Amid protest and cheers, LSU beats Vandy to claim SEC title

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BATON ROUGE, La. — Tremont Waters had 14 points and eight assists and LSU won the Southeastern Conference regular-season title with an 80-59 victory over Vanderbilt on Saturday night in the Tigers’ first game without suspended head coach Will Wade.

Darius Days scored a season-high 15 points and Marshall Graves had a season-high 12 — all on 3-pointers — for LSU (26-5, 16-2).

Several players climbed into the student section after the game and pulled on purple conference championship T-shirts while chants of “L-S-U! L-S-U!” reverberated throughout the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

Vanderbilt (9-22, 0-18) became the first team to go winless in the SEC since former league member Georgia Tech in 1954, and the first ever to do so with an 18-game conference schedule.

LSU’s triumph came a day after Wade’s indefinite suspension in the wake of published excerpts of a wire-tapped phone call between the coach and a man convicted last year in federal court of funneling illegal payments to the families of college basketball recruits.

Nearly 14,000 spectators packed the bowl-shaped arena to see LSU — with Wade assistant Tony Benford making his debut as interim head coach — wrap up its first SEC title in a decade. But many fans split time between passionately demonstrating solidarity with the players on every remotely positive play and protesting the administration during lulls in the action.

Boos and chants of “Joe must go!” rained down from the student section and a few other corners of the arena when athletic director Joe Alleva walked to his seat a few rows up from the sideline. Fans also called Alleva a “coward,” the implication being that LSU rushed to suspend its coach before it had conclusive evidence of wrongdoing.

Many fans held up signs reading, “Free Will Wade,” and “Free Javonte Smart,” the freshman guard and former Louisiana player of the year who apparently was referred to in the 2017 call recorded by the FBI.

That was a partisan perspective anyway.

LSU’s decision to suspend Wade has been praised by conference commissioner Greg Sankey, who said he found the published excerpts of Wade’s wire-tapped phone call “very disturbing.”

Smart was held out of the game, although LSU senior associate athletic director Robert Munson stressed that decision was made “in an abundance of caution” and did not represent any knowledge of wrongdoing by Smart or his family, who Munson said were cooperating with university officials.

LSU also held out Naz Reid, but for entirely different reasons. He’d taken a hard blow to the head during a victory at Florida on Wednesday, and was given the night off with LSU already having clinched the SEC tournament’s top seed, and with higher-stakes games coming up.

Saben Lee scored 16 points and Yanni Wetzell had 11 for Vanderbilt, which struggled to stay within 20 points much of the second half.

BIG PICTURE

Vanderbilt: Solid perimeter shooter Matt Ryan missed a third-straight game because of his hand injury, which only made it tougher for struggling Vandy to keep pace with an opponent atop the league standings. The Commodores spent much of the game with a shooting percentage in the low 30s before finishing at 41.2 percent (21 of 51). They were also outrebounded 38-26.

LSU: The Tigers had plenty of depth to withstand the absences of Smart and Reid against the last-place team in the SEC. The Tigers had a double digit lead within the first 10 minutes and were never threatened en route to becoming only the second LSU team in program history to win as many as 26 games in a regular season. The 1981 team holds the school-record with 27.

UP NEXT

Vanderbilt: Opens SEC tournament play Wednesday night against Texas A&M.

LSU: Begins SEC tournament play Friday in the third round after earning a double-bye.

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

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.