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.”

UConn adds former Rutgers guard Cam Spencer from transfer portal

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STORRS, Conn. — National champion UConn added some shooting depth to its roster Friday, announcing the signing of former Rutgers guard Cam Spencer from the transfer portal.

Spencer, who graduated last month with a year of eligibility remaining, averaged 13.2 points in his only season in New Jersey. The 6-foot-4 guard, who played his first three seasons at Loyola of Maryland, shot 44.4% from the floor, including 43.4% from 3-point range.

“Cam is the perfect addition to our basketball program,” UConn Coach Dan Hurley said. “He brings a unique combination of high-level skill and feel for the game, with a fierce competitiveness that has allowed him to enjoy a terrific college basketball career thus far.”

The Huskies lost their top 3-point scoring threat, sophomore Jordan Hawkins, to the NBA draft, along with wing Andre Jackson Jr. and post Adama Sanogo.

Guard Tristen Newtown gave the Huskies a boost last month when he withdrew his name from the draft pool and returned to Storrs.

The Huskies began summer workouts this week, welcoming a top recruiting class led by 6-6 point guard Stephon Castle, a McDonald’s All-American from Georgia. The class also includes 6-7 wing Jayden Ross and 6-4 guard Solomon Ball from Virginia, 6-7 wing Jaylin Stewart from Seattle, Washington, and 7-foot center Youssouf Singare from New York.

“I think that some of my strengths will stand out in UConn’s style of play,” Spencer said. “They have a lot of great movement and they play so well together, with great chemistry. I think that I can come in and hopefully contribute to that.”

NCAA tweaks rules on block/charge calls in men’s basketball

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INDIANAPOLIS — The NCAA is tweaking how block/charge calls are made in men’s basketball.

The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved rule changes on Thursday that require a defender to be in position to draw a charge at the time the offensive player plants a foot to go airborne for a shot. If the defender arrives after the player has planted a foot, officials have been instructed to call a block when there’s contact.

Defenders had to be in position to draw a charge before the offensive player went airborne under previous rules.

NCAA Men’s Basketball Rules Committee members made the proposal after NCAA members complained that too many charges were being called on those types of plays.

The panel also approved reviews of basket interference calls during the next media timeout – if the official called it on the floor – a shot clock reset to 20 seconds on an offensive rebound that hits the rim, and players being allowed to wear any number between 0 and 99.

A timeout also will be granted to an airborne player with possession of the ball, and non-student bench personnel will be allowed to serve as peacekeepers on the floor if an altercation occurs.

Charlotte head coach Ron Sanchez resigns after winning CBI title

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Ron Sanchez resigned as head coach of the Charlotte 49ers.

Sanchez took over the 49ers on March 19, 2018, inheriting a team coming off a 6-23 campaign. In five years Charlotte went 72-78 under Sanchez, highlighted by winning the College Basketball Invitational championship this past season, the Niners’ first post-season tournament title in school history.

The 22 wins this past season are the most for Charlotte since 2001.

“Ron took over a proud but struggling program and carefully rebuilt it into a 22-game winner. He has led with class, dignity and devotion to our young men,” Charlotte director of athletics Mike Hill said. “His decision to step down from Charlotte was a difficult one for him and everyone associated with our program. We wish him and his family every happiness.”

Hill said the team has already begun a national search for a replacement.

“This is a bittersweet day for me and my family as I step down to pursue other opportunities,” said Sanchez, who came the 49ers after working as an assistant coach at Virginia under Tony Bennett. “It has been a tremendous privilege to lead the 49ers basketball program over the past five years and I want to thank Niner Nation for its support. I will be forever grateful to my staff, players and the university.”

Marquette extends Shaka Smart’s contract through 2029-30 season

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MILWAUKEE — Marquette coach Shaka Smart has received a contract extension after leading the Golden Eagles to their first outright regular-season championship and tournament title in the Big East.

Smart’s contract now runs through the 2029-30 season. This is the first extension Smart has received since signing a six-year deal when he took over as Marquette’s coach in 2021.

Marquette didn’t release financial terms of Smart’s deal.

“In a very short period of time, Shaka and his staff have done a tremendous job of establishing a winning culture, both on and off the court,” athletic director Bill Scholl said in a statement. “Shaka’s vision for the program is focused on extended, sustainable success. The individuals who interact with the team on a daily basis are able to observe frequent examples of growth and the excitement around the program is contagious.”

Marquette has gone 48-20 in Smart’s two seasons and reached the NCAA Tournament each of those years.

The Golden Eagles went 29-7 and won the Big East’s regular-season and tournament championships last season after the league’s coaches had picked them to finish ninth out of 11 teams. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

Purdue’s Edey returning to school at NBA draft deadline; Kentucky’s Tshiebwe stays in

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Purdue’s Zach Edey decided it was the right call to go back to school instead of staying in the NBA draft. His predecessor as national player of the year, Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, is sticking with his pro pursuit.

And Connecticut’s reign as NCAA champion will begin with multiple starters having left for the NBA draft and one returning after flirting with doing the same.

The 7-foot-4 Edey and UConn guard Tristen Newton were among the notable names to announce that they were withdrawing from the draft, the NCAA’s deadline for players who declared as early entrants to pull out and retain their college eligibility.

Edey’s decision came in social media posts from both the center and the Boilermakers program that earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament behind Edey, The Associated Press men’s national player of the year.

But Tshiebwe announced late in the afternoon that he would remain in the draft after a college career that included being named the AP national player of the year in 2022.

For the current champions, Newton (10.1 points, 4.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds) is returning after being one of four Huskies to declare for the draft after a run to UConn’s fifth national championship in early April. He scored a game-high 19 points to go with 10 rebounds in the victory over San Diego State in the title game.

The others were Final Four Most Outstanding Player Adama Sanogo, wing Jordan Hawkins and versatile guard Andre Jackson Jr. Sanogo (17.8 points) and Hawkins (16.3) have made it clear they have closed the door on their college careers, while team spokesman Phil Chardis said that Jackson (6.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists) would remain in the draft.

The Huskies have 247sports’ No. 3-ranked recruiting class for next year to restock the roster, led by McDonald’s All-American point guard Stephon Castle.

The NBA’s withdrawal deadline is June 12, but is moot when it comes to college players returning to school due to the NCAA’s earlier timeline to retain playing eligibility.


TREY ALEXANDER: Creighton gets back a 6-4 guard who averaged 13.6 points and shot 41% from 3-point range in his first full season as a starter.

ADEM BONA: The 6-foot-10 forward and Pac-12 freshman of the year is returning to UCLA after starting 32 games as a rookie and averaging 7.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks – with coach Mick Cronin praising his toughness for “competing through multiple injuries for as long as he could” in a statement Wednesday.

EDEY: He averaged 22.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.5 assists while shooting 60.7% from the field. His presence alone helps Purdue be a factor in the Big Ten race.

JOSIAH-JORDAN JAMES: The 6-6 guard went through the NBA G League Combine and had workouts with multiple teams before opting to return to Tennessee for a fifth season alongside teammate Santiago Vescovi.

JUDAH MINTZ: The 6-3 freshman averaged 16.3 points and 4.6 assists for Syracuse, ranking third among Division I freshmen in scoring behind only Alabama’s Brandon Miller and Lamar’s Nate Calmese.

OWLS’ RETURNEES: Florida Atlantic got good news after its surprise Final Four run with the return leading scorers Johnell Davis (13.8) and Alijah Martin (13.4). ESPN first reported their decisions, while Martin later posted a social media statement.

TERRENCE SHANNON JR.: Illinois got a big boost with Shannon announcing his night in a social media post. The 6-6 guard is returning for a fifth college season after averaging 17.2 points.

SPARTANS’ RETURNEES: Michigan State announced that guards Jaden Akins and A.J. Hoggard have withdrawn from the NBA draft. Standout guard Tyson Walker had previously withdrawn in April, setting up Tom Izzo to have five of his top scorers back.


KOBE BROWN: Missouri’s 6-8 swingman opted against returning for a fifth college season after being an AP first-team all-Southeastern Conference pick averaging 15.8 points last season.

JAYLEN CLARK: The third-year UCLA guard averaged 13.0 points and 6.0 rebounds while leading the Pac-12 with 2.6 steals en route to being named Naismith national defensive player of the year. Cronin called him a winner with strong intangibles who made UCLA “a better program because he chose to be a Bruin.”

BRICE SENSABAUGH: The Ohio State freshman averaged 16.3 points and 5.4 rebounds in 31 games before missing his final two in the Big Ten Tournament due to a knee injury. He’s a potential first-round prospect.

TSHIEBWE: The 6-9, 260-pound forward is a tough interior presence who led the country in rebounds for two straight seasons (15.1 in 2022, 13.7 in 2023) while racking up 48 double-doubles. But he faces an uncertain next stop and is projected at best as a second-round prospect.