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MARCH MADNESS / NCAA TOURNAMENT | MIDWEST AT DAYTON,
OHIO

Illinois Fights Back for Big Ten

March 17, 2001|VINCE KOWALICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DAYTON, Ohio — For the most part, the Big Ten took a beating Thursday in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

That wasn't the case Friday as all three Big Ten teams won in impressive fashion, starting with Illinois' 96-54 rout of Northwestern State at Dayton Arena.

The Fighting Illini, the No. 1-seeded team in the Midwest Regional, took a 10-0 lead in 1:40 against the Demons of Natchitoches, La., the tournament's No. 64 team after advancing to the regional by winning a play-in game Tuesday over Winthrop.

It grew more lopsided from there.

Center Marcus Griffin scored 16 points, leading six players in double figures for Illinois, which also dominated the rebounding, 44-27. Frank Williams, the Big Ten's player of the year, had eight of Illinois' 27 assists.

"We were trying to put them away right from the first," said forward Brian Cook, who had 15 points.

"You look good when you make shots and we certainly made shots early," Illinois Coach Bill Self said. "Sometimes, we get off to a really good start and we tend to let up and not play our best. I think we did that today, even. But for the most part, we kept up the pressure."

Illinois' victory--and those by Michigan State and Penn State Friday--allowed the Big Ten to regain some respect after its teams went 1-3 Thursday. Ohio State, Indiana and Wisconsin were defeated by lower-seeded teams.

Illinois, having failed to advance past the second round in seven consecutive tournament appearances, wasn't about to contribute to the collapse.

Illinois made its first four shots, two of them from three-point range. The Illini built a 25-point lead early in the second half.

Illinois (25-7) finished with 55.6% shooting. Northwestern State (19-12)--making its first tournament appearance--shot 33%.

Charlotte 70, Tennessee 63--In a game that might be Jerry Green's last as Tennessee coach, the Volunteers faded in the final minutes--typical of another late-season skid.

Guard Jobey Thomas scored Charlotte's last six points, including four free throws in the final 25 seconds, as No. 9-seeded Charlotte (22-10) broke open a tie game with a 14-5 run midway through the second half.

Thomas made free throws with 24.8 seconds left and with 11.2 to play, while Tennessee (22-11) missed it final three shots in the last minute.

Tennessee's Vincent Yarbrough made a basket and free throw to cut the deficit to 66-63 with 1:18 to play. The Volunteers had missed their previous seven free throws, including the first of three bonus situations.

Charlotte plays Illinois in the second round. The 49ers have advanced to the second round four times in five years.

"They're a tremendously balanced team," Charlotte Coach Bobby Lutz said of Illinois. "They can score from all positions. We like the way we're playing right now and look forward to the challenge."

Thomas and forward Rodney White each had 12 points for Charlotte. Yarbrough led Tennessee with 12 points.

Green's job reportedly is in jeopardy despite winning 20 games and advancing to the tournament each of his four seasons.

The Volunteers climbed to No. 4 in the Associated Press poll after a 16-1 start, then lost eight of their next 10.

Syracuse 79, Hawaii 69--Orangeman Coach Jim Boeheim reached a milestone with his 600th career victory, but didn't spend much time talking about it.

"Well, it's the tournament, that's the significance of it," said Boeheim, who has compiled a 600-207 record in 25 seasons at Syracuse. "I'll think about 600 over the summer."

Syracuse fans made sure Boeheim knew about his milestone, however, holding up placards reading "600" and chanting "6-0-0! 6-0-0!" in the final minute.

Damone Brown had 20 points and 10 rebounds and Preston Shumpert--showing no ill-effects from an eye injury suffered in last week's Big East Tournament-- had 18 points for No. 5-seeded Syracuse (25-8), which plays No. 4 Kansas in the second round.

Hawaii (17-14) was undone by the very thing that had gotten it into the NCAA tournament. The Warriors had made at least 10 three-point shots in four of their previous six games--including three victories in the Western Athletic Conference which earned them an NCAA automatic berth--but missed their first eight against the Orangemen and ended up seven for 26.

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