Florida State ends Murray State, Ja Morant’s season to advance back to Sweet 16

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Florida State ended the potential Cinderella run of No. 12 seed Murray State and star point guard Ja Morant on Saturday as the No. 4 seed Seminoles ran away with a 90-62 victory in a second-round NCAA tournament matchup in the West Region.

Although Morant had the nation buzzing, again, thanks to a 5-for-5 start from three-point range to put the Racers ahead early in the first half, the depth, length and athleticism of Florida State quickly proved to be problematic for the Ohio Valley Conference champions. Settling in after Morant’s hot start, the Seminoles opened the game with a blistering 50-point first-half thanks to balanced scoring and 8-for-14 (61 percent) three-point shooting.

Florida State (29-7) advanced to the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive season thanks to a 10-deep effort with contributions from numerous guys. Even without seniors Phil Cofer and David Nichols, the Seminoles were incredibly impressive as they threw five or six different defenders at Morant to slow him down while most of the roster hunted dunks and lobs on the offensive end.

Sophomore forward Mfiondu Kabengele (22 points, seven rebounds, three blocks) was a menace on both ends of the floor for the Seminoles, giving the team an early boost off the bench offensively and providing rebounding and rim protection at the other end.  Senior wing Terance Mann helped the Florida State attack with an efficient 18 points, eight rebounds and six assists as he got pretty much any look he wanted attacking the rack. Making only his third college start in place of the injured Cofer, freshman forward Raiquan Gray had a career-high 11 points and five steals as he gave Florida State a solid boost with his first-half perimeter shooting and unique playmaking. And Florida State had 47 bench points on Saturday as they never stopped coming at Murray State.

The Seminoles don’t feature eye-popping NBA Draft prospects or a household name. Yet they continue to show well in the NCAA tournament the past few years thanks to their unique collection of athletes. With its deep-and-athletic positionless rotation, Florida State has only lost twice since Jan. 5  — to No. 1 seeds Duke and North Carolina. The Seminoles look like one of the most dangerous teams heading into the second weekend of the NCAA tournament because they can win in a lot of different ways.

The Seminoles survived the hot shooting of Vermont in the first half while closing the game out with great free-throw shooting. On Saturday, Florida State stopped a supernova talent at lead guard from carving them up by throwing body-after-body at Morant. If Florida State is shooting well from the perimeter (a credible future concern given their 33.4 percent three-point shooting entering Saturday) then they can compete with any team in the country.

Murray State (28-5) looked like they could be up for another potential upset following Thursday’s win over No. 5 seed Marquette. But after the hot-shooting start from Morant, the Racers didn’t have enough help from his overwhelmed teammates. After the memorable triple-double against the Golden Eagles, Morant finished with 28 points, five rebounds and four assists as the sophomore had to do much more as a scorer against Florida State. While Morant had the hot start from deep, Florida State’s defense gave Morant some problems inside the arc as he was 8-for-21 from the field — 3-for-15 from two-point range.

Limiting looks for the rest of Murray State’s roster, only guard Shaq Buchanan (12 points) and big man Darnell Cowart (10 points) finished in double-figures as the Racers struggled to get clean looks outside of Morant.

The NCAA tournament run for Murray State ends in disappointing fashion thanks to Florida State’s onslaught. But we were also fortunate to see a superstar like Morant get to play two games against high-major competition on the national stage. Entering the NCAA tournament, many casual basketball fans had seen Morant’s name in the top three of NBA mock drafts and seemed skeptical about Morant’s lofty status given his mid-major pedigree. With the tournament’s first triple-double in years, the tournament’s best first-round dunk and a hot three-point shooting game, Morant captivated the nation for two rounds before his exit.

If this is the final send-off for Morant at the college level before June’s NBA Draft (and it probably is given his top-three status), then what a way to go out. Considering that Murray State would have likely missed the NCAA tournament had they lost to Belmont in the OVC tournament title game, we’re fortunate that the Racers (and also Belmont) got into the Field of 68 and gave us some great games. When critics ask for more quality mid-major teams to earn at-large bids over near-.500 power-conference teams this OVC stretch in 2019 is precisely the reason why.

Florida State advances to face either No. 1 seed Gonzaga in next Thursday’s Sweet 16 in Anaheim. The Seminoles facing Bulldogs will be a rematch of last season’s NCAA tournament Sweet 16 matchup that saw No. 9 seed Florida State upset the No. 4 seed ‘Zags. Since both teams bring back similar rosters from last season, that rematch will be one of the most highly-anticipated games in the Round of 16.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

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.