Atlanta native Newton powers Indiana past OklahomaPosted: Saturday March 30, 2002 8:27 PM
Updated: Saturday March 30, 2002 11:28 PM
ATLANTA (AP) -- The gimpy point guard. The second-year coach. The team that wasn't even supposed to make it to the Final Four.
Hoosiers: The Sequel.
Indiana is one victory from its first national championship since 1987 -- and Bob Knight was nowhere in sight when these Hoosiers sliced through Oklahoma's vaunted defense.
This is Mike Davis' team. The coach who struggled to gain acceptance after Knight's nasty ouster two years ago has become a Hoosier through and through by taking a No. 5 seed to the title game.
"This is just unbelievable," Davis said after a 73-64 victory over Oklahoma on Saturday night. "There's a lot of great coaches, and they never get here."
Knight, now coaching at Texas Tech, led the Hoosiers to three of their five national titles. Many wondered if Davis -- who has never been a head coach -- could maintain the standard of excellence for a program in turmoil.
Yes, he can.
With a stunning display of versatility, Indiana knocked off the favored Sooners 15 years to the day that Keith Smart hit a baseline jumper to beat Syracuse in the Hoosiers' -- and Knight's -- last title game.
Six-foot-10 Jared Jeffries led the fast break. Backup forward Jeff Newton swatted away shots and kept getting inside. Freshman Donald Perry, filling in at the end for the hobbled Tom Coverdale, came through with a key basket on an end-to-end drive with just over two minutes left.
Second-seeded Oklahoma (31-5) couldn't overcome the loss of Aaron McGhee, who scored 22 points but fouled out with 4:40 remaining.
Hollis Price, the Sooners' leading scorer and MVP of the West Regional, had a horrible night. He made just 1-of-11 shots and was held to six points -- nearly 11 below his average. Dane Fife did most of the dirty work for Indiana.
"Fife did a great job," Price said. "He was so physical. I usually get around that."
With its tear through the NCAA tournament, Indiana (25-11) has rekindled thoughts of the movie, "Hoosiers," about the underdog team from the tiny high school that won the state championship in the 1950s.
But the stakes are much higher for these Hoosiers, who won even though Coverdale played with a wad of tape on his sprained left ankle. The starting point guard wasn't very effective -- three points and four assists -- but he didn't have to be.
Perry scored 10 points in 11 minutes, coming through at the end when Coverdale wore down.
"I went with Donald Perry, hoping he could give us a minute or two, then put Coverdale back in," Davis said. "But Don was playing well, so I didn't put Tom back in."
The Hoosiers already upset defending national champion Duke in the regional semifinals. Now, anything seems possible -- even with either No. 1 seed Maryland awaiting them in Monday night's championship.
Davis, who sprinted around the court like a wild man after the victory over Duke, was calm and collected this time. He shook hands with Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson and strolled off the court; his players were far more animated.
Fife, who played for Knight his first two seasons, yelled to Davis: "One more! One more!"
The unheralded Newton, playing in his hometown, scored 19 points to lead the Hoosiers. Jarrad Odle had 11 and Perry made four straight free throws to help seal the victory.
"All I was dreaming about was coming in and winning one of these games in front of the home crowd," said Newton, who was averaging 7.8 points per game. "I really didn't have too many personal goals."
Indiana shot 52 percent (25-of-48) from the field against a team that had allowed opponents to make just 40 percent.
"We had to go zone to protect our big guys from foul trouble," Sampson said. "Our defense, which has been great all year long, obviously wasn't as good as it had to be."
And because it wasn't, the Hoosiers are in the Final Four for the first time since 1992 and get a chance to play for their sixth national title.
Oklahoma last made the Final Four in 1988, when it lost to Kansas in the championship game. This time, the Sooners fell two victories short of their first national title.
Oklahoma trailed 60-55 when McGhee fouled out.
"He's a great player. He's got a great touch," Jeffries said. "If he didn't [foul out], he'd probably have 40 on us."
With McGhee on the bench, the Sooners fought back to tie the game at 60 when Daryan Selby put back his own miss with 3:26 remaining.
The surge prompted Davis to pull out Coverdale, who had three straight turnovers.
Newton got inside again for the go-ahead basket with 2:42 left. After an Oklahoma miss, Perry grabbed the rebound and took off. He paused near the foul line, then burst to the basket as two Oklahoma defenders got tangled up with each other.
Price missed a 3-pointer -- he was 1-of-7 beyond the arc -- and Newton was fouled. He made both free throws. Oklahoma was done.
Coverdale started despite spraining his left ankle in the regional final victory over Kent State. While there wasn't an obvious limp, he grimaced at times and was clearly slowed by the injury.
In one telling play, Coverdale chugged away on a not-so-fast break, only to lose control of the ball as he crossed into the frontcourt.
Still, Coverdale managed to play 29 minutes. It was enough.
Oklahoma, the quicker and more athletic team, appeared on the verge of blowing the game open in the first half. Price turned on a burst of speed to create a layup for Jabahri Brown, and Ebi Ere knocked down an open jumper at the end of a fastbreak to push the Sooners to a 17-9 lead with 9:56 remaining.
The Hoosiers bounced back without their best player. Jeffries, who had 24 points and 15 rebounds against Duke, sat on the bench for the last 11 1/2 minutes of the opening half after picking up his second foul.
Indiana turned to Newton to get something going on the inside. The slender, 6-9 junior converted back-to-back three-point plays, then fed Odle for another basket.
Oklahoma led 34-30 at halftime, but the Hoosiers were still in the game. They went right back to the lead when Jeffries scored the first five points after the break.
He played all but one minute in the second half, finishing with eight points, eight rebounds, four assists, a block and a steal.