CINCINNATI -- Ohio State coach Randy Ayers usually can tell what kind of night it will be by the way his basketball team comes out, especially against lesser opponents.
"You can tell the tone from the first five minutes," Ayers had said Wednesday at Riverfront Coliseum. "If we play well, we should play well for 40 minutes. If we're not into the game, it's going to be a struggle."
Ayers was a bit off in his calculation. The top-seeded, third-ranked Buckeyes struggled for the first five minutes against unheralded Mississippi Valley State in the opening round of the NCAA Southeast Regional, and then got into the game.
After the Delta Devils scored the first four points and blocked a shot, the s game belonged to Ohio State (24-5). The Buckeyes ran off 20 straight points in one stretch, built an early 25-point lead and romped into the second round with an 83-56 victory.
"I don't think we were anxious, we just rushed a little getting out of the gates," said Jimmy Jackson, Ohio State's senior All-American. "Once we established our defense, that's really what helped our run."
Despite a sluggish offensive performance by Jackson, who finished with 13 points on three of 13 shooting, Ohio State had few problems disposing of Mississippi Valley State (16-14), the Southwest Athletic Conference champion. While the Buckeyes didn't miss Jackson's off-night, the Devils were hurt by Al Ford's poor-shooting night.
Ford, a sophomore who was the second-leading scorer in Division I this year, missed 12 of his first 13 shots and was seven of 21 overall, scoring 16. By the time he found his range, Mississippi Valley State was hopelessly behind. The Buckeyes led by as many as 34.
Alabama 80, Stanford 75
CINCINNATI -- Senior forward Latrell Sprewell emerged from a recent shooting slump to score 23, 18 of them in the second half.
"With Sprewell scoring that helped a great deal," said senior forward Robert Horry, who had 14 of his 19 points in the second half. "Lately he's been in a slump. His scoring opened it up for me inside."
Sprewell hit of eight of 16 shots, five of 10 from three-point range. The Crimson Tide, which finished in the bottom third of the 12-team Southeastern Conference in three-point shooting, made 10 of 20 overall.
"I developed a lot more confidence today," said Sprewell, who hit a pair of three-pointers after No. 13 Alabama (26-8) fell behind 51-44 in the second half. "I guess I was in a slump so I passed up a lot of shots [in the first half]. I just came out today and played hard."
Stanford (18-11) had problems after its All-American center, senior Adam Keefe, got into foul trouble midway through the second half. The Cardinal saw its seven-point lead dissolve, but kept things close into the final minute of play.
Said Stanford coach Mike Montgomery, "I didn't think we played badly. They had a stretch on us when they made three or four baskets to go from down to up, but we're not used to playing three guys that are capable of jumping like that and shooting it."
Connecticut 86, Nebraska 65
CINCINNATI -- The loss of starting center Rod Sellers had little effect on the Huskies, who opened up a quick 10-point lead, watched the Cornhuskers cut it to two and then built the lead back to 15 by halftime.
Sellers was sitting out a one-game suspension from the tournament for an altercation with Duke's Christian Laettner in last year's Midwest Regional semifinal. If anything, his absence seemed to inspire Connecticut.
After letting eighth seed Nebraska (19-10) back into the game, Connecticut appeared to score at will, whether it was Chris Smith (24 points) and Scott Burrell (20) hitting from the outside, -- or Donyell Marshall (19) taking it inside.
"We got into a baseline-to-baseline, 94-foot game," said Huskies coach Jim Calhoun, whose team led by as many as 26. "We didn't want to get into a banging game with them."