Stanford flirted with going from Final Four to first-round flop in a single season. Then free throws saved the day.
The second-seeded Cardinal made 10 of 11 foul shots during a late spurt that carried them to a 69-57 victory over pesky Alcorn State in the first round of the NCAA West Regional on Thursday.
Alcorn State had rallied from 14 points down at halftime to tie it at 55, but Stanford's Arthur Lee said his veteran team -- which starts four seniors and a junior -- was never rattled.
"We've been here before," Lee said. "Granted, we're going to make mistakes. But when it comes down to it, the vast majority of the time, we'll do something to pull it out."
The Pac-10 champions, who finished 23 of 26 from the line, outscored the Braves 14-2 run over the final four minutes.
Mark Madsen, who led the Cardinal with 23 points on 7-for-10 shooting and grabbed 13 rebounds, scored five during the late run, including a three-point play to cap an 8-0 spurt that put Stanford up 63-55 with 1:53 to play.
A 56 percent free throw shooter for the season, Madsen was 9-for-9 from the line. The last time he did that?
"I was a freshman in high school," he said.
Lee, who added 13 points, made all six of his free throws in the last 2:38. That wasn't surprising since he is an 88 percent shooter from the line.
"If you have the ball in Arthur's hands at the end of the game, you're in pretty good shape," Stanford coach Mike Montgomery said.
Peter Sauer scored 12 points for the Cardinal but only one in the second half.
Montgomery and his players said the game reminded them of last year's first-round game against College of Charleston, when the Cardinal led early, then went stale before pulling it out at the end.
"We got a little tentative," Montgomersaid.
Stanford likes to play rough and pushed around the Braves like a schoolyard bully. Alcorn State (23-7), a Mississippi school of about 3,000 making its first NCAA appearance in 15 years, fell behind 21-6 and trailed 40-26 at the half.
"We played soft and we were taking some ill-advised shots," said Alcorn State's coach of 23 years, Davey Whitney.
Whitney got on his team at halftime, and they responded.
"They're bigger and taller, but that doesn't matter," Terrance Cameron said. "We think we can play with anybody. We didn't consider ourselves the underdogs."
But the Braves, a big with the KeyArena crowd, stormed back behind Wallace Harris, who scored 10 of his 17 in the second half.
Alcorn State, trying to become just the fourth No. 15 seed to win a tournament game, outscored the Cardinal 27-13 to pull even at 53-53 on Cameron's 3-pointer with 4:47 left.
Stanford committed a dozen turnovers and made just five field goals during that stretch. But the Cardinal's free throw shooting made the difference.
"I don't think it was as much their pressure as it was that we made some lazy passes and lost our concentration," Montgomery said.
Braves' point guard Rueben Stiff fouled out with 4:30 to play.
"That hurt us because he's our senior leader," Harris said. "He played some real good defense but he just had too many fouls and it caught up with him."
Madsen made the two free throws after Stiff's final foul to put Stanford up 55-53. Karl Jones' 15-foot jumper tied it one last time at 55 with 4:05 remaining.
Kris Weems, who was just 2-for-10 from the field, scored to give Stanford the lead for good 57-55 with 3:50 to go. Sauer made one of two free throws, Lee hit two from the line and Madsen converted the three-point play to finally put the game away.
Neither team shot well. Alcorn State hit 36 percent from the field and was 6-for-27 from 3-point range. Stanford shot 43 per2cent and was 4-for-14 from 3-point range.
Tim Young added 10 points and nine rebounds for Stanford. Marcus Fleming scored 10 for Alcorn State.
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