Saturday, March 09, 2002

Stokes helps UC bury Charlotte




By Michael Perry mperry@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[img]
Leonard Stokes got hot in the second half.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
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        It was just before midnight Thursday and Charlotte senior Jobey Thomas was talking about his team's semifinal matchup with top-seeded Cincinnati in the Conference USA Tournament. He spoke of the need to contain UC guard Steve Logan and the importance of rebounding. Then, he added, there was the X-factor in the game: Leonard Stokes.

        Stokes is often an X-factor for the Bearcats.

        The 6-foot-6 junior helped spark No.5-ranked UC to its 71-55 victory over Charlotte on Friday night before a sellout crowd of 15,776 at Firstar Center.

        The Bearcats will play No.2 seed Marquette at 11:40 a.m. today for the tournament championship. About 2,000 tickets remain ($30, $35). They will go on sale at 9a.m. at the Firstar Center ticket office.

        During an 8 1/2-minute stretch in the second half, Stokes scored 13 of his 15 points.

[img]
Steve Logan flies in for a layup.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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        UC was ahead 38-29 when Stokes connected on a jumper from the right side. After a 49ers turnover, Donald Little passed the ball out to Stokes, who hit his first 3-pointer in five games to make it 43-29.

        Charlotte's Jermaine Williams made 1 of 2 free throws. On the other end, Jason Maxiell missed a jumper, but Stokes came flying in for the rebound and scored for a 45-30 UC lead with 16:19 remaining.

        The closest the 49ers would come after that: 49-42 with 10:50 to play.

        “I just wanted to be aggressive,” said Stokes, who also grabbed six rebounds. “I saw openings, and I just drove the ball into the paint.”

[img]
Donald Little shoots.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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        Little came through with a team-high 16 points and six rebounds, and Maxiell had 10 points and seven rebounds off the bench.

        Little was 6-of-9 from the field and had two assists and one block. He has scored in double figures four of the last seven games.

        “Donald's listened better,” coach Bob Huggins said. “When Donald shuts his mouth and listens, he's a pretty good player. He's been great to coach here of late. I think he understands how important he is to this team. ... That's as well as he's played defensively.”

        Logan finished with just seven points, ending his streak of 52 games scoring in double figures. He was only 1-of-7 from the field and only had three points with 1:30 left.

        “I could care less about that,” Logan said of his streak. “We won the game. I was aware of it — what's the big deal?

        “Guys came out hot today and made some shots. I just wanted to get them involved. I was thinking pass first, shoot later.”

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Leonard Davis fouls Jermaine Williams.
(AP photo)
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        The Bearcats are 29-3 and have tied a school record for most victories in a season.

        UC went 3-for-3 against the 49ers this season, previously beating them 71-58 (at Shoemaker Center) and 85-66 (in Charlotte).

        “We battled as hard as we could,” Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz said. “We guarded them well enough but they made big shots. I've got to give them credit for that. A physical game played into their hands. They're bigger and stronger.”

        In each game, Cincinnati senior Immanuel McElroy was a nightmare for Thomas, Charlotte's leading scorer.

        Thomas, a first-team all-conference pick who came in averaging 19.5 points, finished Friday night with a season-low six points on 1-of-7 shooting against McElroy, the league's Defensive Player of the Year. Thomas has shot 33 percent from the field and averaged 12.3 points in three games against UC.

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Immanuel McElroy strips the ball away from Williams.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
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        “I just wanted to frustrate him a little bit,” McElroy said. “My teammates helped me out on every screen.”

        Said Thomas: “I struggled, but it's no secret that they play really good defense. McElroy did a great job. It seemed like any time I did get an open look, somebody else would come up and double-team me. It made it really tough. I probably had two of my toughest games offensively this season against him.”

        The 49ers are 18-11 and hope they will get an NCAA invitation on the strength of their Ratings Percentage Index ranking of 34. Curtis Nash led Charlotte with 17 points. Demon Brown added 12.

        “That's certainly an NCAA team,” Huggins said.

        Charlotte upset UC in last year's tournament final 80-72 in Louisville and also knocked out the Bearcats in the 1999 semifinals in Birmingham. Cincinnati defeated the 49ers in the 1998 title game in Shoemaker Center.

        “We owed them from last year,” Logan said.

        Just like in their Thursday night rout of South Florida, the Bearcats came out strong against Charlotte, scoring the first seven points.

        The 49ers were within 21-15 when UC sophomore Field Williams hit back-to-back 3-pointers, one from three steps behind the NBA 3-point line. When Charlotte cut the deficit to eight, Williams nailed another 3.


CHARLOTTE (55)


                          fg    ft    rb             
                   min   m-a   m-a   o-t   a  pf   tp
C Nash              35  7-10   1-1   1-3   2   1   17
C Stephens          30  2-13   0-0   3-4   1   4    4
J Williams          16   3-6   1-2   2-6   0   5    7
D Brown             31  4-11   2-2   0-1   1   3   12
J Thomas            32   1-7   3-4   0-0   0   1    6
K Johnson           22  3-10   1-2   3-5   0   4    7
T Reed              11   0-0   0-1   1-3   1   1    0
M Niparavicius       8   0-3   0-0   0-1   0   2    0
E Basden            14   1-1   0-0   0-1   1   1    2
C Howard             1   0-0   0-0   0-0   0   0    0


_____________________________________________________
TOTALS             200 21-61  8-12 10-24   6  22   55
_____________________________________________________


Percentages: FG-.344, FT-.667. 3-Point Goals:
5-19, .263 (C Nash 2-4, D Brown 2-8, J Thomas
1-4, K Johnson 0-1, M Niparavicius 0-2). Team
Rebounds: 5. Blocked Shots: 2 (K Johnson, C 
Nash). Turnovers: 5 (C Stephens 2, T Reed, J 
Thomas, E Basden). Steals: 3 (E Basden 2, C 
Stephens).


CINCINNATI (71)


                          fg    ft    rb             
                   min   m-a   m-a   o-t   a  pf   tp
J Davis             23   2-3   2-2   0-3   1   3    6
I Mcelroy           38  4-10   0-0   1-6   7   3    8
D Little            31   6-9  4-10   3-6   2   3   16
L Stokes            28  6-10   2-2   1-6   2   1   15
S Logan             35   1-7   4-4   0-0   2   2    7
F Williams          14   3-5   0-0   1-1   0   1    9
T Barker             5   0-1   0-1   0-0   0   1    0
R Crawford           1   0-0   0-0   0-0   0   0    0
J Maxiell           25   2-7   6-6   2-7   0   2   10


_____________________________________________________
TOTALS             200 24-52 18-25  8-29  14  16   71
_____________________________________________________


Percentages: FG-.462, FT-.720. 3-Point Goals:
5-10, .500 (L Stokes 1-2, S Logan 1-3, F 
Williams 3-4, T Barker 0-1). Team Rebounds: 
8. Blocked Shots: 5 (I Mcelroy 2, J Maxiell 
2, D Little). Turnovers: 8 (I Mcelroy 3, S 
Logan 2, J Maxiell 2, D Little). Steals: 1 (S
Logan).


-----------------------------------
CHARLOTTE            25  30   -  55
CINCINNATI           36  35   -  71
----------------------------------- 


Technical fouls: None. A: 15,776. Officials: 
Curtis Shaw, Sam Croft, Steve Olson


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