Tuesday, March 18, 2003
Little Mo leads underdog Bulldogs vs. Sooners
By Pete Iacobelli
The Associated Press
ORANGEBURG, S.C. - To say these Bulldogs are underdogs would be an understatement: South Carolina State lost all four games it played in past NCAA tournaments.
Now it must play No. 1-seeded Oklahoma in the first round - in Oklahoma City, no less, just 20 miles from the Sooners' campus. And no team seeded 16th has ever won a game in the tournament.
Still, like every other school in the 65-team field, South Carolina State can dream that the basketball odyssey it begins this week can lead all the way to the championship game April 7 in New Orleans.
"The beauty of this whole thing is we are in the tournament and anything can happen," coach Cy Alexander said. "That's why you play the game."
The Bulldogs' hopes rest in large part on Moses Malone Jr., the son of the NBA Hall of Famer who bypassed college and jumped from the high school to the pros 30 years ago.
The 22-year-old Malone Jr., or "Little Mo," doesn't have his father's powerful physique or frightening on-court stare. He is smaller, quicker and blessed with a feathery jump shot.
"The feeling is tremendous. I never thought that I'd be in the NCAA tournament," Malone Jr. said Monday. "For this to happen is like a dream come true."
Of course, his team probably won't be in the NCAA tournament for long. It's expected to exit Thursday with a loss to Oklahoma.
Plenty of teams are mostly just happy to be invited to the event.
Action starts Tuesday with a play-in game between North Carolina-Asheville (at 14-16, the only losing team) and Texas Southern (0-3 in three previous trips to the NCAAs).
While one of those teams has to win, South Carolina State won't give up hope that it could, too.
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Malone averages 15.8 points, second on the team to sophomore guard Thurman Zimmerman's 16.3 average.
Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson remembers seeing Malone play at a high school summer camp.
"He's a talented kid," Sampson said. "They're not going to be easy to play against."
Malone transferred to South Carolina State after bad experiences at Houston and Texas Tech. Now he thinks he finally can answer years of criticism and step out of his father's large shadow.
"Me having the name has brought a lot of good things," he said. "But it's brought a lot of bad things, too."
Malone Sr. was a 6-foot-10 center who led the Philadelphia 76ers to the 1983 NBA title and retired in 1995. He was one of the first basketball players to skip college and says there were a lot of expectations on his son.
When "you've got a father who's in the NBA Hall of Fame," he says in his familiar low voice, "people are going to try and break you down."
Malone Jr. never felt comfortable at his first college stop in Houston and left after nine games.
At Texas Tech, Malone broke his left foot, grew despondent and gained weight. He complained about playing time, and his relationship soured with coach James Dickey.
"My son has had a lot of ups and downs," Malone Sr. said.
In 2001, he called Alexander, a golfing buddy from when "Big Mo" was with the Washington Bullets and Alexander was an assistant coach at Howard University.
"I told him we'd take a look," Alexander said.
Malone Jr. said his South Carolina State teammates took to him right away.
Last year, he started 22 games and led the team in scoring at nearly 15 points a game. But the Bulldogs had their first losing season in a decade, going 15-16.
This year, Malone is the team's focal point, and Alexander has worked with him on his leadership skills.
The Bulldogs (20-10) won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament title this weekend, earning a berth in the NCAA tournament.
Malone lost both games he played against Oklahoma when he was at Texas Tech, and he provided a scouting report for his teammates.
He told them that Oklahoma plays tough defense, but Malone is optimistic the Bulldogs can win if they rebound well, make open shots and limit turnovers.
"They may be bigger than us, but ... we have the talent. We just have to put it together," Malone said.
COMPLETE NCAA TOURNAMENT COVERAGE
Special NCAA hoops section; Bracket contest
It's more than a Bearcats game
No. 24 Arkansas thinking big
UC out to prove naysayers wrong
Varsity Village gets $10M from Fifth Third
Xavier now the hunted
No. 1 ranking increases ante for UK to win it all
Norse win on putback
March Madness could be delayed by war
Pressure and expectations smother winning coaches
Ohio State suspends Williams
BYU's no-Sunday stance could cause NCAA shuffle
Little Mo leads underdog Bulldogs vs. Sooners
Blue Devils to stick with perimeter lineup
Gators need answers quickly
Bobby Knight's son applies for Wright State job
Spirit of Valvano lifts Whittenburg
Tigers learn of bid while on 12-hour bus ride
Asheville gets a whiff of the bigtime
OTHER COLLEGE HOOPS HEADLINES
NIT: Iowa 62, Valparaiso 60
UCLA fires Lavin