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Cincinnati Survives at the End

March 20, 2004|From Associated Press

Tim Smith saw the opening -- only a sliver, really, but more than ample -- and headed to the basket. Once again, the 5-foot-9 East Tennessee State guard had the shot he wanted with an NCAA tournament game on the line.

He missed -- and his team missed an upset for the second year in a row.

Tony Bobbitt's three-pointer with 16.1 seconds remaining gave Cincinnati an 80-77 victory Friday at Columbus, Ohio. The Bearcats will play Illinois in a second-round Atlanta Regional game Sunday.

Smith ran circles around the fourth-seeded Bearcats, scoring 26 points and winning admirers with each dazzling drive to the hoop. His last one had a bad ending.

"The lane was open and I just missed it," said Smith, who could have cut the deficit to one with 12 seconds left.

The 13th-seeded Buccaneers (27-6) then missed two hurried follow-up shots, dooming them to a familiar fate.

Last year, the Buccaneers nearly upset No. 2-seeded Wake Forest in the first round of the tournament. Smith shot an airball on a three-point attempt that would have put them ahead in the closing seconds of that one.

This time, his layup rolled off and Cincinnati (25-6) was spared from the prospect of another quick exit. The Bearcats failed to make it past the first weekend of the tournament in six of the last seven years.

The smallest player on the floor nearly ran them out of the tournament again. "You can't really contain him," said Field Williams, who had 19 points and a lot of trouble trying to guard the Smith. "He's so fast. He's like Michael Vick with the basketball."

Bobbitt was a primary option on the final play when he got the ball in the left corner, faked James Anthony off his feet, then put Cincinnati ahead one last time.

"We're always taught to pump-fake, get him in the air and shoot with confidence," said Bobbitt, who had 15 points.

Illinois 72, Murray State 53 -- Dee Brown, another quick guard, scored 21 points as the fifth-seeded Fighting Illini advanced on the same floor where they claimed their first outright conference title in 52 years this month.

Roger Powell added 11 points and James Augustine 10 for Illinois (25-6), which took control of the Atlanta Regional matchup with a late run in the first half, pulled away and cruised into the second round for the second consecutive year.

The Racers (28-6) were led by Cuthbert Victor's 15 points and Chris Shumate's 13. But the Ohio Valley Conference champions couldn't handle Illinois' size or strength inside and dropped to 0-12 against Big Ten schools.

"We just have a little better athlete, a little better size than what they're used to facing," said Illinois Coach Bruce Weber, who could relate to Murray State's dilemma after five seasons at Southern Illinois. "I think our pressure tired them out as the game went on."

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