Michigan St tops No. 5 Illinois 81-72, bolsters NCAA chances

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EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State started its long string of NCAA Tournament appearances in the previous century by being the toughest team on the court in most games.

If the Spartans can extend their streak to 23 straight tournaments next month, their win over No. 5 Illinois might prove to be pivotal. Coach Tom Izzo’s program got back to its roots and picked up a quality victory.

Aaron Henry scored 20 points and Joshua Langford had 15 points and a career-high 16 rebounds to lead Michigan State past the Fighting Illini 81-72 on Tuesday night, bolstering its chances of playing in college basketball’s showcase.

The Spartans (12-9, 6-9 Big Ten) played with a sense of urgency from the start, physically going at their opponents at both ends of the court.

“They punched us in the mouth,” said Illinois guard Trent Frazier, who scored 22 points.

The Fighting Illini (16-6, 12-4) had won a Big Ten-best seven straight games, putting them in contention for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Against a suddenly stingy defense, though, their star players weren’t as productive as usual.

“For the most part, we fought and scrapped and that’s all you can ask of a team,” Izzo said.

Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu, coming off his second triple-double in a 94-63 win over Minnesota, had 17 points on 6-of-18 shooting. The dynamic Dosunmu did have nine rebounds and five assists. Illini center Kofi Cockburn scored 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting.

“They mucked the game up and made it ugly,” coach Brad Underwood said.

Rocket Watts and Joey Hauser each scored 13 points for the Spartans, who were in control for much of the game with balanced offense and aggressive defense.

“We wanted to be aggressor,” Langford said. “We wanted to hit them first.”

Langford has taken a lot of hits in his career, missing all of last season and much of the previous year with injuries. He also was one of many people in the program to test positive for COVID-19 during the season.

In the opening 20 minutes against Illinois, he matched a career high with 10 rebounds and scored seven points to help Michigan State lead 36-26.

“Langford was unbelievable in the first half,” Underwood said.

The Alabama was a highly touted recruit when he signed with Michigan State five years ago in a recruiting class that included Charlotte Hornets forward Miles Bridges.

Lately, Langford had been shooting, running and jumping as well as ever to bounce back from a series of setbacks.

“Nobody has been through more than Josh Langford,” Izzo said. “I’m so happy he played so well and that he’s leading so well.”

BIG PICTURE

Illinois: The balanced, talented and tough team is one of at least a few in the highly competitive Big Ten that has a chance to end the conference’s national championship drought, which stretches to the Spartans’ title in 2000.

“This game doesn’t define us,” Frazier said.

Michigan State: Izzo, a Hall of Fame coach, hasn’t missed the NCAA Tournament since 1997. The Spartans will have at least three more chances to improve their resume and rally into the field. They next host No. 4 Ohio State and have two games scheduled against rival and third-ranked Michigan to close the regular season.

“The margin for error is really, really slim,” Langford said.

ROAD REVERSAL

The Illini won their previous five games on the road, averaging 85 points. They shot 24% and were held to 26 points in the first half at Michigan State before shooting better and scoring more in the second half. Illinois entered the game scoring 81.8 points per game this season, ranking No. 16 among Division I programs.

“They practice with football pads,” Frazier said. “We knew what we were getting.”

YOU’RE OUT

Michigan State freshman Mady Sissoko was ejected with 4:08 left after hitting Dosunmu in the face, drawing a flagrant foul.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Illini, who haven’t won at Michigan State since 2015, will likely slip in the AP Top 25 after getting upset as a seven-point favorite.

UP NEXT

Illinois hosts Nebraska on Thursday night.

Michigan State welcomes the fourth-ranked Buckeyes on Thursday night.

“We have another test coming up quickly,” Langford said. “Ohio State is not going to care about the win we just had.”

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.