Penn State gives Carolina the blues

Nittany Lions score stunning, 82-74 upset of No. 2-seeded UNC

`I expected us to win'

School gains Sweet 16 for first time since '55

Ncaa Tournament

March 19, 2001|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

NEW ORLEANS -- Will the guy who has Penn State playing Temple in the Sweet 16 in his office pool call the Weather Channel? They want to hire you as a forecaster.

The Nittany Lions, the No. 7 seed in the NCAA tournament's South Regional, yesterday made mighty North Carolina the second No. 2 seed to exit the tournament. The Tar Heels headed into the final five minutes with the ball and a four-point lead, but they grew weary and dropped a stunning, 82-74 decision to Penn State, which recorded its biggest victory in several generations.

The first five tournament games at the Superdome were stinkers, with 16 points the average margin of victory. The second-round game that put the Nittany Lions in the Sweet 16 -- against Temple in Atlanta on Friday -- for the first time since 1955 was a breath of fresh air. North Carolina (26-7) had never lost in the Superdome, and rookie coach Matt Doherty helped the rest of the Tar Heels win the title here in 1982, but it was the Nittany Lions who danced on the scorer's table.

Joe Crispin, Penn State's senior point guard, was asked to gauge the game's significance.

"It means I get to play Friday," Crispin said. "That's as far as I go. I don't get ecstatic about this. I expected us to win."

The Nittany Lions (21-11) oozed confidence and story angles.

Start with coach Jerry Dunn, who had one appearance and zero NCAA wins to show for his first five seasons in Happy Valley. He nearly left last year to take a job at Tulane, which is around the corner here.

Move to Titus Ivory, the overlooked ace in the three-guard lineup that includes the Crispins, Joe and his brother, Jon. Ivory grew up in Charlotte and dreamed of playing for North Carolina. He wasn't deemed Tar Heels material by former coach Dean Smith four years ago, so he migrated north to Penn State, where basketball has usually been a rumor since the 1954 team made the Final Four.

"I can go home with my head held high," Ivory said. "My brother told me there were stories in the paper back home about how Carolina blue intimidates people. I wanted to show off my Penn State blue."

Ivory also wanted to speed the recovery of his mother, who spent Saturday night at the Tulane Medical Center, suffering from gastrointestinal distress. Ivory and Jon Crispin tag-teamed All-America guard Joseph Forte, who was 3-for-13 from the field and scored six points. That matched the career low for the sophomore from DeMatha. He was asked if recent criticism of his shot selection and rumors of dissension caused him to be shy about gunning.

"I think so," said Forte, who shot the Tar Heels into the Final Four last year. "You don't want to be considered a ball hog. I wanted to get my teammates involved."

Penn State got 21 points apiece from Joe Crispin and Ivory, and 19 points and nine rebounds from fellow senior Gyasi Cline-Heard. Down 68-64, the Nittany Lions mounted a stirring 11-2 run. Ivory hit two free throws, then a three-pointer with 4:32 left that put them on top to stay. Ivory fed Tyler Smith for a 73-70 lead with 2:02 left, and Brandon Watkins, a 6-foot sophomore, came up big.

Watkins picked Julius Peppers clean in the backcourt, then assisted Ivory and added a pull-up jumper, as Penn State made every play down the stretch for its third conquest of a basketball blue blood this season. The Nittany Lions beat Kentucky in Rupp Arena, and took down Michigan State in the Big Ten quarterfinals.

Instead of going to its 18th Sweet 16 in 21 years, North Carolina was stopped on the first weekend of the tournament for the second time in three years.

"My expectations are higher than anybody's," said Doherty, who choked back tears and composed himself. "You judge effort, and I thought our effort was good."

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