- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2008

If there was one player who could have single-handedly carried 12th-seeded Temple to a first-round victory over Michigan State, it was Dionte Christmas. The junior guard came in averaging 20 points and was held to single digits in scoring just once all season.

But the Spartans made sure they moved on to Round 2 in Denver, winning 72-61 by stifling Christmas with a flurry of double-teams and allowing him just a single field goal in 11 attempts. Christmas was 0-for-7 from beyond the arc; he had made at least one 3-pointer in all but one game entering the tournament. Michigan State’s Travis Walton was particularly tough on Christmas, who was visibly frustrated, often loudly urging the referees to call fouls.

During the first half, it also looked like the Spartans would shut down Mark Tyndale, Temple’s other main scoring threat. For the first 20 minutes, Tyndale had just two points and looked as aggravated as Christmas as Michigan State raced to a 35-26 lead. But Tyndale found some open shots in the second half, scoring 15 of his 17 points to keep the final score respectable.

Purdue on track

A possible sleeper that might make things interesting in the West Region might be Purdue, which made sure Baylor’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 1988 was a short one.

Sure, Purdue didn’t win the Big Ten title or appear on anyone’s preseason Final Four lists. But the Boilermakers did top conference champion Wisconsin twice and also beat Michigan State and Louisville. Two of Purdue’s eight losses came in overtime. Four of the others were decided by exactly three points each.

This is a team that turns every game into a track meet, going nine deep and spreading the scoring around. Yes, this is a young team. But so was Syracuse when it won the national championship in 2003. And so was Arizona when it won it all in 1997.

Given Xavier’s struggles against Georgia yesterday — and over the previous two weeks, for that matter — don’t be surprised if the Boilermakers pull off the upset to make the Sweet 16 and possibly go even further.

Hangin’ 10

Was that first-half score a misprint? No, Kent State really did score just 10 points in the first 20 minutes of its 71-58 first-round loss to UNLV. And it’s especially surprising since many prognosticators thought the MAC champion Golden Flashes would cruise against the Runnin’ Rebels. The 10 points were the fewest in an NCAA tournament half since Butler held Wake Forest to that total in 2001.

So what happened? Well, turnovers were a large part of it. In the first half, Kent State averaged about a turnover a minute while going nearly eight minutes without a point. Maybe there were signs that foretold such a festival of bad ball handling. According to basketball stats guru Ken Pomeroy, Kent State is ranked 242nd in the nation in turnover percentage. Meanwhile, UNLV is ranked sixth, meaning the Runnin’ Rebels take care of the ball better than almost anyone else.

Of course, not being able to make a shot also hurt Kent State, and that’s more surprising than the turnovers. The Golden Flashes shot better than 50 percent from inside the arc this season.

Fortunately for Kent State, it came back strong to make the final score respectable, actually outscoring UNLV in the second half.

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