Cincinnati survives a mighty mite At just 5-9, Tim Smith was tall enough to almost make a winner of East Tennessee State.

Posted: March 20, 2004

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A lightning-fast little man from Allen Iverson country came close to sending a tournament-tested Cincinnati team home with an upset loss yesterday in a first-round NCAA tournament game at Nationwide Arena.

East Tennessee State's Tim Smith, a 5-foot-9 native of Newport News, Va., finished with 26 points and played a sparkling floor game. But his 13th-seeded Buccaneers were beaten in the end, with a three-point jumper by guard Toby Bobbitt spelling the difference as the fourth-seeded Bearcats won, 80-77.

With the win, Cincinnati (25-6) advanced to the second round of the St. Louis Regional, where it will face Illinois (25-6), a 72-53 winner over Murray State yesterday.

The 6-4 Bobbitt, who shot 5 for 12 from three-point range for his 15 points, took a pass from Jason Maxiell and made the winning shot with 16.1 seconds left, breaking a tie after his pump fake sent defender James Anthony flying past him.

"Like [the Cincinnati coaches] have always been telling me, 'Pump-fake, get him in the air, and then shoot with confidence,' " said Bobbitt, who comes off the bench for a deep and versatile team.

Smith said that after Bobbitt put Cincinnati up by 80-77, East Tennessee wanted to get a quick two-point basket and then foul. When Smith went to the hoop, however, his layup attempt rolled off the rim before Anthony and Zakee Wadood (17 points, 14 rebounds) missed put-backs.

The Bearcats took possession out of bounds with 1.8 seconds left and threw a long pass that was caught as time ran out.

"We're a very disappointed team," said Buccaneers coach Murry Bartow, whose team finished with a 27-6 record. "In this tournament, there is no consolation. We really felt we could come in here and win."

A sellout crowd of 19,588 watched as Smith stole a pass and gave the Buccaneers their first lead of the game, at 57-56, with just over 12 minutes to play. The lefthander split two defenders before depositing a layup.

"He probably broke our defense down as much as it's been broken down," Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins said.

"He's like Michael Vick with the basketball out there," said Cincinnati guard Field Williams, who scored 19 points. "We tried to come out there and contain him and make him go right as much as you can. But he's so fast that the majority of the time, he can go left regardless."

East Tennessee led by 75-73 with 2 minutes, 38 seconds to go. The score was 77-77 with 1:19 left.

"A win is win," Williams said. "We have to take our hats off to East Tennessee. They're a good team. We didn't come into this overlooking anybody."

Though Cincinnati was playing only about 75 miles from home, the crowd declared its allegiance for East Tennessee after Smith went from one end of the court to the other in pursuit of the ball during the first half.

On the play, Smith lost possession while driving to the basket. When Cincinnati went the other way, Smith raced to midcourt and tapped it away from a Bearcat and toward the baseline under the Cincinnati basket. It went out of bounds before he reached it, but the sophomore's hustle was appreciated and the crowd erupted.

The Bearcats took a 45-40 lead into the locker room at halftime after Smith hit a three at the buzzer, giving him 16 points.

East Tennessee had trailed by 33-22 with 8:12 left in the first half. Cincinnati, which had jumped to an 11-0 lead, had gotten scoring from nine players at that point.

The Bearcats - strong and physical inside with the 6-7, 250-pound Maxiell (five blocks); 6-7, 240-pound Eric Hicks; 6-10, 260-pound Robert Whaley; and 6-7, 250-pound Kareem Johnson, who all saw playing time - blocked six shots in the first half and 11 in the game.

But the 6-5, 220-pound Wadood and the 6-7, 260-pound Fields (19 points, seven rebounds) more than held their own. So did Smith, who was asked to compare his game to that of Iverson, the 76ers' star guard.

"I met him once," Smith said. "My cousin [and Iverson] used to play AAU ball together. Just playing hard no matter what our size is. Just going out there trying to get it done."

Contact staff writer Kevin Tatum at 215-854-2583 or ktatum@phillynews.com.

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