INDIANA 81, KENT ST. 69: With outstanding 3-point shooting, the Hoosiers make the Final Four for the first time since '92.
By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 24, 2002
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Indiana senior guard Dane Fife saw the opportunity for a shot that would be heard all the way back in Bloomington and he never hesitated.
"Being a senior and shooting as well as I was tonight, I fired it," he said.
Dane's clutch 3-pointer, his fifth of the game and his team's 15th, ended a furious Kent State rally and helped carry IU to an 81-69 win Saturday night in the NCAA South Region championship before a Hoosier-dominated crowd of 22,435 at Rupp Arena.
Folks in Atlanta could hear that shot, too. The Hoosiers (24-11) are heading there for the Final Four. It will be the program's eighth appearance in the national semifinals, but first since 1992.
"This is where the program belongs," Fife said.
He and his teammates were determined to return the Hoosiers to that level. And if it could come against Kent State (30-6), it would be extra special.
The Golden Flashes stunned IU in the opening round of last year's NCAA Tournament, a loss the Hoosiers feared might cost interim coach Mike Davis his job. IU president Myles Brand, however, stuck with Davis and removed the interim designation.
The Hoosiers carried the frustration of that loss into this game.
And then they let it go ... with each long-range shot.
After falling behind 3-0, the fifth-seeded Hoosiers hit Kent State with a barrage of 3-pointers. Fife made two, then senior guard Kyle Hornsby and senior forward Jarrad Odle followed in the next minute for a 12-3 lead. The Golden Flashes called timeout, but that ploy neither cooled down the Hoosier shooters nor intensified their defense.
Hornsby hit another 3-pointer, junior guard Tom Coverdale made two and A.J. Moye got into the act for a stunning 34-14 lead with 8:02 left in the half. IU was 8-for-8 from beyond the arc and finished the half 9-of-11.
Consider: It made two 3-pointers against Duke.
Consider: Kent State had allowed its first three NCAA Tournament opponents to make 13 of 51 3-pointers.
"Over the course of the NCAA Tournament, Utah didn't give us much, Wilmington gave us a little bit, Duke took it away and all those games we went inside a lot," Hornsby said. "Kent State said, "Well. That didn't work. We're going to try this.' The one thing our guards are ready to do is shoot the ball when they take away our inside game because that's the only way it's going to open back up again is if we make our shots."
Kent State closed to 40-28 at the half, but the Hoosiers continued their torrid outside shooting and opened a 59-39 lead on another Fife 3-pointer with 10:32 left.
The 10th-seeded Golden Flashes, who had won a nation's best 21 straight and was looking to become the first Mid-American Conference team to reach the Final Four, rallied behind forward Antonio Gates and cut the deficit to 59-52 with 6:38 left.
IU seemed to be reeling without Coverdale, the region MVP who sprained his left ankle a few moments earlier and didn't return. X-rays were negative.
But Fife answered again.
"That was a critical time," Kent State first-year coach Stan Heath said. "Other teams might have folded, other teams might have felt the pressure. But give Dane Fife a lot of credit. He's a tough hard-nosed kid. ... He sent a dagger right at us with that 3-pointer. That took a lot of nerve and guts. That might have been the play of the game."
IU shot a season-high 64.3 percent from the field. Its 15-of-19 from 3-point range (78.9) is the second best in South history.
"I haven't see a shooting display like that in my 13 years of coaching," Heath said. "They saved their best for money games, I guess that's what big-time players do."
While his players were busy pulling on their region championship hats and T-shirts, Davis went into the stands to present the game ball to the man who believed in him, Brand.
"This," Davis said later, "is a big, big day in Indiana basketball."