Slipper falls off Valparaiso Rhode Island advances to Elite Eight, 74-68

March 21, 1998|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

ST. LOUIS -- Their memorable NCAA tournament was over, yet Valparaiso's fans didn't want their moment to end after last night's 74-68 loss to Rhode Island.

So they stayed in their seats long after the game was over and cheered. And chanted. They wanted one more moment with their players, one more opportunity to show their appreciation.

And thus Valparaiso, which has provided one special moment after another in the tournament, provided yet another -- a curtain call.

A locker-room gathering in which every single individual was in tears was interrupted so that the players and coaches of the team could walk onto the Kiel Arena floor en masse to acknowledge their thousands of fans.

"It was like a comforting hug that all of us needed at that time," said senior forward Bill Jenkins, fighting back tears when asked about the moment.

The 13th-seeded Crusaders -- the lowest seed remaining in the tournament going into the Midwest Regional semifinals -- tried their best to extend their season as they staged one late rally after another.

But it was eighth-seeded Rhode Island that made the big plays, capitalizing on second-chance opportunities and playing a tenacious defense to advance to the regional finals for the first time in school history. The Rams improved to 25-8, the second-most wins in school history.

"I hope America realizes what a good coach Jim Harrick is," Valparaiso coach Homer Drew said of his Rhode Island counterpart. "That was the best defense we faced all year. We took shots that we don't normally take, and that was a tribute to what they did."

The Rams won despite going the final 3: 14 without a field goal. Rhode Island had its biggest lead of the game, 50-39, after a dunk by Luther Clay with 18: 12 left. Valparaiso fought back, tying the game at 54 on a running banker by Bryce Drew (18 points) with 12: 09 left.

Valparaiso drew within 64-63 with 3: 54 left after two free throws by Jamie Sykes, leaving its fans with thoughts of another miracle finish.

But Rhode Island forward Antonio Reynolds-Dean grabbed an offensive rebound and converted a three-point play with 3: 13 left for a 67-63 lead. And Reynolds-Dean had two of his three blocks in the final three minutes, helping thwart any attempt of a rally by the Crusaders.

"Antonio Reynolds-Dean stepped up," said Harrick, who led UCLA to the national championship in 1995. "There were two big blocks, and then there were the great rebounds."

Reynolds-Dean and a balanced attack -- five players scored in double figures -- helped Rhode Island advance for a rematch tomorrow with Stanford. The teams met Dec. 29 in the opening game of the Cable Car Classic at Stanford, with the Cardinal winning, 70-69.

Valparaiso, a five-point loser to Stanford in November, also was looking forward to a rematch. But its postseason run ended amid memories of a very special season.

"We know what we did will stick in the minds of everyone," said Jenkins' twin brother, Bob.

Added Sykes, who leaves to attend baseball camp with the Arizona Diamondbacks: "I think it was a perfect ending to my basketball career here."

VALPARAISO -- Viskovic 5-9 3-4 13, Bi.Jenkins 2-8 0-1 4, Vilcinskas 2-3 0-0 4, Sykes 3-9 2-2 11, Drew 6-16 3-3 18, Nuness 1-6 0-0 2, Ja.Jenkins 2-4 0-0 5, Bo.Jenkins 4-8 2-2 11. Totals 25-63 10-12 68.

RHODE ISLAND -- King 1-5 0-0 3, Reynolds-Dean 6-8 4-8 16, Clay 5-9 4-5 14, Mobley 5-12 2-2 16, Wheeler 4-14 1-2 10, Jefferson 0-0 0-0 0, Arigbabu 0-1 3-4 3, Murphy 2-6 7-8 12, Bennett 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-55 21-29 74.

Halftime--Rhode Island, 44-39. 3-point goals--V 8-18 (Sykes 3-3, Drew 3-7, Bo.Jenkins 1-1, Ja.Jenkins 1-2, Nuness 0-2, Bi.Jenkins 0-3); RI 7-21 (Mobley 4-6, Murphy 1-3, King 1-4, Wheeler 1-8). Fouled out--Bo.Jenkins. Rebounds--V 38 (Bo.Jenkins 8); RI 38 (Reynolds-Dean 11). Assists--V 11 (Sykes, Drew 3); RI 13 (Wheeler 7). Total fouls--V 22, RI 15. A--22,172.

Pub Date: 3/21/98

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