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Lower seeds open conference basketball tournament with Big East wins

NEW YORK — In opening up the Big East tournament to all 16 teams this season, the conference faced criticism from those wondering if the bottom four really deserved a trip to Madison Square Garden.

After Tuesday's opening round, the move looks smart. No. 16 seed DePaul, which went 0-18 in conference play, knocked off ninth-seeded Cincinnati, and 13th-seeded St. John's is also back for a second day after beating 12th-seeded Georgetown.

"Hopefully we proved there is a lot of value in bringing everybody," said DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright, who got 17 second-half points from Dar Tucker in a 67-57 win, the Blue Demons' first since December. "We obviously are excited beyond reason for what we did today."

DePaul (9-23) faces eighth-seeded Providence, while St. John's could have a second straight upset, playing fifth-seeded Marquette, which has lost four straight, all to ranked opponents, since guard Dominic James was sidelined with a broken foot.

"If you're in the league, everybody should be in the tournament," Red Storm coach Norm Roberts said. "It's just like I said earlier in the year, that anybody can beat anybody in this league."

Cincinnati (18-14) looked like an NCAA Tournament team just three weeks ago, but ended the season losing six of its last seven. The same goes for Georgetown, which opened the season 10-1 and was ranked in the Top 10 nationally after opening Big East play with a win at Connecticut. The Hoyas went 6-13 to finish the season and are now relegated to the NIT.

Georgetown led 52-50 with four minutes to play, but saw St. John's go on a 9-2 run, including six points from guard Paris Horne, who had a game-high 23 points. The Hoyas got within 60-59 with 20 seconds left, but after two free throws by Justin Burrell, a potential tying 3-pointer from Nikita Mescheriakov missed from the wing with three seconds remaining.

"St. John's hasn't beaten Georgetown for a while," Burrell said. "And now, we've swept them this year. I can't wait to see that in the media guide next season."

Tenth-seeded Notre Dame advanced with a 61-50 win against 15th-seeded Rutgers, which was as close as five points in the final minute. Guard Tory Jackson led the Fighting Irish with 12 points, while center Hamady Ndiaye led Rutgers with 14 points. Notre Dame faces seventh-seeded West Virginia tonight.

"We had to defend to win the game. I told our guys keeping them at 50 points was the key to us winning it because I thought they defended us well," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "The only way we were going to win the game was manning up and playing man-to-man."

"What you saw tonight was a microcosm of our season," Rutgers coach Fred Hill said. "We got shots we wanted, layups, 12-footers, 15-footers and we did a great job on the glass, but you have to knock down open shots if you want to win."

Lower seeds open conference basketball tournament with Big East wins 03/10/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 10, 2009 11:06pm]

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