1. Archive

75-63 win: music to Mocs' ears

Even from two dressing rooms away, the blaring sounds of frivolity resonated with the Tennessee-Chattanooga Mocs.

The Illini were singing.

And this was before the tipoff.

"That kind of got under our skin," Mocs senior forward Johnny Taylor said, mentioning that he clearly heard a few refrains of "Final Four, Final Four."

"They were celebrating," senior guard Willie Young said. "It was like we weren't even there, like they were going to play a scrimmage game or something."

But the Mocs didn't pound on the walls for their noisy neighbors to turn it down.

Nope. They simply pounded the Fighting Illini 75-63 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Sunday afternoon at the Charlotte Coliseum to turn the Southeast Regional upside down.

The Mocs (24-10), champions of the lightly regarded Southern Conference, become only the second 14th-seeded team to reach the Sweet 16 and meet 10th-seeded Providence in the most improbable matchup in tournament history Friday in Birmingham, Ala. In 1986, No. 14 Cleveland State upset Indiana and St. Joseph's before losing to No. 7 seed Navy, led by David Robinson, in the regional semifinals.

"The seeding is a very difficult thing," Mocs coach Mack McCarthy said. "Because we didn't play a lot of high-profile teams, nobody knew how good we really were. We're better than people anticipated when they see a "14' beside your name."

The Fighting Illini (22-10), the No. 6 seed and No. 19 in the final Associated Press poll, denied singing overconfidently about winning.

Part of their pregame ritual is for each player to express _ apparently to the tune of the school fight song _ what they will contribute. "We never said anything about the Final Four," senior guard Kiwane Garris said. "We were just trying to get each other ready for the game."

"I didn't see or hear anything that would indicate a lack of respect," added coach Lon Kruger, who along with his staff waits outside the locker room during the players' motivational jam session.

Whatever was sung didn't matter. What mattered was how the Mocs took it.

"It got our guys' attention that maybe they weren't focused for the game," said McCarthy, recently rewarded with a five-year contracted extension.

But after his players stayed close throughout the first half, trailing just 34-33, McCarthy had to get their attention in his own melodic way: He blasted the officials and picked up a technical with 15:51 left in the game.

"We had to do something to get our kids to be a little quicker, to be a little more aggressive, to be a little more intense," he said. "At the time, they were taking it to us a little bit."

Said Taylor: "We were a little upset. We felt we'd been done wrong. But we just jelled together and were going to make them respect us. We were going to earn our respect. From Illinois and the rest of the world."

After Garris hit both technical free throws, the Illini squandered the ensuing possession when freshman forward Victor Chukwudebe missed a short shot.

"We had an opportunity to widen out a little bit but we didn't," Kruger said. "They jumped all over it and got back in the ballgame."

Hampered by fouls on forward Chris Gandy, its most effective post player, Illinois struggled. First, the Mocs went to a big lineup and dominated the boards. Later, they used a smaller group in a matchup zone to guard the perimeter.

Illinois, which set a school record with 238 three-pointers and shot a season-best 59.6 percent from the floor against Southern California Friday, mustered one field goal in the final 10 minutes _ a Matt Heldman three-pointer with 15.4 seconds left, long after the game was decided.

"This can put us on the basketball map," McCarthy said. "For them to have this opportunity and take advantage of it is just an incredible success story."

PROVIDENCE 98, DUKE 87: Senior forward Derrick Brown scored a career-high 33 points as the Friars blew open a close game in the final five minutes to stun No. 2 seeded Duke and reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since Rick Pitino's Final Four team in 1987.

"The biggest thing, the biggest challenge was to convince them that we could beat them," Friars coach Pete Gillen said. "Duke is Duke. They're on TV more than Leave It to Beaver reruns."

Gillen, who guided underdog Xavier to the Sweet 16 in 1990, said he told his players they had beaten other talented teams, including Texas and Villanova, and for one game, they could beat anybody. "In the first half, we weren't sure (we could win) frankly, but as the game went on, our guys sensed something," he said.

Duke (24-9), ranked No. 8 and the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season champion, led 46-42 at the half and opened a 53-46 lead.

But with 17:17 left, forward Roshown McLeod, the lone inside presence the team has counted on since Mike Krzyzewski went to his four-guard offense that was so successful in January and February, picked up his fourth foul. Without him, the bigger Friars rallied.

"They had their run and we came back and that's when we said, "We can play with them, we can beat them,' " senior forward Austin Croshere said.

Although down just 56-55, Krzyzewski sensed the game was slipping away and reinserted McLeod with 14:02 left. Five minutes later, he was on the bench with five fouls. Senior guard Jeff Capel, however, kept Duke in the game. He scored seven of his team-high 26 to help tie the score at 74 with 5:35 left.

Croshere, who played the final 11 minutes with four fouls, hit a leaner off the glass, and Brown followed with a lay-in off a no-look from sophomore Jamel Thomas.

Afterward, the Friars (23-11) broke down and cried in their locker room.

"Duke really, really, really wanted to win, but we had to win," Gillen said. "Duke's been there before numerous times. Final Four. Final eight. Our guys have seen it on TV. They were possessed. This is our chance. We're in Camelot for a while, let's stay another week."

14's turning 16

'86: Cleveland St. '97: Chattanooga

(3) Indiana 83-79 (3) Georgia 73-70

(6) St. Joe's 75-69 (6) Illinois 75-63

(7) Navy 71-70 (10) Providence ??