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Auburn suspends hoops assistant amid bribery allegations

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AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Auburn has suspended assistant men’s basketball coach Ira Bowman indefinitely amid allegations that he was involved in a bribery scheme during his time at the University of Pennsylvania.

The university sent a statement Wednesday announcing the suspension, saying “we continue to gather information regarding a situation that recently arose.” Auburn didn’t elaborate on reasons for the suspension, but ex-Penn coach Jerome Allen implicated Bowman during testimony last week at a federal trial of a former health care executive, according to reports.

Allen testified that after he left Penn in 2015, Bowman was aware of the alleged scheme to have a son of Miami businessman Philip Esformes on the Penn basketball team, according to reports. Bowman was a Penn assistant for six seasons.

Allen’s testimony was during a Medicare fraud case involving Esformes, but unrelated to the college admissions bribery case that was announced Tuesday. Esformes is on trial in Miami for an alleged scheme that included falsely billing Medicare for $1 billion.

Now an assistant with the Boston Celtics, Allen pleaded guilty last year to accepting about $18,000 in bribes from Esformes while at Penn. He testified that he received about $300,000 in bribes.

Auburn coach Bruce Pearl hired Bowman to replace Chuck Person, who was fired before last season and charged in an unrelated federal corruption case.

Pearl said Tuesday that “we and our administration are gathering facts” on the situation. He declined to answer questions on the allegations against Bowman.

The Tigers open SEC Tournament play Thursday against the Missouri-Georgia winner before heading to the NCAA Tournament.

Amid protest and cheers, LSU beats Vandy to claim SEC title

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BATON ROUGE, La. — Tremont Waters had 14 points and eight assists and LSU won the Southeastern Conference regular-season title with an 80-59 victory over Vanderbilt on Saturday night in the Tigers’ first game without suspended head coach Will Wade.

Darius Days scored a season-high 15 points and Marshall Graves had a season-high 12 — all on 3-pointers — for LSU (26-5, 16-2).

Several players climbed into the student section after the game and pulled on purple conference championship T-shirts while chants of “L-S-U! L-S-U!” reverberated throughout the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

Vanderbilt (9-22, 0-18) became the first team to go winless in the SEC since former league member Georgia Tech in 1954, and the first ever to do so with an 18-game conference schedule.

LSU’s triumph came a day after Wade’s indefinite suspension in the wake of published excerpts of a wire-tapped phone call between the coach and a man convicted last year in federal court of funneling illegal payments to the families of college basketball recruits.

Nearly 14,000 spectators packed the bowl-shaped arena to see LSU — with Wade assistant Tony Benford making his debut as interim head coach — wrap up its first SEC title in a decade. But many fans split time between passionately demonstrating solidarity with the players on every remotely positive play and protesting the administration during lulls in the action.

Boos and chants of “Joe must go!” rained down from the student section and a few other corners of the arena when athletic director Joe Alleva walked to his seat a few rows up from the sideline. Fans also called Alleva a “coward,” the implication being that LSU rushed to suspend its coach before it had conclusive evidence of wrongdoing.

Many fans held up signs reading, “Free Will Wade,” and “Free Javonte Smart,” the freshman guard and former Louisiana player of the year who apparently was referred to in the 2017 call recorded by the FBI.

That was a partisan perspective anyway.

LSU’s decision to suspend Wade has been praised by conference commissioner Greg Sankey, who said he found the published excerpts of Wade’s wire-tapped phone call “very disturbing.”

Smart was held out of the game, although LSU senior associate athletic director Robert Munson stressed that decision was made “in an abundance of caution” and did not represent any knowledge of wrongdoing by Smart or his family, who Munson said were cooperating with university officials.

LSU also held out Naz Reid, but for entirely different reasons. He’d taken a hard blow to the head during a victory at Florida on Wednesday, and was given the night off with LSU already having clinched the SEC tournament’s top seed, and with higher-stakes games coming up.

Saben Lee scored 16 points and Yanni Wetzell had 11 for Vanderbilt, which struggled to stay within 20 points much of the second half.

BIG PICTURE

Vanderbilt: Solid perimeter shooter Matt Ryan missed a third-straight game because of his hand injury, which only made it tougher for struggling Vandy to keep pace with an opponent atop the league standings. The Commodores spent much of the game with a shooting percentage in the low 30s before finishing at 41.2 percent (21 of 51). They were also outrebounded 38-26.

LSU: The Tigers had plenty of depth to withstand the absences of Smart and Reid against the last-place team in the SEC. The Tigers had a double digit lead within the first 10 minutes and were never threatened en route to becoming only the second LSU team in program history to win as many as 26 games in a regular season. The 1981 team holds the school-record with 27.

UP NEXT

Vanderbilt: Opens SEC tournament play Wednesday night against Texas A&M.

LSU: Begins SEC tournament play Friday in the third round after earning a double-bye.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

No. 6 Kentucky pulls away from Florida 66-57 in SEC finale

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Free throws seemed destined to be the saving grace for No. 6 Kentucky before it finally strung baskets together.

Tyler Herro made his share of both, and that combination was important in putting away Florida.

Herro scored 16 points and led a big second-half run that helped the Wildcats overcome the Gators 66-57 on Saturday.

The Wildcats (26-5, 15-3 Southeastern Conference) went back and forth with the Gators (17-14, 9-9) early in the second half and trailed 40-39 with 13:46 remaining.

Herro had six points during a 15-2 spree, hitting a couple of shots in the lane and adding two free throws, to give Kentucky a 54-42 advantage. The Wildcats capped the seven-minute burst by scoring 10 straight points.

“I saw some lanes going to the basket,” said Herro, who made 6 of 11 from the field.

Herro hit all four free throws as Kentucky made 26 of 32 from the line. Florida finished 6 for 11 on free throws.

“Me and PJ (Washington) ran a little two-man game when they went man to man. We had to take whatever they gave us, but once they went man I felt like I had some lanes to drive,” Herro said.

Added coach John Calipari, “Tyler made some unbelievable plays. We made some shots and again, we’re a good free throw shooting team.”

Washington added 15 points as Kentucky handed Florida its third consecutive loss. The Wildcats clinched the No. 2 seed for the SEC Tournament by virtue of its sweep of Auburn, which topped Tennessee earlier Saturday. It was regular-season wrapup for the Wildcats and Gators going into the SEC Tournament.

Ashton Hagans and Keldon Johnson each added 14 points, and Washington’s nine rebounds helped the Wildcats dominate the boards 39-23.

Kevarrius Hayes had 19 points and Jalen Hudson 13 for Florida, which overcame a nine-point first half deficit to lead 31-30 at the break. A 5:12 drought in the second half did in the Gators, who also made just 3 of 18 from long range.

“We just really struggled from the 3 and convert at the foul line,” Florida coach Mike White said.

SENIOR MOMENT

Reid Travis missed his fifth consecutive game with a sprained right knee but was honored before his home finale with reserve guard Jonny David, who started and played the first couple of minutes.

Though Calipari wouldn’t speculate about Travis’ availability for the SEC Tournament, he didn’t sound worried.

“Here’s what good, it’s not an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament),” the coach said. “He sprained his knee. He’s going to be fine.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Kentucky took a step toward getting back in the Top 5 with the win that took more work than expected.

BIG PICTURE

Florida: The Gators held their own for a while in the second of consecutive games against Top 10 schools but couldn’t finish with a win. They committed just six turnovers, outscored Kentucky 32-22 in the paint and appeared to make the Wildcats play at their pace for a good stretch. They then went cold and weren’t able to recover in shooting 44 percent.

Kentucky: The Wildcats got through the home stretch 4-1 without Travis. But it required a wakeup call they survived by getting hot midway through the second half. They shot just 41 percent, but those made shots were huge in clinching the game and second place.

“We knew we had to pick up the intensity and make a statement coming into the second half,” Johnson said. “We need to get some separation.”

UP NEXT

Florida will play Wednesday in the second round of the SEC Tournament in Nashville.

Kentucky plays in next Friday’s quarterfinal at the SEC Tournament in Nashville.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/ Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

LSU to hold Javonte Smart out of Vanderbilt game

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LSU freshman Javonte Smart is being held out of the lineup for the Tigers on Saturday when they face Vanderbilt in their SEC regular-season finale.

After LSU head coach Will Wade was suspended indefinitely earlier this week amid the FBI’s college basketball corruption scandal for allegedly speaking with runner Christian Dawkins about a potential payment earlier this week, the Tigers are also holding out Smart as they cooperate with the NCAA.

Although not directly named in the alleged wiretap conversation, Wade appears to use his star freshman’s last name while discussing payment options with Dawkins.

“I was thinking last night on this Smart thing,” Wade allegedly said to Dawkins. “I’ll be honest with you, I’m [expletive] tired of dealing with the thing. Like I’m just [expletive] sick of dealing with the [expletive]. Like, this should not be that [expletive] complicated.”

A McDonald’s All-American and five-star recruit, Smart was a huge recruiting coup for Wade and the Tigers as he’s averaging 11.6 points per game during LSU’s resurgent season.

“Javonte Smart will be held from today’s game against Vanderbilt. This is done only in an abundance of caution and as a result of the lack of clarity provided regarding media reports and reported wiretaps involving head coach Will Wade,” LSU’s statement said on Saturday. “This decision does not suggest, in any way, wrongdoing or knowledge of wrongdoing on Javonte’s part of his family. Javonte and his family have been fully cooperative and open with university officials.”

LSU should still be favored to take down a Vanderbilt team that is winless in the SEC this season. But this is a huge concern for the team going forward as they could be without their head coach and starting off-guard heading into the postseason. The Tigers have a chance to win the SEC outright with a win thanks to Tennessee’s loss at Auburn earlier in the day.

Auburn upends No. 5 Tennessee 84-80 in regular-season finale

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AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — The Auburn Tigers saved their best for last, and so did Jared Harper.

Harper made four straight free throws over the final 31 seconds and two late 3-pointers to help Auburn clinch an 84-80 victory over No. 5 Tennessee on Saturday in the regular-season finale.

The Tigers (22-9, 11-7 Southeastern Conference) collected their fourth straight win and biggest of the season in a packed Auburn Arena. It was Auburn’s first win over a Top 5 team since beating Arkansas in 1995.

“Everybody in the country recognizes that Tennessee is a Final Four team,” said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl, a former Tennessee head man. “Everybody in the country now recognizes that Auburn is capable of beating and, in fact, did beat a Final Four team.”

The Volunteers (27-4, 15-3) could have clinched at least a share of the SEC regular-season title with a win but now need No. 10 LSU to lose to Vanderbilt. They have never won back-to-back league crowns.

“A year ago, you think about it, we win the league with five losses,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “This year we only have three. You have to learn from this. Some of the mistakes we made today, we can’t make. Not at this time of year.”

The two teams shared the SEC regular-season title last year and Auburn spent six weeks ranked in the Top 10 before falling from the rankings.

Auburn relished the spoiler role this time. The Tigers will be the No. 5 SEC seed and receive a first-round bye in the league tournament.

Auburn’s Samir Doughty grabbed the ball after Grant Williams’ shot was blocked and made a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock. Harper hit two free throws with 31 seconds left for an 80-74 cushion, and Jordan Bone’s 3-point attempt at the other end didn’t fall.

Williams got the rebound and drew a Flagrant 1 foul from Anfernee McLemore. Williams made two free throws with 23 seconds left and the Vols got another possession. Williams launched a quick basket off the inbounds play.

But Harper hit two more free throws with 20 seconds left for an 82-78 lead. He had sealed Tuesday night’s 66-60 win at Alabama with two late drives to the basket.

“He just has had four great games,” Pearl said. “In many ways, put the team on his back, accepting the responsibility of a quarterback to have to make plays. He’s been exceptional.”

Bone then missed a 3-point try and teammate Jordan Bowden couldn’t control the rebound, which went out of bounds.

Doughty hit two more foul shots for the Tigers. They celebrated moments later, with Bryce Brown climbing on the press row table in front of the student section after his final home game.

“That’s something I just planned to do,” said Brown, who had 16 points and four 3-pointers. “I just wanted to share the moment with the fans. I wanted to share the moments with my parents. My auntie and my mom were up there, that’s who I went to.”

Chuma Okeke led Auburn with 22 points, one shy of his career high. Harper had 16 points and eight assists, with his only two 3-pointers coming back to back in the final minutes.

Williams finished with 25 points and nine rebounds for the Vols. Bone had 17 and Bowden 16. Admiral Schofield scored 13 before fouling out.

“We won the game, Tennessee didn’t lose it,” Pearl said. “We won the basketball game because of the quality of our play.”

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: A 28th victory would have tied for second-most in program history. The Vols’ four losses have come by a combined 15 points. They outrebounded Auburn 39-27.

Auburn: Finished regular season 2-5 against ranked opponents. Had perhaps its best all-around performances of the season, committing only five turnovers.

3-POINT CALL

Harper’s second 3-pointer in the final minutes appeared to have been tipped in by McLemore.

“It should have been a two-point play,” Barnes said. “That’s what everybody’s told me since I walked in.”

He didn’t get any argument from Harper. “I thought Anfernee tipped that in, honestly,” the Tigers point guard said.

UP NEXT

Tennessee gets a double bye before opening SEC tournament play in Nashville, Tennessee.

Auburn opens the SEC tournament Thursday hoping to improve its NCAA Tournament seeding.

No. 10 LSU stays hot, beats Florida 79-78 in OT in rematch

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Getting to overtime was the tough part for LSU.

Winning in the extra frame? That’s pretty much what the Tigers have done all season.

Tremont Waters dribbled the length of the court for the tying basket with 3 seconds remaining in regulation and hit a 3-pointer early in overtime, helping No. 10 LSU escape Florida with a 79-78 victory Wednesday night.

The Tigers (25-5, 15-2 Southeastern Conference) improved to 5-1 in OT games in league play.

“It’s kind of what we’ve done all year,” LSU coach Will Wade said. “It’s not very pretty.”

The Gators had a chance to win it with 7.8 seconds left in the extra period, but Jalen Hudson slipped and then KeVaughn Allen failed to get off a shot before the final buzzer.

“Golden opportunity,” Florida coach Mike White said. “To not get a shot off on your last possession is very disheartening. We had done so many positive things to be in that position.”

LSU nearly gave the game away in the final minute of regulation. Waters coughed up a turnover that led to a dunk at the other end and Skylar Mays missed the front end of a one-and-one.

Hudson, who scored 16 straight points in the second half in his final home game on “Senior Night,” looked as if he delivered the winner after Mays’ miss. His 3-pointer from the elbow rattled around the rim and fell through with 6.2 seconds left, putting the Gators (17-13, 9-8) up 72-70.

But that was enough time for Waters to go coast to coast while splitting Florida’s half-hearted defense.

“I don’t think any one man can stay in front of me,” Waters said. “So I just went by (Andrew) Nembhard and created that play.”

Waters finished with 19 points, six assists, six turnovers, three rebounds and three steals.

“Tremont did what he does,” White said.

Javonte Smart added 15 points for the Tigers, who have won eight of nine and avenged their only loss — to Florida in overtime — in the last month.

Emmitt Williams chipped in 13 points and 14 rebounds. Williams scored 11 straight in the first half, helping LSU build a double-digit lead.

“He was phenomenal,” Wade said.

The Gators stormed back in the second half behind Hudson, who finished with a season-high 33 points on 11-of-20 shooting. Hudson struggled the first three months of the season but has scored in double figures in seven of the last eight games.

“It does beg the question,” White said, wondering aloud where that kind of performance has been all season. “He got it going.”

Allen, Florida’s leading scorer, had another poor shooting performance. The senior, one of three honored before the game, had four points on 1 of 6 from the field. He has missed 21 of his last 25 shots, all in the last three games.

The Tigers pounded Florida on the glass and in the paint, enjoying a plus-10 rebounding advantage and outscoring the Gators 44-26 in the lane.

“We just needed to get the ball on the backboard,” Wade said.

BIG PICTURE

LSU: The Tigers can clinch a share of the SEC regular-season title with a victory Saturday against lowly Vanderbilt. They already have locked up a double-bye in next week’s conference tournament and continue to improve their NCAA Tournament seeding.

Florida: The Gators are playing consecutive games against Top 10 teams for the first time since the 2007 Final Four. The Gators won both of those a dozen years ago to clinch the national championship. They might need to upset Kentucky on Saturday to secure a spot in this year’s NCAA Tournament field.

STRETCHER HELP

LSU forward Naz Reid was limped to the bench in the final few seconds and was later helped off the court on a stretcher.

Wade said Reid was dehydrated and on the stretcher only as a precaution. Reid finished with nine points and five rebounds.

FRESHMAN RECORD

Florida’s Noah Locke broke the school’s freshman record for 3-pointers when he hit his second of the game and 75th of the season early in the second half. Anthony Roberson set the previous mark in 2003.

UP NEXT

LSU hosts Vanderbilt in the regular-season finale Saturday. It will be “Senior Night” for the Tigers, who will honor forward Kavell Bigby-Williams.

Florida plays at No. 6 Kentucky on Saturday. The Wildcats won the first meeting 65-54 in early February.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25