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Lagerald Vick’s surprise return has buoyed No. 2 Kansas through uneven start

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BROOKLYN — Lagerald Vick was long gone.

After a terrific preseason and a better start to his junior year, Vick hit a brutal slump right around the start of conference play last season. He averaged 17.4 points over the course of the first two months of the season. Then, in a home loss to Texas Tech at the start of league play, he had just two points and two boards in 34 minutes. He scored single digits in five of his next six games, and despite being forced into playing major minutes for a team that didn’t have any depth, Vick’s performances — and, more importantly, his effort — never reached the level or the consistency that Bill Self demanded or expected. He was benched after an embarrassing home loss to Oklahoma State for Mitch Lightfoot.

Self did not think that he was getting the most out of Vick, and he was right. Vick did not think that he could do anything please the man that he was playing for, and he may have had a point. By February, they knew they had to go their separate ways.

Vick declared for the 2018 NBA Draft with the intention of signing with an agent.

Kansas gave away his jersey, No. 2, to Charlie Moore.

Then he went through the draft process, and reality clapped back: He wasn’t going to get drafted. Unless he wanted to learn a new language and play in a place where basketball is secondary to soccer, he options were limited. Accept a G League salary and hope he could play his way onto an NBA roster, or return to Lawrence, hat in hand, and hope that he would be welcomed back.

Vick never actually signed with that agent. He never cost himself his eligibility.

So when Vick pulled his name out of the draft, he was still able to return to play college ball for another year. After reaching out to Self, Vick and his family met with the Kansas coaching staff. The staff then met with their team. Everyone was on board. Vick agreed to buy into what the coaching staff wanted from him. The players who would lose minutes to Vick were fine with losing those minutes if it would help Kansas win games.

And Self?

He knew the talent that he was getting back.

It’s a decision that may have saved Kansas from an embarrassing start to their 2018-19 campaign.

Vick has been Kansas’ best player in the first two weeks of the season, and it’s not particularly close. After a quiet outing in the season-opening win over Michigan State, Vick has averaged 24.0 points in the last four games. He scored 32 points and hit all eight of his threes as the Jayhawks won a game against Vermont in Allen Fieldhouse where they trailed in the second half and Dedric Lawson went scoreless. He scored 33 points in a come-from-behind win over Louisiana, a game in which the Jayhawks trailed by as many as 12 points.

“We went through a period of time where the only basket Dedric could make was where he was sitting on his butt,” Self said after No. 2 Kansas stated their claim to the No. 1 spot in the polls with a come-from-behind 87-81 win in overtime of the NIT finals at the Barclays Center on Friday night. “We may not have won those last two home games we had if Lagerald wasn’t going 15-for-20 from three, so I’m very happy to have him back.”

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Vick was not Kansas’ best player on Friday night. That title belongs to Lawson, who looked every-bit the part of the All-American that he was entering the season, finishing with 24 points, 13 boards and six assists. But Vick did make a major impact on Friday. Tennessee outplayed Kansas in the first half. They pushed their lead to nine points midway through the second half before Kansas finally woke up.

The first Jayhawk lead of the second half?

That came via Vick, who buried back-to-back threes and a third jumper in the span of 1:19, a personal 8-0 run that turned a 56-53 deficit into a 61-56 lead. That Kansas immediately gave that lead right back says just about all you need to know about this Kansas team two weeks into the season.

“We’ve got a little bit of experience returning, but that’s a pretty young team out there,” Self said. The Jayhawks have started two freshmen in their backcourt all year — point guard Devon Dotson and off-guard Quentin Grimes — which is to say nothing of how new this group is. They lost three starters from last year’s team, they are playing three transfers major minutes and five of their rotation players did not play last season.

“I think if I had returning guys then I could have a decent feel within a month or so,” Self said. “I don’t really know what we have yet. If you’ve watched us play so far or studied us, it’s been a different guy almost every night. Go through a period of time where guys can’t scratch. Lagerald couldn’t scratch against Michigan State. The good thing is that different guys are stepping up different nights.”

And that’s where Vick’s impact is truly felt.

Look, the truth is this: Vick is truthfully just a piece for Self this season. Kansas’ best player is Lawson, a do-it-all four that is tailor made to play the power forward spot for Kansas. He can pass, he can score on the block, he can make threes, he’s effective in high-low actions and mid-post isolations. You can’t ask for much more.

The most important player for the Jayhawks is probably Udoka Azubuike, the low-post hoss that will be the player Self builds around. Grimes is the most talented player on the roster. Dotson is probably the x-factor at the point.

Vick?

He’s more-or-less out there to do a job. But he’s also the most experienced piece in the Kansas perimeter attack, a player that can pop-off for 30 points on the nights where Azubuike is in foul trouble, or Lawson is struggling, or Grimes can’t get out of his own head.

The concern with Vick’s return was whether or not he would be fine playing that role.

It looks like he is.

“Lagerald has been great from an attitude standpoint, a leadership standpoint, a playing standpoint,” Self told me when asked if he’s glad his senior guard returned to school. “He’s been a ten so far. I’m very excited about Lagerald being a part of it.”

“He’s been terrific.”

Maybe that new numbers suits him.

Kabengele leads No. 16 Florida State to 77-64 win at Clemson

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CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Trent Forrest said Florida State entered the season hoping to make history. The 16th-ranked Seminoles certainly did that at Clemson.

Mfiondu Kabengele had 19 points and 11 rebounds, and Florida State set a program record with its eighth consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference victory in a 77-64 win over the Tigers on Tuesday night.

The Seminoles (21-5, 9-4 ACC) had not won this many consecutive league games since joining the conference before the 1991-92 season. They won 11 straight Metro Conference games in 1977-78.

“It shows how locked in we’ve been,” said Forrest, a junior guard. “Our seniors came into the year wanting to make history and I feel like we’re helping them with that.”

Florida State used its size, strength and speed to keep the run going against the Tigers, holding on after seeing an 18-point edge cut to 59-52 with eight minutes left. That’s as close as Clemson (15-11, 5-8) would get in dropping its third in a row and getting swept by Florida State for the second time in three seasons.

Kabengele led the way on both sides of the ball. He hit 9 of 13 from the field, blocked two shots, and his rebounds were a season high. Then again, Clemson had trouble stopping much of anything Florida State did around the basket. The Seminoles’ starting center in 7-foot-4 Christ Koumadje went 4-of-6 shooting for 10 points with seven rebounds and a pair of blocks.

“Our coaches emphasize us bigs being a major factor in games,” said Kabengele, the 6-10 sophomore. “To have me and Christ to both have good parts to the game helps us get good wins.”

That wasn’t the case early on in ACC play as Florida State started 1-4 with losses at Pitt and Boston College. It got things in gear against Clemson with a 77-68 win on Jan. 22 and has not lost since.

“The streak continues,” Kabengele said with a smile.

Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton is grateful for his team’s successful run. He’s even happier that his players are gelling so well and improving their play every time out. The streak? It won’t help a bit, he said, in his team’s next contest at No. 8 North Carolina on Saturday.

“In reality, it doesn’t mean anything other than people are probably going to play us a little bit harder,” he said.

The Seminoles took control after Clemson closed to 23-21 on Marcquise Reed’s 3-pointer with 6:18 left in the half. Florida then went on a 15-2 surge the rest of the half with Kabengele hitting three buckets and Walker landing a 3-pointer.

When Trent Forrest got his off-balance push shot on a drive to the basket to go right before the buzzer sounded, Florida State went to the locker room ahead 38-23. The lead grew as large as 18.

Forrest finished with 14 points.

Reed had 20 points to lead Clemson, which was coming off two gut-wrenching, one point defeats at Miami (65-64) and at Louisville (56-55) before this. Tigers coach Brad Brownell said his team was deflated when it returned to campus Sunday after the Louisville loss, but thought they had rebounded enough that this game should have been more competitive.

“I thought our energy was good,” Brownell said. “They were just better than us.”

BIG PICTURE

Florida State: The Seminoles’ offense was relentless with guard Trent Forrest and Terance Mann pushing the ball at the basket where their bigger teammates like Kabengele and Koumadje took control. It’s a formula that works well in the postseason where Florida State reached the NCAA’s round of eight last year.

Clemson: The Tigers came into the season ranked and with high expectations after their NCAA Tournament run to the Sweet 16 a year ago. But the team of four senior starters appeared way out of synch in this one. Clemson has had two three-game losing streaks in ACC play and may have to do something remarkable for make another appearance in the Big Dance.

TURNAROUND

Hamilton said his team’s early ACC troubles were in part blending in newcomers along with injuries to mainstays like Phil Cofer, who missed the first win over Clemson last month. Hamilton was confident his team would recover and anyway, “there was a high probability we wouldn’t go undefeated in ACC play,” he said.

OLD SCHOOL

With all the focus on fabulous freshmen, Florida State and Clemson had a throwback game with a combined seven players in the two starting lineups as seniors. The Seminoles’ senior starter were Cofer, Mann and Koumadje. Clemson had four starters in Elijah Thomas, David Skara, Reed and Shelton Mitchell.

UP NEXT

Florida State ends a three-game road swing at North Carolina on Saturday.

Clemson plays Boston College at home Saturday.

___

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Kentucky’s Reid Travis exits Missouri win with sprained knee

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Kentucky earned an SEC road win over Missouri on Tuesday night, but in the process, the Wildcats could be without senior forward Reid Travis for the next several games.

Travis exited Tuesday’s game in the second half with what’s being called a sprained right knee after teammate Keldon Johnson fell into Travis’ leg with a little more than 10 minutes left in the game. The fall sent Travis to the locker room, as he didn’t return to the contest as Kentucky held a comfortable second-half advantage.

Postgame, Kentucky head coach John Calipari told Jerry Tipton that there was no definite prognosis on Travis’ injury as Calipari “threw out the possibility of [Travis] being sidelined two weeks.”

Without Travis in the lineup, Calipari has the luxury of turning to two McDonald’s All-American bigs off the bench in freshman E.J. Montgomery and sophomore Nick Richards. Montgomery has earned consistent minutes of late while Richards was a promising 3-for-3 for seven points in Tuesday’s win.

Travis entered Tuesday averaging 11.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game for the Wildcats as he’s been one of the team’s leaders this season. While Kentucky can likely withstand the loss of Travis for a few weeks, they will need him at full strength if they want to make a potential Final Four run.

No. 4 Kentucky beats Missouri 66-58

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COLUMBIA, Mo. — PJ Washington and Tyler Herro scored 18 points each as fourth-ranked Kentucky slogged past Missouri 66-58 on Tuesday night.

Ashton Hagans added 12 points for the Wildcats (22-4, 11-2 Southeastern Conference), who looked a little sluggish three days after beating then top-ranked Tennessee. But Kentucky was good enough defensively to hold the Tigers to 37 percent shooting from the field.

Ronnie Suggs scored 13 and Jordan Geist finished with 11 for Missouri (12-13, 3-10 SEC).

After Missouri took an 11-10 advantage with 12:35 left in the first half, Herro scored seven points in a 42-second span to give Kentucky the lead for good. The Tigers got into foul trouble as Kevin Puryear and Jeremiah Tilmon each picked up two quick ones and Mitchell Smith was knocked out of the game after being hit in the head with an inadvertent elbow. Washington racked up 15 first-half points as the Wildcats opened a 41-23 halftime lead.

Kentucky had some attrition up front, also, as starting forward Reid Travis left the game in the second half with a sprained right knee. Missouri did most of its offensive damage late, narrowing its deficit to six points on Torrence Watson’s 3-pointer with 14 seconds left.

BIG PICTURE

Missouri: Derrick Chievous, who starred for the Tigers from 1985-88, had his No. 3 jersey retired at halftime. Chievous, who was known for always wearing a Band-Aid during games for no medical reason, is Missouri’s career leading scorer with 2,580 points. He is the seventh Missouri player to have his jersey retired, joining Bill Stauffer, Norm Stewart, Willie Smith, Steve Stipanovich, Jon Sundvold and Doug Smith.

Kentucky: With his 297th victory in 10 years at Kentucky, John Calipari tied Joe B. Hall for second place in wins at the school. Calipari has some work to do to catch the man at the top of the list — Adolph Rupp won 876 games in 42 years leading the Wildcats.

UP NEXT

Missouri: The Tigers play Saturday at Florida.

Kentucky: The Wildcats play host to Auburn on Saturday.

Tuesday’s Things to Know: Baylor upends Iowa State; Purdue, Maryland score Big Ten road wins

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Tuesday night in college hoops had some games to monitor for both the bubble, and the Big Ten, as road teams winning tight games was a bit of a theme. One team looks to have solidified their at-large bid while two more teams made major moves in the Big Ten standings. 

Baylor potentially punches NCAA ticket with road win at Iowa State

The bubble didn’t have many important wins on Tuesday. Most of the bubble lost, or, at best, earned wins over underwhelming competition. That wasn’t the case for Baylor though as the Bears might have earned their way into the Field of 68 with a notable 73-69 road win at No. 19 Iowa State.

Struggling a bit over the last few games, Baylor earned the very important sweep over the Cyclones as they stayed in the tight Big 12 race by continuing to earn unlikely wins. Depleted by injury, the Bears had strong outings from Jared Butler (17 points) and Makai Mason (14 points). But it was the play of former Division III transfer Freddie Gillespie that made the difference for Baylor. Playing 31 minutes, Gillespie was 7-for-8 from the floor as he finished with 14 points, 10 rebound and two blocks — including a key swat in the game’s final minutes.

While Baylor has some work to do if they want to stay in the crowded Big 12 race, they can rest a little bit easier tonight knowing that they are likely safely in the NCAA tournament.

No. 15 Purdue outlasts rival Indiana to tie for Big Ten lead

One of college basketball’s most heated rivalries took center stage on Tuesday night as the Boilermakers needed a late tip-in from big man Matt Haarms to beat Indiana with a 48-46 road win. Tying for the Big Ten lead with Michigan and Michigan State, this is one of Purdue’s most impressive wins of the season, as they stepped up and won on the road despite an awful night from star guard Carsen Edwards.

Shooting only 4-for-24 from the floor, Edwards was bailed out by a stout Purdue defense as well as 11-second half points from senior shooter Ryan Cline. It also didn’t hurt that Indiana freshman Romeo Langford (14 points, nine rebounds) missed the go-ahead free throw with less than 30 seconds left. Not many believed the Boilermakers could win games with Edwards missing 20 shots. But it shows how strong Purdue is defensively and it’s a testament to why they are surprisingly tied for the Big Ten lead at this point in the season.

No. 24 Maryland escapes with Big Ten road win at No. 21 Iowa

The night’s only matchup between top-25 teams was another exciting finish in the Big Ten as the Terrapins got the best of Iowa thanks to a late tip-in from big man Bruno Fernando (11 points). After a back-and-forth game that saw the Hawkeyes take the lead thanks to a late run, Maryland charged back and made critical plays on both ends to get the important road win. Anthony Cowan Jr. paced the Terps with 17 points while Eric Ayala also chipped in 11 points.

This win for Maryland is crucial because they own any potential tiebreaker over Iowa in the Big Ten standings. That could definitely come into play as the Terps, Wisconsin and the Hawkeyes are all in the mix for the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament — the final double-bye.

Fernando’s putback lifts No. 24 Maryland over No. 21 Iowa

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IOWA CITY, Iowa — Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon knew the ball would be in Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon’s hands.

The No. 24 Terrapins were ready in the final 7.8 seconds, and they turned the No. 21 Hawkeyes away from a third-straight buzzer beater with a 66-65 victory on Tuesday night.

“The kid’s made some incredible shots,” Turgeon said. “I just hoped the luck ran out — well, I wouldn’t say it’s luck, he’s a big-time shooter. I think Anthony (Cowan) got a finger on it on the way up.

“It bounced our way tonight.”

Bruno Fernando scored 11 points for Maryland (20-7, 11-5 Big Ten), the last two of which came on a putback with 7.8 seconds to go that gave the Terrapins their winning margin.

Maryland gave up an 11-point lead over the final four minutes, but held on against an Iowa team that had won its last two games via buzzer-beater and had two looks at the basket in the final seven seconds. The Terrapins got 17 points from Anthony Cowan, who shot 5 of 10 from 3-point range and had eight rebounds. Eric Ayala added 11 points and Fernando had 11 rebounds.

Despite Iowa’s furious comeback effort, which included Bohannon being fouled on a 3-pointer, Turgeon was happy with how his team responded to Iowa’s getting back in the game.

“They shoot five free throws, we’ve had the ball for 20 seconds and there was still 3:57 to go and it’s a two-point game,” Turgeon said. “It was crazy how fast we lost it. But my guys were tough tonight.

“Iowa missed about seven wide-open 3s for us. And we started to make shots. We got ourselves going and got our defense going.”

Iowa (20-6, 9-6) saw its four game-win streak end. The Hawkeyes were led by Bohannon, who had 14 points, and Isaiah Moss, who added 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Hawkeyes head coach Fran McCaffery couldn’t pinpoint a major difference in a reason for this outcome being different than the previous pair, other than the final possession was emblematic of the entire game.

“It was kind of the whole game,” McCaffery said. “Shots by good shooters weren’t going in. There was a lot (of options at the end). I think (Bohannon) felt like he was free enough to pull. He wants to be the guy shooting it in that situation.”

BIG PICTURE

Iowa: The Hawkeyes couldn’t make another miracle, and finally were bit by inconsistent play they were able to overcome previously. Iowa held Maryland without a field goal for nearly six minutes to open the game, but allowed the Terrapins to shoot nearly 52 percent in the second half.

Maryland: The Terrapins had 10 offensive rebounds, including the big one by Fernando. Maryland also forced 17 Iowa turnovers and scored 20 points off those turnovers.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Iowa: The Hawkeyes dipped slightly last week after narrow wins, but a loss to a ranked team shouldn’t be the biggest indictment.

Maryland: A road win against a ranked team should boost the Terrapins next Sunday, provided Turgeon’s team holds serve at home against Ohio State.

UP NEXT

Iowa welcomes Indiana to Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Friday.

Maryland returns home to play Ohio State on Saturday.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25