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Wednesday’s Things to Know: Minnesota’s loss is Maryland’s gain, Penn State survives Rutgers and Kihei Clark delivers

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Some wild finishes from around the country Wednesday night. Let’s not waste any time diving into them. Here’s what you need to know:

Maryland wins after Minnesota stumbles down the stretch..again

This one was equal parts great for Maryland and devastating for Minnesota.

Well, it’s probably more devastating for the Gophers.

Minnesota, its NCAA tournament hopes already barely registering a pulse and its coach’s job security looking increasingly suspect, led the ninth-ranked Terrapins by as many as 17 in the first half and then by eight with just over 2 minutes to play, but absolutely crumbled down the stretch as Maryland got a go-ahead 3 from Darryl Morsell with 1.9 seconds left to deliver a 74-73 victory at Williams Arena.

For Richard Pitino and the Gophers, it was probably the end of whatever hopes they had for an NCAA tournament berth that didn’t include a conference tournament championship run. They’re 13-14 on the season, and were already looking at being on the bubble from a considerable distance. A win against a top-10 team at home could have changed that in a major way, but a loss leaves them in the status quo. Put it in context that its another blown home game – not much unlike the Iowa and Indiana games earlier this month – and it’s even harder to see the path to an second-straight NCAA tournament. Which means an All-American-type season for sophomore center Daniel Oturu, who had 28 & 11 against Maryland, will likely go for naught.

So that leaves Minnesota outside the dance for the fifth time in seven seasons under Pitino. The Gophers are also in danger of finishing under .500 for the second time in three years and the third in five. The school president and athletic director also weren’t the ones around when Pitino replaced Tubby Smith – who went to three tournaments in six years – in 2013. There may be a decision to consider in Minneapolis next month.

On the happier side of the ledger is Maryland, which maintained its two-game lead over Michigan State and Penn State along with its chances of a No. 1 seed come selection Sunday. It was the fourth time this season that the Terps have overcome a deficit of at least 14 points to win a game. They played much of the first half without Jalen Smith, who was dealing with foul trouble, while shooting 31 percent from the field and going 2 of 14 from the 3-point line. Smith played all 20 minutes of the second half (scoring 14 points, grabbing 12 rebounds and blocking two shots) while Maryland shot 44.1 percent from the field (although still just 4 of 14 from deep).

All that is a long way of saying that Maryland was pitted against a desperate team on the road, played without one of its most important players and shot it terrible in the first half, but still won.

Still, Mark Turgeon is gonna wake up tired tomorrow.

Penn State blows a big lead, but holds on against Rutgers

Not a dissimilar situation from Maryland/Minnesota.

Penn State was the team blowing a lead in this one – a 21-point lead – but the Nittany Lions’ Myles Dread’s late 3-pointer delivered a 65-64 win for the home favorite and hand the team in need of an NCAA tournament boost a crushing L.

The Scarlet Knights have an OK resume – they’ve got three Quad 1 wins, a single Quad 3 loss and are 7-9 against Quad 2s – but with Wednesday’s loss at Penn State, they still don’t have a win away from home on the season. And for a team already on the bubble, a home game against Maryland and a road trip to Purdue isn’t an ideal way to have to finish the season and wrap up a bid before the conference tournament.

Conversely, Penn State is already clearly going to get the first NCAA tournament spot under Pat Chambers and has a couple of really nice resume opportunities left. They’re at Iowa before hosting Michigan State (and then finishing up at Northwestern). Winning the Big Ten regular season title is probably a long shot with Maryland up a pair of games, but getting a top-four seed is absolutely in play.

Kihei Clark won Virginia its fifth-straight game

When you’re in a down league and playing good-but-not-great basketball a year after winning the national title, you don’t generate a lot of buzz. Especially if you’re Virginia, playing games with halftime scores like 26-11, as was the case Wednesday against Virginia Tech.

The Cavaliers, though, have now won five-straight because after the Hokies figure a few things out offensively, Virginia got a game-winner from Kihei Clark.

Tony Bennett’s team is now just a game back of second in the ACC and two behind Florida State in first with three games – including against Duke and Louisville – to play.

Virginia certainly isn’t nearly as interesting or good as the team that cut down nets in Minneapolis last spring, but they’re playing serious defense and getting clutch plays from the point guard. Not a bad March formula.

Meet The Mabreys: Three sisters making a splash in women’s hoops

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A college athlete, a WNBA player, and an assistant coach.

Dara, Marina and Michaela Mabrey all have a fierce passion for basketball and an unbreakable bond with each other. Despite being almost constant competitors—whether that be in their driveway growing up or as foes in the ACC—the sisters have found a way to remain close and act as one another’s role models and confidants.

Their two brothers, Roy and Ryan, also share a love for the game, and finish out the Mabrey family starting five.

The Mabrey sisters have made quite the impact on women’s college basketball. The youngest sister, Dara, is a sophomore at Virginia Tech, while Marina and Michaela both played for Notre Dame—even overlapping for one year. On Thursday night, Dara’s Hokies will face off with Michaela’s Fighting Irish.

“I’m just super proud of both of them and where they’re at in their careers,” Michaela said. “I’m really happy to watch them every day and see how much they’ve grown, as basketball players and as women.”

The bonds of sisterhood

“As much as we can, we’re always there for each other.”

Despite the current distance between them, they find a way to talk every single day, Michaela added.

It’s been difficult for the sisters since the WNBA season ended. Marina is currently playing basketball overseas in Latvia, and her sisters haven’t seen her since September. Michaela is at Notre Dame and Dara resides in Blacksburg, Virginia, but the two face a rigorous ACC schedule that keeps them apart for most of the season. 

“We’re all super super close,” Dara said. “Even when things happen and we’re upset, we’re always the first people we call. Especially when we really need it, it does suck being away from your sister.”

Even while Marina was still in college, it could be hard to see each other with the busy schedules that college athletes undertake. But, this never stopped the Mabrey sisters from being there for one another when it really counted. 

When Marina was in her freshman year, Michaela spent time with her sister, walking her through all the challenges and obstacles of being a student athlete. And when Dara was dealing with the typical plight of being a first-year college athlete, Michaela went down to Virginia to be with her. 

Marina, learning from her big sister, did the same for Dara. 

“Marina drove through the night one night, my first summer there when I was kind of homesick,” Dara added. “She drove through the night for 11 hours from Notre Dame to Virginia Tech.”

When Michaela graduated and went into the working force, she was still able to find time for both of her sisters. 

“Last year, when I was working at LSU, we had a bye week and I was able to see Dara and watch her play against North Carolina,” Michaela said. “And I followed Marina throughout her entire tournament last year. I was at every game.”

While it could be easy to let life get in the way, that’s not how the Mabrey sisters operate.

“Those are my best friends,” Michaela beamed, seeming to smile through the phone. 

Growing up

“Obviously when you’re growing up, you do the same things your older siblings do,” Dara explained.

That’s how it all started for the Mabrey sisters. Michaela, the oldest, watched her brother Roy play basketball, and Marina and Dara followed in her footsteps from there. 

“We were all eager to play when we were younger… watching it and being around it so much made us want to do it,” Dara said. 

Each only two and a half years apart, the New Jersey natives didn’t have to wait long to be able to play against one another in their childhood driveway — where some of their most intense and competitive battles took place.

“Someone would come in crying or someone would be in trouble for pushing too hard,” Dara laughed. “There were plenty of times where someone would think it was a foul, someone thought it wasn’t a foul… Then someone would end up walking away. You’d give them 5 minutes to calm down and then eventually ours start playing one on one again.”

“I would try to play against Roy and Michaela and cry if I lost,” Marina added. “My mom would make them play with only their left hands and try to make it somewhat fair…but I stomped and cried every time I lost.”

Michaela has one story that comes to mind out of all of the pickup games the siblings played growing up.

“Last Christmas, when everybody was home, we went to the gym on Christmas morning. And it was Marina, Dara and Ryan — my little brother who’s 16.

“Marina always wins, she’s won almost every single year we’ve played. She always wins. And Ryan beat her this last Christmas. Me and my dad were on the side just laughing… They’re yelling at each other and they’re fouling each other. And my little brother Ryan ended up winning and Marina had a giant fit and it was so fun to just watch.”

While each sister had to deal with the pressure of being compared to an older sibling, Marina and Dara had to fight to escape Michaela’s shadow. Marina was apprehensive about choosing Notre Dame, as she wanted to make sure it was the right place for her. Dara, on the other hand, felt she had to differentiate herself from both older sisters.

“I was never compared to people in my class that I was playing against,” Dara admitted. “I was always compared to Marina and Michaela, which kind of stunk.

“Definitely, there was that added pressure my entire life. But I think people knew I was for real when I chose Virginia Tech, and they were like, ‘Oh she’s doing her own thing.’ That’s when they actually started taking it seriously.”

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Playing the game they love

“I just knew. When I came back from Virginia Tech I was like, ‘Oh my gosh I want to go there,’” Dara gushed. 

Instead of following in her sister’s footsteps to Notre Dame, Dara chose to go to another ACC school. In her freshman year, the 5-foot-7 guard averaged 11.2 points per game and was shooting 46.2 percent from beyond the arc. This year, Dara is averaging 12.7 ppg and is shooting 38.4 percent from three.

“I’m undersized, obviously, so I have to make up for it by playing as hard as I can,” Dara explained. “You can erase any mistakes when you do that. I’ve always been a believer in that, but what some people don’t know is that there’s a lot more where that comes from.”

“I’m just super proud of her and how she’s progressed the last year,” Michaela said of her sister. “I’m super excited for her and her career taking off a little bit more this year, and how their team is playing. They’ve got a really great team and Dara is a huge part of it.”

Michaela is no stranger to great teams, either, as part of the winningest class in Notre Dame women’s basketball history from 2012-2016. Marina was at Notre Dame from 2015-2019, overlapping with her sister for one year and being a part of the 2018 national championship team. 

“Winning the ACC championship together and everything like that, it was so unique,” Michaela said. “That year still to this day is one of the best years of my life, and to be able to share that with Marina.”

The oldest Mabrey sister thought about going overseas to play professionally after she graduated, but changed her mind “kind of last minute.” She had been told by different people that she’d make a great coach, so she tried it. 

“I love it, I love being back at Notre Dame and helping these girls just have the best experience on and off the court,” Michaela gushed. 

Marina went on to be drafted by the Los Angeles Sparks as the 19th pick in the second round, and averaged four points and 1.2 rebounds in 11.5 minutes per game in her rookie campaign. 

“For Marina, this has been her dream since I can’t remember how old… she is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever been around,” Michaela said, getting audibly choked up. “If she has a dream, she’s going to go get it. This has been something she’s talked about forever, being a WNBA player.”

The middle Mabrey sister is currently playing for TTT Riga in Latvia, where she is averaging 15.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 9 games. 

“I’m learning a lot about what it takes to be a pro here,” Marina explained. “I feel like I’m becoming a much better point guard because I’m working very hard every game to get my teammates involved and also understand when it’s time for me to contribute.”

Beyond her basketball skill, Marina is known for creating the “This Is My Kitchen” campaign.

“This is my kitchen campaign came about because people on Twitter would put down women’s basketball,” Marina explained. “They would make it hard for people to support us because of their disrespectful comments stereotyping where women belong, such as in the kitchen, cleaning or cooking. I got tired of reading it and of no one standing up for women’s basketball so I decided to.”

Her shirts gained the support of a wide variety of people, from NBA stars—such as Kyle Kuzma and Bradley Beal—to her teammates. Even the late legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gigi showed their support for the campaign.

“A lot of NBA players were in support of the movement and tweeted their support,” Marina said. “They reached out to me to have girls they know wear the shirt, so I’m happy that the world will spread that women’s sports deserve respect.”

Looking ahead

For the second year in a row, Dara will be up against one of her best friends. 

Marina was a senior at Notre Dame when Dara was a freshman, and the two faced off once, with the Fighting Irish handling the Hokies easily in an 80-51 win. Their parents sat in the stands wearing shirts that had the Irish on one side and Hokies on the other—Marina’s creation.

This year, Dara will face Notre Dame with Michaela on board as an assistant coach. 

”It’s definitely a unique situation,” Michaela admitted. “And, obviously, I’ve been watching Virginia Tech since Dara went there so I think I have a little advantage… But, I do my scouts the same every single time, whether we’re playing Dara or anyone else in the ACC. I think it’s just going to be an exciting moment for Dara and I.”

“Michaela’s a really good coach and it turns out, of course, that she’s scouting Virginia Tech. So she’s probably going to tell her players every single one of my weaknesses and how to defend it,” Dara laughed. 

Just as Dara didn’t follow her sisters to Notre Dame, she may not follow their career paths either.

“I’d like to do either [coach or play professionally], but if I can get a really good broadcasting job, I also might do that because I know that basketball definitely doesn’t last forever,” she said.

Marina is excited to get back to the Sparks in May and utilize what she’s learned overseas in her second year with the team. She’s excited to “earn more playing time, get better individually and become a better teammate.”

Michaela is focusing on how she can impact the women at Notre Dame both on and off the court, and is excited about the future of women’s collegiate and professional basketball.

“I think there’s a lot of attention that has stirred around women’s basketball the last few years,” Michaela said excitedly. “Even with the new rules that the WNBA put in and how much respect we get from NBA players, from men’s college basketball players. I think it’s just going to keep going up and up.”

“For women sports to reach the respect level of men sports, we’ll just have to keep pushing and give it time,” Marina added. “The WNBA is young compared to the NBA in years and we’re on track to be popular and start to strive towards much more popularity and attention.”

Virginia Tech’s Kerry Blackshear withdrawing from draft, could grad-transfer

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Kerry Blackshear is withdrawing from the NBA draft, but may not be returning to Virginia Tech.

The senior big man announced he would return to college Wednesday night, but that he is “still evaluating my options for my last year of eligibility and feel extremely fortunate to be in the position that I am in.

“I look forward to continuing my education and earning a Master’s degree while competing in the sport that I love as I continue working toward my goal of playing professionally.”

If Blackshear does opt to transfer, he’ll instantly become one of the most sought-after available players. The 6-foot-10 forward averaged 14.9 points and 7.5 rebounds while converting at a50.8 percent clip from the floor.

Mississippi lands junior college center

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One of the best available junior college players is joining Kermit Davis in Oxford.

Khadim Sy,  6-foot-10 center who started his career at Virginia Tech, committed to Davis and Mississippi on Monday, he announced via social media.

“First, I want to thank my parents and coaches for always being supportive and helping me get to where I am today,” Sy wrote. “Next I would like to thank God for giving me this opportunity. Lastly I would like (to) thank all the coaches who recruited me during this long process.

“All the time and effort was greatly appreciated and made this a tough decision. With that being said, I am blessed to announce I have committed to Ole Miss!”

Sy averaged 16.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game while shooting 55.1 percent from the floor this past season at Daytona State College, and picked the Rebels over Pitt and East Carolina. He spent his freshman season with Buzz Williams in Blacksburg, where he averaged 4 points and 2.7 rebounds in 11.4 minutes in 32 games as a freshman.

 

Jalen Cone reclassifies, commits to Virginia Tech

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Virginia Tech and Mike Young just got their first major victory on the recruiting trail.

Jalen Cone, a four-star point guard, is reclassifying from thee Class of 2020 to to commit to Young and the Hokies and join them for the 2019-20 season, he announced Thursday.

Hunter Cattoor, a three-star guard from Orlando, has signed with the Hokies, but Cone could provide immediate help and certainly gives a boost for Young going into his first offseason with Virginia Tech since leaving Wofford and taking over the program after Buzz Williams’ departure from Texas A&M.

“He really enjoyed the new coach and he really likes the system that the new coach runs,” his high school coach, Kevin Thompson, told Roanoke.com. “He can see himself flourishing in an open-court system like that and an uptempo game.

“Coming in with the new coach is … what he was excited about, being a part of … establishing the new culture for this coach.”

The 6-foot, North Carolina native Cone chose the Hokies over Baylor and Tennessee, which he visited earlier this month.

“He is an exceptional ballhandler and passer,” Thompson said. “He creates for a lot of his teammates because he garners so much attention with the ball and because he’s able to do so many things with the ball.

“He’s an electrifying, scoring small guard.”

Kevin Willard will remain at Seton Hall after turning down Virginia Tech

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Kevin Willard will stay the head coach at Seton Hall after listening to an offer from Virginia Tech.

After being linked to the Hokies after former head coach Buzz Williams took the job at Texas A&M, Willard will instead stay with the Pirates as Seton Hall is expected to give Willard a new contract with a raise. With Seton Hall potentially bringing back most of its roster from an NCAA tournament season, hopes are high for the Pirates in 2019-20 — particularly if guard Myles Powell returns after testing the NBA Draft waters.

“Didn’t want to leave my team,” Willard said to Jerry Carino of the Asbury Park Press. “I really enjoy this group. That was the reason.”

While Virginia Tech attempted to lure Willard away with more money and the draw of playing in the loaded ACC, the Hokies also haven’t had a lot of sustained basketball success until Williams turned the program around. Leaving the comfort of a good thing at Seton Hall would have been a risk for Willard as he’s guided the Pirates to four straight NCAA tournament appearances.

Now that Virginia Tech’s top target has said no, it’ll be interesting to see where they turn to next as they remain one of the better jobs still available in the 2019 coaching carousel.