No. 4 Oklahoma State survives No. 13 Liberty 69-60 in NCAA

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
0 Comments

INDIANAPOLIS — Cade Cunningham vowed to lead Oklahoma State to a strong run through the NCAA Tournament. The freshman All-American didn’t have an explosive debut, but did just enough to lead the Cowboys to a 69-60 victory over Liberty on Friday night in a Midwest Region first round game.

Cunningham scored 15 points – nine straight in the final minutes – to lead No. 4 seed Oklahoma State to its first NCAA Tournament win since 2009. Avery Anderson III led the Cowboys with 21 points.

Cunningham before the tournament began said he planned to emulate Carmelo Anthony, who in 2003 led Syracuse to the national title as a freshman. But the Big 12 Conference player of the year struggled for most his debut until his late surge gave OSU (21-8) breathing room against the stubborn Flames (23-6).

He missed his first five shots and finished just 3 of 15 shooting, including 2 of 8 from long range. But both 3s were timely and he converted 7 of 9 free throws, contributions sorely needed with Liberty capable of quickly answering with a quick spurt.

Cunningham was not available for postgame interviews, but Anderson saw him steadily find his rhythm.

“Cade’s shots were falling in the first half, but he saw throughout the game that they would start falling,” he said, “and that was big time.”

Anderson picked up the offensive slack for Oklahoma State and scored 14 points in the first half. He shot 8 of 14, including a three-point play with 10:25 remaining for a 50-44 lead, and grabbed seven rebounds.

“I don’t really worry about Cade,” OSU coach Mike Boynton said of his star guard. “I think everybody else worries about him a lot more than I do. First of all, I’ve known the kid since he was 14. I know how he’s wired and I know that he wants to play to win.

“And if that means he’s got to score 10 points and get other guys involved and allow other guys like Avery Anderson or Matthew-Alexander (Moncrieffe) to kind of carry the load offensively, he’s comfortable with that.”

Moncrieffe added 10 points for OSU, which faces Oregon State in Sunday’s second round. The 12th-seeded Beavers upset fifth-seeded Tennessee earlier Friday.

Elijah Cuffee had 16 points and Darius McGhee 12 for Atlantic Sun champion Liberty, which had won its previous 12 games. Liberty was seeking another NCAA upset two years after bouncing Mississippi State in the first round.

Normally one of the nation’s more sure-handed teams, the Flames committed a season-high 18 turnovers and were edged on the glass 37-36. OSU scored 18 points off those mistakes, while the rebounds loomed large in swinging toward the Cowboys.

“The game was extremely physical, and you can just look at those two stats, the turnovers and how many free throw attempts they had,” Liberty coach Ritchie McKay said. “They really just put their head down, they drove it and they initiated to where they were the aggressor and we obviously got in foul trouble.”

Both teams’ fan bases provided loud support in 6,800-seat Indiana Farmers Coliseum, home to IUPUI of the Horizon League and the Indy Fuel ECHL team. Liberty’s socially-distanced fans cheered the Eagles from the eastern end of the 82-year-old arena, where capacity was held at 1,200 because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Not to be outdone, several hundred fans on the west end tried to provide energy for the Cowboys. It worked as OSU finished much better than it played for many stretches.

BIG PICTURE

Liberty didn’t buckle to the taller Cowboys or 6-foot-8 Cunningham and earned its share of 50/50 balls. McGhee’s long-range shooting gave teammates the confidence to contribute and keep Oklahoma State honest defensively. But Liberty went cold several times in the second half.

Oklahoma State’s play was uneven for much of the night, but the Cowboys adapted and were able to create opportunities in the second half. They shot just 40% but held Liberty to 36% shooting after halftime, and that made a difference.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK
0 Comments

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

Joe Rondone/USA TODAY NETWORK
1 Comment

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

uconn
Michael Hickey/Getty Images
0 Comments

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

Getty Images
0 Comments

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

Getty Images
1 Comment

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.