Reprinted from yesterday's editions
No. 3 seed Syracuse got a late scare from 10th seed Auburn, the last team chosen for the NCAA tournament, Friday night but escaped with a 79-78 victory in the East Region semifinals.
The Orangemen never trailed and led by 17 points late in the first half, but needed four foul shots by forward Kueth Duany and a breakaway dunk by backup guard Josh Pace to ensure the victory. They meet top-seeded Oklahoma, which scored a 65-54 victory over Butler earlier tonight, at 2:40 p.m. Sunday for a spot in the Final Four.
"We got a little out of sync after they threw [a trick defense] at us," said Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim, who celebrated the 650th victory of his career. "We found a way to hang on, took care of the ball down the stretch."
Auburn's rally took wing on three-point shots, the final two coming from backup guard Nathan Watson in the final eight seconds.
"We were fortunate they didn't start shooting like that earlier," said Boeheim, whose team was the only one of the four from the Big East Conference that made the round of 16 to advance.
Freshman Carmelo Anthony was scoreless the first half and needed 17 shots to score 18 points. He was the focal point of the triangle and two defense the Tigers used much of the game.
"I think I've seen every defense except that one," Anthony said. "I got a little impatient."
Auburn standout forward Marquis Daniels (27 points, nine rebounds) was constantly free in the middle of the Syracuse zone and also helped fuel the comeback. In addition, Syracuse missed the front end of bonus free throws three times after gaining an eight-point lead with 4 minutes 27 seconds left on a dunk follow by Anthony.
"But we did a pretty good job of keeping our composure," said Duany, referring to only 10 turnovers.
With Duany hitting two three-pointers and guard Gerry McNamara one, the Orangemen gained an eight-point advantage midway through the first half. Their defense caused Auburn to miss nine of its first 12 shots, including three of four three-pointers.
The Tigers also were hurt when Daniels picked up two quick fouls and was forced to the bench for 11 minutes. But he returned and helped lead a surge in the final three minutes that whittled a 17-point deficit to 37-27 at the half. Daniels had a drive, a followup and two foul shots.
Syracuse had built that large lead on a leaner and fast-break dunk by sophomore Pace, a 12-foot fallaway by sophomore forward Hakim Warrick and two McNamara foul shots. Also, center Jeremy McNeil had two of his four blocked shots in the first half.
Anthony missed all four shots in the first half and also had two turnovers. He finally scored with nearly two minutes gone in the second half, on a follow-up. That lifted the Orangemen's lead to 12 points. But Daniels with a putback and a drive and two foul shots by backup Watson whittled that in half within two minutes and Boeheim called a quick timeout.
The Tigers continued to exploit the Syracuse zone, with Daniels open and either scoring on short jumpers or helping free teammates for open shots. And when guard Derrick Bird hit an open three from the right wing the Tigers had gotten to 61-58 with 6:44 left. Anthony sank a drive and a three from the right wing to lift Syracuse to an eight-point lead. It gradually melted, but not completely.
* OKLAHOMA 65, BUTLER 54: The top-seeded Sooners used their superior advantage on rebounds and 25 points off the bench by senior swingman Ebi Ere to end the No. 12 seed Bulldogs' magic carpet ride.
"We were relentless, tough and extremely smart," Oklahoma Coach Kelvin Sampson said. "Playing hard isn't enough against Butler."
Oklahoma thought its advantage was offensive rebounding, and it had 19. Several times freshman front-court standouts Kevin Bookout and Jabahri Brown would tip the ball to the guards when they could not gain control.
Brown and Ere helped the Sooners hold a decided edge in bench scoring. Brown grabbed 11 rebounds and Ere, playing with a broken left wrist suffered in practice just before the Big 12 conference tournament, hit 11 of 19 shots.
"Coach said in the huddle that we needed someone to step up besides Hollis [Price]," Ere said. "They were a lot smaller, so I tried to get to the hole and shoot it."
The other Sooners went to Ere whenever possible -- and his drive from the left wing on a clear-out with 8: 17 left drew Cornette's fourth foul. In the six minutes before that, Cornette had scored on six of eight Butler possessions and gotten Bookout in foul trouble.
"You could tell [Ere's] confidence was high by the way he jumped," Price said. "I was excited. I knew he'd make something happen."
For Butler, normally sharp shooting guard Darnell Archey took just five shots and made one.
Oklahoma studied teams from Butler's Horizon League instead of Mississippi State and Louisville, and its defense kept Archey from taking a shot for seven minutes.