Defense is the key for Penn State

Nittany Lions shut down Providence, 69-59

South at New Orleans

Ncaa Tournament

March 17, 2001|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

NEW ORLEANS - Penn State fretted about the defensive ability of Providence's John Linehan and how he might disrupt its Joe Crispin-led attack.

It turns out that the Friars should have worried about where they were going to find their own points last night.

Penn State, the seventh seed in the South Region, shut down 11th-seeded Providence in the second half at the Superdome, as the Friars shot 31.3 percent from the field after the break and the Nittany Lions cruised to a 69-59 first-round win. Coach Jerry Dunn's club will face North Carolina or Princeton in tomorrow's second round.

The 5-foot-9 Linehan was the Big East Conference's Defensive Player of the Year. He limited Crispin, Penn State's No. 2 all-time leading scorer, to 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting, but that wasn't the telling field-goal statistic. The Friars looked sharp during a 17-2 run that got them a short-lived lead before the half, but they sputtered afterward, and shot just 10-for-32 in the second half.

Penn State's defensive work was rooted in Chicago. The Nittany Lions (20-11) upset Michigan State in the Big Ten semifinals, but wilted the next day and were embarrassed by Iowa, 94-74.

"We were much more focused at the defensive end," Crispin said, "especially after last Saturday."

Penn State, which broke a halftime tie at 30 with seven points and never looked back, got 16 points and 10 rebounds from senior forward Gyasi Cline-Heard. Crispin's brother Jon had eight of his 11 in the second half, and Providence (21-10) never got closer than six after his coast-to-coast three-point play and pull-up jumper extended the Nittany Lions' lead to 46-37 with 11:53 left.

The erratic Friars, who set a Big East record for points in a first half earlier this season but were held under 60 in three of their last four games, got 16 points from senior forward Erron Maxey.

It was Penn State's second win in the NCAA tournament since 1955, the other coming in 1991.

Florida 69, Western Kentucky 56: The Gators (24-6) broke open a game that was tied at the half, as the 14th-seeded Hilltoppers (24-7) caved under the weight of the Gators' defense.

Florida coach Billy Donovan employed full-court pressure, and had at least two players collapsing on Hilltoppers center Chris Marcus at all times.

"He's seen every type of defense, and we talked about doubling down in the low post and trapping with the press," Donovan said. "Every time he caught the ball, we wanted to go aggressively after him and not even let him shoot. He's a great player, as good as any center in America."

The 7-foot-1, 285-pound Marcus had a game-high 16 rebounds and 14 points, but was 5-for-14 from the field, his fourth-worst shooting game of the season. Udonis Haslem gave up four inches to Marcus but ran him ragged for 24 points and 11 rebounds.

It was a one-possession game with less than nine minutes left, but Marcus' turnaround jumper was tipped, and Haslem hustled to a three-point play at the other end.

North Carolina 70, Princeton 48: The Tar Heels (26-6), returning to the site of their last two NCAA championship victories, quickly ended any thought of another upset by the Tigers (16-11).

It was no contest from the start. Princeton center Nate Walton - son of former star Bill Walton - did not even jump for the opening tipoff, instead dropping into a defensive position against 7-foot Brendan Haywood.

Tigers coach John Thompson III could do little in his first NCAA tournament game. His father, former Georgetown coach John Thompson, could no nothing at all from the second row of the Princeton rooting section.

"It was gut-wrenching to sit here and watch," the elder Thompson said at halftime.

The taller and much more athletic Tar Heels saw Princeton close within 12 points in the second half before breaking away behind Haywood's dunks.

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