March 20, 2010 in Sports

Top seeds advance in Spokane

Associated Press
 
Colin Mulvany photo

Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson (25) and Keaton Grant squeeze Siena’s Ryan Rossoter (22) and Alex Franklin for a rebound.
(Full-size photo)

The Maryland Terrapins’ band kept playing the theme from “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” late into Friday night.

Yet there was nothing mutant about the first four NCAA tournament games in Spokane.

Sure, Big Ten powers Michigan State and Purdue survived scares. But Texas A&M and Maryland had relative breathers, as all four higher-seeded teams advanced to Sunday’s second round.

Spokane was the only one of the eight sites in which all the higher-seeded teams won in the first round.

Maryland’s workmanlike 89-77 victory over 13th-seeded Houston ended a two-day national scramble during which eight teams with double-digit seeds won.

“It’s very relieving, with all the upsets there’s been and all the big-number seeds that have won,” Maryland’s Eric Hayes said. “One of the toughest games in the tournament to win is the first one.”

Just ask Michigan State, which gets the Terrapins on Sunday in the Midwest region.

The runner-up to North Carolina in last year’s tournament looked as uneven to begin its 13th consecutive NCAA tournament as it has all season. The Spartans (25-8) needed a career-high 25 points from banged-up, All-Big Ten guard Kalin Lucas, late shots by otherwise silenced Raymar Morgan and a lucky, lane-violation call in its favor from the officials to beat 12th-seeded New Mexico State 70-67 earlier Friday night.

“Kalin was dynamite,” Spartans coach Tom Izzo said, with an exhale that could be felt all the way back in East Lansing. “They kept trying to wear him down. He was hurt, and you know what — that’s the point guard that I recruited.”

Izzo had other truths reaffirmed while sweating and screaming through his 32nd win in 43 NCAA tournament games.

It came after officials whistled New Mexico State’s Troy Gillenwater for entering the lane before Raymar Morgan missed the second of two free throws with 18.6 seconds left and the Spartans up by two.

Given a reprieve, Morgan made the “third” free throw. That changed the Aggies’ final possession from working inside for a basket or foul to a pair of desperation 3-point tries that missed.

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the years I’ve been in this tournament, the words ‘survive and advance’ that everybody preaches is the truth,” Izzo said. “I don’t want to say I’m glad we had a close game, but I learned something about these guys that I had been looking for this year. … We played well early. We struggled in the second half. And we finished the game. We’ve survived and advanced.”

So did conference colleague Purdue.

The fourth-seeded Boilermakers (28-5) held off Siena 72-64 to begin Spokane’s Friday and will meet Texas A&M in what could be a defensive stalemate Sunday in the South region.

Purdue took control against recent giant-killer Siena with a 20-3 run to begin the second half, then held on as the Saints rallied to within three points late.

Keaton Grant, who became a starter three weeks ago when do-it-all leader Robbie Hummel was lost for the season to a knee injury, began the game-changing spurt after halftime with three consecutive 3-pointers and 11 points.

That opened up the inside for teammate JaJuan Johnson. The tallest player on the floor at 6-foot-10 had 23 points and career high-tying 15 rebounds.

Then they let off some steam, in the direction of the White House and seemingly everyone else’s house in a country that predicted the Saints (27-7) would pull a first-round upset in the third consecutive NCAA tournament because Hummel was out.

Take that, Mr. President!

“I think the biggest thing was for me when President Obama just said he kind of felt sorry for us, just everything we been through and with this team and the adversity we face,” said sophomore Lewis Jackson, who plopped in key free throws in the final minute. “Guys don’t want people to feel sorry for us. We want to prove that we still have a lot of talent and can make a big run in the tournament.”

Edwin Ubiles scored 18 points for Siena, which came from 15 points down to pull within 66-63 on a layup by Ryan Rossiter with 62 seconds left.

Saints coach Fran McCaffery then chose to foul Jackson, who had airballed a shot and missed a free throw seconds earlier, rather than play defense.

The sophomore playing with a midfoot fracture had taken just six free throws this season entering Friday. But he was 2 for 2 with 49 seconds left. The first, tension-breaking one plopped in after a thud onto the back rim. Jackson sheepishly smiled.

“It was ugly. But, I mean, no matter how it drops, it drops,” Jackson said. “I’m just glad it went in.”

Texas A&M was glad freshman Khris Middleton went into its lineup for good after the Aggies lost senior leader Derrick Roland to a gruesome broken leg just before Christmas.

Middleton had a career-high 19 points Friday, and the fifth-seeded Aggies pounded 12th seed Utah State with relentless defense in a 69-53 win.

Middleton made his first four 3-pointers and 7 of 10 shots in all, including 5 of 6 3-point attempts, in 25 minutes. He came in averaging 7.0 points per game and shooting 29 percent from 3-point range.

Yet A&M coach Mark Turgeon proudly said, “It all came down to defense.”

“We didn’t guard last weekend,” Turgeon said of a loss to Kansas in the Big 12 tournament, “so I was on them pretty hard this week in practice about defending.

“We have done it for one game. Now we’ve got to do it on Sunday.”

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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