Kessler blocks 12, gets triple-double, No. 1 Auburn tops A&M

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AUBURN, Ala. — Walker Kessler did it again for No. 1 Auburn.

Kessler recorded his second triple-double in six weeks, and just the third in program history, as the Tigers bounced back from a loss with a 75-58 victory over Texas A&M.

Kessler’s final tally: 12 blocked shots, 12 points and 11 rebounds Saturday. He’s emerged as a star after playing a lesser role as a freshman for North Carolina.

“He’s one of the most dominant players in all of college basketball,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “How would you have ever thought that you could say that a year ago?”

The same could be said for his team.

The 7-foot-1 Tar Heels transfer rejected four of the Aggies’ first seven shots and swatted away bad feelings from earlier in the week. The Tigers (22-3, 11-1 Southeastern Conference) had their 19-game winning streak stopped by Arkansas in overtime.

And Kessler’s teammates were able to funnel the offensive players in his direction, with results that are becoming fairly predictable.

“They make it easy to block shots because they’re so good at defending the ball,” he said. “They know that I can block the shots so they corral the guard to me so I wouldn’t be able to do that kind of stuff without them.”

The Aggies (15-10, 4-8) dropped their eighth straight game and had one of their worst offensive performances of the season.

Allen Flanigan scored a season-high 16 points for Auburn while K.D. Johnson added 11 and Devan Cambridge 10. Jabari Smith had nine points and eight rebounds. Kessler scored 10 points in the second half.

Henry Coleman III had 10 points and 13 rebounds for Texas A&M, while Quenton Jackson scored 11. Tyrece Radford and Wade Taylor IV also had 10 points.

Aggies coach Buzz Williams called Auburn “a team that’s good enough to win the national championship.”

“I always want to give credit to the opponent,” Williams said. “I do think there were some shots, particularly in the first half, that maybe you would say, should we have shot it? We were a little bit out of sorts on three or four possessions.”

The Aggies had been 5-0 at Auburn Arena but trailed by as many as 25 in this one. But the 3-of-25 shooting from 3-point range could come back to haunt the Tigers.

“Our team played really hard today in front of a national television audience,” Pearl said. “They played really good defense. We didn’t make as many shots as we need to to get to the point where we feel like we’re special, but that’s what needs to be done.”

Auburn point guard Zep Jasper returned to the starting lineup after missing the last two games with a non-COVID-19 illness.

“Zep brings the fire on defense,” Flanigan said. “He’s going to get up in you and he’s going to play defense and move his feet. He’s going to lock down whoever he’s in front of on a given night.”

Both teams started off cold, with Auburn missing its first five shots and Texas A&M opening 0 for 7. Johnson’s fast-break layup at the buzzer gave Auburn a 33-18 halftime lead.

BIG PICTURE

Texas A&M just managed to avoid its lowest scoring output of the season, 57 points against Butler on Nov. 23. Made just 7 of 39 shots in the first half (17.9%) and 19 of 70 (27.1% overall).

Auburn showed resilience in bouncing back from its first loss since November, an 80-76 overtime defeat.

HARSIN ON HAND

Auburn football coach Bryan Harsin mingled with students in the stands during the game. He had plenty to celebrate a day after President Jay Gogue announced the coach would be retained following an investigation into the program after a number of player and staff departures.

“I’m really happy for coach Harsin, his family, his staff,” Pearl said. “And I look forward to working with him and his whole team to keep making Auburn the everything school it is. It’s good to get that behind us.”

UP NEXT

Texas A&M hosts Florida on Tuesday night.

Auburn hosts Vanderbilt on Wednesday night.

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.