Illinois had the D, Georgia had the Big C, Syracuse had the Pearl and George Tech had it all.
To no one's great surprise, the favorites here at the Omni leaned on their moneymakers to chalk up victories in NCAA East Regional first-round tournament games today.
Georgia Tech was too quick, too experienced, just too good for intrastate rival Mercer as it beat the Bears, 65-58.
Syracuse's Dwayne (Pearl) Washington saved some of his ball-handling wizardry for the final few minutes, controlling the tempo in addition to scoring 10 points down the stretch to help the Orangemen turn back De Paul, 70-65.
Illinois parlayed a tenacious defense with Ken Norman's 23 points to shut down Northeastern and its big scorer, Reggie Lewis, in rolling to a 76-57 decison.
Georgia, almost done in early by an all-America performer who goes by the name of X, used a full-court press in the second half and 20 points by Cedric Henderson to stop Xavier McDaniel and Wichita State, 67-59.
In second-round games Sunday, Illinois (25-8) will face Georgia (22-8) at 2:07 p.m. and Syracuse (22-8) will play Georgia Tech (25-7) at 4:37 p.m. The winners will advance to the regional finals in Providence, R.I.
As it has done all year, De Paul (19-10) was right there at the end, only to have the game slip away. After trailing at the half, 36-27, the Blue Demons regrouped behind the shooting of Tyrone Corbin (17 points) and all-around play of Kenny Patterson (11 points, 15 assists, four steals) to get within three points several times in the final minutes. But when the opportunity arose for De Paul to get even closer, the ball either bounced the wrong way or Washington (15 of 16 free throws, 23 points) was playing superbly.
Syracuse, getting a subpar scoring game from Rafael Addison (two for 13, eight points) and playing without foul-ridden center Rony Seikaly (17 points, nine rebounds) and Wendell Alexis much of the second half, looked as if it was on the verge of blowing this one.
But each time De Paul got close, Washington or a teammate (the Orangemen made 26 of 32 foul shots) would step to the line and push De Paul closer to Chicago.
Probably the biggest play of the second half came following Lawrence West's 20-footer that cut Syracuse's lead to 67-63 with 45 seconds to play.
Corbin and Jackson forced a turnover near midcourt but teammate Kevin Holmes accidentally kicked it out of bounds.
Addison then made two free throws to make it 69-63, with 29 seconds left, and the Blue Demons had been eliminated in the first round three times in the past five years.
Illinois dominated Northeastern (22-9) early in winning its seventh game in its last eight outings.
The Huskies came out tight and fell in a deep hole from which they would not escape. Leading scorer Lewis (24.3 points a game) couldn't get inside the Illini's tight zone and made only two of 10 field goal tries in the first half. Without his point production, Northeastern was in deep trouble.
While the Huskies were waiting for Lewis to get started, the Illini's 6-foot-8 inside players, Kenny Norman and Efrem Winters, were making life miserable for the reed-like front line of the Huskies.
"They came out and attacked our weakness -- our inside game," said Northeastern forward Quinton Dale, who is 6-6. "They played pretty good overall and we didn't have one of our better games."
Even if Lewis had been on track early, the Huskies would have had problems. Norman and Winters easily got inside for layups and offensive rebounds while Doug Altenberger (13 points) and Anthony Welch (13) pelted away with medium-range jumpers as the Illini took a 35-23 lead at the half.
The Illini shot 64 per cent from the field in the second half to wrap up the victory.
Norman had eight points, Winters had two free throws, Altenberger converted a three-point play, Welch hit two jumpers and even reserve Scott Meents ducked under a defender for a bank shot as Illinois moved to a 54-34 lead with 13 minutes remaining.
Georgia kept its fans in suspense a bit longer. Tied at 27-27, the Bulldogs used a full-court press on the Shockers (18-13) to take control of the game.
Wichita State failed to score on 10 straight possessions -- seven turnovers and three missed shots over a five-minute span -- and never got back in the game.
The Shockers even got a break, sort of, when the Bulldogs' leading scorer and rebounder, 6-9 Henderson (20 points, six rebounds), picked up his fourth personal foul.
Joe Ward (10 points), who was scoreless and had one rebound in the first half, dunked twice following steals and made a base line jumper as Georgia moved out to a 47-33 lead at the ten-minute mark. The Shockers would get no closer than eight points the rest of the way.
McDaniel, who had been so marvelous in the first half (he scored all 16 of his team's points during one stretch), had suddenly become invisible. When his temmates did cross the midcourt line, McDaniel didn't get the ball. He got 22 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out with two minutes left.
For Georgia Tech, Yvon Joseph, enjoying a sizable height advantage, scored 15 points in the first half and Mark Price nine in helping the Yellow Jackets to a 41-25 halftime lead.
Led by the scoring of Sam Mitchell (17 points), Mercer rallied from an 18-point deficit to trail, 62-56, with 1:20 left. Tech then went to its spread offense.