NCAA: Northern Iowa leads Michigan State 29-22 at halftime; Farokhmanesh has only 1 field goal

By Dave Skretta, AP
Friday, March 26, 2010

NCAA: Northern Iowa leads 29-22 at halftime

Kwadzo Ahelegbe knocked down an outside jumper just before the halftime buzzer, giving Northern Iowa 29-22 lead over Michigan State at the break.

All the more impressive considering star guard Ali Farokhmanesh has one field goal.

The Panthers are doing it with defense, holding Michigan State to one field goal over the final 9:18 of the first half. The Spartans are just 7 of 22 from the field (31.8 percent) and have been outrebounded by the scrappy Missouri Valley champions.

Jordan Eglseder has been a mismatch inside, with six points and a commanding presence in the paint. Adam Koch led the way with nine first-half points for Northern Iowa.

How’s this for athletic: Northern Iowa’s 7-foot, 280-pound center Jordan Eglseder just ran down the floor to swat an alley-oop attempt off the backboard.

The Panthers are getting the grinding game they want, leading 27-22 with 47 seconds left in the first half. One mid-major is already in the regional finals in Butler, and Northern Iowa is trying to join the Bulldogs this weekend.

Michigan State point guard Kalin Lucas is on the bench in warmups, his left leg in a walking boot. Last year’s Big Ten player of the year ruptured his Achilles’ tendon in the second round against Maryland, a blow made even worse because Northern Iowa has good guards.

Besides sharpshooter Ali Farokhmanesh, Adam Koch has been hitting everything he throws toward the rim, and Kwadzo Ahelegbe is also perfect from the field.

The Panthers lead 25-20 with about 3½ minutes left in the first half.

Some interesting numbers in the box score from Reliant Stadium. Duke has turned the ball over six times while Purdue has turned it over once, while the Blue Devils have 14 rebounds and the Boilermakers just six.

Nothing else about the game is remotely interesting.

Duke leads the snooze-fest 13-10 with about 9 minutes left, although Purdue’s Patrick Bade just picked up his third foul. That could make things a little more intriguing.

Perhaps the Boilermakers and Blue Devils got together before the game and outlined their own set of rules, a bit like a school yard game. You know, first one to 20 points wins?

Purdue went 6 minutes without making a field goal, Duke has been just as terrible on offense, and the two teams combined to go 5 of 24 from the field.

Then again, maybe 20 points will be a stretch for both of these guys.

How nice is Michigan State coach Tom Izzo? He just told one of the officials “excuse me” for getting in the way along the sideline.

Sharing must go along with that polite demeanor, because his Spartans have six assists on their first six field goals. They lead 16-14 with about 9 minutes left in the first half.

Matt Painter better get back to fundamentals during the first media timeout — as in, shots that don’t hit the iron don’t have much of a chance of going in.

His Boilermakers have more airballs (3) than field goals (2) in the first 5 minutes against top-seeded Duke, and are fortunate to be only trailing 6-4. That’s because the Blue Devils have been just as bad on offense, with both teams hitting two of their first nine shots.

Egads. These guys are playing for a spot in the final eight?

Ali Farokhmanesh was the guy who hit the key 3-pointer, made the big-time free throws, earned the cover of Sports Illustrated this week.

His running mate Adam Koch must have been a little bit jealous.

The Northern Iowa guard started 4 for 4 from the field and has nine early points, as the Panthers jumped out to a quick lead over Michigan State. Every point is critical in a game involving the Panthers, who would prefer the final score to resemble a football game.

Which makes sense. They play sort of like a football team.

Here’s what qualifies as a slump for a program like Duke: It hasn’t been to the round of eight in the NCAA tournament since 2004.

Talk about great expectations.

The school with the best all-time winning percentage in the NCAA tournament will try to break its slide against fourth-seeded Purdue, a team that most pundits didn’t expect to escape the first round versus Siena, much less make it to Houston.

Although the Blue Devils are the bluebloods, Purdue has never been to the Final Four since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985. The Boilermakers are back in the regional semifinals for the second straight year, but haven’t advanced to the round of eight since 2000.

Northern Iowa’s linebacker of a sixth man Lucas O’Rear has a black brace on his left wrist that looks like the tape underneath a boxing glove.

The way he plays, don’t be surprised if it isn’t.

The physical Panthers defense is already causing problems for Michigan State, which went the first 3-plus minutes without scoring. Plenty of UNI fans have made the trip south from Cedar Falls to St. Louis, and they were loving the early 7-0 lead.

How about this for a cosmic joke: Thirty-one years to the day after Magic Johnson and Michigan State beat Larry Bird and Indiana State for the national championship, the Spartans are playing another Missouri Valley team in a regional semifinal.

Oh, and Johnson is on hand to see the game.

Rather than Indiana State, though, it will be giant-killer Northern Iowa taking on fifth-seeded Michigan State. The winner gets a date with sixth-seeded Tennessee on Saturday.

The Panthers and March miracle-worker Ali Farokhmanesh may be new to most fans’ radar, but they have quite the postseason pedigree. They made three straight NCAA tournament appearances beginning in 2004, then got back to the tournament last season, before the charmed run this year that includes a victory against overall No. 1 seed Kansas.

Now they’ll try to knock off a coach and team that is in the round of 16 for the third consecutive year and the ninth time in 13 seasons, despite a rash of injuries.

Among them was a season-ending Achilles’ injury to star Kalin Lucas in a dramatic victory over Maryland that allowed the Spartans to advance to St. Louis. Korie Lucious will be called on to help replace the contributions from Michigan State’s leading scorer.

Baylor’s road to redemption is rolling right through Houston, and the Bears will now have the chance to see whether it ends in Indianapolis.

The school that just seven years ago was embroiled in controversy has knocked off 10th-seeded Saint Mary’s 72-49, earning a shot against top-seeded Duke or Purdue in the South Regional final. The winner of that game gets a spot in the Final Four.

The Bears pushed their school record for wins in a season to 28, behind 28 points from LaceDarius Dunn and an exemplary all-around effort from Tweety Carter. Coach Scott Drew, the man behind the reclamation project, couldn’t help but smile in the closing minutes as his father Homer Drew — the Homer Drew of Valpo fame — watched on from the stands.

The glass slipper finally shattered for Omar Samhan and Saint Mary’s, the tiny school from Moraga, Calif., that showed last week it could play with the big boys.

Samhan finished with 15 points and nine rebounds, but most of those came when the game was already out of hand. Ben Allen led the way with 16 points and seven boards for the Gaels.

Bobby Maze might as well have been kissing Ohio State goodbye.

The Tennessee guard blew a kiss to someone in the stands before hitting two free throws with 12.9 seconds left, and J.P. Prince blocked Evan Turner’s desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer to preserve the Vols’ 76-73 victory in the Midwest Regional.

Tennessee had come up short in five previous regional semifinals, including a loss to the Buckeyes in 2007, when Ohio State went all the way to the national title game.

This time the Vols came up with a couple of critical turnovers in the closing minutes. Behind 22 points and 11 rebounds from Wayne Chism, Tennessee has assured itself a date with Northern Iowa or Michigan State for a spot at the Final Four in Indianapolis.

Turner finished with 31 points, seven rebounds and five assists in his typical brilliant performance, but he couldn’t come through when it mattered most. He missed a tightly guarded 3-pointer from the corner in the closing seconds, then had his off-balance shot stuffed by Prince at the top of the key as the final horn sounded.

Welcome to the round of eight, Tennessee. It’s nice to meet you.

Anything you can do, I can do better: Tennessee responded with a little defense of its own, with J.P. Prince anticipating a pass and picking it off on the perimeter.

Wayne Chism scored to give the Vols a 72-70 lead, and Bobby Maze followed with another steal to give Tennessee the ball. He wisely slowed it up despite having numbers on the break, but the Vols couldn’t score.

Evan Turner could.

His bucket put Ohio State back ahead, and after Brian Williams answered to regain the lead, Maze is at the foul line with 12.9 seconds left.

The Buckeyes are ramping up the defense, first with brutally efficient man-to-man in the halfcourt and then with a three-quarter court press that forced a 10-second call.

David Lighty followed the first stand with a jumper, then hit a 3-pointer after the turnover to give the Buckeyes a 70-68 lead with just over 2 minutes remaining.

As bad as things have been for Saint Mary’s, the score could be even more lopsided if Ben Allen didn’t show up. He’s 6 of 10 from the field and has scored 14 points, or, just under half of his entire team’s total.

The Gaels picked a poor time to shoot 32 percent from the field and 26 percent from beyond the arc. Baylor is on cruise control already, and LaceDarius Dunn just knocked down his fourth 3-pointer of the game, giving him 23 points.

The “Cookie Monster” is really starting to chow down on Saint Mary’s.

Hidden from the glaring spotlight that is always attracted by LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter, Baylor forward Quincy Acey has come alive in the regional semifinals. He’s made a couple of emphatic dunks off the bench to help the lead swell to 63-32.

Baylor coach Scott Drew might start thinking about resting Dunn, Carter and the rest of his stars despite about 12 minutes left in the game. It sure looks as though they’ll be lacing up the sneakers in less than 48 hours for a regional final against Duke or Purdue.

Scotty Hopson just showed some major hops in St. Louis.

He went upstairs for a dunk — his first points of the night — and converted the three-point play to draw the Vols even with Ohio State, 59-all. Hopson was so charged up after the jam that he appeared not to hear the whistle and was retreating to play defense before being brought back to the foul line.

The Buckeyes’ Evan Turner came back and earned a couple more free throws, hitting them both to make him 7 for 7 for the game, before J.P. Prince showed that he can elevate as well. His jam and free throw edged Tennessee ahead with 6½ minutes left.

Tennessee’s Wayne Chism has 10 points since ditching the headband early in the second half.

Wonder if he’s superstitious.

He already has a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, doing his best to match the stellar play of Evan Turner. The Buckeyes swingman is 9 of 17 shooting and perfect from the foul line for 24 points, along with six rebounds and four assists.

Baylor scored the first six points of the second half before Omar Samhan finally scored with a baby hook in the post. The Bears answered right back behind Quincy Acey, and they’re threatening to turn this into an embarrassing rout.

If it isn’t already.

The Bears led 54-19 with 16½ minutes left in the game. Samhan is just 2 of 10 from the field and has only five points, while the Saint Mary’s guards — Mickey McConnell, Matthew Dellavedova and Clint Steindl and Jorden Page — are a combined 3 of 18 shooting.

Evan Turner missed out on another assist when deadeye shooter Jon Diebler airballed a 3-pointer, but the Buckeyes’ star always seems to be in the right place. The loose ball wound up in his hands and he scored in the lane, drawing a foul and converting the three-point play.

He has 24 points and six rebounds for the Buckeyes.

The Vols have been more balanced on offense, with three guys in double figures scoring, but Ohio State still leads 56-51 with under 10 minutes to go.

Tennessee’s Wayne Chism ditched the headband and finally hit a shot. The veteran forward is now 2 of 7 from the field for six points.

If the Vols started playing defense, they just might climb back in this game. Ohio State continues to hold onto a four-point lead, matching Tennessee shot-for-shot.

Think there are any NBA scouts keeping an eye on the proceedings in St. Louis?

Evan Turner just hit his fifth straight shot, a silky smooth 3-pointer from the top of the key, and now has 17 points to go with his four assists. The Ohio State star has scored nine straight points spanning halftime against Tennessee.

The 6-foot-7 star is hoping to add some national honors to the myriad of Big Ten awards he’s already earned. A national championship, too.

Saint Mary’s hasn’t played in the Sweet 16 since 1959, so maybe it can use the excuse that it’s not sure what to do during the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

Baylor is outshooting, out-rebounding and pretty much out-everything-ing the Gaels while building a 46-17 lead at halftime. LaceDarius Dunn has 15 points and Tweety Carter has a dozen for the Bears, who shot 51 percent from the field and even better from beyond the arc.

Meanwhile, Ben Allen was the only Saint Mary’s player with more than one field goal in the first half. The rest of the team combined to go 4 of 23 from the field.

There is a free viewing party going on at AT&T Park, the home of the San Francisco Giants and a short drive from the Saint Mary’s campus in the Bay Area. The game is being shown on the video board in centerfield, although fans probably wish Tim Lincecum were on the mound.

At least they’d have something to cheer for.

The little school that could simply isn’t in Houston, where Baylor pushed its lead to 41-15 with under 2 minutes left when LaceDarius Dunn knocked down his second 3-pointer. He pranced back to the other end to play defense, waving his arm in the air toward a partisan crowd.

During halftime of the Tennessee-Ohio State game, they finally got the horn to work.

And to make sure everybody knows it, they’re testing it over and over at the Edward Jones Dome. It sounds like someone is giving the wrong answers on Family Feud.

How good is LaceDarius Dunn?

Saint Mary’s fought hard for a bucket at its end, and Baylor came back on offense and rotated the ball to Dunn, who stood on the wing with a defender in his face and calmly hit a 3-pointer — so calm, in fact, that he hardly bothered to elevate on the shot.

Dunn is 5 of 7 from the field and just picked the pocket of a Saint Mary’s player, taking a one-on-two break right to the basket. He was fouled and made both free throws, but it’s surprising his circus-style shot didn’t go in anyway, the way he’s been going.

Dunn is outscoring Saint Mary’s on his own, 14-12, and has already become the school’s single-season scoring leader. He needed eight coming in to set the record.

A lot was made throughout the season about whether the Big East or the Big 12 was the most dominant conference in college basketball. It might be an argument worth revisiting.

The Big East has flamed out in the NCAA tournament, with top-seeded Syracuse losing on Thursday night to join second-seeded Villanova, sixth-seeded Notre Dame and a whole bunch more teams that are sitting in class rather than sitting on a bench.

West Virginia is carrying the banner for the conference, the last team left standing.

The Big 12 has also taken its lumps, with overall No. 1 seed Kansas among the teams that have already lost. Kansas State has already reached the round of eight, and Baylor has a big early lead on Saint Mary’s in a bid to join the Wildcats.

But nobody — absolutely nobody — wanted to give the Big Ten the vote for best league, and it sure seems like a horrendous oversight. Ohio State leads Tennessee 42-39 at the half, while Michigan State takes on Northern Iowa and Purdue gets Duke later in the night.

How ’bout the Big Ten for basketball’s best?

Omar Samhan has as many fouls (2) as points with about 6 minutes left in the opening half, but the Gaels are leaving him in the game in an attempt to close the gap.

They trail Baylor 29-11 after a turnover led to an alley-oop jam by LaceDarius Dunn.

Jon Diebler missed his first three 3-pointers, continuing a miserable run so far in the NCAA tournament, but answered Josh Bone’s 3 with a shot from well beyond the top of the arc.

So far you couldn’t slide a piece of printer paper between the Vols and Buckeyes — they’re that close together. Two teams with similar styles and similar personnel who are playing very similar games.

Fittingly, Ohio State leads just 35-34 with a little over 2 minutes left in the half.

Tweety Carter just hit another 3-pointer — or, for the Twitter generation, sent out another deep tweet. He’s 3 for 3 from beyond the arc and has nine points for Baylor.

The Bears are riding a 13-2 run that has given them a 19-7 lead closing in on midway through the first half. LaceDarius Dunn is also doing some damage, with eight points already.

Saint Mary’s never let Richmond or Villanova get too far away from them, which allowed the Gaels to keep going inside to Omar Samhan, the tournament’s leading scorer. They have some shooters who can get them back in the game, but a big deficit means Samhan is less valuable.

Ohio State and Tennessee have quite the football pedigree, and they both could use a couple of linebackers to help out with the dirty work inside.

The game is physical at both ends of the floor, and the referees are letting them play.

J.P. Prince just threw down a huge dunk off a 25-foot alley-oop pass to make it 23-21 in favor of the Vols with under 8 to go in the first half.

It sure looks like a bunch of folks made the 3-hour drive down Highway 6 from Waco to Houston for the South Regional semifinal game. There’s quite a bit of green sitting in the stands at Reliant Stadium rooting on the Bears.

Considering Saint Mary’s has an enrollment of a few thousand, it also has quite the booster section in red sitting behind the scorer’s table. Or perhaps it just looks substantial because those folks are getting a lot of face time on TV.

Apparently they couldn’t find a buzzer at the Edward Jones Dome, so a lady with an airhorn has been standing up and blaring it going into and coming out of every timeout.

Substitutions, too.

Tennessee is bumping Evan Turner just about every time he touches the ball, clearly aware that the Ohio State star had one of his worst shooting nights when UC Santa Barbara battered and bruised him in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

Turner isn’t getting much help from the officials, either. He took the ball into the post moments ago and got bodychecked while getting the shot tipped away, with no call.

Meanwhile, Tennessee already has four offensive rebounds and the second-chance points have allowed the Vols to get within 13-10 with about 14 minutes left.

Forget about Evan Turner. Tennessee had better start worrying about William Buford.

The other guy in the Buckeyes’ backcourt has hit four of his first five shots, including a 3-pointer, and has nine points to stake No. 2 seed Ohio State to an early 13-7 lead.

The Buckeyes hit six of their first seven shots, the only miss coming from beyond the arc, and have shown terrific ball movement: Four of their six baskets have come off assists.

Too bad the display is being watched by a bunch of empty seats in the Edward Jones Dome.

The bottom level has filled in nicely, but it’s pretty thin in the upper ring of the home arena of the St. Louis Rams. No wonder CBS hasn’t shown many wide-angle shots early on.

Baylor and Saint Mary’s will be the second game to get going Friday night, one of the most intriguing matchups in the regional semifinals.

The Bears are only about seven years removed from a scandalous summer in which one player shot another, former coach Dave Bliss got tangled in a series of lies and financial misdeeds, and the program very nearly got hit with the same kind of NCAA sanctions that sunk the once-proud SMU football program in the 1980s.

Coach Scott Drew has rebuilt the program and the hopes of all its fans behind some stellar recruiting and a couple of high-profile stars in LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter.

The Gaels, on the other hand, finally grew tired of playing second-best to Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference. Behind the inspired play of Omar Samhan, the big guy with the big crush on Taylor Swift, the tiny school from Moraga, Calif., beat the Zags in its league tournament and knocked out No. 2 seed Villanova to reach the round of 16.

No. 2 seed Ohio State and sixth-seeded Tennessee are about to tip off in the semifinals of the Midwest Regional, where the winner will face Northern Iowa or Michigan State on Sunday.

The last time these two teams met in the NCAA tournament, the Buckeyes had a couple guys named Greg Oden and Mike Conley leading the way to the national title game. Although almost everyone from that team is gone, Evan Turner and Co. certainly have proven their mettle.

The Vols, meanwhile, have weathered a rocky season on Rocky Top after Brian Williams and Cameron Tatum were arrested during a Jan. 1 traffic stop. Williams pleaded guilty to drug possession after marijuana was found in the car, and Tatum pleaded guilty to speeding.

Since then, all the attention has been on basketball, where Tennessee has beaten teams such as Kansas and Kentucky.

Also Friday night, No. 1 seed Duke will face Purdue in the South Regional, while Baylor will try to reach its first Final Four when it faces Saint Mary’s, the only double-digit seed left in a tournament that has been anything but short on longshots.

Already in the round of eight: Kansas State, Butler, Kentucky and West Virginia.

Let the games begin again.

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