- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 31, 2002

ATLANTA Indiana just won't go away.
An afterthought in the South Region, left for dead against Duke and dismissed as Final Four fodder, the upstart Hoosiers have spent March making prognosticators look foolish.
Last night they continued their bracket-wrecking run though the NCAA tournament, upsetting favored Oklahoma 73-64 in the national semifinals before 53,378 at the Georgia Dome.
Reserves Jeff Newton and Donald Perry combined for 29 points and 10 rebounds for Indiana (25-11), which advances to tomorrow night's title game.
"This is just unbelievable for us to be playing for the national championship" said Indiana coach Mike Davis. "But it's like the coach from Illinois [Bill Self] said, you don't have to be the best team. You only have to be the best team that day."
About the only thing more surprising than the Hoosiers' victory was the manner in which they achieved it. With starting point guard Tom Coverdale hobbled by an ankle injury and star forward Jared Jeffries hampered by foul trouble, Indiana carried the contest on the strength of its bench namely, Newton and Perry.
A junior forward from Atlanta, Newton stunned the hometown crowd not to mention the Sooners with a 19-point, six-rebound, four-block eruption. Despite his reedy, 6-foot-9, 210-pound physique, he more than held his own against Oklahoma's burly Aaron McGhee, scoring on a variety of seal-offs and short jumpers.
With Indiana leading 60-55 and 4:40 remaining, Newton forced the muscular McGhee into his fifth foul, leaving the Sooners without their leading scorer (22 points) and only consistent offensive threat.
"All I was dreaming about was coming in and winning both of these games in front of the home crowd," Newton said. "I didn't have too many personal goals. I just wanted to win."
Likewise, Perry gave the Hoosiers a crucial late-game lift. After a limping, visibly frustrated Coverdale was benched with three minutes left and the game deadlocked 60-60, Perry flipped a perfect lob pass to Newton for a basket, then scored on a coast-to-coast dash to give Indiana a 64-60 advantage.
In the game's final minute, Perry a 60 percent foul shooter connected on five of six free throws to seal the victory.
"That's what Donald has worked for all week," Jeffries said. "We knew that Coverdale would probably struggle a little bit, and Donald did an unbelievable job. He played 11 minutes and had 10 points. With that kind of effort, it's going to be tough to beat us."
Indiana also turned in a gritty defensive effort more typical of, well, Oklahoma, holding the Sooners to just 36.4 percent shooting and a ludicrous two 3-pointers in 18 attempts.
Spearheading the Hoosiers shutdown was pesky guard Dane Fife, who hounded Oklahoma gunner Hollis Price into a six-point, 1-for-11 disaster.
"Fife was great tonight against Price," Davis said. "[Danes] the best defensive player in the Big Ten. He's not quick, he's not fast, he doesn't jump high, but it's hard to catch the basketball against him. And when you catch the ball, it's hard to get by him."
While Price and his teammates struggled from beyond the arc, Indiana took advantage of the seams in an Oklahoma matchup zone to drain six of six treys in the second half, helping them overcome a 34-30 half time deficit.
For the Sooners, the loss was an unexpected and sudden end to a breakthrough season that saw them go 31-5, defeat Maryland and Kansas before the tournament and establish themselves as a dark-horse pick for the title.
"When you get this close, it hurts a little bit more," Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson said. "When somebody says only one team's going to go away happy, that's kind of a hollow feeling."
Two years after taking over at Indiana following Bob Knight's bitter and tumultuous dismissal, Davis now stands on the verge of a national championship a resilient coach for a resilient team.
"Indiana's a great program, great basketball program, great school and it's bigger than anyone or anything," he said. "I'm blessed to have a team that every single day, no matter what, comes out and plays hard. They fight."


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