Winston, Tillman lead No. 24 Michigan State to convincing win at No. 9 Maryland

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It took 28 games, nearly four months and until the very last possible day of February, but as the calendar flips to the month of March, it is hard not to think that on Saturday, we finally got a glimpse of the Michigan State team that was a consensus No. 1 back in the preseason.

Cassius Winston led five players in double-figures with 20 points and six assists while Xavier Tillman finished with 14 points, 12 boards, six assists and a pair of blocks as No. 24 Michigan State went into College Park and steamrolled No. 9 Maryland, 78-66.

The scoreline itself says all you need to know, but that’s really not the end of the story.

This was the biggest game that Maryland has played in that building in years. This was a chance to clinch at least a share of the Big Ten regular season title with two games left to play. This was Gameday, an 8 p.m. tip that came a full eight hours after ESPN hosted the show in the building on Saturday morning. The Terrapin faithful were very well-lubricated, and I have to imagine that Scott Van Pelt was one of them. That building is one of the underrated on-campus venues in the country, and when they get revved up, that building gets loud, angry and quite rude.

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And none of it mattered.

Michigan State scored the first nine points of the game. They led 17-5 before Maryland woke up. The Terps eventually tied the game at 23, but Michigan State immediately answered with a 9-0 run. They led 40-29 at the half, and Maryland only made it a single-digit game for a single possession in the second half.

That’s what beatdowns are made of.

The Spartans have now won three straight and four of their last five. The only loss in that stretch came exactly two weeks ago, when Maryland scored 14 straight points in the final three minutes to beat Michigan State, 67-60, in East Lansing.

I’m starting to buy back in.

And maybe I’m just stubborn. Maybe I am too hooked on this idea that Tom Izzo is a great March coach and that Cassius Winston is still capable of going into #GodMode and winning games all by himself. I’m definitely still buying into the idea that Xavier Tillman is the most underrated five in all of college basketball.

We know about all of that, and frankly, it hasn’t been the issue that Michigan State has faced this season.

The truth is that the loss of Josh Langford hurt the Spartans more than any of us realized because we all underestimated just how big the holes left by Matt McQuaid and Kenny Goins would be. The latter two were program guys, redshirt seniors that were plus defenders, capable shooters and fully immersed in everything that Izzo expected them to do. And Langford? He was the third-scorer this team has been missing, the guy that would make defenses pay for selling out to stop Winston and Tillman ball-screens, the shooter that could get hot and go for 30 when the time was right.

As good as Aaron Henry is, he’s not that guy. He’s a terrific defender, a ball-mover and a guy that can gives Izzo all kinds of lineup versatility, but he’s not someone that you want to be relying on night in and night out for double-digits. He has, however, hit for double-figures in five of his last six games after finishing with 10 points and three assists against Maryland.

Rocket Watts, however, might be that guy. A freshman point guard, Watts is wired to score, and it looks like he is finally starting to put it all together. He scored 10 of his 13 points in the second half against Maryland, including a pair of huge threes to snuff out Terrapin runs. He had 21 points against No. 18 Iowa on Tuesday. He also went for 21 points in Michigan State’s win at Illinois earlier this month.

And I would be bereft if didn’t mention Malik Hall, who had 16 points and hit all five of his field goals against Maryland. He’s moved into the starting role at the four, and he is the perfect player for that spot if he can play the way that he did on Saturday.

It’s probably worth noting that Hall has had two games where he scored in double-digits this season, and they just so happen to be Michigan State’ two-best wins of the season: at Maryland and at Seton Hall, when he had 17 points.

It’s also worth noting that the only game where all three of Watts, Henry and Hall struggled was the one game that Michigan State has lost in the last three weeks.

That is not a coincidence.

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.