(14) Niagara 67

(20-10, 13-5 MAAC)

(3) Oklahoma 84

(25-7, 12-4 Big 12)

    12:45 PM ET, March 17, 2005

    McKale Center, Tucson, Arizona

    1 2 T
    #14NIAG 34 3367
    #3OKLA 37 4784

    Top Performers

    Niagara: J. Mendez 22 Pts, 15 Reb, 1 Ast, 2 Stl, 2 Blk

    Oklahoma: T. Gray 13 Pts, 13 Reb, 3 Ast

    Second-half run propels Sooners to second round

    TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -- Big and brawny Oklahoma muscled its way past Niagara and all the good karma the Purple Eagles had going for them in the NCAA Tournament.

    Drew Lavender led six Sooners in double figures with 17 points in third-seeded Oklahoma's 84-67 victory Thursday in an Austin Regional game at Arizona's McKale Center.

    The Sooners (25-7), who didn't make the tourney last year, struggled with 46 percent field goal shooting, but were helped out by solid defense that harassed the Eagles into 16 turnovers. They next play Utah in the second round Saturday.

    "We had to dig in and hang in with our defense," Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson said. "Our offense kind of came and went, but we scored when we needed to."

    Juan Mendez led the 14th-seeded Eagles (20-10) with 22 points and 15 rebounds. But he missed his first 11 shots in the second half and finally made a basket with just over a minute left in his final college game. Fellow senior David Brooks added 16 points before fouling out.

    Mendez and Brooks left the game with 1:09 to play and shared a group hug with coach Joe Mihalich as Niagara fans chanted, "Thank you, seniors."

    "That scene is what makes college basketball special," Sampson said. "You don't see that in the NBA. They had courage to come to Niagara and four years later, look what they did."

    After trailing by three at halftime, the Eagles got within one on a basket by Alvin Cruz. But then they went cold, going nearly 12 minutes without a field goal as Oklahoma built a 19-point lead.

    "We went out there and played hard, with a chip on our shoulder," Oklahoma's Taj Gray said. "That's what increased our level of intensity on defense. We feel like we have a lot of things to prove, like an underdog."

    Cruz's eyes were red and Brooks bowed his head during post-game interviews.

    "We did something special, we made it to the Tournament," said Cruz, also a senior. "I was sad that we lost and our college career is over."

    All of Niagara's current players were a decade or more from being born when the Eagles last appeared in the NCAA Tournament in 1970. Back then, future NBA Hall of Famer Calvin Murphy helped the Eagles to a 1-2 record under the Tournament's old format.

    Murphy sat in Niagara's fan section, looking resplendent in a purple pinstriped suit and gray snakeskin shoes. Purple-clad Niagara students chanted his name during a timeout and a smiling Murphy pointed back at them.

    Dolores Mihalich, the 80-year-old coach's mother, sat near Murphy with her hands clasped and a purple bandanna covering her head. She is battling colon cancer, which has spread to her liver.

    Her son had promised that one day she would see him coach in a Tournament game. Once the Eagles qualified, she carefully scheduled her biweekly chemotherapy treatments so she would be strong enough to travel across the country.

    "As heartbroken as we are now, we had our one shining moment getting here and playing in the Tournament," Mihalich said. "We don't need another .500 Big 12 or ACC team in the Tournament. We need more Niagaras."

    The 3,548-student school in upstate New York qualified as the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament champions.

    But Oklahoma proved too big and too powerful inside and even its own plodding performance was more than enough to overcome Niagara. Gray added 13 points and 13 rebounds; David Godbold, Kevin Bookout and Lawrence McKenzie added 12 points each. Bookout grabbed 10 rebounds and the Sooners held a 48-37 edge on the boards.

    "We are used to that kind of performance from our team," Lavender said. "Nobody really averages a lot of points. We have a really good team and everybody can score in double figures."

    Tied at 16-all, the Sooners used a 19-6 run to take their largest lead of the first half at 35-22. Most of their baskets came inside, with seven different players scoring, before Godbold capped the spurt with a 3-pointer.

    The Eagles responded by outscoring Oklahoma 12-2 to end the half trailing 37-34. Mendez had seven points and Lorenzo Miles five.

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press


    Team Stat Comparison

    Points 67 84
    FG Made-Attempted 24-68 (.353) 34-74 (.459)
    3P Made-Attempted 6-28 (.214) 3-13 (.231)
    FT Made-Attempted 13-15 (.867) 13-15 (.867)
    Fouls (Tech/Flagrant) 16 (0/0) 14 (0/0)
    Largest Lead 5 20


    » Mar 17, 2005 @OKLA 84, NIAG 67Recap