No. 9 Ohio State ends skid, holds off Minnesota 79-75

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INDIANAPOLIS — Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann didn’t care about style points. He was just happy to celebrate again.

So were his players.

After scoring the first 13 points of the game and nearly blowing a 14-point lead in the final 3 1/2 minutes, the ninth-ranked Buckeyes finally found a way to close out a 79-75 victory over Minnesota on Thursday in the Big Ten Tournament. Ohio State will face No. 21 Purdue in Friday’s quarterfinals.

“I think as much as anything guys were excited,” Holtmann said. “Disappointed in some plays they made there late, but I want them to enjoy this. They’re college basketball players. It’s not life and death and you can feel like that sometimes when you lose a couple.”

Actually, Ohio State (19-8) had lost four straight since winning at Penn State on Feb. 18. And when the Buckeyes built a 70-56 lead with 3:24 to go, it looked they would cruise.

But a combination of errant shots, missed free throws, turnovers and one costly offensive foul allowed Minnesota to charge back. The Gophers got as close as 75-74 with 13.3 seconds left before the Buckeyes steadied themselves.

While Duane Washington Jr. and Justice Sueing each scored 16 points to lead the Buckeyes, E.J. Liddell sealed it with two late free throws and some nifty ball-handling. Liddell had 14 points, five rebounds and four assists.

“I knew E.J. was going to try and stay inbounds at the end,” Sueing said. “He was able to stay composed, not rush a pass and he made the right play to close the game out, so that was good by E.J.”

For Minnesota (14-15), it was another torturous finish.

Marcus Carr scored 24 points and Jamal Mashburn Jr. finished with 18 to lead the Gophers, who lost for the eighth time in nine games. But coach Richard Pitino, whose job appears to be in jeopardy, appreciated the way his players fought.

They cut that 13-0 deficit to to 24-20 late in the first half – only to see Ohio State rebuild a 39-27 cushion at halftime. The Golden Gophers closed within 53-49 midway though the second half, too, then watched the Buckeyes go on a 9-1 run. They even got close enough at the end to give Holtmann and Ohio State a scare.

“We fought hard today,” Pitino said. “We just came up a little bit short.”

BIG PICTURE

Minnesota: While the dreadful start doomed the short-handed Gophers, they fought hard. They just didn’t have enough bodies or scorers to stay with the Buckeyes. Now comes the hard part – figuring out whether the program can turn the corner and whether Pitino will be part of the solution.

Ohio State: The Buckeyes were far from perfect in their tourney opener but showed grit and, at times, why they are a Top-10 team. But they were sloppy, too, and Holtmann acknowledged his team can’t afford another 15-turnover game if it hopes to capture the school’s fifth tourney title.

PITINO’S FUTURE

Pitino didn’t dodge questions about the possibility of being fired. Instead, he took them head on.

“It’s not my decision. We all have bosses. I do have a great relationship with Mark (Coyle),” he said, referring to the Gophers’ athletic director. “If he gives me some bad news, that doesn’t mean I’m going to flip a desk or something. Life goes on. Would I love to be back? Of course, I’d love to be back. Not my decision.”

STAT PACK

Minnesota: Tre’ Williams had 11 points and eight rebounds. … Brandon Johnson finished with seven points and eight rebounds despite landing hard on his lower back twice during the game. … Liam Robbins (ankle) missed his sixth consecutive game and Gabe Kalscheur (broken finger) sat out for the eighth straight game. … Minnesota missed its first eight shots, including six 3s.

Ohio State: Sueing had seven rebounds and C.J. Walker had 10 points, six rebounds and six assists. … The Buckeyes outscored Minnesota 44-34 in the paint. … Ohio State is 2-0 in Lucas Oil Stadium. It beat No. 7 Notre Dame in the building in December 2008. … The Buckeyes won their last tourney crown in 2013.

UP NEXT

Minnesota: Faces an offseason of uncertainty.

Ohio State: Takes on Purdue in Friday’s second quarterfinal.

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.