Keyontae Johnson resuming career at Kansas State

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Former Florida forward Keyontae Johnson, who collapsed during a game in December 2020 and hasn’t played since, is headed to Kansas State to resume his college career.

Johnson made the announcement on social media, picking the Wildcats over fellow finalists Memphis, Nebraska, and Western Kentucky. The 23-year-old Norfolk, Virginia, native will have one year of eligibility remaining, although he could petition the NCAA for another.

Johnson graduated from Florida in late April and announced plans to transfer days later. K-State and new coach Jerome Tang hosted Johnson on a recruiting visit in July.

“We are just so excited to welcome Keyontae and his family to K-State,” Tang said in a statement. “He is a gifted player and a winner who brings significant experience to our team after playing in one of the toughest leagues in the country while at Florida. Beyond that, we think Keyontae is just a perfect fit with the guys we already have in the program. We can’t wait to get him to Manhattan and introduce him to Wildcat Nation!”

Johnson has indicated he has received medical clearance to play again, something Florida officials said wasn’t going to happen in Gainesville. Now, he will get a chance to face his former team next season; K-State hosts the Gators on Jan. 28 in the annual SEC-Big 12 Challenge.

The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Johnson could be a potential difference-maker for the Wildcats, who are rebuilding under Tang after finishing 14-17 in coach Bruce Weber’s final year in Manhattan. Johnson averaged 14 points and 7.1 rebounds during his last full season (2019-20) at Florida. He was a first-team, all-Southeastern Conference selection as a sophomore.

He still has a $5 million insurance policy that would pay out if he never plays again. The policy allows him to take part in a handful of games to test his health. If he proceeds beyond the set number of games, any potential payout would be nullified.

Johnson’s insurance policy went into effect five months before he crashed face-first onto the court at Florida State. The Southeastern Conference’s preseason player of the year in 2020 became a trauma patient as he crumpled to the floor seconds after breaking a team huddle in the fourth game of the COVID-19-delayed season.

Johnson received emergency medical attention in front of teammates, opponents and fans before getting rushed to a Tallahassee hospital. He spent 10 nights in hospitals before returning home. But he was never allowed to return to practice with the Gators.

His parents said last year their son’s collapse was not related to a previous positive COVID-19 test, citing a consultation team that included experts from four highly respected schools of medicine. The family has not said what doctors believe caused the episode or whether Johnson has an implantable cardioverter defibrillator.

Johnson spent most of the last two seasons cheering on teammates from the bench as he remained enrolled in school and on scholarship.

He did take the court for a ceremonial few dribbles and a farewell on senior night against Kentucky in early March.

Auburn signs 5-star forward Yohan Traore

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AUBURN, Ala. — Five-star high school forward Yohan Traore is headed to Auburn.

Auburn announced the signing of the former LSU verbal commitment on Friday, giving the Tigers a potential successor to NBA-bound star Jabari Smith.

The 6-foot-10, 225-pound Traore is ranked as the nation’s No. 15 recruit by 247Sports.

A native of Tours, France, he played last season for Dream City Christian School in Glendale, Arizona.

“I have great respect for players like Yohan, who come to the U.S. to pursue their academic and athletic dreams, far away from their families,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “Talk about a cultural fit to our program. Yohan is humble and hungry.

“He is incredibly disciplined, a hard worker and wants to be coached. He has tremendous upside because of his effort, his attitude, his size and his skill level.”

Traore joins a recruiting class that includes guards Tre Donaldson and Chance Westry. He’s the fourth five-star prospect to sign with Pearl at Auburn, joining Smith, Mustapha Heron and Sharife Cooper.

Miami dominates No. 2 seed Auburn 79-61 to reach Sweet 16

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GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) Miami showed there’s still a place for old-school basketball played by experienced players – and for the Hurricanes, that’s in the Sweet 16.

The 10th-seeded Hurricanes (25-10) used a second-half surge and neutralized No. 2 seeded Auburn’s Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler in a 79-61 victory for its first Sweet 16 in six years.

Auburn leaned heavily on the 6-foot-10 Smith, the Southeastern Conference freshman of the year, and 7-1 Kessler, the nation’s blocked shots leader, on the way to an SEC title and what figured to be a deep run in the Midwest Region.

Instead, it was Miami’s smaller, older, savvier lineup that dominated.

“Being small,” Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga said, “has its advantages.”

Especially when the group included sixth-year “super seniors” in Charlie Moore and Kameron McGusty, and fearless sophomore Isaiah Wong, who are all 6-5 or shorter.

Wong had a game-high 21 points, McGusty 20 and Moore had 15 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.

“We just had a great night tonight,” said Sam Waardenburg, at 6-10, the tallest player in Miami’s regular rotation. “It’s what we can do every night.”

Miami advanced to the round of 16 for the fourth time overall and third time in Larranaga’s 10 seasons. The Hurricanes will head to Chicago in the Midwest Region to take on No. 11 seed Iowa State in a matchup surely no one saw coming.

“This is a dream come true for every kid growing up, you watch these college games in March all day,” McGusty said. “You just dream of making a run in the tournament and this is the start to our run.”

Auburn’s run ended in unbelievable fashion as its frontcourt of future NBA big men – both Smith and Kessler are projected first-rounders – were largely ineffective against Miami’s relentless pressure.

Smith struggled to make shots, finishing 3 of 16 for 10 points – and got dunked on by the 6-3 Wong two days after Smith’s one-handed jam in the opening round win over Jacksonville State was the talk of the tournament.

Kessler picked up two early fouls and spent much of the opening half on the bench. He, too, couldn’t find his touch and missed all six of his attempts and tied his season low of two points after finishing with 13 points, 10 rebounds and nine blocks against Jacksonville State.

“They just sent somebody anytime I tried to attack or make a move,” Smith said. “They just kept bodies on me.”

The Tigers never held the lead, yet were only down 33-32 at the half.

But the Hurricanes opened the second half with a 15-7 burst off four points apiece by Wong and McGusty. By the time Moore hit a 3-pointer, the score was 48-39 and the raucous Auburn crowd at the start was quiet.

“In the second half, we were everywhere,” Larranaga said with pride.

The Tigers had no answers down the stretch, losing in the NCAA’s second round for the second time in their three tournament appearances under coach Bruce Pearl.

Jaylin Williams and K.D. Johnson led Auburn with 12 points each. Smith had a game-high 15 rebounds.

“It’s the first time that we got it handed us,” Pearl said. “We didn’t know how to respond.”

THE BIG PICTURE

Miami: Larranaga would love to recapture the magic of his 2006 George Mason team’s run to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed. His Hurricanes are sharp right now. They’ve committed a total of just seven turnovers in two tournament games with Moore, at his fourth school in six years, in charge of the offense.

Auburn: The Tigers looked like a national championship contender much of the season. But their shooting touch went cold down the stretch. They shot just 30.4% (21 of 69) against Miami, the third time in the past six games they were under 40 percent.

SMITH’S FUTURE

Auburn’s Smith said he has not decided on his future, although projections are for him to be a high NBA lottery pick, perhaps even going No. 1 overall. Smith had tears in his eyes as he discussed his first season in college and talked about what he’ll take away from this year, whatever happens. “The bad games, the good games, just taking it with me and taking Auburn, just thanking them for everything,” he said.

MOVIE BUFF

Up just 33-32 at the half, Larranaga, a movie buff, called on his best William Wallace speech from “Braveheart” to pump up his players. Citing the film, Larranaga explained how he told his team, “Look, it’s a one-point game. Auburn is an outstanding team. We need to know what we’re made of,” he said. “Can we go out and battle them for the next 20 minutes and keep our dream alive?”

March Madness descends on women’s NCAA Tournament

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March Madness is finally part of the women’s NCAA Tournament vernacular and the first round has so far aptly fit that phrase.

Six double-digit seeds have already advanced to the round of 32 – just short of the record seven set in 1998. That doesn’t include the two near-upsets by two 14 seeds.

South Carolina, Stanford and UConn also made history on the defensive end. The Gamecocks shattered the previous marks for points allowed in a game and in a half in their rout of Howard. The Cardinal and the Huskies became the second and third teams to not allow a point in a quarter in their easy victories.

Stanford added another piece of history: Fran Belibi’s dunk on the break. She became the third women’s basketball player to dunk in an NCAA Tournament game, joining Candace Parker and Brittney Griner.

And earlier in the week, the women’s basketball tournament had its first-ever First Four; The men’s field expanded to 68 teams in 2011.

It was a long time coming according to Florida State coach Sue Semrau, whose team lost to Missouri State in it.

“It’s been way too long that this hasn’t been part of the women’s tournament,” Semrau said. “It’s a learning process, but it was so vital.”

Two 14-seeds, Jackson State and UT Arlington vied to pull off the first wins ever in the women’s tournament for that seed, holding leads in the fourth quarter before falling short.

Not all was crazy in the opening rounds. The No. 1 and 2 seeds all cruised to easy victories, winning by an average of nearly 38 points a game.

Here are a few other highlights from the first round of 64:

HOLD THAT TIGER!

The 11th-seeded Princeton Tigers won their second-ever NCAA tourney game by taking down sixth-seeded Kentucky. The Tigers have won 18 consecutive games and will try and advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time when they face Indiana on Monday night. Princeton was undefeated in 2015 heading into the NCAAs before beating Wisconsin-Green Bay in its NCAA opener, but fell to host Maryland in the second round. The Ivy League has one other victory in NCAA play – when Harvard pulled off the only win for a 16-seed by topping Stanford in 1998.

AID FOR UKRAINE

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer announced she’d donate $10 for every 3-pointer made in the tournament to Ukrainian aid efforts, and some of her coaching friends in both the men’s and women’s fields agreed to jump in as well, including Bruce Pearl and Dawn Staley. Staley hoped that coaches could use their platform to also raise money with each tournament rebound to help homelessness in places like Columbia, South Carolina, or Staley’s hometown of Philadelphia.

A CONFERENCE SUPREME

It’s been a great start to the tournament for the Big 12, which won its first five games. Baylor, Texas, Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State were all victorious. Oklahoma played later Saturday night.

Smith leads Auburn to 10th straight NCAA opening win, 80-61

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GREENVILLE, S.C. — Jabari Smith couldn’t wait for his first NCAA Tournament game so he could get back to having fun and helping second-seeded Auburn to its latest first-round victory.

Oh, and putting up a highlight-reel jam wasn’t bad, either.

Smith, the Southeastern Conference freshman of the year, had a sublime tournament debut with 20 points, 14 rebounds and a right-handed slam dunk that’ll be hard to miss among the highlights of the Tigers’ 80-61 victory over Jacksonville State in the Midwest Region on Friday.

The Tigers (28-5) will face 10th-seeded Miami on Sunday for a spot in the Sweet 16.

“We have No. 10 and you don’t,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said with a smile, referring to Smith.

Pearl’s got plenty of other standouts, too.

Walker Kessler, Smith’s 7-foot-1 partner in the paint, finished a block shy of a triple-double with 13 points, 10 rebounds and nine blocks. K.D. Johnson broke out of a shooting slump with 10 points and a couple of 3s as Auburn took control late in the first half.

Still, it’s hard to get past Smith, the 6-10 forward who hit four 3s to help Auburn win its 10th straight tournament-opening game.

“I was ready to play since the buzzer sounded in Tampa,” he said, referring to the SEC regular-season champs’ first-round loss to Texas A&M in the conference tournament.

Pearl told his players to get back to who they are. “You’re already champions, you’re SEC champions,” he said. “Now relax, have some fun.”

Auburn started having lots of fun late in the opening half when it went on a 17-3 run to take a 39-27 lead against 15th-seeded Jacksonville State (21-11).

Auburn was on target from the outside. K.D. Johnson ended his shooting slump – he was 0-14 in the SEC quarterfinal loss to Texas A&M – and had 10 points and a couple of 3s during the decisive spurt.

“I just think we gave them too many open shots,” Jacksonville State’s Jalen Gibbs said. “Once the run got started, it was hard to stop.”

Gibbs, Division I’s fifth-leading 3-point shooter coming in, hit his third long-range shot of the half to put the Gamecocks up 24-22 about six minutes before the break. That’s when the Tigers got going.

Jaylin Williams had two 3-pointers and Johnson added another as Auburn moved in front. Johnson followed with a sweet inside pass to Kessler, who jammed it home to the cheers of the pro-Auburn crowd.

Kessler followed with a three-point play and Johnson capped it with a second 3 for a 39-27 lead. He ran downcourt screaming, jumping and pointing toward his bench after hitting the shot.

Jacksonville State cut a 24-point deficit in half at 67-55 with less than seven minutes left but got no closer.

The fun for Auburn culminated on Smith’s power drive starting at the 3-point line and ending with his big dunk over the Gamecocks’ 6-10 forward Brandon Huffman.

“I didn’t know he was going to do that,” Johnson said. “He never did that in practice. That was the first time he showed me he can get that high, so that was crazy.”

Smith just smiled at Johnson’s comments. “I’m ready for the next one,” Smith said.

Kessler’s pursuit of the NCAA Tournament’s 10th triple-double may have been hurt when he banged into teammate Jaylin Williams’ teeth in the second half and missed several minutes as trainers treated a cut on his elbow.

Williams got the worst of it, though, with two chipped teeth. Pearl said Williams’ will be evaluated for a concussion and is unsure of his status for Sunday. Williams made all three of his shots for eight points in seven minutes.

Smith finished with his sixth double-double of the season while the Tigers added to their first-round success. Only Kansas, with 14 straight opening wins, and Gonzaga, with 13, are ahead of Auburn.

Gibbs hit four 3s and led the Gamecocks with 20 points.

BIG PICTURE

Jacksonville State: The Gamecocks took the ASUN’s automatic bid despite losing the league tournament final to Bellarmine, which is transitioning to Division I and ineligible for the tournament. Their attitude was to make the most of the opportunity and for much of the opening half they did. The team has eight upperclassmen, and most will be back next season.

Auburn: The Tigers reached the Final Four in their previous NCAA trip three years ago before a drama-filled defeat to Virginia in the semifinals. Auburn played like it expects to be playing on the final weekend. Don’t bet against it with the Smith and Kessler leading the way inside and Williams and Johnson making outside shots.

RENEWED RIVALRY

Pearl and Jacksonville State coach Ray Harper go back, way back. The two were rival coaches in Division II, Pearl leading Southern Indiana and Harper at Kentucky Wesleyan. The schools were about 40 miles apart and both eventually won national titles under Pearl and Harper.

“I’m sure the people back in Evansville, Indiana, and Owensboro, Kentucky, were tuned into that game, as they should,” Pearl joked.

“I have so much respect for Coach Harper. I’m very satisfied with the way we played,” Pearl said.

UP NEXT

Auburn looks to reach the Sweet 16.

Kansas earns No. 1 seed in Midwest Region; Auburn gets No. 2

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LAWRENCE, Kan. — Kansas fought its way through arguably the toughest league in college basketball this season, ultimately sharing the Big 12 regular-season title with Baylor before romping past Texas Tech to win the conference tournament.

Maybe it’s karma that the Jayhawks could have the easiest path of a No. 1 seed to the Final Four.

They earned the top seed line for the 15th time on Sunday, second only to North Carolina for most in college hoops history, and Big 12 player of the year Ochai Agbaji and Co. will open the NCAA Tournament in the Midwest Region against the play-in winner between Texas Southern and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in Fort Worth, Texas.

“I mean, being a 1-seed shows you’ve gone through the whole year, put in all the work, the grind it takes to be a 1-seed,” Kansas forward Jalen Wilson said, “and now it’s time to show it. It comes with the good and bad. Now you have everyone gunning for you. We’re used to getting everyone’s best shot anyway. Just have to represent it well.”

Jayhawks coach Bill Self has a No. 1 seed for the 10th time, third-most in history, trailing only retiring Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski with 14 and former Kansas and North Carolina coach Roy Williams with 13.

“I never love our draw and I probably don’t this year, either,” Self said, “but I certainly don’t hate it.”

While the Jayhawks never reached the top spot in the Top 25 this season, their biggest roadblock to reaching New Orleans spent three weeks there. That would be second-seeded Auburn, the regular-season SEC champs, who will begin their quest for a second Final Four appearance four years against Jacksonville State in Greenville, South Carolina.

The Tigers were in line for a No. 1 seed for most of the season, but they took their lumps down the stretch, losing five of their last nine games to slip a line on the bracket. That included a quarterfinal loss to Texas A&M in the SEC tourney.

Other favorites to reach the Midwest Region semifinals in Chicago include No. 3 seed Wisconsin and fifth-seeded Iowa, which won its first Big Ten tourney title since 2006 with a victory over Purdue on Sunday; Big East regular-season champ Providence; and No. 6 seed LSU, which will play under interim coach Kevin Nickelberry after firing Will Wade over the weekend, one day after the Tigers were beaten by Arkansas in the quarterfinals SEC Tournament.

Allegations against Wade stem from a wide FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball that has implicated numerous major programs, including two others in the Midwest Region: Kansas and Auburn.

“Everyone is 0-0,” Auburn guard Zep Jasper said. “We’re going to play for our family, our fans, the community and just everyone. … We’re trying to get to NOLA. We’re trying to get to the Final Four and maybe even a championship.”

STAR SEARCH

The Midwest Region is loaded with big-name talent, starting with Auburn standout Jabari Smith, the likely No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. The 6-foot-10 freshman is averaging about 17 points and nine rebounds a game.

Along with Smith and Agbaji there’s Iowa standout Keegan Murray, the nation’s fourth-leading scorer; Wisconsin shooting guard Johnny Davis, another likely lottery pick; and Auburn’s Walker Kessler, who should be picked in the top 20.

WEST COAST, BEST COAST

Gonzaga and Arizona are No. 1 seeds elsewhere in the bracket, but the dominance of the Pacific time zone this season is evident in the Midwest Region, too. Seventh-seeded USC is back after a run to the regional finals last year, while eighth-seeded San Diego State lost a 53-52 nail-biter to Boise State in the Mountain West tourney title game.

HOME COOKING

The third-seeded Badgers should have the biggest fan advantage of anyone in the opening two rounds of the tourney, playing Colgate and a potential second-round game against LSU or Iowa State in Milwaukee. Fiserv Forum is just over an hour from the Wisconsin campus in Madison.

GETTING HOT IN HERE

No. 12 seed Richmond heads into its game against the Hawkeyes on the heels of an Atlantic 10 Tournament title that the Spiders probably needed just to make the 68-team field. Other teams heating up at the right time include 14-seed Colgate, which has won 15 straight, including its romp to the Patriot League tourney title; and 13th-seeded South Dakota State, which put together a gaudy 30-4 record and hasn’t lost a game since Dec. 15.

ROAD TO NEW ORLEANS

Kansas could be the biggest favorite of the four No. 1 seeds to reach New Orleans, but much like the rest of the bracket, even the Midwest Region is wide open. Wisconsin and Iowa fought to high seeds out of a brutally tough Big Ten, while the Tigers of coach Bruce Pearl showed earlier this season that they’re capable of being the nation’s No. 1.

What could make the road to New Orleans easier for Kansas, though, is that their first four games would be played in the Dallas metro and Chicago, which are both easy drives from their campus and locations with large alumni bases.