ACC Offseason Storylines to Follow

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on April 11th, 2018

With the 2017-18 season in the books, here are a few ACC storylines to follow over the next several months. 

FBI Investigation / NCAA Action

Last September the college basketball world was rocked by news that the FBI was sticking its nose into the seedy underbelly of the sport’s recruiting practices. Several prominent programs were identified as involved in pay-for-play schemes, with ACC members Louisville and Miami experiencing significant subsequent fallout from those allegations. The Cardinals, for example, fired Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino right before the start of practice, leaving inexperienced assistant coach David Padgett to lead the team to a disappointing NIT berth. Furthermore, the NCAA is expected to eventually revisit its sanctions against the Louisville program from the stripper scandal to determine if more penalties are warranted. At Miami, head coach Jim Larranaga saw his integrity questioned for the first time in his lengthy career, which may have affected his team’s performance on the floor which culminated in a forgettable 0-2 postseason. The greater impact of the FBI probe on the two schools has unquestionably been in recruiting – neither team has yet to sign a newcomer for the 2018-19 campaign, leaving incredibly thin rosters in place heading into this offseason.

Jim Larranaga has to rebuild his reputation as well as Miami’s roster in the wake of the FBI’s investigation into NCAA basketball recruiting. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

After the FBI case was initially made public, the implication was that many more schools and athletes would eventually be caught up in the government’s web of wiretaps, plea bargains and confessions. We didn’t hear any more information from the FBI until this week, however, when the government claimed that at least one member of the N.C. State coaching staff was allegedly involved in a cash payment to the family of Dennis Smith in late 2015. So far, all of the allegations involve schools and players tied to the shoe company Adidas, but if shenanigans related to Nike are also exposed, expect a number of prominent other schools (including ACC heavyweights) to be affected. While we wait on further developments in this expanding case, it’s already worth noting that the credibility of one of the FBI star witnesses as well as the conduct of one of its chief investigators has been called into question. Stay tuned.

Rule Changes – On and off the Court

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Loyola-Chicago 78, #9 Kansas State 62

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 24th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Atlanta for the South Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Loyola drove past Kansas State and is going to its first Final Four in 55 years.
(Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. This South Regional bracket may have been the wackiest quadrant in NCAA Tournament history. This year’s South Region has produced some historic results: the first #16 Seed (UMBC) beating a #1 Seed (Virginia); the first Sweet Sixteen without any top four seeds; lower-seeded teams winning more than 50 percent of the time (9-6). So it’s fitting that not only did we have the first regional final between a #9 seed and a #11 seed, but the mid-major Ramblers run Kansas State out of the building just like UMBC had done to top-rated Virginia a little over a week ago. Loyola was clearly the better team from the start, shooting 55.6 percent from the floor en route to a 12-point halftime lead. It was more of the same after intermission as Loyola sank 10 of its first 12 shots to build an insurmountable 23-point lead. The Wildcats made a gutsy comeback attempt but could no closer than 11 points the rest of the way as Loyola cruised to its first regional title in over 50 years. The Ramblers simply shredded the Wildcats’ defense — something that no other K-State opponent had been able to do in the tournament.
  2. All the standard cliches apply to this Loyola team. (1) “They are a very balanced team.” On the season, five Ramblers average double-figure scoring, but none comes in above 13.5 points per contest. (2) “Experience matters.” Among the top six in Porter Moser’s rotation, five are in their fourth year of college — three seniors, two redshirt-junior transfers. (3) “They have a winning mentality.” According to Moser, seven of his current players won state championships during their high school days. All three of these applicable cliches are represented by the fact that three different Ramblers nailed game-clinching jumpers in their first three tourney games — Donte Ingram (versus Miami), Clayton Custer (Tennessee) and Marques Townes (Nevada). No last-minute heroics were necessary tonight, though, as the confident Ramblers put together their most complete performance of the NCAA Tournament with a trip to the Final Four as a result.
  3. Kansas State’s Barry Brown is a tremendous defender. Brown is probably the most versatile shut-down perimeter defender we’ve seen in the NCAA Tournament since Butler’s Ronald Nored handcuffed opposing guards during the Bulldogs’ back-to-back trips to the title game in 2010 and 2011. In the first two rounds of this year’s tourney, Brown stymied Creighton’s Marcus Foster (5 points, 2-11 FG), and Jairus Lyles (12 points, 4-15 FG) of UMBC. Coming into the Sweet Sixteen, Kentucky’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was on fire, but Brown effectively doused his flames — Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 15 points, but only shot 2-of-10 from the field and committed five turnovers. And when three of his teammates fouled out late in that game, Brown (6’3″) moved over to check 6’9″ Kevin Knox and more than held his own. Tonight Brown guarded Custer for most of the night, holding the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year to just seven points and 2-of-8 shooting from the floor. But it didn’t really matter against the balanced Ramblers — others stepped up for Loyola and Brown couldn’t guard but one of them at a time.

Player of the Game. Ben Richardson, Loyola-Chicago. As we mentioned above, Loyola gets production from a number of different players with new guys stepping up game to game. Tonight it was the Richardson show from start to finish. Primarily known as a defensive stopper, the senior exploded for a career-high 23 points behind a blistering 6-of-7 from three-point land.

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Kansas State 61, #5 Kentucky 58

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 22nd, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Atlanta for the South Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Xavier Sneed led Kansas State in its upset over Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen.
(Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. The South Region delivers again. Kentucky was a heavy favorite in Atlanta and had heavy crowd support throughout the game, but the Wildcats were in trouble most of the way tonight. Kansas State exploded for an early 13-1 lead and took a four-point lead into the break. Then when it looked like Kentucky would blow past them midway through the second half, Kansas State spurted back ahead by nine. But to Kentucky’s credit, John Calipari’s youngsters kept fighting and clawed their way back yet again. The final push led to a riveting game-ending few minutes, with the lead going back and forth between Wildcats. With under 20 seconds to go and the score tied, Barry Brown made a clutch driving layup to put Kansas State ahead by three, but the game wasn’t decided until Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s three clanged off the back iron at the buzzer. That leaves us with the most improbable Elite Eight matchup we could ever imagine, which is par for the course in this year’s South Region.  
  2. Kansas State is a really good defensive team. It’s not a coincidence that every team that plays the Wildcats struggles on the offensive end of the floor. Kentucky came into tonight’s contest averaging 86.5 points per game in the NCAA Tournament, but the Wildcats couldn’t crack the 60-point mark against Bruce Weber‘s defense. For the game, Kentucky shot just 38.1 percent from the floor and went 3-of-12 from three-point land. The Wildcats in purple were giving up almost four inches per man against Kentucky, however, and it took its toll in the form of foul trouble. Three Kansas State players fouled out and two others finished with four violations, but the tough-minded Big 12 Wildcats hung on to win.
  3. Kentucky’s youth finally caught up with them. Against a physically inferior squad, the Wildcats wearing white made too many mistakes to beat a Kansas State bunch intent on not giving in. In the key moments down the stretch of this game, Kentucky may have felt the pressure of being the favorite — missing free throws (23-of-37 in the game), committing ball-handling mistakes (15 turnovers) and taking a number of questionable shots. Kentucky had been playing great over the last month of the season, but they looked young in the late parts of tonight’s game — failing to get a decent look on either of its last two possessions.

Player of the Game. Xavier Sneed, Kansas State. Sneed led the way with 22 points and nine rebounds despite fighting foul trouble for much of the night. He was particularly effective from deep, sinking more than half of his team’s threes by going 5-of-8 from behind the arc. 

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Loyola-Chicago 69, #7 Nevada 68

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 22nd, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Atlanta for the South Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Loyola-Chicago celebrates its Sweet Sixteen win over Nevada.
(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  1. What a game! It was billed as perhaps the least appealing contest of the Sweet Sixteen — some at Phillips Arena were calling it the JV game — but the excitement level more than made up for fact that two mid-major schools were involved. As is often the case in competitive tournament games, it was a game of big runs. Nevada stormed out of the gate and led by double-figures in the first half. Then Loyola responded with a major run of its own, outscoring the Wolf Pack by 24 points over a 17-minute stretch overlapping both halves to lead by 12. But Nevada wasn’t finished. Just as they had done against Texas and Cincinnati in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, Nevada came storming back to tie things up. Finally, behind Marques Townes, Loyola was able to respond and come out on top — winning its third straight nail-biter to advance to Saturday’s regional final.
  2. Loyola’s defense turned the game around. It looked like Nevada was going to blow the Ramblers out of the building in the early going. The Wolf Pack made five layups in the game’s first five minutes and led by 12 points after 13 minutes of play. But Loyola tightened up defensively and things shifted dramatically. One of the top three-point shooting teams in the country, Nevada made just 2-of-12 deep shots in the first half. The Ramblers also forced the nation’s best ball-handling team (lowest turnover percentage) into seven first half miscues. The Ramblers’ defense was the story of the first half, but Loyola’s offense took over after intermission. It looked like the 1985 championship game performance by Villanova, as the Ramblers were on fire — connecting on its first 13 field goal attempts after the break, mostly on layups.
  3. Nevada’s versatility causes match-up problems all over the floor. Eric Musselman only plays six guys for significant minutes, but all but one of those players is between 6’6″ and 6’7″. Most of them (especially Caleb and Cody Martin) are adept at ball-handling, passing and shooting. Also, Musselman — using his coaching experience at the professional level — is great at analyzing defenses in real time to create match-up advantages for his guys. Defensively, Nevada is able to switch almost all ball screens and to use its perimeter length to bother shooters from deep.

Player of the Game. Marques Townes, Loyola-Chicago. Townes led the way with 18 points, four rebounds and five assists this evening. His dagger three with seven seconds left and the shot clock winding down put the Ramblers up by four and basically ended the game.

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Kansas State 50, #16 UMBC 43

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 18th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Charlotte this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Kansas State swarmed Jairus Lyles and held off history-making UMBC.
(Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun)

  1. UMBC couldn’t follow-up Friday’s unbelievable performance just two nights later. Everything went right for the Retrievers in their historic upset of #1 Virginia on Friday evening. They shot the lights out from deep (12-of-24 three-pointers) and had great ball movement (16 assists on 26 made field goals) against the Cavaliers, but UMBC’s offense came back to earth this evening against Kansas State — the Retrievers only shot 29.8 percent from the field and committed 17 turnovers. Still, UMBC hung around for 39 minutes of tonight’s game by playing scrappy defense and battling hard on the boards against the much stronger Wildcats.
  2. It wasn’t always pleasant to watch, but it sure was fun. Even though both offenses struggled mightily all night, the intensity and tension level on the floor was very high throughout. Several times in the second half both teams went through scoring droughts simultaneously, making every possession critical. At times, Kansas State appeared to be feeling the added pressure of facing the #16 seed. The Wildcats coughed up the ball 11 times in the second half and took some very ill-advised shots. In the end, though, UMBC had several shot attempts to take the lead in the second half but could never drop one to cause Kansas State to crack.
  3. Kansas State is really good defensively, especially on the perimeter. The Wildcats held Creighton’s explosive offense in check on Friday night, limiting the Bluejays to 59 points and a woeful 26.5 percent three-point shooting night. It was the same story tonight for UMBC. Only two nights after putting up 74 on Virginia’s top-rated defense, the Retrievers managed just 43 points. The Wildcats aggressively switched on ball screens and dribble hand-offs, harassing UMBC’s shooters into a cold 6-of-22 follow-up performance from behind the arc.

Player of the Game. Barry Brown, Kansas State. Once again, Brown got it done on both ends of the floor tonight. He finished with a game-high 18 points and was a perfect 8-of-8 from the free throw line. Defensively, Brown collected two steals and was the primary defender on UMBC’s star Jairus Lyles. After torching Virginia for 28 points on Friday, Lyles only managed 12 points on 4-of-15 shooting from the field against Brown.

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Texas A&M 86, #2 North Carolina 65

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 18th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Charlotte this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Tyler Davis and Texas A&M pulled off another shocker in Charlotte by taking down #2 North Carolina.
(Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. This game suddenly turned halfway through the first half. North Carolina looked like it was rolling when it led by seven points after almost nine minutes of play, but then a series of events occurred that changed the course of the game. Tyler Davis began to assert himself in the paint — he logged 13 points and seven rebounds before intermission — Luke Maye went to the bench with two fouls, and North Carolina went ice cold from the field. The result was a 19-2 run that gave Texas A&M an insurmountable 14-point edge at the break. It was only more of the same in the second half. The Tar Heels kept missing jump shots — they finished a dismal 6-of-31  from three-point range — and the Aggies cruised to a surprisingly easy victory.
  2. The Texas A&M size and length bothered the Tar Heels. Not only did North Carolina struggle to score from distance, the Heels were not able to get much going with their bread and butter in the paint either. The imposing frontline of Texas A&M — led by Davis and Robert Williams — blocked eight shots (seven in the second half) and held North Carolina to 42.6 percent shooting on two-pointers. Additionally, the Aggies did a great job in keeping North Carolina off the glass. For the season, the Tar Heels have grabbed 38.2 percent of their misses (third nationally), but today they only managed to claim nine offensive boards for a very low rate of 17.3 percent.
  3. Once again TJ Starks shined against a senior point guard. After playing well on Friday against Providence’s Kyron Cartwright, the freshman Starks more than held his own against Joel Berry tonight. Starks scored 21 points and handed out five assists while also forcing Berry into a subpar shooting night (7-of-17 FG). What was supposed to be a weakness for Billy Kennedy’s squad has actually been a strength so far in the NCAA Tournament. For Berry (21 points) and fellow senior Theo Pinson (11 assists), it’s a tough way to close out their brilliant careers. They played in two straight National Championship games — winning one — but this simply wasn’t their night.

Player of the Game. Tyler Davis, Texas A&MIt was Davis’ surge in play in the first half that helped turned the tide of this game. He was instrumental in the Aggies’ domination in the paint, and finished with 18 points (7-of-9 FG), nine boards and three blocks.

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Rushed Reactions: #16 UMBC 74, #1 Virginia 54

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 17th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Charlotte this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

UMBC’s jubilation was one for the ages after becoming the first #16-seed to knock off a #1-seed in NCAA history. (Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. History has been made! Not only did UMBC pull off the biggest upset ever in the Big Dance, it did so handily. Virginia came in as the top overall seed in the tournament and the unanimous #1 team in both major polls, but the Cavaliers were totally outplayed. It’s not the first time Virginia has struggled in the first round as a #1 seed. Four years ago, the Cavaliers trailed Coastal Carolina by five at the half before coming back to win by 11. When the scored was tied at the half in this one, Virginia still seemed to be in good position. But UMBC stormed out of the locker room and immediately seized control of the game. It appeared that the Cavaliers got rattled, perhaps feeling the pressure of what was at stake. Even the vaunted pack line defense of Tony Bennett withered against the Retrievers’ attack, allowing uncontested layups and open threes. Regardless of why it happened, UMBC and Virginia will forever be remembered as the two participants when a #16 seed beat a #1 seed for the first time in NCAA Tournament history.
  2. UMBC was not overwhelmed by the moment. In the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in school history, UMBC didn’t flinch against the #1 team in the land. Calling on the same moxie they displayed in the America East conference tourney — they won the title on top-seeded Vermont’s home floor — the Retrievers battled the Cavaliers on even terms for most of the first half and then dominated the rest of the way. Much credit has to go to Ryan Odom for having his team believe it was possible and to the UMBC players for making it happen. To pull off the huge upset though, UMBC would need more than guts and confidence. They would also have to make a bunch of three-point shots and they did just that, sinking 12-of-24 from behind the arc.
  3. Is it possible that De’Andre Hunter meant more to Virginia than we thought? When it was announced that Hunter was going to miss the NCAA Tournament due to a broken wrist, it was a big loss for the Cavaliers. But we didn’t expect it to cause problems for Virginia so early in the tourney. Not to take anything away from UMBC, but the Cavaliers did not look the same without the ACC’s Sixth Man of the Year. It also didn’t help that Devon Hall had perhaps his worst outing of the season, scoring only two points on 1-of-9 shooting. Hunter’s absence probably also affected Virginia’s defense. Without their most athletic player available, the Cavaliers allowed the quicker Retrievers to penetrate the pack line repeatedly in the second half.

Player of the Game. Jairus Lyles, UMBC. The senior leader of the Retrievers came through with 28 points, including 23 after the half. Lyles was extremely efficient against the nation’s best defense — making 9-of-11 from the field and 3-of-4 from distance. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Kansas State 69, #8 Creighton 59

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 16th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Charlotte this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Bruce Weber and Kansas State shut down the potent Creighton offense.
(Ray Martinez/The Mercury)

  1. Creighton’s offense never got untracked. Boasting the nation’s 23rd-best offense, according to KenPom, the Bluejays suffered through one of their worst offensive nights of the season. Much of the credit for that goes to Kansas State. The Wildcats were aggressive throughout, limiting penetration while also defending the three-point line. For the game, Creighton shot just 33.8 percent from the field and only connected on 9-of-34 from deep. The Wildcats also forced the Bluejays into 13 turnovers — Creighton came into the game among the nation’s best in ball security, but couldn’t handle the Kansas State pressure at times.
  2. Kansas State used a small lineup to offset the loss of Dean Wade. When Wade couldn’t play — it was a game-time decision due to a foot injury — Bruce Weber needed multiple players to step up and that’s exactly what happened. Weber went with a four-guard lineup for much of the night and the Wildcats made it work on both ends. Their added quickness on the floor successfully contained Creighton’s guards, and on the offensive side, it created spacing and driving lanes. The biggest surprise among the supporting group was freshman guard Mike Mcguirl. Despite appearing in only eight prior games and scoring a total of 13 points all year, Mcguirl exploded for 17 points and sank 3-of-5 from behind the three-point line.
  3. Marcus Foster had a tough night. It’s hard to say how much of it was caused by the odd situation of this matchup — Foster was dismissed from Kansas State’s program after two years in Manhattan — but Kansas State’s defense deserves a lot of credit too. Foster went scoreless for almost the first 30 minutes of action and finished with just five points on 2-of-11 shooting. When Foster came out of the game in the closing seconds, Weber was very gracious in going over to shake his hand and give him a hug.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 North Carolina 84, #15 Lipscomb 66

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 16th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Charlotte this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Joel Berry II and North Carolina struggled early but eventually cruised past Lipscomb.
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

  1. It took North Carolina awhile to get going but the game ended up like we thought it would. North Carolina did not look good for the first 16 minutes of this game. At that point, Lipscomb led the Tar Heels by two points and had outplayed them by forcing a number of turnovers (eight). But a 12-1 North Carolina run to close out the first half changed the game for good. Lipscomb never seriously threatened to make it a game again as North Carolina methodically pulled away. However, Roy Williams knows North Carolina can’t afford to play so poorly for another half in this NCAA Tournament or that will be the end of their dream of back-to-back National Championships.
  2. The Tar Heels got solid performances from their secondary players. For North Carolina to make it to San Antonio, the Tar Heels’ stars — Joel Berry, Luke Maye and Theo Pinson — must play well, obviously. But Roy Williams will also need major contributions from their supporting cast each game. Today, the Tar Heels got offensive production from Kenny Williams (a game-high 18 points) and Cam Johnson (12 points) as well as encouraging play from their young bigs. Sterling Manley took advantage of his size  to post six points and 10 boards, while fellow freshman Garrison Brooks tallied seven points on 2-of-3 shooting.
  3. Lipscomb acquitted itself well in its first ever NCAA Tournament appearance. The Bisons gave North Carolina all it could handle early, even holding a lead late into the first half. Lipscomb hurt the Tar Heels from three-point range, sinking four of its first eight attempts, but after that initial burst from deep, the Bisons missed their last nine tries of the first half. The smaller Lipscomb competed well on the boards too, holding the taller Tar Heels to just three offensive rebounds in the first half. In the end, North Carolina’s talent was just too much, however, for the Bisons.

Player of the Game. Theo Pinson, North CarolinaAs usual, Pinson did some of everything, scoring 15 points, snatching 10 rebounds, dishing seven assists and recording a block and a steal.

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Texas A&M 73, #10 Providence 69

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 16th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Charlotte this weekend.

Andy Kennedy used his dominant frontline to beat Providence in the NCAA First Round. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Texas A&M’s size was a big problem for the Friars. The Aggies start three players that are at least 6″9″ and they controlled the paint for most of the game against the smaller Providence frontcourt. The two biggest Aggies — Tyler Davis and Robert Williams — each posted a double-double and combined for 27 points and 29 rebounds this afternoon. Overall, Texas A&M finished with a decisive edge on the boards (+18) and its bigs protected the rim (8-0 advantage in blocks). Credit Providence for how hard they played, but the Friars couldn’t overcome that disadvantage up front.
  2. Providence is not good at shooting the ball. The Friars have struggled to make shots all year (49.6% effective FG rate – 219th in the country) and today was no different. Except for a brief stretch midway through the second half when they made three consecutive three-pointers to erase an eight-point deficit, Ed Cooley’s guys couldn’t find the range. Texas A&M played a mixture of zone and man-to-man to keep Providence off balance. For the game, the Friars shot only 43.5 percent from the field and were just 6-of-20 from behind the arc.
  3. TJ Starks held his own in the point guard battle. This was the one spot on the floor that Providence looked like it had a clear edge — senior Kyron Cartwright versus freshman TJ Starks. But Starks played well enough that the matchup turned out to be a draw, which was a big plus for Billy Kennedy. Starks did struggle at times with the Friars’ pressure — finishing with six turnovers. But he more than made up for that by posting 15 points and dishing eight assists. His counterpart Cartwright closed out his career with 11 points, nine assists and two steals.

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