No. 19 Rutgers beats No. 13 Illinois to remain unbeaten

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PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Rutgers entered the season with great expectations. Six games in, the Scarlet Knights look like they could exceed them.

Ron Harper Jr. scored 28 points, Jacob Young added 24, and No. 19 Rutgers (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten) overcame a double-digit first-half deficit to beat No. 13 Illinois 91-88 on Sunday.

Ranked in the preseason Top 25 for the first time since 1978-1979, Rutgers is trying to end a 30-year NCAA Tournament drought. The Scarlet Knights were poised to make the March Madness for the first time since 1990-91 last year before COVID-19 canceled the NCAA Tournament.

The win was Rutgers first in a game with both teams ranked since defeating St. John’s 1975-76 season, the year the Scarlet Knights went to the Final Four.

Illinois (5-3, 1-1), came into the season as one of the favorites to win the Big Ten. Rutgers has to be in that group now.

“We don’t spend a lot of time talking about those expectations. We just talk about what we need to do to win that next game,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “And I tell our guys all the time don’t read the (press) clippings. Just stay focused on the next game and understand what we have done and they’ve been really mature like that so we gotta keep that up.”

Rutgers trailed by 11 points in the first half and didn’t take it’s first lead until the final 20 minutes.

“We showed the nation that we don’t have any quit in us,” said Harper, who was 5 of 8 from long range and scored 19 points in the second half. “When adversity hits, you have to stay together and that’s exactly what this team does. When we’re down 11 we could have just laid down and on our backs and just given up, but we didn’t and we kept fighting and we stayed together and we showed that we’re a bunch of fighters.”

Illinois coach Brad Underwood said Harper hit a 3-pointer late in the first half and that seemed to get him going.

“That’s all that it takes for a guy like that to get going,” Underwood said. “When you’re a veteran, you’re averaging 25 points a game, you just need a clean look at the rim. Those are the things that get you going. He got his confidence in the second half and he did what a good player does.”

Ayo Dosunmu led Illinois with 22 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists. Kofi Cockburn had 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Illini, while Trent Frazier added 19 points and five assists.

Rutgers put the game away with a 12-1 run that sparked by a technical foul on Da’monte Williams for an elbow while trying to box out after a free throw.

“We just settled in. . We could score this year. We can defend.” Pikiell said. “It’s a couple of possessions, and I thought we were getting some good looks.”

Myles Johson added nine points and 13 rebounds for Rutgers. Montez Mathis chipped in with 15 points.

“Our goal as a team is to win as many games as possible,” Johnson said. “Get to March Madness, win the Big Ten.”

BIG CLIFF HURT

Rutgers big man Cliff Omoruyi sustained a non-contact injury to his right knee 2:18 into the second half. The trainers put a brace on the knee and he rode the stationary bike for a few minutes before going to the trainer’s room and returning to the bench, but not the game. The ballyhooed freshman recruit finished with two rebounds.

“I don’t know a lot,” Pikiell said. “He’s in the training room now. It’s his knee, and we’ll get it checked out tomorrow and hoping like heck that he’s good.”

BIG PICTURE

Illinois: The Fighting Illini are in the final leg of a back-to-back road trip, and were looking to start 2-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since 2013-14. While Rutgers prevented Illinois from doing so, the Illini look like a team poised to compete for the Big Ten title.

Rutgers: Playing in its first game involving two top 20 opponents since 1979, the Scarlet Knights began a six games stretch where five games against teams ranked in the Top 25, with a home-and-home vs. No. 20 Ohio State, and top-5 matchups against No. 3 Iowa and at No. 4 Michigan State, all by January 9.

UP NEXT

Illinois: At Penn State on Wednesday.

Rutgers: At No. 20 Ohio State on Wednesday.

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.

South Carolina, Staley cancel BYU games over racial incident

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley have canceled a home-and-home series with BYU over a recent racial incident where a Cougars fan yelled slurs at a Duke volleyball player.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to start the season at home against BYU on Nov. 7, then play at the Utah campus during the 2023-24 season.

But Staley cited BYU’s home volleyball match last month as reason for calling off the series.

“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff,” Staley said in a statement released by South Carolina on Friday. “The incident at BYU has led me to reevaluate our home-and-home, and I don’t feel that this is the right time for us to engage in this series.”

Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, a Black member of the school’s volleyball team, said she heard racial slurs from the stands during the match.

BYU apologized for the incident and Richardson said the school’s volleyball players reached out to her in support.

South Carolina said it was searching for another home opponent to start the season.

Gamecocks athletic director Ray Tanner spoke with Staley about the series and supported the decision to call off the games.