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Trey McGowens leads Pitt to 75-62 upset of No. 11 FSU

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PITTSBURGH — Jeff Capel noticed the fearlessness in Trey McGowens, Xavier Johnson and Au’Diese Toney right away. The way they played, it was almost impossible to miss. Capel leaned on that inherent daring when he made his recruiting pitch to them last spring just days after taking over the rebuilding project at Pittsburgh.

Join me, Capel said. Let’s bring the swagger back together.

Less than nine months later, what Capel cautioned would be a lengthy process appears to be well ahead of schedule behind his three precocious freshmen, who have shrugged off the program’s regrettable recent past with a competitive fire that points to a promising future.

McGowens poured in 30 points, Johnson added 16 — including consecutive buckets in the final four minutes after Florida State cut Pitt’s lead to five — and the Panthers pulled away from the 11th-ranked Seminoles for a 75-62 victory on Monday night.

“All three of them are naturally competitive,” Capel said after Pitt’s first win over a ranked team in nearly two years. “They have a toughness about them and they aren’t afraid. We’re trying to develop that, trying to make that the culture. Toughness, togetherness. Today was a big step.”

McGowens led the way. Less than a week after setting a school record for a freshman by scoring 33 points against Louisville, the 6-foot-3, 185-pound McGowens threatened that mark by attacking the bigger, deeper Seminoles repeatedly, often resulting in an acrobatic layup or a foul or — occasionally — both. McGowens made 18 of 19 free throws for the Panthers (12-5, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who outscored the Seminoles 38-20 at the line.

“I just feel like that’s how we like to play,” McGowens said. “We’ve got some competitors. That’s just what we like to do.”

Trent Forrest scored 19 points for the Seminoles (13-4, 1-3), who lost for the third time in four games. And unlike their setback against No. 1 Duke last Saturday — when the Blue Devils won it at the buzzer — this was no last-second stunner. Pitt never trailed over the final 11 minutes, though Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton downplayed the idea his team was flat after the near-miss against the Blue Devils.

“You don’t ever want to accept that,” Hamilton said. “It was an emotional loss for us, but that’s part of what you have to prepare for in the ACC. Pitt lost Saturday too. They bounced back and we didn’t.”

The Panthers gave away size at nearly every position. Yet rather than try to shoot over the Seminoles, Pitt decided to try and run through them.

The Panthers drove to the basket all night, particularly McGowens. He missed a breakaway dunk early on but tried to go right back to the rack by attempting to rise over 6-foot-10, 250-pound Mfiondu Kabengele. That dunk missed as well, but McGowens drew the foul and appeared to send a message that Pitt would not be intimidated.

“We feel like we are going to fight every time we play,” Capel said. “If we fight and we play with some semblance of intelligence, we’ll have a chance.”

That mindset helped the Panthers take a 36-34 halftime lead despite making just eight shots in the opening 20 minutes. While Florida State did at times dominate the lane — outscoring Pitt 30-20 in the paint and having an 18-7 advantage in second-chance points — the Panthers simply kept coming.

McGowens hit a 3-pointer to give Pitt the lead for good with 11:22 to go. Florida State fell behind by 10 but trimmed it to 60-55 after a pair of free throws by Forrest with 4:25 to go. Johnson shook off a seven-turnover night by hitting a jumper and then a driving layup to help push the advantage back to double digits.

By the end, the fans mocked Florida State by doing the school’s war chant and then followed it up by shouting “We want Duke!” The top-ranked Blue Devils visit next Tuesday in a game that no longer looks like a mismatch.

“We’ve got two (ACC wins),” said center Terrell Brown, one of the few holdovers from a club that went winless in ACC play last season under coach Kevin Stallings. “We have more to get.”

BIG PICTURE

Florida State: The Seminoles need to make more shots, particularly on the road. Florida State shot just 34 percent from the floor in a loss to Virginia last week and had similar issues against the Panthers. Florida State hit 20 of 58 field goals (35 percent), including just 2 of 22 3-pointers.

Pitt: The Panthers have regained their homecourt advantage at the Petersen Events Center. Once one of the toughest places to play in the Big East — an advantage that has eased a bit since the move to the ACC — Pitt has now won consecutive home games against teams that figure to be a factor in the conference. The Panthers might not be far from joining that conversation.

BYU guard Nick Emery announces retirement from basketball

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PROVO, Utah (AP) — BYU guard Nick Emery said Tuesday he is retiring from basketball following a college career that began with high expectations but that ended with him at the center of an NCAA investigation.

Emery used social media to announce he is stepping away with a year of eligibility still remaining.

“My time here has been rocky at times, but the good times definitely outweighed the bad,” Emery wrote in an Instagram post also shared to his Twitter account. “I’ve learned so many life lessons and this journey has been so rewarding. I am at a point in life where I am happy with what I’ve accomplished with basketball and I’m ready to start the next chapter of my life with my wife and son.”

The school confirmed the retirement.

“We are excited for Nick as he begins this next stage of his life,” BYU head coach Mark Pope said in a news release. “He has great things ahead.”

Emery made a splash right away at BYU, averaging a career-best 16.3 points per game during his first season and setting a BYU freshman record with 97 3-pointers. He helped the Cougars reach the semifinals of the 2016 NIT.

After playing for two years, he withdrew from school for the 2017-18 season, citing personal reasons. The 6-foot-2 guard returned to the program in 2018 and he began his third and final season serving a nine-game suspension following the NCAA investigation.

The NCAA last year placed the men’s basketball program on probation for two years and said it must vacate 47 wins from Emery’s freshman and sophomore seasons.

The NCAA said Emery received more than $12,000 in benefits from four boosters, including travel to concerts and an amusement park and the use of a new car. The NCAA also accepted the university’s self-imposed penalties of reducing one scholarship, disassociation of one of its boosters and a $5,000 fine. The NCAA didn’t identify Emery by name but the university said the case involved him.

Emery averaged 12.6 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.4 steals per game over his three seasons with the Cougars.

With grad transfer Jake Toolson joining BYU from Utah Valley for the upcoming season, Emery’s role with the Cougars would likely have been greatly reduced this fall. Toolson earned WAC Player of the Year honors as a junior after averaging 15.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.3 assists for Utah Valley.

NCAA punishes DePaul for basketball recruiting violation

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CHICAGO (AP) — The NCAA suspended DePaul men’s basketball coach Dave Leitao for the first three games of the regular season Tuesday, saying he should have done more to prevent recruiting violations by his staff.

The NCAA also put the Big East program on three years of probation, issued a $5,000 fine and said an undetermined number of games will be vacated because DePaul put an ineligible player on the floor. An unidentified former associate head coach is also facing a three-year show cause order for his role in the violations.

According to an NCAA infractions committee decision, in the Spring of 2016, the associate head coach arranged for the assistant director of basketball operations to live with a prospect to help ensure the player did the work necessary to meet NCAA eligibility requirements. That arrangement violated recruiting rules. At the time, Rick Carter was DePaul’s associate head coach and Baba Diallo was the program’s assistant director of basketball operations.

“The head coach did not promote an atmosphere of compliance because three men’s basketball staff members knew about the arrangement but did not report the violation or question whether it was allowable,” the NCAA said. “Even more troubling to the committee was the director of basketball operations stated he knew the contact was a violation but did not report it because he did not want to be disloyal, cause tension, get in the way of the associate head coach or otherwise hurt his career. … According to the committee, a culture of silence pervaded the program.”

Leitao was hired in 2015 and has pushed to return the Blue Demons to respectability in his second stint as head coach at DePaul. After a pair of nine-win seasons under Leitao, DePaul went 11-20 two years ago before going 19-17 and reaching the College Basketball Invitational championship last season, falling to South Florida in three games.

Leitao is also a former head coach at Virginia and his assistant stops include Connecticut, Missouri and Tulsa.

“The head coach did not monitor his staff when he did not actively look for red flags or ask questions about the assistant director of basketball operations’ two-week absence,” the NCAA said. “The committee recognized the head coach’s efforts to require staff attendance at compliance meetings and communicate with compliance officials, but it said he needed to do more.”

DePaul said it would not challenge the decision, but called it “disappointing.”

“This infraction was an isolated incident directed and then concealed by a former staff member that resulted in, at most, a limited recruiting advantage relative to one former student-athlete,” the university said. “Since our self-report in January 2018, DePaul has cooperated with the NCAA enforcement staff to proactively pursue the resolution of this matter and has reviewed and further strengthened related protocol and practice. … Coach Leitao is a man of character and integrity, who has the support of the administration in leading our men’s basketball program.”

DePaul was among several schools mentioned at a recent federal trial involving corruption in college basketball.

Brian Bowen Sr., father of a top recruit, testified in October that DePaul assistant coach Shane Heirman paid him $2,000 a month to send his son to an Indiana high school where Heirman coached at the time. The school responded by saying it had done its due diligence on the matter and had previously investigated the allegations.

Zion Williamson signs with Jordan Brand

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Zion Williamson may not be the next Michael Jordan, but he will be the next NBA player to don the Jumpman logo.

On Tuesday afternoon, Zion announced that he has signed with Jordan Brand, ending speculation about where the Duke product and biggest brand to enter the NBA in years, if not ever, will sign his endorsement deal.

Where Zion ended up signing was never the most interesting part of this process – although the fact that he ended up under the Swoosh’s umbrella after a Nike shoe blew out on him and nearly cost him his left knee. What we all want to know, and what is yet to be reported, are the terms of this deal.

Outside of LeBron and Jordan, I’m not sure there is a more marketable player in the NBA right now. Think about it like this: When I say Zion, even non-basketball know exactly who I’m talking about. There are only a handful of basketball players that is true for, and the only active ones are LeBron and Steph with KD and Kyrie potentially thrown in that mix.

That’s elite company, and none of those guys have the social media following or ability to go viral with the next generation of basketball fans like Zion does. He already has a global following, one which is only going to grow as he becomes more mainstream.

And while we’re on the subject, it’s worth mentioning this piece on how going to college made Zion a literal fortune. We’ll see if Nike’s investment in the 18-year old pays off.

Utah State star injures knee playing in FIBA U-20 event, reportedly not an ACL tear

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Update (11:58 ET) According to a report from SPORT TV Portugal, Neemias Queta sprained and dislocated his knee, but it doesn’t appear to be an ACL tear.

The star center for Utah State suffered a knee injury while playing for Portugal’s U-20 team in the FIBA European Championships over the weekend.

Queta landed awkwardly while trying to grab a rebound and immediately reached for his left knee. He had to be carried off the floor without putting any weight on the leg, although he was eventually able to walk through handshake lines – with an icepack on his knee – after the game.

Queta did not return for Sunday’s final, and he had his knee wrapped while using a cane while watching from the bench. Portugal won the B Division championship despite his absence.

This would be a massive loss for the Aggies, who are a top 15 team in the NBC Sports preseason rankings and the clear-cut favorite to win the Mountain West. The 6-foot-11 Queta averaged 11.8 points, 8.9 boards and 2.4 blocks while shooting 40 percent from three as a freshman.

According to reports out of Portugal, Queta is due to undergo an MRI Tuesday.

 

Ex-Tar Heel Woods comfortable back home in South Carolina

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina guard Seventh Woods can’t take a few steps around town these days without someone telling him it is good he came home. The former North Carolina player is happy with his latest choice, too.

“It’s been great,” Woods said Friday. “Family’s here, friends here. I’ve been getting along well with the players and the coaches.”

The 6-foot-2 Woods expected to be a collegiate force when he finished Hammond School in Columbia and picked the Tar Heels over Georgetown and South Carolina in 2016.

Instead, Woods was a backup during his time with the Tar Heels. He was part of North Carolina’s NCAA Tournament title team in 2017 but never averaged more than 11 minutes or three points a game during his three seasons in Chapel Hill . Woods missed 17 games with a broken foot during his sophomore season and averaged 2.5 points and 2.1 assists last season as backup to freshman Coby White.

In April, Woods posted on social media that it was time for a change. Woods will sit out next season per NCAA transfer rules and return to the court in 2020-21.

“I can focus on me getting into a groove,” Woods said. “Learning a new system and we didn’t want to rush anything.”

Woods, who turns 21 next month, gained attention during his middle school years for his ability to dunk and dominate opponents off the dribble at Hammond. He was a YouTube, basketball mixtape regular in the early 2010s, when ability like his was largely experienced in person watching youth games.

The buzz about Woods intensified the pressure for him to stay put and revive South Carolina. Woods felt differently.

“I just wanted to do what was best for me,” Woods said. “Going away was best for me at the time.”

Woods felt comfortable with the Tar Heels and believed it would be the best place for him to grow as a player and person.

“Only positives, all positive,” Woods said of his three years at North Carolina.

When Woods met with Martin to discuss is basketball future, the coach emphasized him taking some time away from games.

“Every time he dribbled, the crowd was sold out and every critic was out there criticizing everything he did wrong,” Martin said. “I have no idea how that young man has been able to keep the class he lives with under those circumstances.”

Woods looked at Gonzaga and Michigan before picking the Gamecocks this time. The relationship he built with Martin was rekindled the past few months and Woods was grateful to his new coach for this latest chance.

“I felt it was perfect timing just being able to come back home,” Woods said. “To come back to a coach who allowed me to come back home. That was big for me.”

Woods says he’ll spend his time improving his strength, consistency and outside shooting. He’ll be part of practices and knows that will help him develop chemistry with his future teammates.

His aspirations, as they were during middle school, are to play basketball professionally after college. He’s looking forward to a productive time off the court to recharge and improve.

“I feel like sitting out a year will be great for me and I’m going to try and use it to my advantage to make the most out of my senior year,” he said.