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MARCH MADNESS / NCAA TOURNAMENT

Williams Lifts Hampton to Upset

March 16, 2001|DIANE PUCIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BOISE, Idaho — Four games decided by seven points.

When it seemed things couldn't get better, they got better.

When it seemed things couldn't get wilder, they got wilder.

Surrounded by three brawny Iowa State defenders, Hampton's Tarvis Williams, a skinny, nerveless forward, made a jump shot from the lane with 6.9 seconds left to give the 15th-seeded Pirates a stunning 58-57 win over second-seeded Iowa State on Thursday night in the last game of the first round of the NCAA West Regionals here.

And then the Hampton band played joyous ragtime while a standing-room-only crowd danced.

About two hours earlier, Georgetown senior Nathaniel Burton had beaten the final buzzer, barely, with a running, left-handed layup to give the 10th-seeded Hoyas a 63-61 victory over seventh-seeded Arkansas.

And in the day session, Georgia State upset Wisconsin by a point, and Maryland survived a last-second shot to beat George Mason by three points. Count it up. Seven points separated the dancing winners from the sobbing losers.

But the most extraordinary win came last.

Located about 300 miles from Washington, D.C., Hampton has an NCAA Division I tradition that goes all the way back to 1995. The Pirates weren't allowed to compete for the MEAC championship until 1997.

And when the Pirates (25-6) fell behind by nine midway through the second half, it seemed their chance to advance past the first round in their first NCAA tournament was over.

But Hampton led Iowa State at halftime, 31-27, and the Pirates were not at all flustered when they got behind.

"We can play from ahead, from behind, from anywhere," Williams said. The 6-9 forward finished with game-high totals of 16 points and 13 rebounds in 29 minutes. He would have played more but for a fourth foul early in the second half.

It was no coincidence that Williams' absence came at the same time the Cyclones opened up their lead.

Iowa State took a 57-48 lead with 7:01 left, then never scored again. Williams came back into the game. He blocked three shots and made two baskets and made his teammates move faster, jump higher, play smarter.

Williams made a jump shot to make the score 57-50; there was a steal and dunk by guard Tommy Adams to make it 57-52; a slithering layup by Isaac Jefferson for 57-54 and a driving layup by Marseilles Brown for 57-56. And then came Williams again.

Iowa State guard Jamaal Tinsley took the ball the length of the court and missed a layup at the buzzer.

Pandemonium erupted.

Hampton forward David Johnson picked up Coach Steve Merfeld and lifted Merfeld over his head as if he were bench-pressing his coach. Then Johnson carried Merfeld across the floor and dropped him at the feet of James Worthy, the CBS announcer.

"No one believes in our conference," Merfeld said. "Nobody believes in our kids. But we can play this game."

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