Tre Jones, No. 4 Duke get ‘tough’ as they knock off No. 3 Kansas, 68-66

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NEW YORK — The rules of basketball stipulate that, at the end of every game, one team has to score more points than the other team. There are no ties, which means, by definition, someone had to win on Tuesday night in the Garden, even if No. 3 Kansas and No. 4 Duke spent 40 minutes playing like neither of them were capable of such a monumental feat.

When the final buzzer sounded, Duke had gotten the job done. Tre Jones scored the final six points for the Blue Devils, finishing with 15 on the night to go along with six boards, six assists and three steals in a 68-66 win in the opening game of the 2019 Champions Classic.

But it was far from a vintage Duke performance.

The Blue Devils shot 35.9 percent from the floor. They were 8-for-24 from three and 14-for-23 from the line. They turned the ball over on 20 percent of their possessions — 16 times in total. For a team that is just a year removed from the Zion and R.J. show, for a program that has become synonymous with the one-and-done era and NBA-ready talent, those are not the kind of performances that we’ve come to expect.

Especially when they result in wins over top five teams.

But that’s who this Duke team is going to be.

They are going to have to win ugly. They are going to win with their defense. This is what happens when the best player on your roster is Tre Jones. It’s what happens when you build a roster around a freshmen class that doesn’t have one of those elite freshmen.

“Zion and R.J., those freshmen weren’t freshmen,” Duke associate head coach Jon Scheyer said. “Wendell [Carter] and Marvin [Bagley III], they weren’t freshmen. Our freshmen are freshmen.”

The point that Scheyer is so eloquently making is that Duke doesn’t have a lottery level talent on their roster. “Even if one of these dudes ends up getting picked 14th, the point remains true,” one NBA front office member told NBC Sports, and if Tuesday night was any indication, that should work just fine.

It’s because of Jones.

“The difference maker for us was Tre,” Mike Krzyzewski said. “We have a lot of young guys and a lot of new guys but we’ve really tried to play good defense in our first 30 practices and it paid off tonight. We played really good defense and it starts off with that kid and the poise he had.”

This Duke team has embraced his identity. What Jones lacks in an NBA-ready jumper he makes up for with toughness, both mentally and on the defensive end of the floor. What he lacks in physical tools he makes up for in heart and intangibles. He’s one of those guys that you call a winner, one of those players that that others gravitate towards. The result is a roster that has fully embraced what he personifies.

“We are a hard, tough team,” Duke’s standout freshman Cassius Stanley said after the game. “It’s going to be ugly, coach said that, but it’s going to look good at the end. [Tonight] proved it to me.”

Stanley is a fitting player to point out here. He was the least-heralded member of Duke’s 2019 recruiting class, but an argument could be made that he had the biggest impact on Tuesday night. Stanley scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half, including a pair of thunderous dunks that killed the momentum Kansas had built early in the half. He wasn’t expected to start. He didn’t really start come on strong in practice until recently. But here he was, on the biggest stage college basketball has to offer this side of the postseason, dunking his way into going viral.

“Cassius would verbally come to me [during the game] saying different things, telling me to lead, telling me he’s following whatever I do,” Jones said.

Stanley wasn’t alone.

Matthew Hurt and Vernon Carey Jr. both had moments, finishing with 11 points apiece. Carey his a huge three when Duke was down by nine points early in the second half and Hurt hit a bigger three late in the period. Kansas was up 55-51 at the time, and after Jack White had intercepted a pass Ochai Agbaji made when it looked like the Jayhawks were going to get a layup on a 2-on-1 break, Hurt buried the three at the other end. He capped off a five-point swing.

But we knew they were capable of those things.

What I did not know they were capable of was this: Holding All-American center Udoka Azubuike to just eight points and nine boards on 3-for-4 shooting, an admirable job on one of the most dominant players in the sport. As a team, Duke forced Kansas into 27 turnovers, an astonishingly high number for a team that returns as much experience in their backcourt as anyone at the top of the polls. Every Kansas starter had at least three turnovers. Devon Dotson and Ochai Agbaji had five turnovers apiece. At one point late in the first half, Kansas had 18 turnovers and 17 field goals attempted.

This is how Duke is going to have to win this season.

This is what happens when the best player on the roster, the guy that sets the tone for everything they do during a game, is Jones.

“As a freshman last year, I was looking at older guys, trying to see what it really was like. Knowing that they’re going through the same thing, I know I always have to have a strong face. Doing the right thing so they know what to do.”

“We just have to stay locked in to what our strengths are,” Stanley said. “Defense, veteran leadership.

“This was no surprise.”

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.