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Mooney, Culver carry Texas Tech past Michigan State, into title game

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MINNEAPOLIS — Matt Mooney had just finished off the best — and biggest — game of his career, quite possibly his life.

The South Dakota grad transfer scored 13 of his 22 points in the second half, including a trio of triples to cap a 14-4 Texas Tech run that blew a tight game wide open as Texas Tech advanced to Monday’s national title game with a 61-51 win over Michigan State.

There he sat, a year removed from talking to USD’s one and only beat writer after a game, a gaggle of media shoving phones in his face as myriad cameras recorded his every facial tick, getting told that his coaching staff couldn’t care less about all those points.

“We don’t need to talk about that.”

That’s what Mark Adams, a Texas Tech assistant and the architect responsible for the vaunted Red Raider defense, said when asked about Mooney’s breakout performance in Saturday’s second national semifinal game. He wasn’t joking, either. Those 22 points didn’t matter, not to win anyway. He cared about the 4-for-16 performance posted by Cassius Winston, Michigan State’s All-American point guard and the Peyton Manning of Michigan State’s offense.

“I reeled him back in,” Adams joked. “‘It’s not the offensive end we’re worried about, Matt. Don’t get it lopsided, now.’ He did an exceptional job on Cassius.”

That defensive performance, one that limited Winston to 16 points and just two assists to go long with his four turnovers, is what allowed the Red Raiders to survive what was a decidedly disastrous evening from Jarrett Culver, the star of this Texas Tech team, the resident soon-to-be lottery pick and NBC Sports first-team All-American.

It was the worst possible time for Culver to have his one of his worst games of the season. He finished with 10 points, three fouls and two assists to three turnovers while shooting 3-for-12 from the floor, struggling all night long to find a way to get around, through or over Michigan State’s Matt McQuaid.

And it could not have mattered less.

Frankly, it was a fitting finish to a Final Four Saturday that saw four teams fail to crack 63 points. Three of the nation’s top ten defensive teams were on display in US Bank Stadium, and it showed. But as much as Culver struggled on Saturday, he made the plays when it really mattered. Everyone seated in US Bank Stadium knew Michigan State wasn’t going to go away quietly. They used a 13-2 run over the course of seven minutes, to cut Texas Tech’s lead to 52-51, and it was Culver had the answer. A driving layup with 2:29 left push Tech’s lead to three. After hitting one of two free throws with 1:32 left on the clock, the 6-foot-6 Lubbock native drilled a step-back three with 58 seconds left, the dagger Deep In The Heart Of Michigan State that sent Chris Beard and company within one win of a national title.

Culver was the hero, because that’s what All-Americans do.

They win you games even when they’re struggling.

But Mooney was the best player on the floor for the Red Raiders, on both ends of the court.

It wasn’t always a given that that would be the case.

Because Mooney, for all he could do on the offensive side of the floor, was just not a good defender when he arrived in Lubbock after three seasons in Vermillion.

“He never really had been asked to play defense,” Max Leferve, another Tech assistant coach, said.

The problem, you see, was that Mooney refused to use his wingspan. He stands about 6-foot-3 on a good day, but the Wauconda, Ill., native has a that would make Jay Bilas salivate; a very nice 6-foot-9. But Mooney refused to raise his arms. As Adams put it, he played like he was wrapped in athletic tape. Another player said Mooney might as well have played defense with his hands in his pockets. It was a constant source of frustration for the coaching staff, particularly Adams.

“He would blow the whistle, stop practice and say, ‘Hey, how long is Mooney’s wingspan?'” Mooney recalled. “‘Well, he’s playing like he’s got a five-foot wingspan. It took quite some time [to break the habit]. Probably until halfway through the year.”

What changed?

“I got tired of getting cussed out.”

In what I’m sure Mooney hopes won’t be his One Shining Moment, that wingspan was on full display.

It came with 9:40 left on the clock, after Mooney had scored his 20th point of the night and buried a third three in a two-minute, 35-second span. As he ran back down the floor, he had his arms spread wide, basking in a moment he may never again get to experience.

But that was the peak of Tech’s celebrating on Saturday night.

The job isn’t done yet.

“We came here to play 80 minutes,” Chris Beard said. “There’s the first 40.”

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.

 

Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver declaring for draft

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Jarrett Culver made a reality Thursday what appeared inevitable. The Texas Tech sophomore is heading to the NBA.

The projected top-10 pick declared his intentions to enter the drat at a press conference in his native Lubbock just over a week after leading the Red Raiders to the national championship game.

“I will be declaring for the 2019 NBA draft,” Culver said to applause in a standing-room only crowd full of supporters.

It’s little surprise to see Culver become the second early-entry player under third-year coach Chris Beard after Zhaire Smith went one-and-done to the first-round last year. The 6-foot-5 Culver averaged 18.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game last year while being named the Big 12 player of the year as Texas Tech split the regular-season conference title with Kansas State to put a stop to Kansas’ 14-year reign atop the league.

He could be picked in the top-three of the draft while the top-10 seems assured. He’s a proven scorer and two-way player, though NBA teams will have questions about his athleticism and 3-point shot.

His departure also means a huge reload is in order for Beard and Co., but that was the case coming off an Elite Eight trip in 2017, which Texas Tech followed up with a near-national championship earlier this month.