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Illini ride hot shooting to undefeated start

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Illini ride hot shooting to undefeated start

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) Illinois coach John Groce had a handful of questions about his team when it traveled to Hawaii for the EA Sports Maui Invitational.

Four wins later, he has some answers.

For starters, Groce said Friday he knows his team can take a punch and fight on. Hawaii opened a 13-point halftime lead that the Illini overcame in overtime for a 78-77 win. Illinois (6-0) then won its next three to take the tournament title.

Just a few months after essentially the same group of players melted down over a miserable stretch that led to the dismissal of coach Bruce Weber, Groce believes his team has a quiet resolve.

``We've got seniors that have been through a lot,'' Groce said of starters Brandon Paul, Tyler Griffey and D.J. Richardson. ``They stay very poised and very even-keeled. ... That's a part of our culture.''

Illinois dropped 13 of its final 15 games last season to finish 17-15 and miss the NCAA tournament. The losses piled up with such frequency that the players and Weber seemed powerless to stop the slide.

Not many people expected much this season out of the Illini, who host Gardner-Webb (4-3) on Sunday. They were picked to finish near the bottom of a strong Big Ten. And Groce himself has stressed that he doesn't yet have the players he needs to transition all the way to the fast-paced style he prefers.

But when his sharpshooters are on, the Illini can look pretty good.

Paul is averaging 19.7 points per game on 49 percent shooting, including an impressive 18 for 41 (43.9 percent) from beyond the arc. Sophomore point guard Tracy Abrams is averaging 14.3 points on 50 percent shooting, and Griffey is at 10.5 per game on 57.5 percent shooting.

And Groce isn't buying the idea that this year's Maui title means less this year because the field only included one ranked team, No. 9 North Carolina. Illinois didn't have to face North Carolina, either, taking on Butler in the title game after the Bulldogs took care of the Tar Heels.

The Illini made relatively easy work of Butler, winning 78-61.

``Call Roy Williams and ask him if he thinks Butler's any good,'' Groce said when asked about the quality of the tournament field. ``The teams we played were good. The environment we played in at Hawaii was tough. You have to be extremely mentally and physically tough to play Butler.''

Abrams, Groce said, understands the new offense in ways he didn't just three or four weeks ago. Paul, a sometimes streaky shooter who at his best can carry a team, is on and playing aggressively. And sophomore center Nnanna Egwu showed signs he might be able to offer Illinois the inside defensive presence it will need in the Big Ten.

The Illini are doing some other things right that they struggled with in recent seasons, including making 75 percent of their foul shots.

But Groce is wary of reading too much into a handful of early wins.

``Is that the end-all, be-all? Absolutely not,'' he said. ``We still have work to do - we've got to rebound better, we've got to foul less.''

Illinois was outrebounded in two of its wins on the Hawaii trip - 37-31 in the Butler game and an eye-opening 51-31 against Hawaii. And the Illini committed 26 fouls against the Rainbow Warriors, sending them to the line 31 times. If Hawaii had managed to hit just a couple more free throws than the 17 it made, it would have won.

``By no means,'' Groce said, ``have we arrived.''

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Follow David Mercer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidmercerap

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Machado homers as Orioles beat Rangers 6-5

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USA TODAY Sports

Machado homers as Orioles beat Rangers 6-5

For well over six seasons, Manny Machado's value to the Baltimore Orioles has been solely his ability to hit and play the field.

All that has changed, now that the Orioles are looking to receive a huge return for their All-Star shortstop in a blockbuster trade.

Machado homered before being removed on a wet day, Adam Jones hit a three-run double and Baltimore rallied past the Texas Rangers 6-5 Sunday.

Machado was taken out of the game in the fifth inning by manager Buck Showalter after a 26-minute rain delay. The move was designed to get their star player off a sloppy field, because the last-place Orioles are entertaining offers for Machado before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

"Obviously there's a different situation going on with Manny. You all know that," Showalter said. "That had a lot to do with it."

Plain and simple, the Orioles can't afford to have Machado get hurt. Now, more than ever.

"A month ago he wouldn't have come out of the game," Showalter acknowledged. "We know that. You know it."

After being replaced by Jace Peterson, Machado sat in the dugout, wearing a sweatshirt and joking with his teammates.

"I don't know why (Showalter) did it or not," Machado said. "He just told me, `I'm going to take you out. You had a good first half and go represent us well in the All-Star Game.'"

Machado is Baltimore's lone representative for Tuesday's showcase. He has spent his entire career in Baltimore, but his contract expires after this season and the Orioles don't appear interested in locking him up with a long-term deal.

"I'm going to the All-Star Game as an Oriole and as a shortstop. It's just always a blessing," Machado said. "I thank God. I thank my family for always supporting me, my teammates, the fans, the organization. I mean it's just been very incredible."

In a matchup between two teams staggering into the break, Texas got a first-inning grand slam from rookie Ronald Guzman but quickly gave the lead away in losing for the seventh time in nine games.

Machado ignited the comeback with his 24th homer, and Jones' bases-clearing double in the third off Mike Minor (6-6) put Baltimore ahead to stay.

"I'll be fine," said Minor, who yielded five earned runs in 2 2/3 innings. "I'll reflect a little bit and then get back to it."

The game ended when Texas pinch-runner Carlos Tocci was thrown out at the plate on a double by Elvis Andrus. Running from first base, Tocci was tagged out by catcher Caleb Joseph following throws by right fielder Mark Trumbo and second baseman Jonathan Schoop.

"Textbook," Showalter said.

Texas manager Jeff Bannister called it a "situation where they had to throw it on line to throw Tocci out. They executed well."

Tanner Scott (1-1), the first of four Baltimore relievers, earned his first big league win.

Zach Britton, another Oriole supposedly on the trading block, worked the ninth for his fourth save, the second in two days.

Texas broke on top when Miguel Castro issued three straight walks and Guzman sent a one-out drive over the right-field wall for his first career grand slam.

It was 4-1 in the third when Joseph hit an RBI double and Jones doubled down the left-field line following a walk to Machado.

Shin-Soo Choo homered in the seventh to get the Rangers to 6-5.

STREAKY

Choo opened the game with a walk, extending to 51 his single-season club record streak of games reaching base via a hit, walk or HBP. ... Texas' Delino DeShields went 0 for 3, stretching his hitless drought to 28 at-bats. ... Jones snapped a 1-for-16 skid with his third-inning double.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Rangers: RF Nomar Mazara was given the day off after hurting his hand Saturday night in the outfield.

Orioles: RHP Chris Tillman (back) was set to make his final rehab start Sunday for Triple-A Norfolk. ... INF Steve Wilkerson (oblique) and OF Craig Gentry (rib fracture) likely won't come off the DL before August, Showalter said. ... RHP Andrew Cashner (neck strain) will be activated from the DL on Saturday or Sunday to face Toronto, Showalter said.

UP NEXT

Rangers: The rotation after the All-Star break, beginning Friday against visiting Cleveland: Martin Perez, Bartolo Colon, Cole Hamels, Yovani Gallardo and Minor.

Orioles: After the All-Star break, Dylan Bundy will start at Toronto on Friday night.

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Murphy's big hit helps Nats beat Mets 6-1

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Murphy's big hit helps Nats beat Mets 6-1

Daniel Murphy and Trea Turner each hit a two-run single in Washington's five-run seventh inning, helping the Nationals beat the New York Mets 6-1 on Sunday.

Matt Adams added two hits and scored a run as Washington salvaged a split of its four-game set against New York. A preseason favorite to win the NL East and contend for a World Series championship, the disappointing Nationals hit the All-Star break with a 48-48 record, good for third in the division.

Jeremy Hellickson (4-1) pitched six crisp innings in his second straight win. The veteran right-hander allowed one run and two hits, struck out six and walked two.

Jose Reyes drove in Michael Conforto with a fielder's choice in the second, tying it at 1, but Washington grabbed control in the seventh.

Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon opened the inning with walks against Anthony Swarzak (0-2). Tim Peterson then came in and surrendered singles to Adams and Murphy, who came off the bench to hit for Michael A. Taylor.

Jerry Blevins replaced Peterson with two out and runners on second and third. But he hit Wilmer Difo and Adam Eaton before Turner's single gave Washington a 6-1 lead.

New York wasted a solid start by Corey Oswalt, who allowed two hits in five innings. The Mets got off to a fast start this year, but hit the break last in the division with a 39-55 record, a percentage point behind fourth-place Miami.

WAITING

A steady drizzle delayed the start by 47 minutes.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg (right shoulder inflammation) pitched 5 2/3 innings in a rehab start for Class A Potomac. He allowed three runs, struck out seven and walked one. Strasburg has been on the disabled list since June 10.

Mets: Yoenis Cespedes is scheduled to play five simulated innings in left field at the team's facility in Florida on Monday. Mets manager Mickey Callaway said the 32-year-old outfielder, who has been sidelined by a right hip flexor and strained quadriceps, could return as the designated hitter next weekend against the Yankees If he is able to play on consecutive days.

MAKING MOVES

The Nationals recalled right-hander Trevor Gott from Triple-A Syracuse. Right-hander Austin Voth, who took the loss in his big league debut Saturday, was sent back to Syracuse.

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