Texas Southern beats Mount St. Mary’s 60-52 in NCAA Tournament opener

© Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Texas Southern forward John Walker III celebrated the program’s second NCAA Tournament win the way he always envisioned – hooting, hollering and just having fun.

Nothing, not even a small, mostly quiet arena, could dampen his enthusiasm.

After scoring a season-high 19 points, grabbing a career-high tying nine rebounds and leading the Tigers back from a 10-point halftime deficit to beat Mount St. Mary’s 60-52 in the first tourney game in nearly two years, Walker let loose.

“I feel like I’m on top of the world,” he shouted. “I just wanted it so bad, it wasn’t even about me. It was about going out there and beating a good team and getting it done.”

The Tigers (17-8) have won 10 straight overall and improved to 2-0 in First Four games. Their win over North Carolina Central in 2018 was the program’s first in the NCAA Tournament. Next up for the No. 16 seed in the East Region is top-seeded Michigan (20-4) on Saturday.

Texas Southern, the champion of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, was the first of two historically Black colleges and universities to win an NCAA tourney game on Thursday, joined later by Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion Norfolk State.

For at least a few moments, the Tigers soaked up their victory. Coach Johnny Jones’ players doused him with a cooler of water.

“They drenched me,” he said. “I’m sitting here all wet, but I’ll tell you what – it’s one of the best feelings I’ve had in cold water in a long time.”

At least that part sounded like the usual March Madness – full of excitement and emotion.

But it wasn’t the same.

In the first NCAA Tournament game since Virginia beat Texas Tech in overtime to win the national championship on April 8, 2019 – a span of 710 days – the atmosphere felt alien at Indiana University’s Assembly Hall. Only players, coaches and staff members were permitted on the court level and an estimated 150 people sat in the cavernous lower bowl. There were no concession stand lines, no pep bands playing music, no raucous cheers, not even boos.

Instead, players relied on themselves to crank up the energy. When Walker and his teammates did that in the second half, they took off.

Walker and Jordan Gilliam scored the first 11 points of the second half to erase a 30-20 deficit and give the Tigers their first lead in nearly 20 minutes. They started pulling away with a 12-4 spurt that made it 46-42 with 8:10 to play and finally put the game away at the free-throw line. Gilliam finished with 12 points.

Damian Chong Qui had 14 points for the Mountaineers (12-11), who fell to 1-9 in tourney play. Mezie Offurum had 10 points and 16 rebounds.

“I felt like I let myself down and I let my team down,” an emotional Chong Qui said. “Like I said, we’ll be back. We’ll be back here and we’ll be better. We’ll take care of business.”

BIG PICTURE

Mount St. Mary’s: The Mountaineers beat the two top seeds in the Northeast Conference Tournament to make the 68-team field and made a gallant effort against the Tigers.

Texas Southern: Jones now has first tourney win with the Tigers and just the third ever by a SWAC champion. While Texas Southern found a way to advance, it needs to play much better to compete with the Wolverines.

THE ROAD

Mount St. Mary’s: Positive COVID-19 tests forced the Mountaineers to put the program on pause twice in December, forcing them into a monthlong break between games. Five games were postponed or canceled from Dec. 9-Jan. 6 and they didn’t play a home game for 37 days.

Texas Southern: The Tigers started this season by playing four games in nine days and closed it by playing 10 games in 20 days because of make-up dates. They also were forced to play on the road after March 4 because their home court suffered water damage during a winter storm.

THEY SAID IT

“I thought we were in a good space and I just I think we gave up a couple of and-ones early (in the second half), which gave them some rhythm,” Mount St. Mary’s coach Dan Engelstad said. “You know, basketball is a game of runs and they went on a big run right out of the gate.”

Jones, on Texas Southern kicking off the long-awaited tournament: “I thought it would put a spotlight on our program and our guys represented the program the right way.”

UP NEXT

Texas Southern faces Michigan on Saturday in West Lafayette.

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.