Nixon buzzer beater in OT lifts Texas A&M over Iowa State 84-82

Dawson Powers-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN ANTONIO — Jordan Nixon stood perfectly still and gazed upward after capping a career game for Texas A&M with a dramatic play in the women’s NCAA Tournament.

Amid the chaos of the comeback victory, Nixon needed a second to remember Dave Edwards, an assistant coach on her high school team who succumbed to the coronavirus a year ago Tuesday at just 48.

“There was a little something in me that just wanted to do something for him to dedicate to him, to his memory,” an emotional Nixon said.

Nixon banked in a short jump shot at the buzzer in overtime, giving her a career-high 35 points and lifting No. 2 Texas A&M to an 84-82 victory over seventh-seeded Iowa State on Wednesday.

“I can hear him in my head,” Nixon said of Edwards, who played basketball at Texas A&M in the 1990s. “He was one of my biggest fans and this game is for him.”

Nixon scored seven of A&M’s nine points in OT, pushing the Aggies (25-2) into the Sweet 16 for the third straight time. She also led the rally in the fourth quarter, scoring the last four points of regulation.

“It’s always extremely surreal when you set a standard for yourself or you challenge yourself to rise to an occasion and you actually do it,” she said.

Added Texas A&M coach Gary Blair: “That was a championship performance. … Jordan Nixon is a winner.”

A 3 by Lexi Donarski put the Cyclones up by two with two minutes left in overtime, and Nixon tied it with a layup a few seconds later. Ciera Johnson blocked a layup by Ashley Joens with 3 seconds left before Nixon drove into the lane and threw up the game-winner.

“You’re just trying to keep the ball in front of you and she’s a really hard kid to keep in front,” Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said. “We didn’t do a very good job of it obviously all night, and she made a great play, a great play.”

The dramatic finish comes after the Aggies narrowly escaped an upset bid by No. 15 seed Troy in the first round. Texas A&M is chasing its second title in the 10th anniversary of its first one. It won its first SEC regular-season title this season and rose to as high as No. 2 in the AP Top 25 for the highest ranking in school history.

Next up is No. 3 seed Arizona, which advanced with a 52-46 win over BYU.

Joens had 32 points and a career-high 18 rebounds for the Cyclones (17-11), who went 16 for 30 from 3-point range. Donarski finished with 18 points.

“Unfortunately for us, A&M made one more play, wherever that one play was in the game, they made it and we didn’t,” Fennelly said.

Johnson had 19 points, eight rebounds and three blocks for the Aggies, who are in the tournament for the 15th straight time.

Texas A&M trailed 75-71 with 20 seconds left in regulation, but Nixon made a short jumper and Alexis Morris forced a jump ball with Donarski to get the ball back for A&M with 11.2 seconds remaining. Morris appeared to take an elbow to the jaw and officials reviewed the play, but they did not assess a penalty on Donarski.

Nixon drove into the lane for a tying layup with 6 seconds left. Joens had a chance to win the game in regulation, but her shot was blocked by N’dea Jones. The ball went out of bounds, but the Cyclones weren’t able to get another shot up.

“Teams can fall apart and we didn’t at any point tonight,” Nixon said. “We didn’t want to go home and I’m glad we’re still dancing.”

HOPE I DON’T SEE YA SOON

Blair raved about Iowa State’s performance and said he’s happy that A&M is no longer in the Big 12 and won’t have to face this Cyclones team again anytime soon.

“I’m so impressed with Iowa State,” he said. “I’m glad I’m in the SEC and not the Big 12 because I don’t want to see Bill for a while. Maybe I’ll see him on the golf course.”

ODDS & ENDS

Texas A&M outscored Iowa State 44-18 in the paint. … The Aggies made just 4 of 19 3-pointers. … Iowa State outrebounded Texas A&M 50-38. … A&M scored 26 points off 24 turnovers by the Cyclones.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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.