Redshirt mistakes still happen in big-time college hoops

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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Ochai Agbaji is not supposed to happen in the modern era of college basketball.

Not at Kansas. Not really anywhere.

The 6-foot-5 guard’s explosive athleticism was supposed to have been uncovered on the AAU circuit by one of the hundreds of scouts and recruiting services. His energetic defense was supposed to have been courted by every blue blood coach. His versatile ability to get to the basket, knock down 3s and distribute the ball was supposed to have made him a coveted freshman phenom.

He certainly wasn’t supposed to arrive as the least-heralded member of the Jayhawks’ recruiting class, and he certainly wasn’t supposed to have been so overlooked that he was redshirting.

But that was the plan at Kansas. With a stacked roster that was rewarded with the preseason No. 1 ranking, the Jayhawks figured they could stash Agbaji on the bench. Let him develop. Have him ready to go when a couple of potential one-and-dones headed to the NBA after this season.

But in an age of 24-hour news services, recruiting-specific websites, AAU all-stars and social media phenomenon, Agbaji is proof that surprises still exist in college basketball.

That mistakes still happen.

You see, the Jayhawks ran into injury trouble earlier this season, losing star big man Udoka Azubuike to season-ending wrist surgery. Defensive stopper Marcus Garrett hurt his ankle, and senior guard Lagerald Vick took a leave of absence, leaving the roster relatively depleted.

And long before any of that took place, Agbaji had proven himself in practice, and a pleasantly horrible realization hit Bill Self that there was no way the kid should be on the bench.

So when January rolled around, the Hall of Fame coach decided to yank Agbaji’s redshirt, and he has been arguably the Jayhawks’ best player as they tried to pursue another Big 12 title.

He poured in 25 points in a road game against Texas. He scored 23 against Oklahoma State. He had his first double-double in a crucial win over Texas Tech, and his second with 20 points and 11 rebounds while playing 41 minutes in an overtime victory at TCU.

“It was such a poor decision on my part,” Self admitted last week. “He went along with it, with his family, thinking he probably wouldn’t have very many opportunities to impact us on a gamely basis — not waste age 23 when you could waste age 18.

“It wasn’t that he wasn’t good enough to play,” Self added. “It was a crowded house and there were no other candidates to not redshirt because the other ones already had. That was it. It didn’t have anything to do with him. It was the situation of it being a crowded house.”

A similar situation occurred over the weekend at Duke.

Joey Baker was a four-star recruit whose scholarship offers ranged from Tennessee and Texas to North Carolina State and Kansas. Baker reclassified from the class of 2019 to enroll at Duke a year early, and he was expected to redshirt this season before playing this fall.

But with Zion Williamson hurt and Jack White struggling, coach Mike Krzyzewski pulled the 6-foot-7 forward’s redshirt during the first half of Saturday’s win at Syracuse.

“He’s played well in practice,” Krzyzewski said. “You don’t have to activate him, send anything in. He did a good job. Obviously we haven’t shot the ball very well except that Virginia game. Alex (O’Connell) and Joey are two of our better shooters. He’ll continue to get stuff.”

Still, the idea of redshirting a high-profile recruit is rare these days.

Most kids arriving on campus at Duke or Kansas have been courted throughout high school, and they’ve heard so much hyperbole from covetous coaches that they believe stardom is assured.

The idea of sitting out an entire season? Downright preposterous.

Plus, the bluest of the blue bloods rarely have scholarships available or the time to spend developing a potentially late bloomer. It’s hard enough to juggle the roster as players leave early for the NBA, and offering a scholarship with no immediate return on the investment is hard.

“The only player I talked to about redshirting after I got him here was Will Graves,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “I know even in Will’s situation, I said, ‘I want to talk to you about something,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, my dad and I have been talking.’”

Otherwise, prospects heading to North Carolina either know well in advance that they will be sitting out a year, or they arrive with the expectation they will contribute right away.

These discussions — and mistakes — aren’t relegated to power programs, either.

Buffalo coach Nate Oats, whose team has spent most of the season ranked, nearly redshirted CJ Massinburg when they arrived together in 2015. The athletic guard didn’t have many other offers, and Oats acknowledged he didn’t really know what he had in Massinburg.

“Going into the fall it was still a real possibility for me,” Oats explained last week, “but once we started a real practice I realized that wasn’t happening.”

Now, Massinburg is poised to leave Buffalo as one of its career scoring leaders.

“I’ve never actually had one where I started out the year redshirting a kid and then you know, five, 10 games and decided, ‘You know? I screwed up. We’ve got to play this kid,’” Oats said. “It was a legitimate possibility that we that we would redshirt CJ when he turned up. And then he ends up scoring 17 at Duke and 36 against Ohio as a freshman. He was pretty good.”

Agbaji is proving to be pretty good for Kansas, too.

The Jayhawks headed into Monday night’s showdown with Big 12-leading Kansas State still in the mix for a 15th consecutive conference title. And while Kansas may ultimately come up short, the mere fact that it remained possible in late February was due in part to Agbaji’s excellent play.

“He was playing every bit as good as everybody else in practice,” Self said, “but we already made that decision to tag him. I actually think he wanted that. He was happy with that. His family was happy with that, because they understood his best ball was well down the road.

“When things started to occur, we had to do something to jump start our team. That was really one thing we had left in the bag, and fortunately for us and him, it has worked out really well.”

Gardner, Beekman lift No. 8 Virginia past No. 22 N.C. State

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Virginia coach Tony Bennett had a simple message for his team after a poor defensive performance in a loss at Virginia Tech.

“Talk is cheap. Do it. Show us, to our players, to us as a staff, show up, work in practice, step to between the lines and don’t lose yourself in anything but what your job is,” Bennett said he told his players and assistants in the two days of practice since the 74-68 loss.

The team clearly got the message.

Jayden Gardner scored 18 points, Reece Beekman added 15 and No. 8 Virginia cooled off red-hot No. 22 North Carolina State 63-50 on Tuesday night.

“We had a great two days before State, you know, preparation and just diving in,” Gardner said. “It’s just this is the time of the season we need to lock in and you know, we’re playing for something. … We’re trying to win a championship.”

The Cavaliers (18-4, 10-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) handed the Wolfpack (19-6, 9-5) their second loss in 10 games and moved into a share of first place in the conference with Clemson and Pittsburgh.

The Wolfpack arrived leading the ACC with an average of 79.6 points and were 19-2 when scoring at least 70, but became the 38th consecutive league opponent held below 70 points at John Paul Jones Arena.

“Obviously, as I watched the Virginia Tech game and knew that those guys dropped the game and, you know, any time you’re going to play a very good defensive team on their home floor, you know you’re going to get that energy,” North Carolina State coach Kevin Keatts said.

Terquavion Smith led N.C. State with 19 points and Casey Morsell, who spent his first two seasons at Virginia and was jeered nearly every time he touched the ball in his first game back, had 18 points before fouling out in the final minute.

Jarkel Joiner, the Wolfpack’s No. 2 scorer at 16.2 points per game, missed 12 of his 14 shots and scored five points. D.J. Burns Jr. (eight points) was the only other Wolfpack player to score.

Reserve forward Kadin Shedrick, who did not play in Virginia’s loss at Virginia Tech on Saturday, had 10 points and six rebounds for the Cavaliers.

Virginia scored the first six points of the second half to open its largest lead at 40-20, but the Wolfpack began whittling away, fueled by a 12-6 burst in which Smith and Morsell each hit a pair of 3-pointers.

“In the past, we’ve been able to control the tempo and to get those guys to play a little bit faster and even turn them over,” said Keatts, whose team had won three of the last four meetings. “But we couldn’t.”

N.C. State twice closed within nine points but got no closer. Morsell’s 3 made it 55-46 with 3:46 to play, but Beekman made a free throw and then took a no-look pass from Kihei Clark for an easy backdoor layup.

Virginia closed the first half on an 8-2 run to lead 34-20 at the break. The Wolfpack missed 10 straight shots before Burns scored just before the half.

BIG PICTURE

N.C. State: The Wolfpack got scoring from just three players – Smith with nine points, Morsell with seven and Burns with four – in the opening half. They shot 25.8% with Smith going 4 for 13 and Joiner 0 for 6. … Burns picked up his third personal foul less than a minute into the second half after getting the ball stolen by Beekman. He stayed in the game and drew his fourth foul on a drive by Clark with 16:03 left.

Virginia: Beekman started the game ranking first in the ACC in assist/turnover ratio (3.0) and third in assists (5.1). He had four assists and one turnover. Clark started first in assists (6.0) and second in assist/turnover ratio (2.8). He had six assists and three turnovers.

UP NEXT

N.C. State: At Boston College on Saturday.

Virginia: Hosts Duke on Saturday.

Michigan St. rallies to win after giving up lead to Maryland

Maryland v Michigan State
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EAST LANSING, Mich. – Joey Hauser scored 20 points and Tyson Walker had 17 and Michigan State rallied after scoring the game’s first 15 points to beat Maryland 63-58 on Tuesday.

A.J. Hoggard had 10 rebounds and eight assists for Michigan State.

Jahmir Young scored 17 points for Maryland, Hakim Hart 12, Julian Reese 11 and Donta Scott 10 for the Terrapins.

The Spartans (15-9, 7-6 Big Ten) used an 8-0 run in which Walker made a layup and 3-pointer wrapped around a 3 from Jaden Akins for a 52-48 lead with 7:44 remaining and Michigan State led for the remainder.

The Terrapins erupted for a 12-0 run in less than three minutes in the second half turning a 38-26 deficit into a 38-all tie. Young and Hart posted back-to-back three-point plays, and Hart’s 3-pointer with 13:01 knotted it at 38. Prior to that 3, Hart was 3-for-last-27 shooting from beyond the arc. Maryland finished shooting 3 of 22 from distance.

Michigan State started the game with a 15-0 run and led 31-22 at halftime. Coming off an 81-46 win over Maryland (16-8, 7-6 Big Ten) on Saturday, the Terrapins have yet to win back-to-back contests in almost three years.

The Terrapins host Penn State on Saturday. Michigan State travels to play Ohio State on Sunday.

Arkansas pulls away from Kentucky in 2nd half, wins 88-73

Arkansas v Kentucky
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LEXINGTON, Ky. – Ricky Council IV scored 20 points, Anthony Black had 19 and Arkansas used a blazing second half to pull away and beat Kentucky 88-73 on Tuesday night, giving coach Eric Musselman his 200th collegiate victory.

Black added five assists and five steals. Makhel Mitchell and Davonte Davis scored 15 points each and Jordan Walsh 13 for the Razorbacks (17-7, 6-5 SEC) who have won five straight conference games, including three in a row. It was Arkansas’ third straight win over the Wildcats (16-8, 7-4). The teams meet again in Fayetteville in a regular-season finale on March 4.

Cason Wallace scored 24 points to lead Kentucky, which had won six straight conference games. Chris Livingston added 13 points and Jacob Toppin and Antonio Reeves 11 each.

After a first half with 11 lead changes, there were none in the second when Arkansas shot 72% and Council and Black combined for 25 points.

Three steals, including two by Black who turned them into consecutive dunks, fueled an 11-3 run to begin the second half for a 52-43 lead. A basket by Black made it a double-digit lead with eight minutes left as the Razorbacks sank 7 of 9 over that span to finish the game. They made 8 of 10 free throws over the final two minutes.

Kentucky coach John Calipari was given a technical foul with 33 seconds left in the first half. Black sank the resulting free throws for a three-point lead before Daimion Collins’ midrange jumper made it 41-40 at halftime.

Both teams shot over 50% in the first half with Wallace leading all scorers with 11 points. Kentucky dipped under 50% for the game while Arkansas finished at 63% and outscored the Wildcats 46-28 in the paint.

Arkansas is home against Mississippi State and Kentucky is at Georgia, both games on Saturday.

Tulane secures 101-94 OT win over Cincinnati

Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW ORLEANS – Kevin Cross and Jalen Cook scored 27 points each as Tulane took down Cincinnati 101-94 in overtime on Tuesday night.

Cross added 15 rebounds and six assists for the Green Wave (16-7, 9-3 American Athletic Conference). Cook added 14 assists. Jaylen Forbes scored 24 points and shot 6 for 15 (3 for 6 from 3-point range) and 9 of 9 from the free throw line.

Landers Nolley II finished with 26 points, eight rebounds and four assists for the Bearcats (16-9, 7-5). Ody Oguama added 16 points and 13 rebounds for Cincinnati. In addition, David Dejulius finished with 12 points, eight assists and three steals.

Tulane entered halftime down 37-28. Cross paced the team in scoring in the first half with 10 points. Forbes scored 18 second-half points and hit the game-tying 3-pointer with 1:02 remaining in regulation to send the game to overtime.

Tulane scored seven unanswered points to break a tie and lead with 42 seconds left in overtime.

No. 16 Oklahoma women take 1st lead in OT, rally past Baylor

Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman
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WACO, Texas – Ana Llanusa and Skylar Vann each scored 20 points and No. 16 Oklahoma took its first lead of the game in overtime before rallying past Baylor 98-92 on Tuesday night.

The Sooners trailed for 39 minutes in regulation and were down 75-63 with 5:19 left in regulation.

Baylor turned it over twice on inbounds plays in the closing seconds of regulation and Taylor Robertson tied at 83-all on a wide-open 3-pointer with 14 seconds left.

Llanusa started overtime with a 3-pointer, and she finished with eight points during the extra session. Baylor never led in overtime, shooting 2 of 6.

Robertson, who tied Danielle Robinson’s program record of 140 starts, finished with 14 points and three 3s for Oklahoma (19-4, 9-3 Big 12), which trails Texas (18-6, 9-2) in the hunt for its first conference title since 2009. Nevaeh Tot added 13 points, Liz Scott added 11 points and eight rebounds and Madi Williams had nine points, 10 rebounds and four assists.

The Sooners, the nation’s No. 3 scoring offense at 86.5 points per game, have scored at least 88 points 14 times this season, seven in conference.

Caitlin Bickle scored a career-high 30 points with four 3s and Sarah Andrews added 20 points for Baylor (16-7, 7-4). Freshman Darianna Littlepage-Buggs had 14 points and 17 rebounds and Ja’Mee Asberry scored 11. Jaden Owens had 14 of Baylor’s 25 assists on 32 field goals.

Bickle was 8 of 11 from the field, including 4 of 7 from distance, and Littlepage-Buggs recorded her sixth double-double in the last seven games.

It was the first time in 20 years the Sooners were ranked in game against an unranked Bears squad. Oklahoma continues its road trip at Kansas State on Sunday. Baylor plays at Oklahoma State on Saturday.