March 17, 2000
MINNEAPOLIS - Jimbo Tolbert's moment of fame lasted all of 6.2 seconds. At least he won't be infamous.
Mamadou N'diaye saved Auburn from one of the most embarrassing moments in college basketball history Thursday when the 7-foot senior center blocked Ben Walker's 3-pointer at the buzzer, preserving the Tigers' 72-69 victory over Creighton in the NCAA Midwest Regional.
The seventh-seeded Tigers (24-9) were so sure their lead was safe, they put their team manager on the court in the final seconds, then watched in horror as they nearly blew a nine-point lead in the final 10 seconds.
In other games, No. 2 seed Iowa State beat No. 15 seed Central Connecticut State 88-78, No. 3 seed Maryland beat No. 14 seed Iona 74-59 and sixth-seeded UCLA beat 11th-seeded Ball State 65-57.
In between N'diaye's two free throws with 12.7 seconds left, Auburn coach Cliff Ellis sent Tolbert into the game. Ellis put the sophomore on the team's roster for the NCAA tournament after injuries and star Chris Porter's suspension left some extra room on the roster.
"I was glad he got the moment and I'm glad we were able to survive it," Ellis said.
After 10th-seeded Creighton, the best long-range shooting team in the tournament, got a 3-pointer from Ryan Sears, Tolbert turned the ball over with a bad inbounds pass and was promptly yanked with 6.5 seconds left.
Terrell Taylor hit anther 3 to pull the Bluejays to 72-69 at 3.8 seconds, and the stunned Tigers then turned over the ball on the inbounds yet again when Dameyon Fishback overthrew N'diaye downcourt.
"It wasn't a bad pass," Ellis said. "N'diaye just needed to touch it."
But he didn't, and that gave Creighton possession under Auburn's basket with a chance to tie it.
When N'diaye got his hand on the ball just as Walker released, deflecting it straight up as the horn sounded, nobody was more relieved than the blond-haired, baby-faced Tolbert, whose parents flew in from Atlanta to see him suit up and were in tears when he entered the game and stood nervously as Auburn pulled out the victory.
"A big breath just came out of my body," Tolbert said. "I was just nervous on the inbounds. It will never happen again. I know what I'll do next time."
If there ever is a next time.
"This was still a great experience," Tolbert said. "We won and it was a dream and an honor to wear this Auburn jersey."
Said Ellis: "It worked out. It's something he'll talk about for a lifetime."
The Tigers will play Iowa State on Saturday at the Metrodome, site of next year's Final Four, and Maryland (25-9) faces UCLA (20-11).
Central Connecticut State's miracle comeback ended about six minutes too early.
All-American Marcus Fizer had 27 points and 11 rebounds and Jamaal Tinsley added 26 points as Iowa State (30-4) blew a big early lead before making a late run to beat the 15th-seeded Blue Devils 88-78.
Central Connecticut State (25-6) erased a 19-point first-half deficit with pinpoint shooting and easy drives through the porous Iowa State defense.
Rick Mickens scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half and hit a layup with 6:15 left that tied it at 69 and sent the Blue Devils' sideline and small fan contingent into delirium.
But the shock awoke Iowa State, which scored the next 12 points, highlighted by two big jumpers from Michael Nurse.
"At 69-69, we weren't nervous," Nurse said. "We've been down by more than that before."
After blowing the big lead, the tie felt like a deficit to the Cyclones.
Maryland's Terence Morris, who had a rocky regular season after being tagged as the favorite for ACC player of the year honors, had 22 points and 12 rebounds as the Terrapins ran all over Iona, 74-59.
"Instead of coming out like Cinderella, we came out like Tinkerbell," said Iona coach Jeff Ruland, whose Gaels (20-11) fell behind 23-4 and never really recovered.
Morris, who came on strong toward season's end and played well in the ACC tournament, had 14 points and 10 rebounds by halftime, when the Terps led 38-25.
The Gaels made it respectable behind Tariq Kirksay, the MAAC player of the year who scored 20 of his 24 points after halftime.
"It's just a shame that we let Kapono get away from us," Cardinals point guard Mickey Hosier said. "He's such a good shooter. He gets confidence and you're going to be in trouble, and we were in trouble."
By ARNIE STAPLETON
AP Sports Writer