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VIDEO: Okoro’s layup lifts No. 22 Auburn past South Alabama, 70-69

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MOBILE, Ala. — Freshman Isaac Okoro made a layup with 2.9 seconds left to lift No. 22 Auburn to a 70-69 victory over South Alabama on Tuesday night.

Samir Doughty twice rebounded missed 3-pointers for the Tigers (3-0), setting up the game-winning shot. Okoro hit the shot while falling down in the lane and drew a foul. He missed the free throw, but it didn’t matter.

Andre Fox hit back-to-back 3-pointers in between an Okoro basket to give South Alabama a 69-68 lead with 28 seconds left. That capped a 22-8 South Alabama run.

Okoro had 15 points, six rebounds and six assists for Auburn. Jamal Johnson scored 14 and made 4 of 5 3-pointers. Anfernee McLemore also had 14 points while Doughty had 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Fox led the Jaguars (2-1) with 23 points on 9-of-17 shooting. He also had 10 rebounds. Josh Ajayi scored 15.

The game was played in front of the largest crowd in Mitchell Center history, 10,068.

BIG PICTURE

Auburn: Okoro, The Tigers made 10 of 24 3-pointers but were just 12 of 22 from the free throw line. Still searching for a consistent lineup to replace stars Jared Harper, Bryce Brown and China Okeke off last year’s Final Four team.

South Alabama: Trailed by 10 points with four minutes left. Fox scored 11 of the Jaguars’ final 13 points. Lost by 40 to Auburn last season.

UP NEXT

Auburn hosts Cal State, Northridge Friday night.

South Alabama visits Chattanooga Friday night.

No. 21 Xavier rallies past Missouri 63-58 in overtime

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CINCINNATI — Xavier had made only two 3-pointers all game, none in the second half. Down by three in the closing seconds, the 21st-ranked Musketeers desperately needed somebody to finally hit from long range.

Naji Marshall swished one from the top of the key , and Xavier was finally on its way.

Marshall’s clutch 3 tied it in regulation, and he made a pair of free throws in overtime Tuesday night as Xavier overcame poor shooting and rallied for a 63-58 victory over Missouri.

The Musketeers (3-0) let a 15-point lead slip away because they couldn’t hit an outside shot, going only 3 of 21 from beyond the arc. Marshall’s 3-pointer — Xavier’s only one in the second half — tied it 51-all with 27.1 seconds left.

When they absolutely had to have a 3, Xavier let its best player shoot away.

“I knew it was going in,” guard Paul Scruggs said. “That’s all I’ve got to say.”

Missouri (2-1) missed a 3 at the end of regulation and never led in overtime, losing to a ranked team for the seventh time in a row. Dru Smith led the Tigers with 22 points, 10 rebounds and four assists.

Scruggs hit a pair of baskets in overtime as Xavier built a seven-point lead and held on. Quentin Goodin made three free throws in the final 20 seconds to close it out.

Marshall’s big shot made it possible. He finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and a team-high three assists.

“He’s talented, he’s skilled, he has size, he made the big shot at the end of regulation,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. “Any time you have a guy with that skill package that you can run your offense through, he’s tough to guard.”

Missouri had a setback in the opening minutes. Top scorer Jeremiah Tilmon picked up two fouls in the first 2:56 and spent the rest of the half on the bench. He finished with six points.

“It was depressing,” said Xavier Pinson, who had nine points.

Xavier led by as many as 15 in a ragged first half. Missouri went eight minutes between field goals and had 13 turnovers, but Xavier couldn’t take full advantage because of its woeful outside shooting. Goodin’s steal and dunk capped an 11-2 spurt that gave Xavier its biggest lead, 27-12.

Tilmon had a layup and Smith scored twice off drives to the basket during a 14-point run that gave Missouri a 38-34 lead, its first since the opening minutes. Xavier went more than seven minutes without scoring while the Tigers rallied .

“That’s what we call a rock fight,” Xavier coach Travis Steele said. “I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty, it was going to be ugly at times, but I was really proud of our guys for handling the adversity we went through.”

BIG PICTURE

Missouri: The Tigers’ tough times against ranked teams continue. They haven’t beaten a Top 25 team since Feb. 13, 2018, when they defeated No. 21 Texas A&M 62-58.

Xavier: The Musketeers have struggled to hit 3s — an issue last season as well. They are only 13 of 63 on 3-pointers this season.

“We had some wide-open looks,” Steele said. “We’ll take those shots.”

POINTS TOUGH TO COME BY

Last season, Xavier lost at Missouri 71-56, the Musketeers’ second-fewest points of the season. They managed 51 in regulation Tuesday.

SCRUGGS BACK

Scruggs sat out the previous game with a sprained knee, costing the Musketeers one of their top guards. He started Tuesday, played 40 minutes and scored 12 points.

CARTER IMPRESSES

Xavier transfer forward Jason Carter played 38 minutes and had 12 points and 11 rebounds.

UP NEXT

Missouri hosts Wofford on Monday and Morehead State two days later as part of the 2019 Hall of Fame Classic.

Xavier hosts Missouri State on Friday, completing a four-game homestand to open the season.

Evansville stuns No. 1 Kentucky

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Evansville pulled off a stunning upset of No. 1 Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Tuesday night as the Purple Aces came away with a 67-64 non-conference win.

Picked to finish eighth in the Missouri Valley Conference’s preseason poll, Evansville and head coach Walter McCarty rolled into Rupp and scored one of the most surprising early-season college hoops upsets in recent memory. It’s incredibly rare to see a No. 1 team lose at home to an unranked opponent — particularly this early in the season.

Playing with a shocking lack of energy for loose balls and allowing 11 offensive rebounds, this loss is perhaps the most surprising upset of the John Calipari era at Kentucky. Despite a 25-point spread in some places, the Purple Aces soundly outplayed the Wildcats in multiple facets of the game. A team with almost zero preseason expectations showed minimal fear despite Kentucky’s No. 1 ranking and numerous McDonald’s All-Americans.

K.J. Riley paced Evansville with 18 points while former top-100 prospect Sam Cunliffe surged out of the gate with a strong first half to finish with 17 points. The Purple Aces ran balanced offense and did a good job of establishing the shots they were looking for. In only his second season of coaching, this win could go down as McCarty’s signature win in his coaching career. How many coaches beat the No. 1 team on the road with a mid-major team — particularly when that team is your alma mater? And at 4-3 against the No. 1 team in the country over the last 20 years, the Missouri Valley Conference continues to show why bigger conferences hate to play them at any point during the regular season.

Most importantly for the national college hoops landscape, however, is this very concerning overall effort from Kentucky.

A week after taking down No. 1 Michigan State in a season-opening win at the Champions Classic, this looked like a completely different Wildcats team than we saw in Madison Square Garden. We’re used to seeing Calipari coach freshmen-laden groups still trying to figure each other out. But we rarely see a Kentucky team still searching for its true go-to player.

Tyrese Maxey (15 points) is still trying to establish himself as that go-to offensive presence. But it didn’t always come naturally for both Maxey, or Kentucky’s offense, when he tried to take over on Tuesday. It didn’t help Maxey that the Wildcats had almost zero inside scoring presence against an underwhelming mid-major frontcourt. Even without E.J. Montgomery, this is the type of game where Nick Richards and Nate Sestina should be counted on for production but Evansville limited them to a combined 15 points on only 10 shots.

The outside shooting for Kentucky (4-for-17 from three) was dreadful. And point guard play was also a problem. Ashton Hagans finished with three points and four turnovers on 1-for-8 shooting as this might go down as the worst game of his college career.

This loss shows that Kentucky still has to figure out where its best looks will come from late in close games on offense. And a young team is also trying to adapt to playing with each other amid huge national expectations. Past Kentucky teams have featured dominant interior scorers, shot-creating wings and downhill guards who can get to the rim. This Wildcats team still has the talent to live up to the No. 1 status by the end of the season. We just don’t know if they have the true No. 1 guy to get there if they don’t play perfect in every other facet.

Kentucky has a month until they face another power-conference opponent when they battle Georgia Tech on Dec. 14. That gives them time to figure out some glaring issues before conference play begins but it also shows that college basketball is lacking a dominant team at this point in the season.

Three Things to Know: Duke uses defense to win; Maxey leads solid night for freshmen, Saint Mary’s gets big win

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College basketball’s 2019-20 season tipped on Tuesday night with the Champions Classic, opening-day ACC conference games and 18 of the top 25 teams playing.

For a sport known mostly for postseason and the build to March Madness, the Nov. 5 slate of games is a great way to start the season. Here’s a look at three early things to take stock of that we learned on Tuesday night.

No. 4 Duke shows toughness and defense in win over No. 3 Kansas

It certainly wasn’t pretty. The first half was a downright disaster at times to watch. Kansas committed 27 turnovers and Duke had turnovers on 20 percent of its offensive possessions.

What matters, however, is Duke coming away with a hard-fought 68-66 win over the Jayhawks. A year removed from stunning the world with the superhero force of freshmen like Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett, this Duke team was about getting stops and figuring out a way to win behind the will of Tre Jones.

The sophomore point guard is clearly still figuring out the most effective way to score. Those hoping for an improved perimeter jumper might need to dampen expectations. It’s also abundantly clear that Jones is going to be the key to Duke’s season. On both ends of the floor.

CBT’s Rob Dauster was in the building at Madison Square Garden for this game as he gets some interesting comparison quotes from Duke associate head coach Jon Scheyer. While the Blue Devils freshmen group of Vernon Carey Jr., Matthew Hurt and Cassius Stanley all had bright spots in the win, they aren’t the stud top-five picks and dominant players we’ve seen from Duke in the past.

But that doesn’t mean Duke isn’t very dangerous. And a team knowing and understanding its identity this early in the season is a good sign for the Blue Devils.

Tyrese Maxey headlines big night for freshmen in No. 2 Kentucky’s win over No. 1 Michigan State

The freshman class debuted with some solid performances on Tuesday night. None greater than guard Tyrese Maxey’s 26-point effort in a Kentucky win over Michigan State in the second game of the Champions Classic.

A cold-blooded three-pointer with under a minute left and Kentucky clinging to a two-point lead proved to be a major dagger as Maxey showed an attack-mode mentality and the savvy to score in a number of ways. Needing only 13 field goal attempts for the night, Maxey was 9-for-10 from the free-throw line.

Elsewhere, Memphis’ hyped freshman class was led by center James Wiseman as he had 28 points and 11 rebounds in a Tigers home win over South Carolina State. After not playing in the preseason, Wiseman coming out and dominating is a great sign for a potential monster season.

Also noteworthy was freshman forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl scoring 24 points and chipping in 13 rebounds in a Villanova win over Army. Jay Wright isn’t usually one to start freshmen, but Robinson-Earl’s physicality and skill level demands that he play immediately for the Wildcats.

Not much was expected of this freshman group compared to previous years. There isn’t a Zion-like standout to be found. But maybe some of these freshmen will be team leaders at times for some of the program’s biggest programs as three top-15 teams were paced by newcomers.

No. 20 Saint Mary’s earns critical overtime win over Wisconsin

Opening day of college hoops featured one of the better Champions Classics we’ll ever see along with the new addition of early ACC conference games.

But no team in the sport helped themselves more on Tuesday than Saint Mary’s did by outlasting Wisconsin for an overtime win. Jordan Ford started his year strong with 26 points to pace the Saint Mary’s. Why is a win over a middle-of-the-road Big Ten team so important for the Gaels? Because Saint Mary’s won this on a neutral floor and will get the added benefit of that status come Selection Sunday.

This opening-night win should enhance the Saint Mary’s profile in a big way. The Gaels don’t get a lot of opportunities to play power-conference opponents during non-conference play — particularly on neutral sites. The best non-con opponents that Saint Mary’s plays the rest of the way includes a home game against Utah State, a road game at Cal and hosting Nevada.

Not exactly a murderer’s row of opponents and opportunities for Saint Mary’s to make their stock look better. In other words, Saint Mary’s needed to make the best of this limited opportunity and they took care of business by leaving South Dakota with a win.

So as Saint Mary’s learns its postseason fate four months from now, a game played on Nov. 5 will have had a significant impact on their overall status. Who said the early part of college basketball was useless?

Doughty, No. 24 Auburn top Georgia Southern 83-74 in opener

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AUBURN, Ala. — The Auburn Tigers debuted their new look, minus the stars that led them to the program’s first Final Four and also without the barrage of 3-pointers.

Samir Doughty scored 20 points to lead No. 24 Auburn to an 83-74 victory over Georgia Southern on Tuesday night in the opener for both teams.

The formula was different: Auburn made just seven 3-pointers. That’s 11 fewer than their debut last season against South Alabama when the Tigers were on their way to setting the Southeastern Conference single-season mark.

There’s no Bryce Brown, Jared Harper or Chuma Okeke firing away.

“It wasn’t pretty but we got the win,” said Austin Wiley, who had 13 points and nine rebounds for Auburn. “We’ve got to do better at not turning the ball over and just rebounding the ball better.”

The Tigers could never quite pull away from the Sun Belt Conference’s Eagles. But Doughty made five of six free throws over the final 1:09 to avoid a late scare.

“They’re a great ball club so we didn’t expect to come in here and blow these guys out,” Doughty said. “We know they’re an older team, so we knew it was going to be a dog fight. We talked about that this whole week.”

Auburn took a 61-48 lead eight minutes into the second half with Danjel Purifoy’s 3-pointer punctuating a quick eight-point flurry.

Purifoy scored 13 points while making three 3s. Freshman Isaac Okoro scored 12 points in his debut. New point guard J’von McCormick had nine points and four assists.

Ike Smith, who took a medical redshirt last season after missing 23 games, scored 16 points for Georgia Southern. He was a first-team All-Sun Belt performer two years ago.

Isaiah Crawley also scored 16 while Elijah McCadden finished with 12 points.

Auburn had to replace those three stars from a team that fell to eventual champion Virginia in the Final Four. This one started four seniors and Okoro, the team’s top new recruit.

“This team’s going to get better, fast,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “Hopefully fast. Georgia Southern’s going to have a good year.”

Auburn took a 41-37 lead into halftime after freshman Devan Cambridge made back-to-back 3-pointers over the final 1:23.

“Bruce Pearl has built this program into a juggernaut,” Georgia Southern coach Mark Byington said. “We knew we were coming into a tough environment. They have a very talented team.

“Our guys were excited to play and see where they were against a Top-25 team.”

BIG PICTURE

Georgia Southern: The Eagles are trying for another strong season after back-to-back 21-12 records but are replacing Sun Belt player of the year Tookie Brown. They were outrebounded 41-27.

Auburn: The Tigers were ranked in the preseason for just the sixth time and second straight season. They committed 21 turnovers, including a wave of them early. Auburn improved to 8-0 against Georgia Southern.

OKORO’S DEBUT

The four-star recruit was 6-of-9 shooting with five rebounds, and made one late shot while falling to the floor.

“We’re going to use him a lot more than y’all think,” Doughty said.

CARTER SUSPENDED

Georgia Southern announced before the game that senior forward Simeon Carter has been suspended indefinitely for violating team rules. Carter averaged 8.3 points and 4.4 rebounds per game last season, mostly off the bench.

MOMENT OF SILENCE

Auburn held a moment of silence before the game to honor longtime broadcaster Rod Bramblett and his wife, Paula, who were killed in a car accident on May 25.

UP NEXT

Georgia Southern makes its home debut Friday night against Reinhardt.

Auburn faces Davidson at the Veterans Classic in Annapolis, Maryland, on Friday.

Blackshear gets double-double, No. 6 Florida beats UNF 74-59

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Kerry Blackshear Jr.’s Florida debut came in front of his mom and several other family members. It’s one of the reasons he chose to play in Gainesville, about a two-hour drive from his hometown.

It also made his first game with the Gators even more special.

Blackshear had 20 points and 10 rebounds, looking every bit as good as advertised as No. 6 Florida opened its most anticipated season in more than a decade with a 74-59 victory over North Florida on Tuesday night.

“My goodness, he’s a heck of a player,” Florida coach Mike White said. “It’s hard for anyone to average 20 and 10. I don’t foresee that happening. But he’s a terrific player and he gives you the opportunity offensively to play in a variety of ways.

“He scores in the interior. He draws fouls. He can shoot it. And probably his most underrated asset is how well he passes the basketball. He’s extremely unselfish as well.”

Blackshear made 8 of 11 shots, including a 3-pointer, and was perfect from the free throw line. The 6-foot-10 graduate transfer who came to Gainesville after four years at Virginia Tech added three assists and two steals.

He gave the Gators their first significant inside presence since Patric Young five years ago. Of course, it came against an overmatched team from the Atlantic Sun Conference.

Blackshear and Florida should get a better test against rival Florida State on Sunday.

Still, Blackshear’s arrival this summer made Florida an instant title contender in the Southeastern Conference. He joined a team that returned three starters to go along White’s best recruiting class, which featured high school All-Americans Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann.

Lewis finished with nine points, five rebounds and two assists in his college debut. Mann had 11 points and four boards.

Noah Locke chipped in 14 points for the Gators.

But all eyes were on Blackshear, including some really close to him. Family members only got to see two or three of his games a year while he was at Virginia Tech. So having so many on hand for this one made the night more enjoyable.

“It’s great,” he said. “I always have my brothers on the court, but it’s even better to have my immediate family there, too.”

JT Escobar led North Florida with 15 points. Garrett Sams added 14.

Florida was 3 of 15 from 3-point range, but overcame those long-range woes by outscoring the Ospreys 38-14 in the paint.

The Gators got off to a slow start and even trailed early. But they used a 16-0 run midway through the first half to seize control of the game. They led by as many as 24 early in the second half before UNF got hot from behind the arc.

“For this team to get where we want to be, we’ve got to make an exponential growth,” Blackshear said.

Count UNF coach Matthew Driscoll as one who’s convinced Florida will get there — thanks to Blackshear.

“He’s going to allow (Florida) to be in the that upper echelon, be top of the country and compete like that because he’s got that understanding,” Driscoll said. “He’s endured. He’s got strength. And he’s got character. When you have those three things, you can do really, really special things for your team.”

BIG PICTURE

North Florida: The Ospreys return eight of their top nine scorers from last season, including four senior starters. They were picked to finish second in the Atlantic Sun Conference, with Sams, Wajid Aminu and Ivan Gandia-Rosa giving them a chance to win the league.

The Ospreys were undersized against Florida, but could have made it even closer with a few more 3s. They were 11 of 34 from behind the arc.

Florida: The Gators were a popular preseason pick to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, and they showed flashes on both ends of the court. This is their highest preseason ranking since being No. 1 to open the 2006-07 season.

UP NEXT

North Florida: Hosts Florida National of the NAIA on Thursday. It’s the first of four straight for UNF at home.

Florida: Hosts Florida State on Sunday. The Gators have lost five in a row in the series.