SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Michigan didn't even get invited to the tournament and Michigan State was eliminated yesterday. So Eastern Michigan would like to introduce itself to the folks back home.
"I'm the center on a Sweet 16 team," Marcus Kennedy said. "And these are the twins [Carl and Charles Thomas]. Get to know them now."
Eastern Michigan, champion of the Mid-American Conference, made everyone take notice of it at the Carrier Dome. EMU eliminated Penn State, 71-68, in overtime in a second-round National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament East Regional game.
Next up for No. 12 seed Eastern Michigan (26-6) in the regional semifinals on Friday at the Meadowlands is the region's No. 1 seed, North Carolina. The Tar Heels advanced with an 84-69 triumph over No. 9 seed Villanova in yesterday's first game.
Eastern Michigan is certainly the most unlikely of the 16 teams still alive. Most of their players were ignored by the bigger schools.
Their coach, Ben Braun, is a 37-year-old with wire-rim glasses who looks like nothing but a student math teacher, too young to be out of college, much less coaching a college team.
But as Penn State (21-11) found out, Eastern Michigan is smart and disciplined. It plays good defense. It has good shooters. And the players are tired of being overlooked.
Kennedy, a 6-foot-7, 245-pound player who does not get pushed around by anyone, pumped a fist in excitement when he heard that the Michigan State Spartans had lost in double overtime to ** Utah, 85-84.
Kennedy should have been exhausted. He had scored a game-high 21 before fouling out in the first minute of overtime. But he was just getting into his locker-room celebration. "Hey, twins, hear that? Michigan State lost. Too bad, huh?"
The Thomas twins are identical. They combined for 18 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists. They walked off the court arm-in-arm and hugged Kennedy.
Then they searched for the fourth senior starter, guard Lorenzo Neely. Neely, who had 18 points, took over the game down the stretch. He started the overtime with a layup, then hit two free throws a minute later to put Eastern Michigan ahead, safely it turned out, 66-63.
"Lorenzo was great, just great," Braun said. "What a leader he was."
Penn State coach Bruce Parkhill said: "They are a super club, and that big guy [Kennedy] is awesome. We thought long and hard on how to guard him. Our best instincts were to try to play him as best we could and not let them hurt us with three-pointers."
The Nittany Lions, the No. 13 seed, who would have been almost as unlikely a Sweet 16 team as Eastern Michigan, never could get a firm grip on this game.
With football coach Joe Paterno biting his nails nervously in the stands, they took a 46-42 lead in the second half, then trailed by 56-51 with 6 minutes, 53 seconds to go.
Penn State center James Barnes (12 points, eight rebounds) tied the game, 58-58, with 1:03 in regulation with a free throw. With 36.9 seconds left, Nittany Lions guard Monroe Brown (Aberdeen High) could have put his team ahead. But he missed the front end of a one-and-one, and Penn State never had momentum again.