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Manhattan Pulls Off an 'Upset'

March 19, 2004|From Associated Press

The little team from the Big Apple was every bit as good as promised.

Led by 26 points from hotshot guard Luis Flores, 12th-seeded Manhattan defeated fifth-seeded Florida, 75-60, at Raleigh, N.C. in the first round of the NCAA tournament Thursday -- an "upset" that really wasn't much of an upset at all.

"I know America's going to look at it as an upset, but behind closed doors we don't," Manhattan forward Dave Holmes said. "We know we can play with any team on any night."

Barely beaten in the first round last year by eventual champion Syracuse, Manhattan (25-5) won its first tournament game since defeating Oklahoma in 1995. The Jaspers advanced to play Wake Forest, a 79-78 winner over Virginia Commonwealth, in the second round of the East Rutherford Regional.

Clearly, the Demon Deacons will have their hands full.

Coach Bobby Gonzalez, celebrating his 40th birthday, insisted there was no way his Jaspers -- who play in 2,500-seat Draddy Gymnasium that's actually in the Bronx -- would feel overwhelmed in the big tournament against a team from the Southeastern Conference.

He was right.

"I told the guys that we're in a 5-12 matchup, we're playing an epic team like Florida, this is going to be considered a major upset," Gonzalez said. "But I told them if you come in worried about the name on the other jersey, you really don't have a chance."

The Gators (20-11), ranked No. 1 in the country in December, failed to make it out of the first weekend of the tournament for the fourth consecutive time since they reached the national finals in 2000.

They were thought far and wide to be one of the most vulnerable favorites in the opening round and they played the role perfectly, missing open shots, never getting into a flow on offense and letting Manhattan's pesky, pressing defense get into both their minds and their games.

Coach Billy Donovan tore into his players, citing their lack of competitiveness for the lopsided loss.

"I don't know if them wanting it more is the right word," Donovan said. "But when you look at the rebounding, the way our frontcourt played, the thing that keeps showing up is, their guys competed better than we did."

Wake Forest 79, Virginia Commonwealth 78 -- Chris Paul was in complete control in his first NCAA tournament game.

The Wake Forest freshman had 22 points, and made several key plays as the fourth-seeded Demon Deacons (20-9) advanced to the second round for the third year in a row.

Justin Gray scored 15 points and Jamaal Levy overcame a sprained left knee to add 10 points and 10 rebounds, including the go-ahead basket.

Paul made four free throws in the final 11. 9 seconds to help the Demon Deacons survive their second first-round scare in as many years. Last year, second-seeded Wake Forest held off East Tennessee State, 76-73.

Domonic Jones had 22 points and seven assists for the Rams (23-8).

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