Sunday, March 16, 2003

Big 10: Illinois withstands Coverdale's heroics

Unheralded freshman takes OSU to title game

The Associated Press

CHICAGO - Brian Cook's mere presence means everything to Illinois. When the Big Ten player of the year spends time on the bench with foul trouble, as he did Saturday, the Illini suffer.

When he's in the game, they're a different team, one that's difficult to beat.

Cook scored 25 points and made two free throws with 5.2 seconds left as the Illini withstood a late Indiana charge led by Tom Coverdale to beat the Hoosiers 73-72 in the Big Ten semifinals.

Illinois (23-6) will play Ohio State for the title and the automatic NCAA Tournament bid.

"If they go down, it will have to be a good team to beat them because there are not many weaknesses on their team," Coverdale said of the Illini.

Indiana (20-12) probably assured itself an at-large NCAA berth, one year after making it to the national final.

Coverdale made a pair of 3-pointers in the final 6.7 seconds and nearly brought the Hoosiers back from a 16-point halftime deficit.

He scored 19 of his 21 points in the second half, making four 3-pointers.

With Cook on the bench for more than six minutes after getting his second and third fouls early in the second half, the Hoosiers chopped the halftime lead to five. George Leach had seven points during a 16-7 run capped by Wright's 3-pointer.

But Cook's return sparked the Illini, and they appeared to pull away again. He had two baskets and a three-point play, and Sean Harrington and Head hit 3-pointers.

Illinois was ahead by 11 with 2:53 to go, but Coverdale kept the Hoosiers alive.

He hit his second 3-pointer of the half with 1:58 left, cutting the lead to seven, and then it became a free-throw contest down the stretch.

Brown and Head each made one of two at the line around two misses from Wright, leaving Illinois ahead 71-66 with 13 seconds left.

Coverdale then sank a 3 to make it 71-69. Cook calmly hit two from the line around a timeout for a four-point lead before Coverdale made another 3-pointer just before the buzzer. This time, the Hoosiers couldn't foul again to stop the clock.

INDIANA (20-12)-Wright 3-6 8-13 16, Newton 2-6 4-4 8, Leach 5-7 4-6 14, Coverdale 7-12 3-4 21, Strickland 1-2 0-0 3, Moye 2-5 0-0 4, Perry 0-1 0-0 0, Kline 0-0 0-0 0, Hornsby 1-5 2-2 5, Roberts 0-2 1-2 1, Tapak 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-46 22-31 72.

ILLINOIS (23-6)-Cook 7-12 11-12 25, Powell 2-5 0-0 5, Augustine 3-6 0-0 6, Williams 2-6 1-4 6, Brown 1-7 4-5 6, Head 5-6 4-6 16, Harrington 1-5 2-2 5, Smith 1-6 2-2 4. Totals 22-53 24-31 73.

Halftime-Illinois 37-21. 3-Point goals-Indiana 8-16 (Coverdale 4-8, Wright 2-3, Strickland 1-1, Hornsby 1-4), Illinois 5-16 (Head 2-2, Powell 1-2, Williams 1-2, Harrington 1-5, Augustine 0-1, Cook 0-1, Brown 0-3). Fouled out-Moye, Augustine. Rebounds-Indiana 37 (Newton 9), Illinois 28 (Head 5). Assists-Indiana 9 (Coverdale, Wright 3), Illinois 16 (Brown 7). Total fouls-Indiana 23, Illinois 22. A-20,248.

Unheralded freshman takes OSU to title game

CHICAGO - Brent Darby heard the whistle and thought he was going to the foul line once more, a chance to win the game for Ohio State with 6 seconds left.

Then he heard the referee call Charles Bass' name. Instead of Ohio State's leading scorer, the game was in the hands of a freshman who'd never even attempted a free throw, let alone made one.

"I went to say something to the referee and Charles told me, 'Don't worry about it, I got it,' " Darby said. "The way he said it, he had a lot of confidence in his voice. So I stepped away from him and said, 'Do your thing.' "

Bass did. The reserve freshman, only in the game because Velimir Radinovic had fouled out, banked the first shot off the glass to give Ohio State a 55-54 victory over Michigan State in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament Saturday afternoon.

The Spartans had one last shot, but Chris Hill's 13-footer clanged off the rim as time expired.

"Don't anybody question why Chris' last two shots didn't go in because they're not supposed to," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "We did not deserve to win that game. They deserved to win the game. They outplayed us the entire game."

When the buzzer sounded, the Ohio State cheerleaders rushed the court and several Buckeyes collapsed on the floor. Barely above .500 two weeks ago, Ohio State (17-13) will play for the tournament championship - and the Big Ten's automatic NCAA bid - for a second straight year.

The eighth-seeded Buckeyes will play No. 13 Illinois, the second seed.

"I knew it was my time to step up. Everyone else had been doing it," Bass said.

Bass and Darby salvaged what would have been a huge collapse by the Buckeyes. They led by as many as 19 in the first half as they held Michigan State (19-12) to a woeful 15 percent shooting.

But Ohio State made just two field goals in the last 17:09, the last one coming with eight minutes to play.

"It was tough because we knew they were going to keep coming at us," Sean Connolly said. "It's just a testament to us. We kept fighting."

After trailing the entire game, Michigan State took a 51-50 lead on a 3-pointer by Maurice Ager with 3:43 to play. Knowing the Buckeyes didn't have any inside game, the Spartans clamped down on Darby.

But the 6-foot-1 guard didn't back down, making four foul shots in a 40-second span to give Ohio State a 54-51 lead with 1:59 left.

"We can't play without him. No chance," Ohio State Jim O'Brien said of Darby, who was 10-of-10 from the line in the last 9:36.

Hill came right back with a monster 3 to tie the game at 54 and, after trading misses, Ohio State again gave the ball to Darby. But Izzo wasn't going to let him go to the line again.

"I decided if I was going to lose the game, I was going to lose it with the ball in our hands at the end, not theirs," Izzo said.

So he had his guys foul who he thought was Ohio State's worst free throw shooter: Bass.

After making the first one, Bass missed the second shot and the Spartans got the rebound, but Hill couldn't pull off the last-ditch jumper.

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