior had 25 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and three steals and UNC ran away from Miami. Pinson’s big night is a big reason why we’re all getting treated to Duke/North Carolina, Round 3.
  • MARVIN BAGLEY III, Duke: It would be easy to make the case for Bagley as the player of the day after he put up 33 points and 17 boards as the Blue Devils styied Notre Dame’s tournament hopes. The freshman was everywhere doing everything.
  • JEVON CARTER, West Virginia: Not only did he drill a 60-footer before halftime, Carter also had 18 points, 11 assists and six steals and West Virginia advanced to the Big 12 semis.
  • MIKAL BRIDGES, Villanova: He put 25 points, eight rebounds and four assists on Marquette as Villanova smashed the Golden Eagles by 24.

BUBBLE BANTER: Everything that happened on the cut-line

TEAM OF THE DAY

Alabama entered SEC tournament play on a five-game losing streak and in serious need of a victory to keep its NCAA tournament footing steady. Collin Sexton delivered that victory and snapped the streak thanks to not only his 27 points, but his coast-to-coast sprint for the game-winning scoop-and-score before time expired.

Alabama helped itself as much as any other team in the country to reverse course on the season-ending slide the Crimson Tide were mired in. Plus, they – well, Sexton – did it in a really cool way. For that, they’re the team of the day.

GAME OF THE DAY

It wasn’t the most compelling basketball of the day, but Michael Porter, Jr.’s return to the floor for the first time since his two-minute debut in November’s season-opener is one of the biggest stories in the sport.

It didn’t really go great, as Porter, Jr. struggled in the Tigers’ two-point loss to Georgia.

The biggest issue for Missouri wasn’t the loss – they’re securely in the tournament – but that they won’t get any more live competition to try to bring Porter, Jr. seamlessly into the fold before they start playing again with their season at stake. It’s a gamble not only for Porter to play, risking injury and draft status, but also for Missouri to try to bring him in at this late juncture to a team that was already pretty good without him.

But when given the option of playing with a top-five talent or not playing with a top-five talent, there’s really no choice to make. Missouri would have liked a longer dress rehearsal, though.

WTF???? OF THE DAY

Xavier figuratively smacked St. John’s 88-60, and then apparently the two teams tried to do the same literally.

A bit of a brouhaha broke out at Madison Square Garden after the game due to some handshake-line drama, apparently, and then a St. John’s player allegedly tried to make his way into the Xavier locker room to continue the fracas.

WTF indeed.

WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED TO KNOW?

Louisville just couldn’t best Virginia this season. The Cardinals fell to the Cavaliers for the third time this season, 75-58, and will now have to await an uncertain future on Selection Sunday.

The idea was that Middle Tennessee State would cruise to a Conference USA title and become again a popular bracket buster after another strong season. Southern Miss had other ideas, bouncing the Blue Raiders from the CUSA tourney and maybe the field of 68.

Desmond Bane forced overtime with his 3-pointer at the buzzer but TCU couldn’t close the deal in overtime as Kansas State moved on to a semifinals matchup with Kansas with a 66-64 win.

Malik Newman scored a career-best 30 points and Kansas finally defeated Oklahoma State in its third try this season.

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.