No. 4 NC State gets share of ACC title in rout of Syracuse

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
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RALEIGH, N.C.- When Kayla Jones decided to come back to North Carolina State for a fifth year, she had a few goals in mind. One of which was helping the Wolfpack capture a regular season Atlantic Coast Conference title, something they hadn’t done in 32 years.

Jones scored a season-high 18 points and fifth-ranked N.C. State clinched a share of the ACC regular season conference title for the first time since 1990 with a 95-53 win over Syracuse on Sunday.

As she sat next to the trophy after the victory – which was her final regular season game at Reynolds Coliseum – Jones couldn’t help but smile.

“I’m just so happy today. I’m just full of joy right now,” Jones said. “It’s been a goal since summer. I’m so happy to have this baby here.”

Jakia Brown-Turner added 14 points, eight rebounds and six assists for the Wolfpack (25-3, 16-1 ACC), while Elissa Cunane had 14 points and 10 rebounds, her seventh double-double of the season.

“I just think we wanted it, like really bad, especially this year,” Cunane said. “Everyone had to sacrifice and be unselfish.”

N.C. State ran away from Syracuse early by jumping out to a 28-6 lead in the first quarter. Jones had eight points in that span.

Syracuse sliced the deficit down to 12 points with an 11-0 run in the second quarter – a stretch in which Chrislyn Carr and Teisha Hyman scored all the Orange’s points – but Syracuse never threatened to tie the game up. N.C. State grew its lead to as much as 45 points in the fourth quarter.

Carr finished with 14 points and Naje Murray and Hyman each had 12 for Syracuse (11-15, 4-12).

Key to N.C. State’s victory was its perimeter defense and overall excellence inside. The Wolfpack held Syracuse to 25.7% shooting from behind the arc, and outscored the Orange 62-16 in the paint while also outrebounding them 59-27.

“They scored a lot of points in the paint, but we didn’t want to give them both, so we were making sure we were staying home with their shooters,” Syracuse interim coach Vonn Read said. “N.C. State came out and jumped on us a little bit there.”

BIG PICTURE

N.C. State: In addition to securing at least a share of its first regular season crown in more than three decades, N.C. State also locked up the top seed in the upcoming ACC Tournament. The No. 1 seed will give the Wolfpack a double-bye. N.C. State has won the past two ACC Tournaments.

“I love the way we’re playing right now and the momentum we’re building,” N.C. State coach Wes Moore said. “Hopefully we can keep that going. This is the time of year you want to be peaking. It’s not the end of the road, but it’s a good way to start stepping into March.”

Syracuse: The loss to the Wolfpack was Syracuse’s third straight, and its 11th in its past 14 games. The thing that the Orange are particularly good at this year is free throw shooting – entering this game with the nation’s third-best mark at 80.6%. But the Wolfpack didn’t allow Syracuse to get there often. Syracuse made 6 of 6 free throws, which is tied for the fourth-least amount of free throws the Orange have taken this season.

STAT OF THE NIGHT

Syracuse led the ACC and was 26th in the nation in steals entering Sunday, averaging 10.2 thefts per game. They had six against N.C. State, but the Wolfpack didn’t allow the Orange’s opportunistic players to impact the game. The Wolfpack turned the ball over 11 times, but also had a season-best 25 assists.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

With No. 3 Louisville losing to No. 24 North Carolina earlier in the week, the Wolfpack should at least swap spots with the Cardinals in the upcoming poll. N.C. State has won six straight since losing at No. 19 Notre Dame earlier this month, and the Wolfpack beat the Tar Heels comfortably in both of their regular season meetings.

UP NEXT

N.C. State: The Wolfpack will conclude their regular season on Feb. 27 at Virginia Tech.

Syracuse: Wake Forest will host the Orange on Thursday.

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.