Charlotte nearly bags biggest in UNC Tar Heels 'dodge bullet' in 93-83 OT win

Princeton beaten by Michigan State

East at Hartford, Conn.: NCAA TOURNAMENT

March 15, 1998|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

HARTFORD, Conn. -- The North Carolina-Charlotte 49ers waited 33 years for their first crack at their highfalutin state rivals from Chapel Hill, and threw a huge scare into the top-ranked Tar Heels before losing in overtime, 93-83, in the second round of the NCAA East Regional yesterday.

It was worth the wait to see one of the great games in tournament history. A desperate three-point shot by 49ers sophomore Diego Guevara with 2.9 seconds left in regulation tied it at 74 and forced the overtime.

UNCC (20-11) had a chance to win after regaining the ball with 1.4 seconds left following an inadvertent whistle by official Tom Harrington.

"I had visions of making a shot like [Duke's] Christian Laettner to win the game at the final buzzer," said 49ers star DeMarco Johnson (23 points, seven rebounds). "But the pass was a little short and I couldn't get a real good shot off."

Once the overtime started, the 49ers appeared emotionally spent.

Two free throws by Johnson created an 81-81 tie with 2: 23 remaining, but the Tar Heels (32-3) then exhibited their usual poise under pressure.

Led by senior guard Shammond Williams (32 points) and junior forwards Vince Carter (24 points) and Antawn Jamison (19 points, 12 rebounds), North Carolina ran off 12 straight points to guarantee itself a berth in the Sweet 16 in Greensboro, N.C., starting on Thursday.

First-year coach Bill Guthridge, who apprenticed for 30 years under Dean Smith, exhibited a great sense of relief after surviving this historic first encounter with UNCC.

"We definitely dodged a bullet today," he said. "Like [late N.C. State coach] Jim Valvano always used to say, 'survive and advance, survive and advance.' "

Except for a section of Tar Heels fans at the Hartford Civic Center, the capacity crowd applauded the effort of the 49ers. But their coach, Melvin Watkins, who has rejuvenated the basketball program in Charlotte, set the record straight.

"There are no moral victories," said Watkins. "Our guys expected to win and gave it all they had.

"But I could sense the game slipping away in overtime. My guys got tired, especially Sean Colson, who played the whole game, and our execution kind of fell apart. But the bottom line is we lost to a team that could easily win the NCAA championship."

The Tar Heels hardly looked the part of champions in the first half, when the smaller 49ers dominated the boards, grabbed 15 rebounds and led 32-25 after 16 minutes, with Johnson clearly outplaying Jamison, his former Charlotte prep rival.

North Carolina scored the first 12 points of the second half to gain a 44-36 advantage, but the 49ers kept scratching back until the miracle shot by Guevara (16 points) pulled them even.

But there would be no miracles for UNCC, just the nagging

memory of how close it came to springing an upset for the ages.

Michigan State 63, Princeton 56: Michigan State, led by sophomore guard Mateen Cleaves' 27 points and nine rebounds, shoved Princeton out the back door of the East Regional.

The Spartans (22-7), seeded fourth but mostly overlooked by the Eastern media that had jumped on the Tigers' bandwagon, deprived Princeton of its two favorite offensive weapons -- the backdoor layup and the three-point shot.

Princeton (27-2), which had lost previously only to top-ranked North Carolina, was limited to a single backcourt basket in the first half and converted only seven of 28 three-point attempts. The Spartans also out-rebounded the Tigers, 39-15.

Despite all these problems, Princeton capitalized on 22 Michigan State turnovers to forge a 54-54 tie on senior forward James Mastaglio's layup with 2: 02 remaining. But that was the Tigers' last gasp.

Cleaves, who was briefly suspended by third-year coach Tom Izzo last month for drinking off-campus, hit a clutch three-pointer to start a 7-0 Spartans run that put the game out of reach.

"Cleaves dominated the game," said Princeton coach Bill Carmody, who has lost only six of 57 games the last two seasons. "We couldn't stop his penetration, and when we did, he stepped up to make the threes."

As good as Cleaves was at the offensive end, Izzo credited his defense with being the determining factor in limiting Princeton to 40 percent (20-for-50) shooting.

"In every sport, you win with defense," Izzo said. "Our game plan was to pressure the man with the ball and stay one step off the other Princeton players to prevent the backdoor play.

"I thought [junior forward] Antonio Smith did an excellent job of directing traffic. That was his job today. It's hard for players like Smith and [freshman guard] Charlie Bell, who were big-time scorers in high school, to sacrifice and play defense."

The Spartans particularly frustrated Mastaglio and fellow forward Gabe Lewullis, who were a combined 1-for-12 from three-point range.

But the Tigers, who spotted the Spartans a 10-0 lead, still had their chances.

In one telling second-half sequence stretch when they trailed 51-44, they blew three straight layups after creating turnovers at half-court.

The Spartans, making their first Sweet 16 appearance since 1990, now have the unenviable task of playing North Carolina in Greensboro on Thursday night.

Pub Date: 3/15/98

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