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Thursday Recap: Ja Morant goes off, Nevada dies off, Fletcher’s record

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PLAYER OF THE DAY: Ja Morant, Murray State

Ja Morant was so good against No. 5-seed Marquette on Thursday afternoon that he has really smart people seriously saying they would take him over Zion Williamson at No. 1 in the draft in June. That, of course, is an overreaction by those who probably have not seen Morant before, but it’s not entirely unwarranted.

That’s because the 6-foot-3 Morant put up one of the most dominant performances that I can remember in the NCAA tournament, scoring 17 points on just nine shots while handing out 16 assists, grabbing 11 boards and doing this to Joey Hauser:

The Racers beat the second-best team in the Big East, 83-64, in a game that was never close in the second half.

TEAM OF THE DAY: Kansas Jayhawks

Kansas was one of the trendy upset picks entering Thursday afternoon, playing a Northeastern team that won the CAA and had been dubbed by many — including me — as the Cinderella du jour.

Kansas, of course, won by 34 points.

GAME OF THE DAY: Maryland 79, Belmont 77

Dylan Windler had 35 points to lead Belmont but Jalen Smith and Bruno Fernando combined for 33 points and 25 boards as Maryland launched two different comebacks to knock off the Bruins.

The highlight, of course, was The Deadening:

ONIONS OF THE DAY: Fletcher Magee, Wofford

Magee hit seven threes, scored 24 points and set the NCAA Division I career record for the most three pointers made.

All that is great, but what matters more is that the Terriers knocked off Seton Hall in the first round of the NCAA tournament. This was the biggest shot of the day:

WTF OF THE DAY: Auburn 78, New Mexico State 77

I don’t think either of these teams wanted to win this game.

Auburn did everything they wanted to do for 34 minutes. They forced turnovers, they created offense from their defense, they hit threes, they played with a ton of energy. They were up 13 points with seven minutes left … when they forgot how to pass. Six turnovers and a few missed free throws down the stretch allowed NMSU right back in the game, setting up a wild final possession.

NMSU was down two, drove the lane, passed up a wide-open layup for a three, got fouled on said three, missed two of the three free throws, got the ball back out of bounds with 1.1 seconds left down by two points, got a good look at a three from the corner and missed it by ten feet.

It was a roller coaster.

BIGGEST SURPRISE: Minnesota Golden Gophers

I did not think that Minnesota was all that good heading into the tournament, so of course, they went out and smacked around Louisville in the first round.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Nevada Wolf Pack

Nevada finished the season 29-4. Were they the most disappointing 29-4 team ever? My column.

THREE MORE THINGS TO KNOW

1. PHIL COFER’S DAD DIED

Phil Cofer found out after Florida State’s win over Vermont that his father had died. Cofer did not play in the game due to an injury, and the death was not necessarily a surprise — his father had dealt with a “long illness” — but that is still a nightmare situation.

2. NO P.J.

Kentucky’s star forward P.J. Washington did not play in the team’s win over Abilene Christian on Thursday evening. He was wearing a hardcast on his right foot/ankle. Calipari’s statements after the game made it seem awfully unlikely that Washington will play on Saturday, which then puts his status for the rest of the tournament in doubt.

3. WILL WADE ISN’T TELLING THE TRUTH

LSU athletic director Joe Alleva spoke to Stadium in Jacksonville, and he made it clear that he was not happy with the way that Wade had handled the situation.

“I don’t know how deep this goes,” Alleva told Stadium. “That’s the problem, and Will’s refused to talk to us. That’s the hardest part for me. … I wish he’d come in and just tell the truth. Just tell me what went on. I can handle the truth even if it’s bad.”

Wade has been suspended from the LSU team after a report from Yahoo Sports that he was caught on a wiretap discussing a payment for freshman Javonte Smart.

Duke lands commitment from five-star forward Matthew Hurt

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For the fourth time in the last five years, Duke is tapping into that Minnesota pipeline to mine talent.

Following in the footsteps of Tyus Jones, Gary Trent Jr. and Tre Jones, Matthew Hurt, a 6-foot-9 forward and a top ten prospect in the Class of 2019, announced on Friday that he will be playing his college ball for the Blue Devils.

Hurt ultimately picked Duke over Kansas, but he was also pursued by the likes of Kentucky, North Carolina and Minnesota. He joins Vernon Carey, Wendell Moore and Boogie Ellis in Duke’s 2019 recruiting class.

Hurt is the perfect compliment to Carey, a powerhouse low-post force, and Moore, who is a talented wing. He has size and is extremely skilled, with the ability to stretch the floor out to 25 feet and the potential to be a dangerous face-up scorer, both in the mid-post and on the perimeter. He needs to get stronger and tougher, but that will come with time. As it stands, he’s the piece to the puzzle that Duke needed to add.

UNC women’s coach Hatchell resigns after findings from program review

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell had built a Hall of Fame career over more than three decades with the Tar Heels, including a national championship and becoming the Atlantic Coast Conference’s all-time winningest coach.

That tenure ended with her resignation after a program review found concerns over “racially insensitive” comments and pressuring players to compete through medical issues.

The school announced the 67-year-old Hatchell’s resignation late Thursday, along with findings from that external review conducted this month by a Charlotte-based law firm. Among the issues: a “breakdown of connectivity” between Hatchell and the players after 28 interviews of current players and program personnel.

The was enough to end Hatchell’s time in Chapel Hill, which began in 1986.

“The university commissioned a review of our women’s basketball program, which found issues that led us to conclude that the program needed to be taken in a new direction,” athletics director Bubba Cunningham said in a statement. “It is in the best interests of our university and student-athletes for us to do so. Coach Hatchell agrees, and she offered her resignation today. I accepted it.”

Hatchell — who has 1,023 victories, with 751 coming in 33 seasons at UNC along with the 1994 NCAA title — and her coaching staff had been on paid administrative leave since April 1. At the time, UNC announced the review amid player concerns to “assess the culture” of the program.

“The university will always hold a special place in my heart,” Hatchell said in a statement. “The game of basketball has given me so much, but now it is time for me to step away.”

In its release, UNC said the review found “widespread support” among three areas of concern, including the Hatchell-players connection.

The first centered on the racially insensitive comments, compounded by her failure to respond “in a timely or appropriate manner” when confronted by players or staff.

“The review concluded that Hatchell is not viewed as a racist,” the school said, “but her comments and subsequent response caused many in the program to believe she lacked awareness and appreciation for the effect her remarks had on those who heard them.”

Regarding injury concerns, the review reported frustration from players and medical staff with Hatchell’s “perceived and undue influence,” though medical staffers “did not surrender to pressure to clear players” before they were ready.

Wade Smith, Hatchell’s attorney, had defended her earlier this month by saying players had misconstrued comments she made as racist and that she wouldn’t try to force someone to play without medical clearance. That came after The Washington Post, citing unnamed parents of players, said complaints had been made about inappropriate racial comments and players being pushed to play while injured.

In a statement to The Associated Press at the time, Smith said Hatchell “does not have a racist bone in her body” and “cares deeply about (players’) health and well-being.”

Hatchell, who reached 1,000 wins in 2017, trailed only Tennessee’s Pat Summitt, Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer and Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma in women’s Division I career victories. But there had been difficulties in recent years.

She missed the 2013-14 season while battling leukemia and undergoing chemotherapy. The program also spent several seasons under the shadow of the school’s multi-year NCAA academic case dealing with irregular courses featuring significant athlete enrollments across numerous sports, a case that reached a no-penalty conclusion in October 2017.

UNC returned to the NCAA Tournament this year for the first time since 2015 after upsets of top-ranked Notre Dame and No. 7 North Carolina State on the road, though her contract was set to expire after next season.

Hatchell said she will still support the school, including raising money for UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and advocating for gender equity issues.

“While this is a bittersweet day, my faith remains strong,” Hatchell said. “After the fight of my life with leukemia, I count every day as a blessing.”

St. John’s expected to hire Mike Anderson

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The coaching search St. John’s started earlier this month is coming to an end, and its finality looks to be as bizarre as the process.

The Red Storm are expected to hire former Arkansas coach Mike Anderson, a source confirmed to NBC Sports. Roger Rubin of Newsday was first to report the development.

Anderson has a perfectly respectable resume after eight years with the Razorbacks and five at Missouri over the last decade-plus, but his history doesn’t suggest why he’s a great fit at St. John’s, a smaller private school in New York City rather than two large public institutions in college towns. New York City is also considerably more northeast than both Fayetteville and Columbia.

St. John’s swung big in a way that made sense when it hired Chris Mullin four years ago. There were question marks given his lack of college experience, but given his status as a Red Storm legend and NBA pedigree – both as a player and executive – you could connect the dots to success, even if Mullin ultimately couldn’t do it himself.

This hire, however, doesn’t make much sense. Anderson just got fired for not progressing enough with Arkansas, a place he spent 17 years at under Nolan Richardson prior to becoming a head coach himself. He had serious legacy there, but it wasn’t enough to overcome just three NCAA tournament appearances and no Sweet 16s in eight years.

That’s the guy that is now, with no clear ties to either the Big East or St. John’s, going to reinvigorate the Red Storm program? Anderson might do it, I guess, but his selection only highlights what a botched search this has been. Bobby Hurley, Porter Moser, Ryan Odom and Tim Cluess all reportedly spurned interest, and it’s about as inarguable as inarguable gets that St. John’s should be a slam-dunk better job than Loyola Chicago, UMBC and Iona, while Hurley is the type of guy an athletic department goes out and gets done if it wants to show it really means business.

Instead, St. John’s search falls to Anderson, who probably won’t win the press conference and didn’t win enough at Arkansas.

Ayo Dosunmu returning to Illinois for sophomore season

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Wins have been few and far between in two seasons for Brad Underwood at Illinois, which makes Thursday’s victory all the more important.

The Illini got a major April boost with Ayo Dosunmu announcing he would return to Champaign for his senior season rather than heading to the professional ranks.

“I stayed home to help coach Underwood turn the Illinois program around,” Dosunmu said in a video released on social media. “We tasted some success, but we didn’t dance. And Illinois has to dance.

“We are building. We will be better. I will be better, and that starts now.”

Dosunmu averaged 13.8 points, 4 rebounds and 3.3 assists during his freshman campaign, which led to speculation he might be off to the pros, leaving Illinois without its most dynamic scorer and playmaker heading into a critical third season for Underwood, who is 26-39 overall and 11-27 in the Big Ten the last two years. Instead, he’ll be returning giving Illinois a second season with an intriguing young core that will likely be a trendy pick to make a significant jump up the B1G standings next winter.

Oklahoma State lands commitment from top-150 guard Chris Harris Jr.

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Oklahoma State is adding another top-150 piece to its 2019 recruiting class as Chris Harris Jr., a guard from Texas, pledged to the Cowboys on Thursday

“I will be committing to Oklahoma State University,” Harris announced via a video on social media.

The consensus three-star recruit picks Mike Boynton’s program over offers from the likes of Texas A&M, Baylor, Kansas State and Georgia Tech. The 6-foot-3 guard visited Stillwater officially late last month. He previously was headed to the Aggies, but was released from his National Letter of Intent after Billy Kennedy was fired in College Station.

His commitment gives Oklahoma State what is increasingly looking like a major recruiting class for Boynton, who has largely exceeded expectations during his short tenure with the Cowboys. Boynton has already secured commitments from top-75 wing Marcus Watson of Georgia and top-125 guard Avery Anderson III as well as three-stars Kalib Boone and Keylan Boone.