Hot-shooting Indiana cools off Kent State with 81-69 victory

IU hits 15 of 19 threes, wins South Regional

Ncaa Tournament

March 24, 2002|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Two nights after Indiana pounded the ball inside to take out the NCAA's defending champion, the versatile Hoosiers banished Cinderella with a hail of three-point shots.

Indiana hit a staggering 15 of 19 shots from beyond the arc to beat Kent State, 81-69, in the South Regional final at sold-out Rupp Arena last night and earn the school's eighth trip to the Final Four.

"If we'd have had 10 people out there, I don't think we could've stopped them tonight," said an exasperated Andrew Mitchell of Kent State.

The fifth-seeded Hoosiers (24-11) will face second-seeded Oklahoma, an 81-75 winner over Missouri in the West Regional final, in Saturday's national semifinals at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

The Final Four is an improbable stage for the Hoosiers in a season that started under duress -- and a 7-5 record -- for Indiana coach Mike Davis.

"God has truly blessed me to put this team in the Final Four," Davis said. "I was so nervous today, my stomach was in knots. This is a big, big day for Indiana basketball."

After leaning on 6-foot-10 sophomore star Jared Jeffries in Thursday's stunning 74-73 upset of No. 1 seed Duke, the Hoosiers went outside to snuff Kent State's remarkable season. Their 15 three-point field goals shattered the school tournament record of 10.

Dane Fife led the three-point assault, hitting five of six, and scored a team-high 17 points. Kyle Hornsby cashed in four of five three-pointers for 16 points, and Tom Coverdale added 14 points, hitting three of four, despite missing the final nine minutes with a sprained left ankle. Coverdale's performance earned him the Most Outstanding Player award for the South Regional.

Jeffries had a relatively quiet 10 points and seven rebounds.

The Hoosiers actually shot better from beyond the arc (78.9 percent) than they did inside it (12-for-23, 52.2 percent). Their three-point percentage was the team's highest for the season and the second highest in NCAA regional games, topped only by Kansas State's 80.0 percent in 1988.

"I haven't seen a team shoot like that in my 13 years of coaching," said Kent State's Stan Heath. "They saved their best for money games. I guess that's what big-time players do, so give them credit."

The binge came against the Mid-American Conference team that knocked Indiana out of the first round of the tournament a year ago. Payback for that 77-73 loss makes the trip to Atlanta even better.

"This is something I wanted to do for a long time," Hornsby said. "I wanted to cut down the nets since I was in junior high. That it came against Kent State -- they caused a lot of hard times in the last year [for Indiana] -- so it did make it a little bit sweeter."

The defeat stopped Kent State's winning streak at 21 games and finished its season at 30-6. As the 10th seed in the South, the Golden Flashes were attempting to become the lowest seed to reach the Final Four since 1986, when LSU made it as an 11th seed.

Except for a 3-0 lead when Trevor Huffman hit an opening three, the Flashes played from behind all night. Indiana's first five field goals were all three points, opening a 15-4 lead.

When Coverdale scored 10 straight Indiana points midway through the half, it triggered a 15-5 run that put the Hoosiers up 34-14.

It was a game of torrid runs and cold spells for both teams. Kent State finished the half with a 14-6 run to close within 12. When the Flashes hit the first two baskets of the second half, the deficit was eight.

Back and forth it went. A 19-7 spurt restored Indiana's lead to 20 again, 59-39. But then the Hoosiers lost Coverdale on a drive to the basket (X-rays were negative), and Kent State made its final push.

While Indiana went scoreless for more than four minutes, Kent State got as close as 59-52.

Fife answered the challenge with another three, Jeffries with a dunk, and Indiana was never seriously threatened.

"This feels great for the fact the Indiana fans have been behind us and were waiting a long time for this," Fife said. "This is where we belong."

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