Slater clutch, No. 8 Villanova rallies past St. John’s 66-65

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — Brandon Slater made the go-ahead free throws with 2.8 seconds left and No. 8 Villanova barely squeezed into the Big East Tournament semifinals, overcoming a 17-point deficit in the second half to beat St. John’s 66-65 on Thursday night.

Caleb Daniels scored 19 points for the second-seeded Wildcats (24-7), who will play 20th-ranked and third-seeded UConn or sixth-seeded Seton Hall on Friday night at Madison Square Garden.

“We’ve been in tough situations,” two-time conference player of the year Collin Gillespie said.

Justin Moore had 15 points and Gillespie added 14 for Villanova, nearly knocked out quickly for the second consecutive season. Last year, a top-seeded Wildcats team was upset in the quarterfinals by eventual champion Georgetown.

Julian Champagnie scored 23 points in an excruciating defeat for the seventh-seeded Red Storm (17-15), resigned to hoping for an NIT bid after entering the season with NCAA aspirations.

“You saw a team that probably could and should have gone to the NCAA,” coach Mike Anderson said. “I wish we came together quicker on guys understanding their roles.”

St. John’s still hasn’t reached the Big East semifinals since winning the 2000 tournament – hard to believe considering the event is held on one of its home courts.

“It’s a rough one. I feel like the guys gave it all. I feel like we played hard,” Champagnie said. “It’s hard, to say the least.”

After blowing their big lead, the Red Storm went back ahead 65-64 when Stef Smith converted a three-point play with 2:08 left.

They had an opportunity to extend it, but Champagnie airballed a good look at a 3-pointer from the corner with 30 seconds remaining, and Villanova went inside on its final possession.

Jermaine Samuels, replaced by Daniels in the starting lineup due to back spasms, had a shot blocked and the ball stripped before Slater grabbed it and was fouled by Champagnie going up.

The senior forward knocked down both shots, and Smith’s try from halfcourt was wide at the buzzer as Villanova completed its largest comeback of the season.

“We work on free throws every day in practice,” Slater said. “When I stepped to the line my teammates and coaches were like, `Hey, we do this every day.”‘

Red Storm players pulled jerseys over their eyes after letting a big one slip away. St. John’s fell to 0-7 against ranked teams this season and 0-10 versus the top five seeds in this tournament.

“There’s been a lot of these type of games where it’s close,” Smith said. “It comes down to just one play that changes the outcome of a win or a loss.”

St. John’s, a familiar thorn in Villanova’s side the past few seasons, scored the first seven points of the second half and opened with a 14-4 run to build its largest lead at 44-27 on point guard Posh Alexander’s 3-pointer – only his second since Jan. 5.

But the Wildcats, ice cold early, finally started hitting shots and responded quickly with an 18-2 spurt.

“They hung in there and hung in there and their experience kicked in at the end,” Anderson said. “We know they’re going to make a run. They’ve been there and done that.”

Early in that stretch, Alexander went to the bench with his third foul at the 14:05 mark and the Red Storm up by 14. By the time he returned with 10:25 left, the margin was down to one following Slater’s three-point play.

“He’s a big part of their team. I thought that was really big,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said.

Alexander checked out again after getting called for his fourth foul with 8:11 remaining, and two free throws by Daniels gave the Wildcats their first lead at 51-50.

Champagnie scored 22 of his 26 points in the first half of Wednesday night’s blowout win against DePaul and started strong in this one, too.

The junior forward had 13 points and seven rebounds before the break, and the Red Storm used a 9-0 run to build a 12-point bulge before taking a 30-23 lead into halftime.

Villanova went 7 of 30 from the field (23%) in the first period, committed eight turnovers and didn’t manage a single point in the paint.

“This conference is as good as it’s ever been this year. We just knew St. John’s was really good,” Wright said. “We weren’t down. We weren’t disappointed with how we played at half down seven.

“We just got out sync a little bit.”

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

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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

Joe Rondone/USA TODAY NETWORK
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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.