Georgia Tech rallies to avoid upset with 54-52 OT win

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN ANTONIO — Lorela Cubaj took a scary fall and her Georgia Tech team almost did too but both recovered to play another day in the women’s NCAA Tournament.

Cubaj scored 14 points, including the go-ahead free throws in overtime, and the fifth-seeded Yellow Jackets came back from a 17-point halftime deficit to turn back 12-seed Stephen F. Austin 54-52 on Sunday.

The Yellow Jackets’ first opening-round victory since 2012 – and the fourth-largest comeback in tournament history – sends them to a Tuesday matchup against fourth-seeded West Virginia, a 77-53 winner over No. 13-seed Lehigh in the Hemisfair Region.

Cubaj, of Italy, left the the game in the second quarter after taking a fall while going for a rebound. She appeared to hit the back of her head on the court and after several minutes was able to leave with assistance. She came back four minutes later to finish the half with SFA leading 34-17 – the lowest-scoring half of the season for Georgia Tech (16-8).

“The major problem for us in the first two quarters is we were not playing as together,” Cubaj said. “We were talking about how we needed to stick together. I feel like it was also like the nerves. It is our first NCAA Tournament game, so we just kind of had to get rid of those.”

The Ladyjacks shot 45% in the first half but plummeted to 15% on 4-of-26 shooting in the second half.

“Definitely the press I thought was the difference-maker for us,” said Nell Fortner, in her second year as Tech’s head coach. “Creating some turnovers and really pressuring them into some shots they might not have taken otherwise.

“I’m so proud of our kids for how hard we fought back being 17 down. Just really did a good job of fighting our way back, believing and just never giving up.”

After Cubaj’s overtime free throws gave Georgia Tech its first lead since 6-4, Anaya Boyd and Lotta-May Lahtinen sandwiched baskets around an SFA free throw for a five-point lead with 1:36 remaining. SFA freshman Avery Brittingham converted a three-point play with 47 seconds left and had a chance to tie the game at the end but missed twice under the basket before her third try went in after the buzzer.

Cubaj grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked four shots for Georgia Tech. Lahtinen also scored 14 points and Kierra Fletcher added 11 points and nine rebounds.

After a sputtering first half, a different Tech team emerged in the third quarter, shooting 54% and outscoring SFA 19-5 and closing within 39-36 entering the final period on Loyal McQueen’s 3-pointer at the buzzer. A 10-2 Georgia Tech run created a 48-all tie with 1:12 remaining in regulation. The teams exchanged misses before SFA’s Stephanie Visscher was unable to convert a left-handed scoop shot at the buzzer.

Brittingham scored 16 points with 13 rebounds for the Ladyjacks (24-3), who had a 19-game win streak snapped. Visscher added 14 points and 10 rebounds.

“Time will heal what they’re going through right now but that’s not easy to tell them and they haven’t been at this point before and … felt that disappointment right now that we didn’t close that out,” SFA coach Mark Kellogg said. “Time will heal those wounds and we’ll look back at it, we’ll get back in a couple of weeks or whenever that point is and celebrate this and give it its, you know, the day that it deserves, because this has been a remarkable.”

BIG PICTURE

Stephen F. Austin: It was a heartbreaking collapse for the Ladyjacks, but they have revived a dormant but rich NCAA Tournament history with their first appearance in 15 years. This was their 17th appearance with their last win coming in 2000. The Ladyjacks have advanced to the Sweet 16 five times, the last time in 1996.

Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets were picked to finish ninth in the ACC but placed third, tied for the most ACC wins in program history and now find themselves headed for the second round after proving their resilience. They had lost 12 straight overtime games prior to Sunday.

TEXAS CONNECTIONS Fortner, who played at Texas, was a graduate assistant then an assistant coach at SFA from 1986-1990 when the Ladyjacks made three straight NCAA appearances. She’s one of 15 coaches all-time to take three different teams (Purdue, Auburn) to the NCAAs.

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.