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Duke shakes off loss, wallops Wake Forest

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DURHAM, N.C. — It took some time, but No. 11 Duke found the ideal tonic to recover from a tough-to-digest result.

Forward Jabari Parker scored 21 points, but the Blue Devils were slow to heat up before routing visiting Wake Forest 83-63 Tuesday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Guard Rasheed Sulaimon added 19 points, and guard Andre Dawkins came off the bench to score 17 points, allowing the Blue Devils (18-5, 7-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) to shake off any potential hangover from a loss in a wild game three nights earlier.

“I couldn’t wait to play,” Duke guard Tyler Thornton said. “That was a rough loss up there (at Syracuse). Trying to get to our next game was important to me.”

Forward Devin Thomas scored 14 points for Wake Forest (14-9, 4-6), which lost its third game in a row. Demon Deacons freshman guard Miles Overton scored a season-best 12 points, and forward Arnaud-William Adala Moto added 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Duke stretched its home-court winning streak to 29 games, tied for the longest run in the country.

The Blue Devils, who fell 91-89 in overtime Saturday in an epic clash with unbeaten Syracuse, haven’t suffered back-to-back regular-season losses in five seasons. The setback to the Orange was particularly disappointing.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said the Blue Devils had to “beat the emotion” of dealing with that result.

“All the plays from that game run through your mind,” Thornton said. “We wanted to get out there to have a good game and move forward.”

Duke’s depth appeared to be an important factor in the bounce-back victory.

“It’s keeping us fresh and everybody’s ready,” Duke guard Quinn Cook said. “When their number is called, everybody steps up.”

Duke, which made 15 shots from 3-point range at Syracuse, racked up 12 more Tuesday. Eight of those came in the first half.

“Every day after practice, we’re getting off a lot of 3s, and it’s showing,” Thornton said. “It’s paying off.”

Parker made eight of 10 shots from the field. He also grabbed a team-high eight rebounds.

The Demon Deacons were within 74-57 when Thomas fouled out at the 5:02 mark.

Duke built a 46-33 halftime lead after trailing for chucks of the opening half.

“They did a good job speeding up the court, and with the crowd behind them, they really got going,” Overton said. “We look forward to playing them at home. There are games before that, and we’ve got to get those.”

Blue Devils forward Rodney Hood was scoreless until breaking a 28-28 tie with eight consecutive points. It was part of a 12-0 run for Duke while Wake Forest was amid a stretch of turnovers on five possessions in a row. The Demon Deacons called two timeouts during that span.

“We hit a bad stretch there, and that gave them separation,” Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik said. “It shows you how important each and every possession is.”

Wake Forest went more than seven minutes without a field goal late in the half after connecting on nine of 13 shots from the field to start the game.

A couple of reserve guards had early impacts as well.

Dawkins scored nine consecutive points to tie the score at 16. He posted 12 of the Blue Devils’ first 22 points.

For Wake Forest, Overton hit three jumpers — including two 3-pointers — as his eight points helped the Demon Deacons take a 21-16 lead. Overton was within a point of his career-high total less than seven minutes into the game.

Dawkins and Sulaimon combined for 22 of Duke’s first 24 points.

Wake Forest led 7-2 with Thomas scoring the first seven points for the Demon Deacons.

Both teams altered their starting lineups, with Thornton in the mix ahead of Cook for Duke.

Wake Forest went with Adala Moto instead of forward Tyler Cavanaugh. Madison Jones shifted to point guard with guard Codi Miller-McIntyre out due to an ankle injury, while guard Coron Williams entered the starting lineup.

Cavanaugh, who scored less than six points per game in the last four outings, was a reserve for the first time this season. He finished with nine points.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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NCAA News Wire

SMU outmuscles Connecticut to take AAC title

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HARTFORD, Conn. — After a crushing omission from the NCAA Tournament last season, the 20th-ranked Southern Methodist Mustangs didn’t have any worries during this year’s Selection Show. They are dancing for the first time since 1993.

SMU’s deep and talented frontcourt frustrated the Connecticut Huskies on both ends of the floor, paving the way for the team’s first conference title in 27 years with a 62-54 win in the American Athletic Conference championship game on Sunday.

SMU earned a No. 6 seed and will face No. 11 UCLA in the South Region of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday in Charlotte, N.C.

“This is big for all of us,” said senior guard Ryan Manuel, “not just the seniors but it’s as big for SMU as a school, as a basketball program. When coach (Larry) Brown got here, he wanted us to put it back on the map, and I think we made great strides in that.”

UConn (20-14), the defending national champion, came into the AAC tournament needing four wins in four days just to return to the NCAA Tournament. After falling just short of their goal, the Huskies are headed to the National Invitation Tournament.

“It’s postseason play,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “If it’s NIT or NCAA, they’re going to learn from it and they’re going to come back better from it. I’m still coaching them the way I coach them, they’re still going to play the way they’re going to play.”

SMU (27-6) was expected to receive an at-large bid if it lost Sunday, but the victory guaranteed it a spot in the NCAA Tournament field after being one of the final teams left out last season.

“Last year at this time was about as disappointing as it could get,” Brown said. “Fortunately we’ve got another opportunity, and didn’t have to get anybody to decide whether we’re worthy or not.”

As it had all weekend long, it was SMU’s frontcourt that anchored the win.

The conference’s Sixth Man of the Year, Markus Kennedy, capped off a strong weekend by leading his team with 14 points, one of four Mustangs players in double figures. He earned the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player for his efforts. The 6-foot-10 junior and his fellow forwards helped SMU to a 43-30 advantage on the glass, with sophomore Sterling Brown pulling in 12 rebounds to lead the team.

Sophomore guard Rodney Purvis had 29 points and was the only UConn player in double figures in scoring.

“I was trying to be aggressive and take what the defense gave me,” he said.

For a while, it appeared this game would not be close. The SMU zone defense that Connecticut had carved up for 81 points just two weeks prior locked things down this time around, and the Mustangs took a 33-19 advantage into halftime by holding UConn to 5-of-24 shooting (20.8 percent) from the floor over the opening 20 minutes.

The Huskies, who made more than 53 percent from the floor and knocked down nine 3-pointers in that win, were just 2 of 13 from beyond the arc in that first half.

Usual leading scorer Ryan Boatright would manage just seven points on 1-of-12 shooting for the game.

“I’m just disappointed in my play,” he said. “I missed a lot of shots that should be easy knock-down shots for me. I didn’t show up and be the player I know I can be, I can be better than that. But my teammates fought, they played a tremendous game.”

UConn made it a game in the second half by doing similar things on the defensive end, thanks in large part to the presence of sophomore Amida Brimah. The 7-foot center, limited to just four first-half minutes because of foul trouble, played the entire second half, blocking seven shots during that time and altering numerous others.

The Huskies were able to get within five points with just over three minutes to play, but the Mustangs would hold on.

“He’s a shot blocker, so it made it a little difficult,” Manuel said about the difference Brimah made in the second half. “UConn, they have a tradition of coming back, and we knew they weren’t going to go down with a fight, so for us to stand there as a team and get the

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Alabama fires head coach Grant

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Alabama fired head basketball coach Anthony Grant on Sunday after six seasons.

The Crimson Tide struggled over the final two months of the season, finishing 18-14 and tied for eighth in the Southeastern Conference.

Grant, 48, won at least 20 games three times and made an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2012. His Alabama teams went 117-85, including two NIT appearances (2011 and 2013). He came to Alabama from Virginia Commonwealth University, where he went 76-25 and made two NCAA Tournament appearances.

“This has been a very difficult decision, as I have the highest respect for Anthony as a coach, as a molder of young men, and as a person,” Alabama athletic director Bill Battle said in a statement. “Anthony is a man of impeccable character who has been an excellent representative of our program. He has made tremendous contributions to our program and we always will be grateful for his efforts. Anthony, his wife Chris, and their children have been tremendous assets to our University and our community.

“In this business we are ultimately judged by wins and losses on the court and, for a variety of reasons, we haven’t made satisfactory progress in that area.”

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Kentucky routs Arkansas for SEC tourney title

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — No. 1-ranked Kentucky will take a perfect 34-0 record into the NCAA Tournament this week after thrashing Arkansas 78-63 in the Southeastern Conference tournament championship game Sunday at Bridgestone Arena.

The conference tournament title is the 28th for Kentucky, meaning the Wildcats have won more than half of the 55 tournaments.

“This team has a lot of dog in it,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “Good, hard fought game. Arkansas is a ranked team, but we kind of did our thing.”

Junior forward Willie Cauley-Stein, who was named tournament MVP, paced Kentucky with a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds. It was his first double-double since the Columbia game on Dec. 10.

Cauley-Stein was joined on the all-tournament team by twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison of Kentucky, Michael Qualls of Arkansas and K.T. Harrell of Auburn.

Andrew Harrison, a sophomore guard, scored 15 points. Twin brother Aaron Harrison had 11 points and six assists. Freshman guard Tyler Ulis added eight points and six assists.

Guard Michael Qualls topped No. 21 Arkansas (26-8) with 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting. Forward Bobby Portis had 13 points.

“Our guys came out and scratched and clawed,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “But at the end, I thought their depth and size were hard to overcome. If a team is going to beat them, you’ve got to make shots as well as match their energy.”

The finals pitted the top two seeds in Kentucky and Arkansas, but the Wildcats wasted little time proving that winning the regular season by five games was no fluke. Kentucky roared out to an 8-0 lead within the first two minutes, forcing Anderson to call an early timeout. Point guard Andrew Harrison scored six of the eight on a pair of 3-pointers.

“If the other team is angry, mad, hateful, jealous, the physiology of that is real close to fear,” Calipari said. “When a team comes in that way, if you can just play and that thing turns into fear, you separate yourself. Joy, the love of playing, always beats angry, mean, hateful, jealous.”

Arkansas managed to score five unanswered points after the break and eventually tied the game at 10-10 on a 3-pointer by Portis. The SEC player of the year had missed 16 of his previous 17 shots in the tournament before the basket.

The game was tied 19-19 with 10:18 to play in the first half when Kentucky caught fire, scoring 16 points in 5:05 for a 35-23 lead. Aaron Harrison scored six points during the 16-4 run on a pair of 3-pointers. He also assisted on two dunks by Cauley-Stein and a basket in the paint by sophomore center Dakari Johnson. Freshman center Karl-Anthony Towns accounted for the remaining four points.

All six Kentucky field goals during the run were accompanied by an assist, including three by Aaron Harrison. At the time, Kentucky was shooting 59 percent (13 of 22), including 5 of 6 on three-pointers.

Kentucky went on to expand the lead to 16 points by halftime, 41-25, meaning the Wildcats outscored Arkansas 22-6 over the final 10:18 of the first half.

Cauley-Stein led the way in the first half with eight points and eight rebounds. Aaron Harrison added eight points and six assists. Andrew Harrison scored six points.

Kentucky shots 51.9 percent in the first half, and 12 of the 14 baskets came via assists. The Wildcats were 8-for-8 from the free-throw line.

Arkansas, which never led, shot just 29 percent in the first half. Portis topped the Razorbacks with seven points. Arkansas had just two assists and five turnovers in the first 20 minutes.

In the second half, Arkansas managed to trim Kentucky’s lead from 16 to nine at 48-39 at the 11:55 mark. During that time, Towns picked up his fourth personal foul with 14:07 to play.

“We cut it to nine points in the second half, but we couldn’t get over the hump,” Anderson said.

From that point forward the two teams battled mostly to a draw before Kentucky pulled away late in the half.

Kentucky pushed the lead back 18 points at 6:10 thanks to an 11-2 run.

Kentucky’s largest lead of the game was 21 points, which came with 2:41 to play.

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