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SW Missouri St. Crushes Vols

Whether playing or coaching, Steve Alford keeps coming up a winner at the NCAA Tournament.

"I just love the feeling of joy you get," Alford said after his Southwest Missouri State Bears earned the school's first trip to the NCAA Tournament's round of 16 with an 81-51 victory over Tennessee on Sunday.

The Bears (22-10) converted 13 turnovers into 24 points and harassed Tennessee into 30 percent shooting. It was the second stifling defensive display in as many games for Southwest Missouri State, which opened the East Regional by holding Wisconsin to 32 points -- the lowest output in an NCAA Tournament game since the introduction of the shot clock. .

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  • "Through the 80 minutes of this weekend, we were awfully good defensively," Alford said. "Defense is about character and heart and intensity and effort, and you don't always get that. I'm very, very appreciative and very privileged to have the opportunity to coach these young men."

    Southwest Missouri State shot 52 percent, had a season-low six turnovers -- including just one in the second half -- and never trailed on the way to the latest benchmark of Alford's NCAA Tournament success. He made a then-Final Four record seven 3-pointers to lead Indiana past Syracuse in the 1987 championship game, and in his first job as a head coach, he led Manchester -- a school that had never been to the NCAA Tournament -- to the Division III title game.

    "He's just a lot of fun to play for," junior forward Ron Bruton said. "He doesn't always make it easy on us, but he always makes it worth it."

    Now in his fourth season at Southwest Missouri State, Alford will face his bigges challenge yet. The Bears' opponent in the East Regional semifinals Friday in East Rutherford, N.J., will be top-ranked Duke, which is riding a 29-game winning streak and won its opening two NCAA Tournament games by identical 41-point margins.

    "I don't think there were many brackets that had SMS going to New Jersey," Alford said. "We're going to have a lot of fun going back on the plane tonight, knowing we messed up a lot of brackets."

    Danny Moore had 25 points and eight rebounds to lead the 12th-seeded Bears, who held fourth-seeded Tennessee (21-9) to its lowest point total in more than two months.

    Ron Bruton and Southwest Missouri State lunge into the Sweet 16.
    Ron Bruton and Southwest Missouri State lunge into the Sweet 16. (AP)

    "No explanation. We had a lot of open looks," the Vols' Brandon Wharton said. "I guess we just hit a cold streak there. They made all the big shots and we didn't. They deserved to win."

    Jerry Green, Tennessee's second-year coach, noted that even though Sunday's loss was lopsided, it represented an improvement for the Vols, who were eliminated in the first round of the NCAAs last year.

    "Rome wasn't built in a day," Green said. "This was an embarrassment. We didn't play well. But if you look at the war, not just the battle, we've taken one stride last year, we've taken another stride this year and now we have to move it on up and be better in the future."

    The Vols got 11 points apiece from Wharton and Isiah Victor.

    Up by 10 at halftime, the Bears opened the second half by forcing a Tennessee turnover and converting it into a layup at the other end. The play set the stage for Southwest Missouri State to hold Tennessee to just two field goals in the first seven-plus minutes of the half.

    That enabled the Bears to stretch their lead to 58-33 on Moore's spinning jumper in the lane with 12:37 left before the Vols responded. The best Tennessee could do, however, was score the next five points before Southwest Missouri State spent the rest of the game building its lead. The final margin was the largest.

    The Bears set the tone from the outset, forcing nine first-half turnovers and converting them into 15 of their 36 points in the half.

    Southwest Missouri State opened the game with a 9-2 run and used an identical surge later in the half to open a 12-point lead.

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