INDIANAPOLIS - They kept watching Brian Tolbert and Eastern Michigan hit jump shot after jump shot. They kept seeing their deficit grow until it had reached 13 points.
But the top-seeded Connecticut Huskies kept doing something else: They kept their cool.
"Coach said during the first couple of timeouts, 'They can't keep shooting like this,' " said senior guard Doron Sheffer. "After a while, they got tired and started missing their shots."
And Sheffer started hitting his. As did All-America guard Ray Allen. When this NCAA Southeast Regional second-round game at the RCA Dome was over last night, Connecticut had survived the early hits from the Eagles to win, 95-81.
Sheffer (27 points) and Allen (25 points) countered a magnificent performance by Tolbert. The Eagles' senior guard shot 14 of 24, including seven of 13 on three-pointers, to finish with 36 points and a hug from Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun.
"I'm a competitor," said Tolbert, whose shooting had triggered the Eagles' hot start (hitting 13 of their first 18 shots, scoring on 15 of the first 17 possessions). "I know what it's like to win. I know what it's like to lose. Connecticut was the best team today."
Said Calhoun, who congratulated Tolbert when he left with 36.5 seconds remaining: "I like the way he plays, the way he was smiling with our guys. He was just having fun out there."
The victory advanced Connecticut (32-2) into the Sweet 16 for the third straight year and dashed the dreams of ninth-seeded Eastern Michigan (25-6). The Eagles, who beat Duke in the opening round, made it that far five years ago.
Though the Huskies couldn't stop Tolbert, Sheffer did a great job shutting down Earl Boykins. The 5-foot-5 guard scored 23 against the Blue Devils, but finished with 10 on 5-for-15 shooting.
Boykins scored one basket in the second half, giving his team its last lead at 50-49 with a little over a minute gone. After the Huskies regained the lead on a three-point play by Rudy Johnson and stretched it to 66-58, Tolbert hit two three-pointers and a drive in an 8-2 run to help Eastern Michigan get within two, and almost had another three-pointer for the lead. It went in, and out.
"They got a lot of second shots and took advantage," said Eastern Michigan coach Ben Braun, whose team shot 31 of 66, 12 of 31 in the second half. "[Allen and Sheffer] made great plays at significant times."
Pub Date: 3/17/96