Cunane, No. 3 NC State top Virginia Tech 68-55 in ACCs

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GREENSBORO, N.C. – Elissa Cunane didn’t play in either of third-ranked North Carolina State’s matchups with Virginia Tech, including one the Wolfpack lost. Her presence certainly changed things in the third meeting.

Cunane scored a season-high 27 points with nine rebounds to help third-ranked N.C. State beat Virginia Tech 68-55 on Friday night, starting the Wolfpack’s push for a second straight Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament championship.

Jada Boyd added 13 points off the bench for the second-seeded Wolfpack (18-2), who took control in the second quarter and stayed in front for the rest of the quarterfinal matchup.

The Hokies beat the Wolfpack in overtime on Jan. 28, which came four days after they led by 14 in the fourth quarter before N.C. State rallied to win. The 6-foot-5 Cunane, an Associated Press third-team All-American last year, missed both meetings due to COVID-19 protocols.

“Obviously she makes a big difference,” Wolfpack coach Wes Moore said.

Cunane made 10 of 15 shots and 7 of 8 free throws in this one for a big performance against 6-5 Hokies sophomore Elizabeth Kitley, a familiar opponent from their days competing for Greensboro-area teams before college.

“Yeah, there was definitely a lot to play for today,” Cunane said. “I had some time to make up after not playing Virginia Tech the first two times this season. And we’re on a bigger stage now. It’s tournament time. … We’re coming out here because we’ve got business to do.”

Meanwhile, Boyd – who shared honors as the ACC’s top reserve this year – came through with a big game that included 10 rebounds and three blocks.

Boyd’s play was particularly valuable considering starters Jakia Brown-Turner and Kayla Jones had quiet offensive games. Boyd had nine points in the second quarter that tipped control to N.C. State, which shot 48% after halftime to stay in front as Virginia Tech tried multiple pushes to get back in it.

Kitley had 20 points and nine rebounds for the Hokies (14-9), the tournament’s seventh seed. The teams were tied at 16 after the first quarter, but the Hokies went 1 for 15 in the second period – including the last 5:45 of the half without a basket.

That created a big hole they couldn’t escape, even after getting as close as four late in the third.

“The 1-for-15 shooting, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it,” Hokies coach Kenny Brooks said. “But we just didn’t get the ball to fall in the basket.”

BIG PICTURE

Virginia Tech: The Hokies advanced into the quarterfinals with Thursday’s win against Miami, but have never advanced past that round since joining the ACC for the 2004-05 season. They entered the tournament looking to be in good position to earn their first NCAA bid in Brooks’ fifth year, though last year’s 21-win team seemed set to go too before the tournament was canceled amid the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s been a long time coming, but we’ve put together two years where we felt like we’re a winning basketball program,” Brooks said.

N.C. State: Moore’s team won the program’s first tournament title since 1991 last season and lost out on its first regular-season crown since the 1989-90 season by a small win-percentage margin compared to No. 5 Louisville. Cunane’s performance was a positive opening act, while Boyd highlighted her value after Brown-Turner had two points on 1-for-7 shooting and Jones finished with seven points.

“(Boyd) can help take us to another level,” Moore said.

ROUGH NIGHT

Virginia Tech top scorer Aisha Sheppard (18.8 points per game) struggled to six points on 2-for-15 shooting, including 0 for 6 from behind the arc. That came after she left Thursday’s win against Miami early with an ankle injury.

“She just wasn’t herself,” Brooks said, calling it a “valiant effort.”

SHOOTING WOES

The Hokies made 12 3-pointers in the first meeting and 11 in the second. But they made 5 of 21 3s in this one, including 1 of 9 in that frustrating second quarter.

They finished the game shooting 35% from the field.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech: The Hokies must wait to find out their NCAA Tournament fate.

N.C. State: The Wolfpack will face Georgia Tech in Saturday’s semifinals.

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.