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Mountaineers get defensive down the stretch in 56-53 victory over No. 15 Connecticut

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia’s free-throw shooting has been a problem over the first month of the season.

The Mountaineers entered Wednesday’s matchup against No. 15 Connecticut No. 317 in Division I at just under 65 percent from the line, and the problems continued with a 12 of 27 performance in the matchup against the Huskies as part of the Big East-Big 12 Battle.

Yet it was a missed foul shot that proved to be perhaps the play of the game for the Mountaineers in their 56-53 victory before 12,045 at the Coliseum.

With West Virginia leading 52-51 with 21 seconds left, guard Taz Sherman stepped to the line and made his first attempt to double the lead. Sherman’s second free throw was off the mark, but Gabe Osabuohien snuck in for the offensive rebound, allowing Sean McNeil to make two free throws for a four-point advantage.

“Gabe’s rebound was the play of the game by far,” McNeil said.

Sherman echoed that thought.

“That play shows up as an offensive rebound, but it’s way bigger than that,” Sherman said. “Without that offensive rebound, you don’t know what type of game is next. That was a big-time play.”

Isaiah Whaley scored on a follow-up with 7 seconds remaining to the cut the Huskies’ deficit to two, before McNeil split two free throws.

RJ Cole’s last-second 3-point tying attempt missed, allowing the Mountaineers to prevail.

Following his 908th career win, WVU head coach Bob Huggins said he gave no thought to fouling in the final seconds to prevent the Huskies from having a chance to tie it on a triple.

“The way they offensive rebound it with their athletes, that didn’t make any sense to me at all,” Huggins said. “Too many bad things happen. I know that because I’ve done this for 40 years and done some really stupid things.”

Huggins elected to utilize a 1-3-1 zone down the stretch and it ultimately turned the game in the Mountaineers’ favor.

After Whaley’s dunk put the Huskies (8-2) up 47-43 with just inside 8 minutes remaining, UConn managed only two more field goals the rest of the way, and neither were in half court offense.

“[Associate head coach Larry Harrison] said last week maybe we ought to bring a 1-3-1 out,” Huggins said. “We were playing point drop and it hadn’t helped us any. Nobody has seen it for two or three years, so we figured let’s give it a shot. We have the personnel to do it. [Dimon Carrigan] on top is really good because he’s so long and Gabe just eats everything up. It seemed like the right thing to do.”

Consecutive baskets from close range by Sherman and Pauly Paulicap allowed WVU to tie it at 47 with 6:47 remaining, before Andre Jackson’s breakaway dunk off a steal gave UConn a one-point lead with 4:34 to play.

Jordan Hawkins made 2-of-3 free throws to stretch Connecticut’s lead to three, but the Mountaineers (8-1) pulled even again on the strength of one Kedrian Johnson free throw and Sherman’s driving bucket.

The Huskies’ endured a drought of nearly 4 full minutes after reaching the 51-point mark, while Paulicap broke the tie by making 1-of-2 free throws with 3:06 to play.

Trailing by one, Connecticut missed three shots on one possession out of a timeout, the last of which was a Tyler Polley 3-pointer early into a reset shot clock on a contested attempt from the corner.

“That’s situational basketball there,” UConn head coach Dan Hurley said. “It was so frantic a situation and he kind of just took a panic shot.”

Jalen Bridges ultimately rebounded that miss to get the ball back to West Virginia, and though it didn’t have to, Connecticut fouled Sherman with 21 seconds remaining.

The biggest lead for both teams was five points, with WVU reaching the mark on separate occasions, the latter of which came on a Paulicap basket that made it 38-33.

Cole made two straight triples to start a 10-0 run that left the Huskies with a 43-38 lead at the midway point of the second half, but they managed only four baskets and 10 points the rest of the way.

“We turned up the defense a little more and created turnovers,” Sherman said.

The entire first half was played within four points, with the Mountaineers’ 9-5 advantage the largest lead for either team, before WVU settled for a 32-29 halftime advantage

McNeil, who missed Saturday’s win over Radford with a lower back injury, scored 13 of his 16 points in the opening half.

“It was good to see them go through and good to get the win,” McNeil said. “Basketball is a game of runs. They threw punches and we threw punches, but luckily we came out on top.”

Sherman, who led all players with 23 points, also had 13 in the first half. It marked the seventh time in West Virginia’s nine games Sherman has led the contest in scoring.

Osabuohien finished with six points and seven rebounds. He was 2-of-8 on free throws and Huggins pulled him from the game following an ill-advised 3-point attempt in the second half.

“He knows better than to shoot the three,” Huggins said. “He was tired and he was frustrated because he had just missed two free throws.”

The Huskies made only 3-of-21 attempts from 3-point range and were 1 of 13 excluding Cole.

Whaley led UConn with 15 points, while Cole had 14 and Jackson scored 10.

With Connecticut missing its second and third-leading scorers — Adama Sanogo and Tyrese Martin —  to injury, Hawkins played an expanded role, but missed all seven of his shots and was held to two points.

Connecticut held a 35-31 rebounding advantage, but had 16 turnovers to West Virginia’s 12.

“Both teams played incredibly hard, which made the game really ugly,” Hurley said. “A real physical defensive struggle. Our undoing was some lack of discipline at the defensive end where we put them at the foul line. They did us a favor back by missing a lot, but 3-for-21 is a tough one. Eight, nine or ten of those were pretty good looks, and if we make a couple of them, we come out with the win.”

Bob Huggins postgame press conference
WVU players postgame press conference

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WVDE releases preliminary report on students experiencing homelessness

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) has released a preliminary report on the population of children experiencing homelessness.

The report, which was the initial work of a legislatively directed study to review provided services, identify service gaps or barriers, and recommend statutory changes needed to overcome the service gaps or barriers, showed data from school year 2015 to school year 2021.

Melanie Purkey, the executive director of the state Department of Education’s Office of Federal programs presented the information in front of the state School Board of Education on Wednesday.

“If you look at the total at the end, we did drop about 900 students in the count from the 2019-2020 school year to 2020-2021,” she noted.

9,508 students were reported to be experiencing homelessness during this school year, down from 10,417 last year. Purkey said factors to the drop may include virtual schooling and schools have not communicated with students are on their current status while remaining on virtual education.

Purkey also said one school system, Jefferson County, showed a drop of 400 students experiencing homelessness because of miscommunication on how to define the situations. Jefferson remained the county with the highest number of students experiencing homelessness at 788. Kanawha County was second with 749 students.

VIEW: WVDE homelessness report for 2020-2021 school year

The WVDE broke Primary Nighttime Residence into four categories for a student experiencing homelessness: doubled-up, shelters, unsheltered and hotels/motels.

Doubled-up: Sharing housing of other persons due to economic hardship, loss of housing or other reasons (such as domestic violence)

Shelters: Transitional living shelter, domestic violence shelter, youth shelter, or family shelter

Unsheltered: Including living in cars, parks, campgrounds, temporary trailers including FEMA trailers, or abandoned buildings (substandard housing)

Hotels/motels: Hotel, motel, or similar accommodations

The data showed the majority of students in the state, 86.7%, are experiencing doubled-up residence.

“When people hear students experience homelessness, they think they are living on the streets and they are not. They are living in doubled-up situations, multi-family situations where it’s still considered inadequate because the space and accommodation don’t meet the needs of all the people living in that situation,” Purkey said.

7.4% of students are in shelters while the another 5% are unsheltered or in hotels/motels.

The WVDE is working in collaboration with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources to conduct the study. The preliminary report and latest counts of students experiencing homelessness can be found on the McKinney Vento section of the Department’s website.

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State school board approves closure of Fayette County elementary school

GAULEY BRIDGE, W.Va. — The state Board of Education has approved the closure of Gauley Bridge Elementary in Fayette County.

During its Wednesday meeting, the board approved the closure and consolidate it with Valley PK-8. Board members nothing this was a part of the county’s plans for 2020-2030 that was approved by the body in January.

“If we had an expanding enrollment, it would be a different situation. but we don’t, it’s been declining for decades,” board member Tom Campbell said.

Enrollment was one of the main factors for closure as it’s been on the decline for several years. The Register-Herald in Beckley reported in November that enrollment sat at 77 in Oct. 2020 and the enrollment when the closure document was prepared had fallen to 52. The final report given Wednesday noted the school is down to 48 students.

Closure hearings were held both at Gauley Bridge and Valley PK-8 in early November and the Fayette County School Board approved the closure November 4, in a 5-0 vote.

Fayette County Superintendent Gary Hough noted the decline in enrollment and said in some cases, parents have already began the transition to Valley PK-8 in Smithers.

“The only school that was remaining in the valley was Gauley Bridge. If you look at the numbers and the way they dropped, what happened was parents making those choices,” Hough said.

The county says the request will improve academic offerings, operational costs and overall efficiencies. The county the cost of repairs to the 45-year old building would not be worth finances.

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WVU releases COVID-19 return to campus plan for spring semester

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia University has set its COVID-19 campus health and safety protocols for the second semester, which is set to begin Jan. 10.

The most notable change in policy will be in testing, where unvaxxed people had previously been required to undergo random surveillance testing. This will not be the case in the spring.

The COVID-19 protocols will be re-evaluated as additional information becomes available relating to the omicron variant, the consideration of the FDA by new therapeutic medicines, as well as levels of infection and hospitalization as we move closer to the spring semester, a release said.

“It is important, even though we may be weary of the pandemic, that we do not let down our guard,” said Dr. Jeffrey Coben, dean of the School of Public Health and associate vice president for Health Affairs in a release.

“We have had success to this point in mitigating the impact of the virus on our campuses because our faculty, staff and students have taken this threat seriously, and I urge that we continue to take care of ourselves and each other. Please consider getting fully vaccinated, including a booster dose if applicable.”

The spring semester will include a traditional Spring Recess March 12-20. Details about assigned seating and seating charts for contact tracing purposes will be shared with faculty and instructors in the coming weeks.

Protocols were highlighted by WVU on Wednesday in a news release.

Mask protocols:

At this time, masks will continue to be required for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, in all classrooms, labs or any WVU System facility or building being used as a classroom.

Masks are expected, but not required, for those who are unvaccinated against COVID-19 in all indoor settings as well as outdoors where large groups are gathered. Additionally, masks will be required, regardless of vaccination status, for passengers on the PRT and WVU buses through March 18, 2022, under updated federal guidelines from the Transportation Security Administration.

Masks may also be required in clinical and patient care areas of the Health Sciences Campus.

COVID-19 module for new, incoming students

New students starting at WVU this spring are required to take the COVID-19 education module by Jan. 9, 2022. Those who are returning this spring do not need to retake the module. Those required to take the module will receive an email soon from [email protected] with more information on how to complete the module. Please check junk and spam folders for expected emails that have not been directed to the inbox.

Vaccines:

WVU continues to strongly urge everyone to be fully vaccinated and to get a COVID-19 booster. Employees and students, especially new students starting this spring, are asked to verify their vaccine status at http://myhousing.wvu.edu.

Those on the Health Sciences Campus involved in patient care, including residents, fellows and students, are required to follow separate WVU Health System or other clinical provider’s policies, including those related to COVID-19, such as masks, PPE and vaccinations.

Some faculty, staff and students working on or in connection with certain federal contracts may be required by executive order to be vaccinated. Questions may be directed to [email protected]

WVU Medicine Student Health has the Pfizer vaccine available for WVU students at its clinic in the Health and Education Building. Walk-in appointments are offered during regular business hours (Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.).

The Monongalia County Health Department is offering free vaccinations by appointment on most days at its facility at 453 Van Voorhis Rd. Anyone who wishes to be vaccinated can call the MCHD at 304-598-5119 to schedule an appointment.

Vaccines will continue to be offered on the Morgantown campus one day a week in partnership with the MCHD. More details will be shared in the coming weeks.

Other vaccination opportunities can be found at vaccines.gov.

Testing and monitoring:

Due to high vaccination verification rates, WVU will not conduct or require campus-wide COVID-19 testing at the start of the semester. Any sample/surveillance testing during the semester will be based upon situations as they arise.

Testing will be available in partnership with the MCHD which will continue to offer community testing opportunities for the WVU community. Visit https://www.monchd.org/ for more information.

For personal safety and the safety of others, students and employees should not ignore symptoms of COVID-19; those with any symptoms of COVID-19 should not report to campus for work or class.

All WVU community members are required to report if they test positive for COVID-19 or are quarantining due to suspected or known exposure to COVID-19. In Morgantown, students and employees should report their positive results to [email protected]

Testing and vaccination information for WVU Tech students and employees are available on the Beckley Return to Campus website.

Similarly, testing information for students and employees at WVU Potomac State College can be found on the WVU Keyser Return to Campus site.

Isolation and quarantine procedures:

The University continues to implement isolation and quarantine procedures on campus. Students living in the residence halls who have COVID-19 will be isolated in Gaskins House.

WVU’s public dashboard will be updated to report the vaccination verification rate on a biweekly basis for the Morgantown, Beckley and Keyser campuses. WVU COVID-19 case counts and testing information will not be reported on the dashboard due to the change in testing strategy.

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Appeals court denies Don Blankenship’s push to have his mine safety conviction overturned

A federal appeals court has denied former coal executive Don Blankenship’s attempt to overturn his 2015 conviction that led to a year in jail.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued its order Tuesday, siding with an earlier ruling by U.S. District Judge Irene Berger. The case was heard by appeals judges Paul Niemeyer, Albert Diaz and Marvin Quattlebaum.

Blankenship was found guilty of a misdemeanor mine safety conspiracy charge related to the 2010 explosion of the Upper Big Branch mine that killed 29 workers.

In his appeal, the ex-coal mine operator cited memoranda of interviews of Massey Energy employees that had not been disclosed as evidence in preparation for the trial, along with documents that he contended demonstrated bias by federal regulators.

The appeals judges, like the district judge before them, said the material that was withheld represented a serious matter. But they concluded that material would not have affected the outcome of the trial.

And the appeals judges questioned the wisdom of emails by federal safety regulators but said the communications did not reflect bias by the agency itself.

“The circumstances that have brought us to this point in the prosecution of Blankenship are not flattering to the government, and Blankenship’s protest is not a frivolous one,” the appeals judges wrote.

“Nonetheless, we conclude that the suppression at issue — both with respect to the individual categories of documents and when they are considered cumulatively — does not undermine confidence in the verdict. The verdict that Blankenship conspired to willfully violate mandatory mine standards was supported by ample evidence, and there is not a reasonable probability that the jury’s conclusion would have been altered by the documents’ disclosure.”

The explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine was one of the country’s worst mining disasters. The Mine Safety and Health Administration concluded that flagrant mine safety violations, including failure to properly maintain ventilation systems and allowing a dangerous buildup of methane, contributed to the conditions leading to the explosion.

At his trial, prosecutors explored whether Blankenship had willfully failed to address numerous notices of mine safety violations, focusing on production and profits over safety.

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Big 3 challenging decision to combine city-county opioid cases in global trial

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The “Big 3” opioid distributors want the state Supreme Court to stop a state trial set for next summer where 63 municipalities and counties in West Virginia will claim the companies are liable for the opioid epidemic.

Rusty Webb

Attorneys for AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson filed a petition this week with the High Court seeking a writ of prohibition. The companies are challenging a decision by the judges on the state’s Mass Litigation Panel to combine the lawsuits from the cities and counties.

Attorney Rusty Webb, who represents several of the cities and county commissions, says the drug distributors want separate discovery and separate trials.

“They want to receive individual discovery from all of the individual plaintiffs from which there are 63 in the state court system and not to conduct this global trial on liability in West Virginia,” Webb said.

The MLP has scheduled the trial for next July.

MORE Read petition here

The petition asks three questions of the High Court claiming the MLP has committed clear legal error and has exceeded its power.

Webb said the plaintiffs are making similar claims and the panel was correct in combining the cases into one trial. He said any attempt to separate them would just slow things down.

“Any delay is going to be a big delay. Both sides need the full six months to litigate the issue. We need the entire time, we can’t take any of that time off,” Webb said.

Phase 1 of the cases in state court focuses on liability. A Phase 2 trial will focus on damages.

Webb expects the High Court to rule on the petition in the near future.

Meanwhile, the three distributors are awaiting a verdict from U.S. District Judge David Faber in the case filed by the City of Huntington and Cabell County. That federal nuisance trial was completed earlier this year.

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Georgia man dies in I-79 crash in Braxton County

BURNSVILLE, W.Va. — A Georgia man was killed in a two-vehicle crash Wednesday morning on Interstate 79 in Braxton County.

According to state police, Donte Mapp Jr., 35, of Eastman, Georgia, was in an SUV that collided with tractor trailer at about 7:30 a.m. in the southbound lanes two miles north of the Burnsville exit.

Troopers said Mapp died at the scene. Two other people in SUV and the truck driver were taken to the hospital but their injuries weren’t believed to be life-threatening.

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Ohio Valley University students face uncertainty after being told of school’s closure

VIENNA, W.Va. — Students at Ohio Valley University in Vienna are scrambling trying to determine their next steps following a life-altering decision that’s been made by the university.

OVU, a Christian university that’s been offering classes for 63 years, will close Friday. The school’s board has decided not to offer second semester classes.

OVU President Michael Ross

OVU President Michael Ross sent a letter to the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission Tuesday.

“We find ourselves in an extremely difficult financial situation and know that we have work to do to complete the current semester,” Ross wrote in the brief letter. “We do not make this decision lightly and realize the work ahead to meet the needs of our students is priority.”

Fifth-year senior Jamison Hunt of Ripley and other OVU students were told of the decision by Ross in a Tuesday meeting. Hunt tells MetroNews the meeting was very emotional.

“I know there were some pretty upset people in the meeting. There’s still a lot of uncertainty,” Hunt said.

Jamison’s playing career is over with OVU closing down, had a great 18 yrs spending time together in the gym and traveling around the USA, excited to see what God has planned for his coaching future. @JamisonHunt0 pic.twitter.com/ErbGG5rF55

— Steve Hunt (@stevehunt30) December 8, 2021

Ross told the students, faculty and staff that the school has basically run out of money.

Hunt, who has been at OVU for two years, knew there were financial struggles.

“OVU staff, teachers and coaches have struggled to get paid,” Hunt said. “That was a main concern that I had for our coaches. They’ve put in a lot of time and haven’t been getting paychecks.”

MORE read Ross letter to HEPC here

Hunt said Ross also told students OVU is hoping to work with other schools to get credits transferred. Hunt said there are also questions about student visas. He said OVU has students representing about two dozen different countries.

Hunt plays basketball and because of Tuesday’s announcement, OVU played its final game of the season Tuesday night. It lost to Salem 116-53.

“I don’t think a lot of players’ minds were in the right place. It was a pretty emotional night knowing that for me and a few other guys on the team it’s the last time we’re ever going to play,” Hunt said.

The HEPC will take up Ross’ letter at its meeting Friday. The commission was set to decide whether OVU would be allowed to confer degrees.

Hunt, who is set to graduate this semester, said he doesn’t blame Ross or the school’s board for the financial woes.

“I think people fail to realize the president and trustees tried to keep it open but at the end of the day there’s not a lot they can do,” Hunt said. “When Ross came the school was already struggling.”

Ross made no indication that OVU would one day reopen. Hunt said that would be a shame.

“It’s a really loving place. The professors, staff, even the president, some may not think it, I know he cares for us. You can tell he was really emotional about having to shut down,” Hunt said.

Friday’s HEPC meeting is set to start at 10 a.m. at the West Virginia Regional Technology Park in South Charleston.

OVU has about 170 students.

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Union leaders urge WV BOE to give teachers, students mental health break

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Leaders of the state’s largest teachers unions are urging the state Board of Education to step in and give teachers and students a mental health day.

West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee and American Federation of Teachers West Virginia President Fred Albert made the plea Wednesday during the BOE’s monthly meeting in Charleston.

Dale Lee

“All of our educators are being pushed to the limits. They’re at their breaking point,” Lee said.

Lee and Albert said teachers are under tremendous pressure caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the lack of substitute teachers.

“It’s not just our teachers. Our bus drivers are making second and third runs. Our cooks are cooking with shortages. Custodians have shortages and are covering more schools,” Lee said.

Lee said students “are lashing out to try to find something that gets them back to normal.”

Albert told board members teachers need their help.

Fred Albert

“You are the leaders of public education in West Virginia and they need to know that you are there to support them and you understand that they’re not just belly-aching. These situations are real,” he said.

During Wednesday’s meeting, board member Debra Sullivan encouraged other members to visit classrooms to show their appreciation for teachers.

“It’s taking an hour or two to show that you do care what’s going on. It’s not a program, it’s an individual responsibility,” she said.

The mentality of teachers has been shifted, Albert said, with many feeling like it’s May or June when it’s still December of the current school year.

“They are end-of-the year worn out,” he said.

The stress of the pandemic is not just a West Virginia problem, Albert said.

Debra Sullivan

“It’s all over. Public education is under such an attack right now. What did we do wrong?” he asked. “We need to change course.”

More than 20 public school districts in at least six different states across the nation extended their Thanksgiving breaks by several days to allow for mental health days for students and staff.

Lee said the day off is meant to give everyone at school an opportunity to recharge.

“It’s a day to relax and say thank you for a job well done.”

Meanwhile, West Virginia University students continue their push to convince Governor Jim Justice to invest federal relief dollars toward mental health challenges on college campuses.

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Marshall welcomes Bluefield before hitting road for two straight

— By Bill Cornwell

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Marshall plays its final non-Division I opponent of the season Wednesday as NAIA member Bluefield University pays a visit to the Henderson Center.

The game tips off at 7 p.m. and will be shown on ESPN+.

The Herd (5-3) is coming off of a 72-71 home win over Duquesne, while the Rams (8-3) last played December 4, beating Johnson University of Tennessee, 92-82.

Tonight’s game is an exhibition for Bluefield, but is a regular contest for Marshall and will count in the Herd’s record and statistics.

Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni says he doesn’t pay attention to the level of his opponent, but expects Bluefield to be competitive against the Herd. He’s also hopeful that he gets to substitute often in the contest.

“We’re looking to get a lot more players in the game and see where everybody fits as we approach conference play,” D’Antoni said.

Marshall and Bluefield share a common opponent in Milligan University. Marshall topped Milligan 80-58 on November 15, while the Rams had the same result by an 80-68 margin on November 15.

D’Antoni says to expect a repeat of the starting lineup which proved successful in the Duquesne win. It featured guards Andrew Taylor, David Early and Taevion Kinsey and forwards Obinna Anochili-Killen and Darius George.

“That lineup gave us lots of options with its speed and picked up our overall pace,” D’Antoni said. Eventually, we developed some offensive rhythm and the shots started falling in the second half.”

Kinsey leads Marshall scorers with 21 points per game. Taylor, Anochili-Killen and George also average double-figure scoring.

Anochili-Killen is leading the Herd in rebounding with 7.4 per game and he’s blocked 37 shots in eight games.

Jeremiah Jenkins leads Bluefield with 21.5 points and 3.8 assists per contest this season. He has been named the Appalachian Athletic Conference Player of the Week three times.

Bluefield, led by head coach Richard Morgan in his 12th season, is averaging 79.9 points per game. Morgan has a 181-174 career record.

After tonight’s game, Marshall starts a two-game road swing with games Saturday at Eastern Kentucky and next Wednesday at Ohio.

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