COLUMBUS, Ohio (Mar. 19, 2004) - (AP) Another 3-pointer came between East Tennessee State and a first-round upset.
Tony Bobbitt hit a 3 from the left corner with 16.1 seconds left Friday, rallying fourth-seeded Cincinnati to an 80-77 victory over a team that keeps coming up just short in the NCAA tournament.
Flashy point guard Tim Smith (Newport News, Va.) scored 26 points, but missed a driving layup on his last try. The Buccaneers (27-6) then missed two follow-up shots before Jason Maxiell got the rebound to clinch it.
East Tennessee State, the 13th seed in the Atlanta Regional this year, nearly pulled off a surprise last year, falling by three points to second-seeded Wake Forest. Smith shot an airball on a 3 at the end, dooming the comeback.
This time, his layup didn't go and Cincinnati (25-6) was spared from the prospect of another quick exit. The Bearcats had failed to make it past the first weekend of the tournament six of the last seven years.
Field Williams led Cincinnati with 19 points. Bobbitt, who made a last-second 3 that clinched a share of the Conference USA regular season title, added 15.
As East Tennessee State stayed close, the crowd of 19,588 swung in its favor, wiping away Cincinnati's advantage of paying only a two-hour drive from home.
Instead of screaming for the 'Cats, the fans were marveling at the smallest player on the floor. The 5-foot-9 Smith was 10-of-25 from the field, leading a comeback that stole the fans' hearts.
The brawnier Bearcats flexed their muscle at the outset, showing right away that East Tennessee State was going to have to do some things differently to get a first-round upset.
As a prelude, Smith got to shake hands during introductions with one of the players who would guard him -- 6-foot-7 forward James White, whose chin touched the bottom of Smith's head when they embraced.
Try shooting the left-handed jumper over that!
Then the Southern Conference's player of the year got a taste of what was to come. Three of Zakee Wadood's (Lonoke, Ark.) first four shots were blocked by Maxiell, a power forward who wasn't going for any fakes near the basket.
Wadood finished with 17 points, but was only 6-of-18 from the field.
Cincinnati led 11-0 after only 2 minutes, 10 seconds. The Buccaneers missed their first six shots -- three of them were swatted away -- and coach Murry Bartow discarded his jacket and started screaming almost as loudly as Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins.
The Buccaneers then started playing like a team with tournament experience. Smith hit a 3 and a pull-up jumper as East Tennessee State pulled within 21-19.
From that point on, Smith was the show.
Darting through taller defenders, he repeatedly drove to the basket for layups. He had 16 points in the first half, which ended with Cincinnati ahead 45-40.
Smith blew past Williams -- the Bearcats' best perimeter defender -- for a layup that brought the crowd to its feet and gave East Tennessee State its first lead, 57-56, with 12:47 go.
There were eight ties and four lead changes in the second half, when East Tennessee State led by as many as three.