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Kent St forces 7 TOs, upsets No. 18 Rutgers 35-23

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Kent St forces 7 TOs, upsets No. 18 Rutgers 35-23

PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) Defensive end Mark Fackler returned his second interception 25 yards for a touchdown, and Kent State forced five other turnovers in stunning No. 18 Rutgers 35-23 Saturday for its biggest win since its first game in 1920.

The Golden Flashes (7-1) had been 0-22 against ranked teams, but they ended the best start for Rutgers (7-1) since the Scarlet Knights were 9-0 in 2006.

Kent State intercepted Gary Nova six times and recovered a fumble to give the Mid-American Conference its second straight win over an undefeated Big East team. Toledo knocked off Cincinnati last week.

Spencer Keith threw touchdown passes of 1 yard to Zack Hitchens and 15 yards to Josh Boyle, the latter giving the Golden Flashes a 35-17 lead with 11:30 to play. Dri Archer, the nation's leader in touchdowns coming into this week, scored on a 7-yard run, and Trayion Durham tallied from 3-yards out.

Nova, the Big East's top offensive player last week, threw touchdowns of 19 yards to Tim Wright and 24 to Brandon Coleman. Jawan Jamison scored on a 2-yard run to cut Rutgers' deficit to 12 with 10:35 to play, but the Scarlet Knights never got closer.

At the final gun, Kent State players bumped chests, high-fived, and ran to the corner of the stadium to share the celebration with their few followers from Ohio who came to New Jersey.

Nova was intercepted four times in the first half, resulting in 14 points and a 21-3 Kent State lead.

The biggest play was made by Fackler early in the second quarter with the Golden Flashes leading 7-3.

Rutgers had just gotten the ball back when Lorenzo Waters blocked a 40-yard field goal attempt by Freddy Cortez, giving the Scarlet Knights the ball at its 29.

On first down, Nova went to throw a quick flanker screen. His toss down the line of scrimmage was intercepted with one hand by Fackler, who never broke stride and ran into the end zone to make it 14-3.

That seemed to change the tone of the game, and Rutgers never recovered. It also demoralized the homecoming crowd of 49,345 at High Point Stadium.

Nova moved Rutgers from its 29 to the Kent State 35 on the ensuing series. However, linebacker Luke Batton pressured him on second-and-10. Nova threw an ill-advised pass toward the goal line that safety Leon Green intercepted and returned 48 yards to the Scarlet Knights 45.

Seven plays later, Archer scored on a 7-yard run for a 21-3 Kent State lead.

The Golden Flashes allowed Rutgers to get back in the game in the final 59 seconds with a five-play, 83-yard drive that started with a 45-yard run by Jamison and ended with a 19-yard TD pass to Wright with :04 left in the half.

Rutgers had taken a 3-0 lead early in the first quarter when Nick Borgese, who again was filling in for injured Kyle Federico, kicked a career-long, 42-yard field goal.

The Golden Flashes came right back and took the lead with a seven-play, 67-yard march that was capped by a 1-yard pass from Keith to Hitchens, a defensive end playing on offense in the goal line formation.

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Wizards blow out Detroit Pistons to gain important ground in East playoff race

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USA TODAY Sports

Wizards blow out Detroit Pistons to gain important ground in East playoff race

The Washington Wizards beat the Detroit Pistons 101-87 on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Here are five observations from the game...

1. If the Wizards can keep up their recent winning ways and remain in the playoff mix at the end of this season, what they did on Monday could come in handy either for seeding or making the postseason altogether. 

They knocked off the Detroit Pistons to move into ninth place in the East, one spot outside of the playoff picture, and tied the season series at 1-1. The season series between the teams, ever-important for tiebreaker scenarios, will come down to their final matchup of the season on Feb. 11.

If Monday's game was any longterm indication, the Wizards should feel good about their chances to outpace the Pistons. They were the better team, offering a thorough beatdown on both ends of the floor. It helped the Pistons were missing Andre Drummond, but the Wizards are down three key players themselves.

Those injuries just haven't held the Wizards back like many expected they would. The Wizards are now 7-3 since they learned John Wall would miss the rest of the season due to left heel surgery. They moved to 20-26 on the year, the closest they've been to the .500 mark since Dec. 16.

2. The Wizards' defense has been something else recently. Despite arguably being the worst defensive team in the NBA overall this season, they have completely flipped the script in recent games. They came into this one boasting the eighth-best defensive rating over their past nine games.

It continued early against the Pistons who, to be fair, are among the worst offensive teams in the game. The Wizards allowed only 34 points in the first half, the fewest they have surrendered in any half this season. The Pistons shot just 30 percent from the field and 2-for-15 from three and had nine turnovers in the first half.

Those 34 points broke the season-low the Wizards set just last game against the Knicks in London, where they gave up 37 points in the second half in their win. That means the Wizards gave up only 71 points across four quarters, the equivalent of a full game. 

The Wizards' defense has been on point in recent games. Now, let's see if they can do it against the Warriors on Thursday.

3. Any concerns about the Wizards losing momentum from the London trip were quickly put to rest. Seven players reached double figures and shot a solid 45.6 percent.

Tomas Satoransky (nine points, eight assists, two steals) appears to be taking another step as a ball-handler. He is way more assertive attacking the rim that we had seen in previous years. On several occasions in this game, he blew past defenders and finished with spin moves around the rim.

Otto Porter Jr. (19 points) is also playing with more confidence, now in an increased scoring role. On numerous plays in this game, he called for the ball, sensing a mismatch, often against Jose Calderon or Luke Kennard.

4. Wizards head coach Scott Brooks remarked at Sunday's practice that he has been pleasantly surprised with how Trevor Ariza can fill up the box score. He said he knew the guy could play defense but didn't know he was so well-rounded as a scorer and in other areas of the game. 

Monday was a perfect example of that. Ariza finished with 20 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and zero turnovers. He shot 7-for-13 from the field, 2-for-5 from three and 4-for-4 from the line.

He also, of course, was instrumental in the Wizards' strong defensive effort. He continues to make the impact the Wizards hoped for when they traded him as a tone-setting pest on the perimeter.

It may have taken a few games for that to reflect in the standings, and he needs to get his shooting percentages up, but he has clearly helped change the team's DNA defensively and is no slouch on the offensive end, either. He is averaging 14.7 points through 16 games with the Wizards, about three more per contest than he was with the Suns.

5. The Pistons playing without Drummond allowed the Wizards to find a lot of success on the boards. In their last meeting, they were out-rebounded by the Pistons, 46-31, but this time they won the rebounding margin, 45-to-40. 

The Wizards have been among the worst rebounding teams in basketball this season, but when they commit to the glass, they are tough to beat. They are now 12-0 in games where they out-rebound their opponents.

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Alex Smith spotted at Wizards game wearing big apparatus on injured right leg

Alex Smith spotted at Wizards game wearing big apparatus on injured right leg

Alex Smith was at the Wizards-Pistons game on Monday, having scored some good seats in the owner's suite. The Redskins quarterback was spotted at Capital One Arena wearing a large apparatus on his right leg as he continues his long recovery from his mid-November injury.

In previous updates about his recovery, Smith's legs were covered and he was in a wheelchair. 

In this glimpse of Smith, he appeared to no longer require a wheelchair, or one wasn't seen in the box. Instead, he was sitting in a seat and two crutches were behind him:

The Redskins and Smith's family had previously asked for privacy during his rehab. Major questions remain about whether he'll play in 2019 for the Redskins, or ever again in fact, but at the very least it's good to see him out in public.

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