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National runner-up Texas Tech opens with 85-60 victory

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Another graduate transfer and some freshmen helped get No. 13 Texas Tech off to a solid start in the new season, seven months after the Red Raiders played in the national championship game.

Freshman Jahmi’us Ramsey scored 19 points and graduate transfer TJ Holyfield added 15 on 7-of-8 shooting as the much-changed Red Raiders beat Eastern Illinois 85-60 on Tuesday night.

“Everyone’s playing together in our offense so that helped me score,” Holyfield said. “The way we work all together … on offense is easy for us to get easy basket sometimes.”

Davide Moretti, the only returning starter from last season’s team that lost in overtime to Virginia in the title game, had 13 points. Terrence Shannon Jr, another freshman, had 11 points.

“I was impressed with the guys’ preparation this week. Dialed in … to have the emotion there at the start of the game, great crowd,” coach Chris Beard said. “First Division I game for a lot of guys, then put on top of that the two banners and the videos and all of this and it’s hard to do. But I thought there was a calmness to us early. It was really impressive.”

George Dixon had 15 points and 10 rebounds to lead Eastern Illinois, a team from the Ohio Valley Conference that was 14-18 last season.

Texas Tech led throughout, jumping out to a 9-2 run in the first 3 minutes before a sold out crowd. It was 46-31 at halftime on way to Tech’s 48th consecutive non-conference home victory.

The Red Raiders claimed a share of the Big 12 title last season and won 31 games before that loss to Virginia. Four of their top five scorers from that squad are gone, including 2018-19 grad transfers Matt Mooney and Tariq Owens, along with hometown guard and Big 12 player of the year Jarrett Culver leaving after only two seasons for early entry into the NBA draft.

Holyfield, a 6-foot-8 forward, played against the Red Raiders in the first round of the tournament in Dallas two years ago. He redshirted last year at Stephen F. Austin because of injuries.

Ramsey, coming off a Class 6A state title at Dallas-area power Duncanville last season, is among seven freshmen.

“Pressure’s a blessing. Pressure is why you play at this level. It’s why you coach at this level and why you support a team at this level,” Beard said. “I think these freshmen understand they have an opportunity. There’s no pressure on this team. Three returners, 10 new players. We’re a work in progress. We have our own expectations internally that’s so much more than what anybody could put on us. I just keep talking to these guys about opportunity versus pressure and I thought they did a good job tonight embracing it.”

BIG PICTURE

Eastern Illinois: The challenge was tough for the Panthers but the sometimes slim margin showed how they’re among the oldest teams in the NCAA.

Texas Tech: The Red Raiders returned only three members from last year’s national title runner-up team but didn’t miss a beat in the opener.

QUOTABLE

“This is a new season. Every season is different. Sometimes even if the same players come back it’s a new season. I’ll never get tired of hearing about the past teams but it’s a new season. It really is.” — Beard

NEWCOMER DOWN

Beard said freshman forward Tyreek Smith will miss at least a couple of weeks with an injury he suffered in practice. Smith played at Trinity Christian in Louisiana, where he averaged 17.9 points, 12.3 rebounds and three blocks as a senior.

MORE THAN VICTORY BELLS

Beard promised a Texas Tech couple that he would attend their upcoming summer wedding if the students showed up for the season opener. He quickly lost the bet as the student attendance accounted for 4,866 of the sellout crowd of 15,098.

UP NEXT

Eastern Illinois is on the road to play another major college team, Friday night at Wisconsin.

Texas Tech, which plays four of its first five games at its home arena, is there Saturday to play Bethune-Cookman.

Tre Jones, No. 4 Duke get ‘tough’ as they knock off No. 3 Kansas, 68-66

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NEW YORK — The rules of basketball stipulate that, at the end of every game, one team has to score more points than the other team. There are no ties, which means, by definition, someone had to win on Tuesday night in the Garden, even if No. 3 Kansas and No. 4 Duke spent 40 minutes playing like neither of them were capable of such a monumental feat.

When the final buzzer sounded, Duke had gotten the job done. Tre Jones scored the final six points for the Blue Devils, finishing with 15 on the night to go along with six boards, six assists and three steals in a 68-66 win in the opening game of the 2019 Champions Classic.

But it was far from a vintage Duke performance.

The Blue Devils shot 35.9 percent from the floor. They were 8-for-24 from three and 14-for-23 from the line. They turned the ball over on 20 percent of their possessions — 16 times in total. For a team that is just a year removed from the Zion and R.J. show, for a program that has become synonymous with the one-and-done era and NBA-ready talent, those are not the kind of performances that we’ve come to expect.

Especially when they result in wins over top five teams.

But that’s who this Duke team is going to be.

They are going to have to win ugly. They are going to win with their defense. This is what happens when the best player on your roster is Tre Jones. It’s what happens when you build a roster around a freshmen class that doesn’t have one of those elite freshmen.

“Zion and R.J., those freshmen weren’t freshmen,” Duke associate head coach Jon Scheyer said. “Wendell [Carter] and Marvin [Bagley III], they weren’t freshmen. Our freshmen are freshmen.”

The point that Scheyer is so eloquently making is that Duke doesn’t have a lottery level talent on their roster. “Even if one of these dudes ends up getting picked 14th, the point remains true,” one NBA front office member told NBC Sports, and if Tuesday night was any indication, that should work just fine.

It’s because of Jones.

“The difference maker for us was Tre,” Mike Krzyzewski said. “We have a lot of young guys and a lot of new guys but we’ve really tried to play good defense in our first 30 practices and it paid off tonight. We played really good defense and it starts off with that kid and the poise he had.”

This Duke team has embraced his identity. What Jones lacks in an NBA-ready jumper he makes up for with toughness, both mentally and on the defensive end of the floor. What he lacks in physical tools he makes up for in heart and intangibles. He’s one of those guys that you call a winner, one of those players that that others gravitate towards. The result is a roster that has fully embraced what he personifies.

“We are a hard, tough team,” Duke’s standout freshman Cassius Stanley said after the game. “It’s going to be ugly, coach said that, but it’s going to look good at the end. [Tonight] proved it to me.”

Stanley is a fitting player to point out here. He was the least-heralded member of Duke’s 2019 recruiting class, but an argument could be made that he had the biggest impact on Tuesday night. Stanley scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half, including a pair of thunderous dunks that killed the momentum Kansas had built early in the half. He wasn’t expected to start. He didn’t really start come on strong in practice until recently. But here he was, on the biggest stage college basketball has to offer this side of the postseason, dunking his way into going viral.

“Cassius would verbally come to me [during the game] saying different things, telling me to lead, telling me he’s following whatever I do,” Jones said.

Stanley wasn’t alone.

Matthew Hurt and Vernon Carey Jr. both had moments, finishing with 11 points apiece. Carey his a huge three when Duke was down by nine points early in the second half and Hurt hit a bigger three late in the period. Kansas was up 55-51 at the time, and after Jack White had intercepted a pass Ochai Agbaji made when it looked like the Jayhawks were going to get a layup on a 2-on-1 break, Hurt buried the three at the other end. He capped off a five-point swing.

But we knew they were capable of those things.

What I did not know they were capable of was this: Holding All-American center Udoka Azubuike to just eight points and nine boards on 3-for-4 shooting, an admirable job on one of the most dominant players in the sport. As a team, Duke forced Kansas into 27 turnovers, an astonishingly high number for a team that returns as much experience in their backcourt as anyone at the top of the polls. Every Kansas starter had at least three turnovers. Devon Dotson and Ochai Agbaji had five turnovers apiece. At one point late in the first half, Kansas had 18 turnovers and 17 field goals attempted.

This is how Duke is going to have to win this season.

This is what happens when the best player on the roster, the guy that sets the tone for everything they do during a game, is Jones.

“As a freshman last year, I was looking at older guys, trying to see what it really was like. Knowing that they’re going through the same thing, I know I always have to have a strong face. Doing the right thing so they know what to do.”

“We just have to stay locked in to what our strengths are,” Stanley said. “Defense, veteran leadership.

“This was no surprise.”

Butler’s 30 points lead No. 16 Baylor to 105-61 win over UCA

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WACO, Texas — Jared Butler and Baylor’s guard-oriented lineup quickly helped ease coach Scott Drew’s usual nervousness about a season opener.

There wouldn’t be another upset.

Butler scored 30 points with a career-high eight 3-pointers, MaCio Teague had 18 points and 10 rebounds in his Baylor debut and the No. 16 Bears opened Drew’s 17th season by scoring the first 19 points on the way to a 105-61 victory over Central Arkansas on Tuesday.

“It’s a great feeling (after) last year and what happened, and how we felt going into the locker room after the game,” Butler said, referring to last year’s opening loss to Texas Southern. “Man, it’s great that we got off to a great start. I think it’s really important. But with that being said, it doesn’t matter how you start, it’s how you finish.”

The Bears overcame several injuries and won 20 games last season, getting to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Big 12 coaches picked them this preseason to finish second in the conference behind Kansas.

Baylor’s first five baskets were scored by five different players, including transfer starters Teague and Davion Mitchell. The game began at 11 a.m. — no other college basketball game started earlier on the first day of the season — and was played before a crowd filled mostly with elementary school students.

“Won’t guarantee we’ll always shoot 55%, but when you do and you have 25 assists and you defend and rebound like we did today, obviously not a lot to be upset with,” Drew said.

Teague, a transfer from UNC Asheville who had to sit out last season, had four 3-pointers.

“I was pretty anxious going into the game. I had a little bit of trouble sleeping last night,” Teague said. “But it felt great to go out there and join the team, join my brothers and play against a different team.”

Devonte Bandoo added 15 points and Freddie Gillespie 14 for the Bears, who shot 56% overall (40 of 71) and finished with a 51-30 rebounding edge. Baylor shot 55% on 3s, the 18 (of 33) being the most in a home game and two short of the overall school record.

Rylan Bergersen, a transfer from BYU, had 17 points in his Central Arkansas debut. Eddy Kayouloud added 13 points and top returning scorer Hayden Koval had 12.

“In these Power Five games, we’ve won one … you know the reality of it. You never go into the game thinking that you don’t have a chance because basketball’s a funny game,” sixth-year UCA coach Russ Pennell said. “But I think the thing that we try to do in these games is try to find the good minutes.”

CLARK’S RETURN

Baylor’s preseason All-Big 12 forward, Tristan Clark, had three points and four rebounds in his return after missing the second half of last season with a knee injury. Clark had two early fouls and played only five minutes in a scoreless first half. He finished 1-of-3 shooting in 16 minutes overall.

“We’ve seen in practice, he’s had moments where he was the Tristan of old and then he’s had moments where he’s still getting the rust off,” Drew said. “It’s a long process for him. He will keep getting better and better with time.”

QUICK 10

Bandoo had 10 points in span of 1:40 in the first half. He drove for a reverse layup that made it 11-0 and drove for a dunk 15 seconds later. His consecutive 3-pointers, sandwiching the first basket by UCA, put the home Bears up 22-2.

BIG PICTURE

Central Arkansas: The Bears from the Southland Conference got down so much so quick that it took time for them to settle in and just play. They do have four returning starters.

Baylor: A good start for Baylor, which had two Division I transfers in its starting lineup that had to sit out last season: point guard Mitchell (Auburn) and Teague. Clark, who was the nation’s top field goal shooter in the 14 games he played last season, will have plenty of time to get back into a groove before conference play starts.

UP NEXT

Central Arkansas returns home to Conway, Arkansas, to play crosstown rival Hendrix College on Thursday night. Their campuses are about 2 1/2 miles apart.

Baylor took off after the game to head to Alaska, where the Bears will play Washington at a military base Friday night.

Oklahoma State lands commitment from top 2020 prospect Cade Cunningham

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Oklahoma State landed potentially the top 2020 prospect in the country on Tuesday night as Cade Cunningham pledged to the Cowboys.

On a day in which college basketball is tipping off across the country, the Cowboys sent waves through the sport by landing a do-it-all guard who puts up numbers all over the board and wins at a high level. Although the Cowboys haven’t been particularly relevant the last several years, head coach Mike Boynton made an intelligent decision to hire Cunningham’s older brother, former SMU wing Cannen Cunningham, to be an assistant coach.

The move paid off for the Cowboys as the 6-foot-7 Cunningham could become a program-changing player.

A big point guard who pushes for triple-doubles, Cunningham has helped Montverde maintain its elite national status as he can score, rebound, find others and defend. The top player in the Nike EYBL this spring and summer with the Texas Titans, Cunningham vaulted near the top of national rankings and showed that he’s an elite prospect at the next level.

Cunningham joins four-star guard and top-100 prospect Rondel Walker in the Oklahoma State recruiting class. The duo forms a strong starting point for the Cowboys as they continue to rebuild.

Oklahoma State hires brother of top 2020 prospect as assistant coach

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Oklahoma State made a splash on Tuesday afternoon as the Cowboys hired Cannen Cunningham as an assistant coach.

While Cunningham is an up-and-coming young coach who spent last season at Tulane as part of Mike Dunleavy’s staff, his hiring to Oklahoma State is significant because he’s the older brother of five-star Class of 2020 prospect Cade Cunningham.

Cade has spent the spring dominating the Nike EYBL and rising in the national rankings as he’s firmly in the discussion as the No. 1 player in his class after putting up ridiculously efficient numbers across the board. In speaking with NBC Sports at the Pangos All-American Camp earlier this month, Cade noted how much his brother aided in his overall development and improvement. Clearly, the brothers are close when it comes to basketball.

Oklahoma State was already viewed as a heavy participant in Cunningham’s national recruitment. Now that head coach Mike Boynton has made the move to hire Cunningham to a full-time assistant spot, Cannen just gives the Cowboys an additional recruiting advantage when it comes to landing Cade.

Cade Cunningham cut his list to 10 schools earlier this summer as Duke, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Memphis, North Carolina, Oklahoma State, Texas, Virginia and Washington are still involved. It’ll be interesting to see where Cade decides to take official visits and how many of these schools remain in the picture in light of Cannen’s hiring.

Kansas adds four-star 2019 wing Jalen Wilson

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Kansas added a key late piece to its 2019 recruiting class on Wednesday as four-star wing Jalen Wilson committed to the Jayhawks.

Previously a Michigan pledge under former head coach John Beilein, Wilson opened things up and took official visits to Kansas and North Carolina. The 6-foot-8 Wilson is the No. 47 overall prospect in the Rivals.com national 2019 rankings as he’s the fourth commitment for the Jayhawks in the class. He joins four-stars wing Tristan Enaruna and four-star guards Christian Braun and Isaac McBride.

Although Kansas didn’t land the five-star, All-American type of prospect that they’ve become used to landing under head coach Bill Self, this four-man class still provides talent, athleticism, depth and a top-15 group. Wilson’s late pledge gives the Jayhawks a competitive wing for minutes along with Enaruna and sophomore Ochai Agbaji.

Kansas returns some veterans from the NBA draft process as they should once again be competitive in the Big 12 and national landscape with the return of point guard Devon Dotson and center Udoka Azubuike. If any of these four freshmen can provide consistent minutes it would be a huge boost to the Jayhawks.