Alexander-Walker leads No. 15 Virginia Tech past Miami

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BLACKSBURG, Va. — In a pregame ceremony, the Virginia Tech recognized three seniors who arguably changed the fortunes of the program. Then, a sophomore stole the show.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker had 21 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, and No. 15 Virginia Tech beat Miami 84-70 on Friday night to tie the school record for regular-season victories with 23.

Playing mostly at the point guard position, Alexander-Walker was 6 of 14 from the floor, including three 3-pointers, and grabbed 10 rebounds for the Hokies (23-7, 12-6 Atlantic Coast Conference). The sophomore also tied his career high with eight assists.

“It was all about our seniors,” Alexander-Walker said. “The fact that I could be there for them was huge.”

Ahmed Hill and Ty Outlaw had strong performances in their last home game for the Hokies. Outlaw scored 19 points, hitting five 3-pointers, and Hill added 17 points and connected on five 3s as well.

Ebuka Izundu and Chris Lykes had 16 points each for Miami (13-16, 5-13).

In addition to celebrating its seniors, Virginia Tech celebrated doing something that only one other team in school history had done — win 23 games in a regular season. The 2009-10 team won 23 games, but a soft nonconference schedule relegated that team to the NIT.

“In year No. 1 (2014-15), we won 11 percent of our ACC games, and after tonight, we’ve won at a 67-percent clip when 10 of those games — five were played with seven guys in uniform and the other five were played with eight guys in uniform,” Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams said. “I think it’s off the chart.”

Virginia Tech trailed 16-8 before the Hokies found their shooting stroke and buried Miami, outscoring the ‘Canes 32-6 over a span of nearly nine minutes. The Hokies hit six of their nine first-half 3-pointers during that stretch and scored on 13 of 15 possessions.

In the second half, Miami sliced a 45-31 halftime deficit to 11 on a 3-pointer by Zach Johnson, but the Hokies answered with a 14-4 run. Wabissa Bede’s left-handed layup with 12:38 remaining pushed the lead to 61-40.

“The group I started in the second half has never played a second together,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “We were just looking for something that might create some mismatches for them. It kept us inching closer … but then again we made some critical errors and missing some shots. We needed up not shooting the ball well from 3, and if we don’t shoot the ball well from 3, we’re going to have a hard time of winning.”

Virginia Tech shot 49.2 percent from the floor (29 of 59) and hit 14 3-pointers.

TIP-INS

Virginia Tech: The Hokies basically played their 10th straight game without point guard Justin Robinson, who has been out with an injured foot. Williams ceremoniously started Robinson in his final home. Kerry Blackshear Jr. took the opening tip and tipped it out of bounds, allowing Williams to substitute for Robinson, whom the Hokies hope to get back at some point this season. Robinson was averaging 14.4 points and 5.5 assists before the injury.

Miami: Lykes came into the game averaging 16.2 points per game and ranking in the top 10 in the ACC in scoring — and he finished right on that average. But the sophomore struggled from the floor against the Hokies, hitting just 5 of 15. He missed his first seven 3-point attempts, which was emblematic of Miami’s struggles from the perimeter. The ‘Canes made just six of their 29 3-point attempts.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Virginia Tech lost to Florida State in overtime on Tuesday in Tallahassee, Florida, which certainly is no shame considering the Seminoles’ No. 14 ranking. So the Hokies figure to stay at or near No. 15 in next Monday’s poll.

UP NEXT

ACC Tournament in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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.