Dosunmu, Cockburn lead No. 18 Illinois past Penn State 98-81

Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Illinois coach Brad Underwood isn’t going to change his mind or his tune all season, especially if Ayo Dosunmu keeps playing like this.

Dosunmu scored 21 of his 30 points in the second half to lead the No. 18 Fighting Illini past Penn State 98-81 on Wednesday night.

“He’s the best guard in the country,” Underwood said. “He scores it in a lot of ways. When we get Ayo locked in at the defensive end, he might be as good as I’ve coached.”

The Illini (6-3, 2-1 Big Ten) didn’t need nearly as much from Dosunmu on the defensive end after withstanding an early push from Penn State. Kofi Cockburn scored 23 points and Andre Curbelo had 15 points and eight assists for the Illini, who scored their most regulation points in a Big Ten game since 1995.

It was also their second straight win at the Bryce Jordan Center, where Penn State (3-3, 0-2) opened up a 19-4 lead over the first five minutes.

Myreon Jones scored 11 points during the Nittany Lions’ opening run and finished with 21. Izaiah Brockington also scored 21 points, Sam Sessoms had 12 and Myles Dread added 10 for Penn State.

“Frustrating is a good word,” Penn State coach Jim Ferry said. “They have two stars and they both had big nights, and that can’t happen.”

While Dosunmu and Cockburn were slow to start, the Illini used the remainder of the half to claw back, tying the game at 43 at halftime. Illinois took over midway through the second half, outrebounding Penn State 24-11 after the break. Dosunmu and Cockburn combined for 28 second-half points.

They started to find their rhythm midway through the first when Dosunmu sank a pair of wide-open 3-pointers from the same spot two minutes apart. The first was his first basket of the game, and the second sparked a 15-5 run.

Cockburn capped the run and put Illinois up 40-37 with his eighth basket of the half.

The Illini took the lead for good when Dosunmu hit a pair of free throws that made it 56-54 with 13:38 left.

“All in all, we did what we had to do to get a road win and it was nice to withstand something, not cave in, not quit, stay the course and found a way to pull away,” Underwood said.

PLAY CLEAN

Excessive fouls doomed the Illini in their three losses. They sent opponents to the line to make 66 of 91 free throws in those games.

In five wins before Wednesday, the Illini had allowed 17.6 free throws per game on average.

Penn State attempted just seven free throws despite a tightly defended game.

“It shows the grit of this team,” guard Jacob Grandison said. “So this win kind of proves that we’re unbreakable moving forward.”

CHANCES GALORE

Brockington was frustrated with the amount of second-chance points Penn State allowed. The Nittany Lions gave up 21 and only netted 10 of their own.

“We knew that coming in they never stopped crashing the glass,” Brockington said.

TROUBLE AT THE END

Dosunmu and Penn State’s Jamari Wheeler both picked up multiple fouls after they were involved in a scuffle with 27 seconds to go.

THE BIG PICTURE

Illinois: Dosunmu looked unflappable and Cockburn might be the most physically imposing player in the conference. Curbelo got both of them going with quick transition plays.

Penn State: The Nittany Lions hung around and should feel good about themselves considering the size they were giving up to the Illini.

UP NEXT

Illinois: Hosts Indiana on Saturday.

Penn State: Visits Indiana next Wednesday.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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.