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NCAA Basketball Recap (George Mason-Cincinnati)

Posted: Fri March 12, 1999 at 6:06 p.m. EST

BOSTON (Ticker) -- Even the Armed Forces couldn't stop Cincinnati.

Pete Mickeal scored 14 of his 18 points in the first half as the East Region's three seed destroyed former Armed Forces star George Evans and George Mason, 72-48, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Cincinnati (27-5), the only team to beat Duke this season, plays sixth-seeded Temple in the second round Sunday. The Blue Devils are the region's top seed. It marks the third time in the last five years the Bearcats will play Temple in the NCAA Tournament, having defeated the Owls in 1995 and 1996.

"I really think we're one of the best defensive teams in the country, and that's what carries us," Bearcats coach Bob Huggins said. "If we can make open shots, we can beat anybody because we're going to defend well enough."

Cincinnati edged Duke, 77-75, in the Great Alaska Shootout finals November 28.

Coming off a loss to North Carolina-Charlotte in the Conference USA tournament semifinals last Friday, the Bearcats took control with their typically suffocating defense and a decided advantage in athleticism.

They allowed only five first-half field goals and held a 37-18 rebounding advantage en route to a 41-17 lead. George Mason, which had won 10 in a row, (19-11) missed 20 of its first 23 shots and finished the half 5-of-31 (16 percent).

"I think we rushed it a little bit," Patroits senior Jason Miskiri said. "Our main focus was to attack offensively, but they kept coming from all angles so we kept putting it up and we kept missing."

Evans, the Colonial Athletic Association's Player of the Year who was averaging 17.8 points per game, was held scoreless. He shot 0-for-6 from the field and missed a pair of free throws.

"In terms of just pure basketball experience this is all new to him," Larranaga said of Evans, a 28-year-old who served in Haiti, the Persian Gulf and Belgium during a seven-year tour of duty in the military. "He never had to face the caliber of athlete he did today for 40 minutes."

The Patriots led, 4-2, with 15:37 left in the first half but failed to score inside the arc the rest of the period. They managed only six points over the final 9:20 of the half after getting within 15-11.

Miskiri had 13 points and Keith Holdan added 12 for George Mason, which finished the game shooting 27 percent (18-of-66) from the floor and an embarrassing 41 percent (9-of-22) from the line.

"We weren't really scoring," Mickeal said. "But our defense was really keeping us in the game and that was a key early."

Cincinnati scored 12 consecutive points, building a commanding 27-11 advantage on Mickeal's driving layup 4:54 before intermission.

George Mason matched the Bearcats' offensive output in the second half, but Cincinnati led by at least 20 points throughout, twice building advantages of 30.

"Normally, you're nervous before the game," Larranaga said. "We actually got more nervous as the game went on."

Melvin Levett and Kenyon Martin combined for 21 points and 12 rebounds and Jermaine Tate added eight boards for the Bearcats, who held a 57-42 advantage off the glass.

"We don't shoot it straight sometimes," Huggins said. "We have to really rebound it and defend and that's what we did today."

Cincinnati shot just 40 percent (25-of-62) and started slowly. But Levett picked up the pace with a steal and dunk 5:38 into the game, giving the Bearcats the lead for good, 6-4.

Levett, the team's second-leading scorer at 14.3 points per game, had seven of his 11 points in the opening six minutes and nine in the half before leaving at 2:13 with cramps in his right hamstring. He did start the second half.

The decisive halftime lead enabled Huggins to rest his regulars. Five reserves averaged more than 15 minutes for the game and seven combined for 24 points and 21 rebounds.

"Just a big load off," Levett said. "We were able to get a lot of rest today. We were able to rest some key players. We were allowed to get some guys in that don't really have a lot of NCAA experience."

Cincinnati handed the Patriots their first loss since January 27. They started the season 1-5 but rebounded to win the Colonial Athletic Conference tournament.

"You can't take away the regular season and tournament championship because of a first-round (loss) in the NCAA Tournament," Larranaga said. "Thirty-two teams, no matter how good they are, lose in the first round. We happened to be one of those."

© 2000 Sportsticker Enterprises, LP

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