Akron rocks rival Kent State 75-55 for MAC title, NCAA berth

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
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CLEVELAND – The only video that truly mattered to Akron’s players was the one of them cutting down the nets.

Enrique Freeman scored 23 points and Akron shut down Mid-American Conference player of the year Sincere Carry while defeating bitter rival Kent State 75-55 on Saturday night in the MAC championship to earn its first NCAA bid since 2013.

The fourth-seeded Zips (24-9), who upset top-seeded Toledo in the semifinals, also ended Kent State’s 14-game winning streak on a day that began with four Golden Flashes players being disciplined for a profane video.

Late Friday, Kent State forward DJ Johnson shot a video on his phone in the team’s locker room while shouting a profanity directed at Akron. The league, with cooperation from Kent State, responded by suspending Johnson indefinitely and making three others, one of them starting guard Malique Jacobs, sit out the first half of the title game.

Freeman insisted the Zips weren’t motivated by the video, but it would be hard to imagine it not inspiring them.

“We didn’t focus on any of that,” Freeman said. “I think we were off social media for the last 24 hours.”

Akron coach John Groce laughed at the comment and then chimed in.

“Their coach is a stickler,” he said.

Freeman went 8 of 10 from the field, added eight rebounds and was named the tournament’s MVP in his hometown. Xavier Castaneda and Ali Ali scored 15 points apiece for Akron, which has never won an NCAA Tournament game in four previous visits but just might have the makings of a team that won’t be an easy out.

“We want to go further,” Freeman said.

Senior Justyn Hamilton scored 19 to lead Kent State (23-10), which played short-handed due to the discipline dished out by the MAC in the wake of the video recorded after Friday’s win over Ohio.

“There was clearly a lapse in judgment by one of our players,” Golden Flashes coach Rob Senderoff said when asked if he felt disrespected by his team. “It’s hard to not look at it that way.”

Hounded all night be the Zips, Carry had his worst game this season, scoring just six points – 12 below his average – and committing nine turnovers. He was just 2 of 11 from the field and some of his misses were way off.

“Just a rough night for me,” Carry said. “Simple as that.”

Hours before tip-off, the league ruled Jacobs would have to sit out the first half, and Groce acknowledged his absence affected Akron’s strategy. However, he downplayed the impact the video had on his team.

“We were aware of it, but to be honest with you, it has nothing to do with playing the games,” he said. “Even at the end when the crowd started and the hoopla, I said, ‘the game’s not over. We’ve been taking this thing one possession at a time for three days, why would we change now?”‘

Jacobs finished with seven points in his 20 minutes.

“It was real hard just to sit there in the first half and watch,” said the redshirt junior, who had 19 points and 10 rebounds in the semis. “I’m the engine of the team and it was like a car without the engine. It was real, real hard.”

The Kent State and Akron campuses are separated by just 10 miles, and the animosity between the school’s respective fan bases has no limits. They each booed the other’s dance team during timeouts while alternating chants of “Let’s Go Kent,” with “Let’s Go Zips.”

Trailing by nine at halftime, Kent State got Jacobs back to begin the second half and immediately went on an 8-0 run. But the Zips recovered with three 3-pointers, two by Garvin Clarke, to get back up by 10.

Akron later went on an 11-0 spurt, triggered by Ali’s 3-pointer to take a 56-39 lead with 7:53 remaining. The closing minutes were an Akron party inside Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse as the Zips extended their lead.

After the final buzzer, Akron’s players celebrated in a pileup at mid-court and didn’t join their coaches in the handshake line with Kent State.

With so much on the line, every possession took on added importance and Kent State’s offensive sloppiness in the first half – along with Akron’s active defense – allowed the Zips to open 34-25 halftime lead.

The Golden Flashes had 11 turnovers, seven by Carry, who was trying to do too much to compensate for Jacobs being on the bench. He also went just 1 of 7 from the field and left the floor noticeably frustrated by a no-call on his last-second heave.

“We just didn’t execute tonight,” Carry said. “We weren’t on the same page with the play calls. It happens.”

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

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.