Ravens

Vols' Stokes hopes to build on big performance

Vols' Stokes hopes to build on big performance

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) This hasn't been the type of season that Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes expected.

Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin called Stokes an ``elite'' player before the season, but the 6-foot-8 sophomore forward has struggled to live up to that description. Stokes has encountered double-teams in the absence of teammate Jeronne Maymon, a former second-team all-Southeastern Conference forward redshirting this season with an injured left knee. He has been unable to avoid foul trouble.

``I definitely have been frustrated this season,'' Stokes said. ``This has been one of the most frustrating seasons, the way we've lost, getting two fouls early in a game and having to sit out an entire half. It's just frustrating. Double-teams and sometimes triple-teams, I haven't quite gotten used to it. I just didn't anticipate that coming into the season. I expected to get a double-double every game.''

Perhaps Stokes' breakthrough performance came Saturday.

Stokes scored 15 points, pulled down a career-high 18 rebounds and made a critical defensive stand in the closing seconds of a 54-53 victory over Alabama. That performance improved his season averages to 11.1 points and 8.1 rebounds, slightly above his 2011-12 totals of 9.6 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.

He had four fewer rebounds than Alabama's entire roster Saturday and didn't seem frustrated at all after carrying the Vols to victory. Stokes will try to build on that momentum Tuesday when Tennessee (10-8, 2-4 SEC) hosts Vanderbilt (8-10, 2-4).

Stokes' big game Saturday certainly caught the attention of Vanderbilt, which has the SEC's worst rebound margin. Vanderbilt guard Dai-Jon Parker said Stokes' rebounding totals against Alabama seemed like ``Karl Malone numbers.''

``If he's not the strongest guy in the league, he's certainly one of them and one of the strongest guys in the country,'' Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. ``And he knows how to use it. He knows how to position himself and use his body, and he's smart with it. Not only is he big and strong and athletic, he's intelligent in how he uses his strength. Anyway, it's a challenge to box him out for anyone, not just for us. He's a challenge for everybody.''

Stokes attributed his output in part to a shift in attitude.

He said basketball hadn't been as much fun for him as usual this season. That changed against Alabama.

``I think one of the hardest things for a college athlete is probably just to have fun while they're playing,'' Stokes said. ``Don't take everything as a business. It's not always (about) trying to please (the) coach. Just go out there and have fun. I think that game, I just had fun, and I think that was the result. Everything went my way.''

Not much had gone Stokes' way before Saturday.

Stokes hardly ever encountered double-teams his freshman year, but teams have routinely guarded him that way this season without Maymon around. Stokes has fouled out of four games. After Stokes fouled out of a 62-56 loss at Mississippi on Thursday, Martin contacted the SEC about the way Stokes was being officiated.

Martin was quick to point out plenty of other reasons Tennessee lost that game. Mississippi's Marshall Henderson scored 28 points. The Vols committed 21 turnovers and missed free throws down the stretch. But he also wanted to make sure officials weren't using Stokes' enormous size against him.

``With such a physical presence, just because he gets hit on the leg and you can't move him, it's still a foul,'' Martin said. ``He's a physical guy. Whether he's 5-5 or 6-10, a foul's a foul.''

Even when fouls are called against Tennessee opponents, Stokes hasn't always made them pay. Stokes is making just 52.6 percent of his free throws, which added to his frustrations.

Stokes put all that turmoil behind him Saturday. He was aggressive on the boards and assertive with the ball in his hands. He only had two fouls called against him.

If he can build on that performance, Stokes could lead Tennessee on a second-half surge. Tennessee has gone 7-0 in Stokes' career when he makes at least six baskets. Although junior guard Jordan McRae is Tennessee's leading scorer, he considers Stokes the focal point of the offense.

``I know what the numbers say, but you can look at Jarnell and if you didn't know anything about this team, you could look at our team and say Jarnell was probably one of the best players on the team,'' McRae said. ``The fact that he demands a double-team and so much attention is drawn to him, it helps everybody else.

``You can only imagine what he would do if he wasn't being doubled every night.''

---

AP Sports Writer Teresa Walker of Nashville, Tenn., contributed to this report.

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Justin Tucker kept the game ball from his first missed extra point

Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Justin Tucker kept the game ball from his first missed extra point

It's Draft Day, baby!

Before the 2019 NFL Draft gets underway Thursday night in Nashville, Tn, here's the latest Baltimore Ravens news.

Player/Team Notes:

1. The Ravens made a VERY smart move Wednesday by signing kicker Justin Tucker to a four-year extension that will keep him in Baltimore through the 2023 season. In seven seasons, Tucker has experienced the highest of highs, and just last year, the low of his first missed extra point Week 7 against the Saints. Memorable as it is something we rarely see from Tucker, the 29-year-old has that game ball on display as a reminder of the ups and downs of his career.

“That’s a part of my story, and I want to be able to look at that and realize that was a learning moment,” Tucker said. “It was, perhaps, a pivotal moment for me as a professional.”

“I think it’s incredibly important for any football player, any athlete, anybody, to learn form both your successes and your failures,” Tucker said.

2. The Ravens are making one very special fans' dream come true this weekend during the NFL Draft. Mo Gaba, a 13-year-old superfan who's been blind since he was nine months old and is battling cancer for the fourth time, will announce the team's fourth-round pick from the Ravens' Draft Fest at the Inner Harbor Saturday. Gaba will be the first person ever to announce an NFL draft pick in Braille. 

3. General manager Eric DeCosta will lead his first-ever war room Thursday night, but he won't be kicking former GM Ozzie Newsome out of his usual seat at the head of the table. 

“I’ve been in that seat for a long time,” DeCosta said via the Ravens' website.

“The other reason is Ozzie doesn’t like change a lot,” DeCosta said. “He still gets his hair cut on Friday, he’s on a treadmill three times a day. He only started using an iPhone about six months ago. No, that’s not actually true

“But he definitely doesn’t like change, and I just feel like if we moved his seat, he’d be really flustered.”

4. The Ravens are showing increased interest in Alabama running back Josh Jacobs, according to ESPN's Jamison Hensley. John Harbaugh did mention earlier in the offseason that the team could add another playmaker in the Ravens' backfield.

5. Free agent pass rusher Ezekiel Ansah reportedly visited the Ravens Wednesday. Drafted fifth overall in the 2013 NFL Draft by the Lions, the Ravens could use Ansah after losing Terrell Suggs and Za'Darius Smith in free agency.


Looking Ahead:

April 25-27: 2019 NFL Draft in Nashville, Tn.

May 3-6 or May 10-13: Potential three-day rookie mini camp

July 15: 4 p.m. deadline to get long-term deal done with designated franchise tag player

The 2019 NFL schedule is set!  See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

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The Capitals’ reign as Stanley Cup champions is now officially over

The Capitals’ reign as Stanley Cup champions is now officially over

WASHINGTON – This was not the way it was supposed to end.

The feeling after the Capitals’ Game 7 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday was one of shock. There is always an element of that when a team gets eliminated from the playoffs in overtime, but it wasn’t how they lost that made it so stunning. It was when.

“Everything can happen in a seven-game series,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “We all seen that. But right now it's just disappointing. We would've liked a better outcome. ... It's tough to swallow"

“We fight through 82 games and in Game 7, they score one goal and it’s a kind of situation where you’re disappointed, you’re frustrated, especially after last year,” Alex Ovechkin said.

After winning the Stanley Cup in 2018 and returning with largely the same core intact, returning as the defending champs to win the Metropolitan Division for a fourth consecutive year, no one envisioned Washington’s defense of the Cup and its quest to repeat to end in the first round. That was especially true when the Caps drew Carolina as their first-round opponent, a plucky team with a first-year head coach that made it to the playoffs for the first time in a decade.

It looked like a favorable matchup for Washington. It wasn’t.

“All series long it was a game of mistakes,” Brooks Orpik said.

The Caps took a 2-0 lead in the series, Carolina battled back to tie it 2-2. Washington won the all-important Game 5 to push the Hurricanes to the brink, Carolina responded by winning Game 6 to force the all-or-nothing Game 7. The Caps even jumped out to a 2-0 lead in Game 7 and yet the Hurricanes just kept coming.

In the end, the overtime loss was shocking, but not surprising. Carolina had taken control in the second period and never looked back. They fired the first nine shots on goal in overtime and were controlling the play over a Washington team that just looked gassed. The Caps needed to get a favorable bounce, otherwise it was only a matter of time before Carolina would finish them off and that was exactly what happened as Brock McGinn deflected in a shot for the overtime winner.

There are many reasons Washington ultimately lost this series, but it was for none of the typical reasons we see in most upsets.

This was not a case of a goalie standing on his head to completely shut down Washington’s offense. Petr Mrazek made some key saves at times, but ultimately finished the series with a .899 save percentage. Take away the six-goal blowout of Game 5 and Mrazek’s save percentage rises to .919. That’s better, but still would rank only sixth among goalie with at least four starts this postseason.

This was not a case of a superstar forward putting the team on his back and carrying them to the improbable upset. Sebastian Aho tallied five points in seven games, Teuvo Taravainen had four. Both had fewer points that Jaccob Slavin who had nine assists and Warren Foegele who scored an improbable four goals and two assists.

This was not a case of Washington’s best players not showing up. Alex Ovechkin scored four goals and five assists to lead the team with nine points. Right behind him was Nicklas Backstrom with five goals and three assists. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored only one goal in seven games, but his one goal came in Game 7 to restore Washington’s two-goal lead in the second period.

Washington finished with a 25-percent power play and an 88-percent penalty kill, bot respectable numbers.

The Caps lost Michal Kempny and T.J. Oshie – both significant injuries – but Carolina had a number of significant injuries as well.

Really, the biggest reason the Caps felt they lost is because they were out-played, out-hustled and out-worked.

“I think we were all guilty of some mistakes at different times that were maybe a little uncharacteristic of us,” Orpik said. “Two two-goal leads at home within the same game is kind of a tough one to swallow. I don’t know if unacceptable is the right word but you have to be able to maintain those leads, especially on home ice and this time of the year. We made mistakes but they played great all series so it wasn’t just us. Eventually you have to give them credit at some point.”

Now instead of preparing for the quick turnaround of playing and starting a second-round series against the New York Islanders on Friday, the season is over and the Caps are left to wonder what could have been.

Already eliminated in the first round were the Tampa Bay Lightning, Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets and the Nashville Predators, all thought to be Cup contenders. Heck, even archrival Pittsburgh was out. Alex Ovechkin was playing at the top of his game as he claimed his eight Rocket Richard Trophy after leading the league in goals yet again. That performance carried over to the postseason and he was brilliant in Wednesday’s game.

But despite how favorable the road in front of them looked for another Cup run, despite the unreal performance the team’s top stars were delivering, none of it ultimately mattered.

The only thing harder than winning a Stanley Cup is winning it twice. Perhaps to expect a second championship was unrealistic. But a first round exit felt too soon. This wasn’t how it was supposed to end for a team that had finally learned how to win.

The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs were already turning into the year of the upset. The Caps became the latest victim of that on Wednesday. And finally, a party that had begun in June 2018, came to an end officially meaning a new champion will be crowned.

“Every opportunity missed is devastating, really,” John Carlson said. “You only get to do this for so long and I've been fortunate to be on great teams. When you don't do well, it's more than we were up in a series or a game. It's everything. It hurts.”

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