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No. 3 LSU holds off late charge to advance past No. 14 Yale

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LSU opened the game on a 9-0 run and held off a late charge as the No. 3 seed Tigers advanced with a 79-74 win over No. 14 seed Yale on Thursday in an NCAA tournament East Region first-round matchup in Jacksonville.

Thanks to the hot start, the Tigers (27-6) built a cushion that lasted the entire game as LSU never trailed. The Bulldogs cut the Tigers’ lead to three with under a minute left but LSU closed the game out from the free-throw line.

Point guard Tremont Waters (15 points, seven assists) was the catalyst for the LSU offense in the first half while the frontcourt of senior Kavell Bigby-Williams (10 points, 10 rebounds, four blocks) and freshman Naz Reid (14 points, 10 rebounds) both chipped in double-doubles. Guard Skylar Mays led the Tigers offense with 19 points as he was a big closer from the free-throw line late in the game while also picking up the scoring in the second half when Waters went cold.

The SEC-champion Tigers (27-6) entered the NCAA tournament with some question marks thanks to the recent controversy surrounding suspended head coach Will Wade — as a recent report alleged that he discussed paying for a recruit over a wiretap. LSU didn’t seem fazed without its head coach as they used athleticism and a balanced effort to advance to the second round.

Although LSU got past a tough No. 14 seed in this one, a cold second half on offense will be something to track in the next round. The Tigers were only 4-for-17 (23 percent) from three-point range as they struggled to find consistent second-half offense.

Yale (22-8) was led by the hot shooting of senior guard Alex Copeland (24 points) as he was aggressive hunting his own pull-ups and knocking down catch-and-shoot threes. Unfortunately for Copeland, and the Bulldogs, he didn’t have much help in terms of perimeter shooting. Yale finished an ugly 8-or-36 (22 percent) from three-point range on the afternoon as they couldn’t buy a bucket from the perimeter.

Jordan Bruner (16 points) and Azar Swaim (12 points) also finished in double-figures for the Bulldogs. Yale’s best NBA Draft prospect, junior wing Miye Oni, had a nightmare afternoon, finishing with only five points while going 2-for-16 from the field.

The Ivy League champions did a fine job of eventually adjusting to LSU’s length and athleticism, but the cold perimeter shooting and slow start ultimately was too much to overcome.

LSU advances to face the winner of No. 6 seed Maryland and No. 11 seed Belmont on Saturday in Jacksonville.

Harvard’s Seth Towns and Bryce Aiken remain out indefinitely

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Ivy League favorite Harvard will be without two of its key players for the start of the season.

Head coach Tommy Amaker spoke to reporters on Friday and indicated that reigning Ivy League Player of the Year Seth Towns and starting point guard Bryce Aiken will both remain out indefinitely with knee injuries. While Aiken has been battling knee injuries since being limited to only 14 games last season, the injury to Towns remains a bit more of a mystery.

In the Ivy League Conference Tournament title game last season, Towns sustained a knee injury with 8:20 left in the second half as Penn went on to ultimately win the game and claim the league’s NCAA tournament autobid. Towns also missed Harvard’s next contest when they lost in the opening round of the NIT to Marquette.

A September report from Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports indicated that Aiken and Towns were expected to be fully cleared for basketball activities once practice officially started. But on Oct. 20, Stadium’s Jeff Goodman reported that neither Aiken nor Towns played in Harvard’s closed preseason scrimmage against Boston College.

Now that Amaker has indicated that Aiken and Towns will remain out, it’s going to be one of the key subplots to watch in this early college basketball season. The duo combined to average slightly over 30 points per game last season as the Crimson have huge expectations heading into this season.

Harvard is already used to playing (and playing well) without Aiken. But the loss of Towns could be huge — especially since we don’t know the severity of his injury. With the Crimson returning nearly its entire core from a team that just missed making the NCAA tournament, Harvard needs both of those guys back and healthy if they want to meet the high preseason expectations.

(h/t: David Tannenwald)

Former Penn coach allegedly took bribes from potential recruit’s father

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Former Penn head coach Jerome Allen allegedly took bribes from a Miami businessman who wanted his son to get into the school as a “recruited basketball player” — increasing his chances to gain entry to the Ivy League school.

According to a report from Bloomberg’s Michael Smith, David Voreacos and Eben Novy-Williams, Allen was involved with Miami businessman Philip Esformes, who had a son, Morris, who was allegedly recruited by several Ivy League schools. When Philip Esformes was accused of health-care fraud, money laundering, conspiracy and bribery, the government uncovered more than $74,000 in gifts that Esformes gave to Allen in 2013 and 2014.

Allen is identified strictly as “Coach-2” in the indictment that alleges that he took multiple cash payments, paid trips from Philadelphia to Miami, and a private jet trip that included Allen, Esformes and his son. The benefits are alleged to be $74,558 — including three separate wired payments of $15,000, $20,000 and $18,000 to Allen from Esformes.

These alleged incidents took place in 2013 and 2014, when Allen was still head coach at Penn and Morris Esformes was a high school basketball player trying to make it to the Division I level. Esformes was eventually granted admission to Penn as he was allegedly going to be on the basketball team. But Allen was fired before Esformes enrolled at the school. So Esformes went to school at Penn, but he never played for the basketball team. Esformes is currently still a senior at Penn.

Allen has been an assistant coach under Brad Stevens with the Boston Celtics since leaving Penn in 2015. He hasn’t been criminally charged for any of these alleged benefits while the NCAA also hasn’t been involved with anything yet.

But this is yet another black eye on college basketball — and this time coming from a prestigious Ivy League institution. It shows that cheating and using leverage happens at all levels of Division I college basketball. Lately, the schools have been paying to get players. This shows there are instances of wealthy people attempting to gain influence through athletics.

This case at Penn is certainly a rare one. Esformes tried to exploit a loophole that would allow his son entry into a great school under the guise that he was a potential Division I-caliber basketball player. And Morris Esformes did end up at Penn — and seems to be doing well. So, this didn’t end poorly for Morris or Allen.

Since Allen is coaching at the NBA level, this likely won’t alter his coaching career, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the NCAA get involved with Penn and Allen going forward.

Four conferences sign on to basketball officiating alliance

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GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Four more Division I conferences will join a men’s basketball officiating alliance formed last year by the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big East, the Atlantic 10 and Colonial Athletic Association.

The Big South, the Ivy League, the Northeast and the Patriot League are joining ahead of the 2017-18 season, according to announcements from the leagues Thursday. The alliance launched last summer for conferences to work together on officiating matters and enhance training, development, recruitment, retention and feedback for officials.

John Cahill, the Big East’s supervisor of officials, and Bryan Kersey, the ACC’s coordinator of men’s basketball officiating, will continue to lead the alliance operations.

ACC commissioner John Swofford says the new additions to the alliance “provide an even greater opportunity to build chemistry and quality” across the officiating ranks.

Yale’s Makai Mason will transfer to Baylor after next season

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Yale junior guard Makai Mason will transfer to Baylor … but not until the fall of 2018.

Sources confirmed to NBC Sports on Thursday evening that Mason will graduate from Yale next spring and will enroll at Baylor, eligible to play immediately for the 2018-19 season.

Andrew Slater of 247Sports first reported the news.

According to a source, he committed to Baylor after taking a visit in April.

Mason was the Ivy League Preseason Player of the Year but missed all of this past season due to a foot injury he suffered during a scrimmage. An archaic Ivy League rule prohibits student-athletes from redshirting due to athletic reasons. Student-athletes can apply for a fifth year but only if it’s based on academic reasons. It is the Ancient Eight’s way of emphasizing academics over athletics.

There’s a loophole, though. Withdrawing from the university and being readmitted for the following fall semester preserves that year of eligibility. Alex Rosenberg dropped out of Columbia in October 2014 when he suffered a fracture in his right foot only to return for his senior season next fall. Harvard point guard Siyani Chambers did the same thing, leaving school after tearing his ACL two summers ago. However, both of those injuries were at least conveniently timed. By the time Mason suffered his season-ending injury he was more than halfway through the semester.

The plan of finishing out the school year — and his undergraduate at Yale — and becoming an eventual graduate transfer was in his best interest. Mason, who declared for the NBA Draft in 2016 without hiring an agent, gets to earn a degree from an Ivy League school and then can use his final season of eligibility to prepare for the 2019 NBA Draft at a high-major school.

I’m sure any talks about Mason’s inevitable departure weren’t some of the best conversations the Yale coaching staff had but there doesn’t appear to be any sort of strained relationship. Two weeks ago, he was named the captain of this year’s team.

For Baylor, this is obviously a tremendous addition, especially with Manu Lecomte exhausting his eligibility at the end of the 2017-18 season.

Scott Drew and the Bears are very familiar with the type of offensive firepower Mason will bring to the program. He did hang 31 points on Baylor back in 2016 when the Bulldogs upset the Bears, 79-75, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Ivy League Tournament will stay at The Palestra in 2018

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The Ivy League Tournament will return to The Palestra in Philadelphia in 2018, the league announced on Thursday afternoon.

The Palestra was the site of the first-ever Ivy League postseason this past March. A four-team tournament saw Princeton advance to the 2017 NCAA Tournament, capping an unbeaten season within the league with a 73-71 win over Yale.

“The Inaugural Ivy League Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments were an unequivocal success,” said Executive Director Robin Harris in a statement. “We featured the tremendous talent of our basketball student-athletes in an electric atmosphere, and we look forward to an even better event in 2018.”

Holding an event at one of the cathedrals of college basketball was a no-brainer. But once Penn earned the final spot in the tournament, it took away the neutral site setting. Imagine if Princeton, 14-0 in league play, lost to the lowest-seeded team in the field because the game was played on Penn’s full-time home court?

The press release added that the league is evaluating other venues for 2019.

It’ll be interesting to see what the league does following this season. The Palestra is not only an iconic venue but it puts the conference’s postseason event in a major city. It also happens to be the biggest venue in the Ancient Eight. But that gives the Quakers a home-court advantage each and every year they qualify for the postseason.

A truly neutral host, like Springfield, Mass., the birthplace of basketball, would make sense given its basketball tradition and its centralized location in regards to the eight universities. But that would cost money, something these schools may not be interested in.

The 2018 Ivy League Tournament will be held March 10-11.