COLLEGE PARK -- Chris Corchiani took to heart North Carolina State's one-year, forced hiatus from the NCAA tournament last year. Yesterday, he reveled in the return of Fire and Ice.
"The tournament is so much fun," State's gritty point guard said. "When you have to sit out and don't play in it, you appreciate it so much more."
There was a lot to appreciate about Corchiani's play in a 114-85 blowout of Southern Mississippi in the opening round of yesterday's East Regional at Cole Field House.
Corchiani dazzled with 25 points and 11 assists in 39 non-stop minutes. He hit seven of eight shots from the field, three of three from three-point range. His first miss came with 6:46 to go and State up 87-62. At the end, Corchiani, normally an enemy in Cole, received a big ovation.
"It felt good to hear a few cheers instead of all the jeers," he said.
It was an interesting juxtaposition that while Corchiani enjoyed a coolly efficient game, his backcourt mate, Rodney Monroe, scored 25 points despite laboring with his shot. Monroe, who is Ice to Corchiani's Fire, was 8-for-22 from the field and only 1-for-9 beyond the three-point line.
This is the last NCAA tournament for Corchiani and Monroe, who comprise what may be the best backcourt in the country. A year ago the Wolfpack was banned from postseason play because of NCAA violations, a circumstance that ultimately cost Jim Valvano his job and opened the door for State's first-year coach, Les Robinson.
After threatening to leave Raleigh last spring, Corchiani, who recently became the NCAA's all-time assists leader, decided to stay. It was no small bonus for Robinson's new program.
"I wanted to enjoy my senior year," Corchiani said. "Coach Robinson has done a good job of keeping the tradition at N.C. State. I felt it was the best thing for me to stay here and not leave my teammates."
* DEJA WHO? The last time Richmond played Cinderella in postseason play, it knocked off Indiana and Georgia Tech, only to be eliminated by a hot Temple team. That was in 1988. Guess who's on deck for the Spiders after last night's 73-69 stunner over Syracuse? Temple, of course.
* WAKEUP CALL: One day after Temple coach John Chaney criticized his ineffective offense, the Owls shot a resounding 65 percent in an 80-63 romp over Purdue. Temple averaged 43 percent from the field during the season. Its best game was a .619 effort against Penn State.
* THE TERRIBLE TURK: If there was a turning point in State's 29-point rout, it may have occurred with 4:59 left in the first half when Southern Mississippi coach M.K. Turk incurred a technical foul moments after Russell Johnson prevented a breakaway by State's Tom Gugliotta with a body shot.
Southern Miss led 35-34 at the time. Gugliotta sank both free throws, then Monroe swished two more on the technical. Corchiani made it a six-point swing when he hit a 16-foot pull-up jumper. That gave the Wolfpack a 40-35 lead it never relinquished.