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Strong second half lifts Mizzou over Cornell 78-59

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EDDIE PELLS | March 20, 2009 05:48 PM EST | AP

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BOISE, Idaho — Once Missouri started moving, the buckets started falling for DeMarre Carroll and the rest of the Tigers.

Carroll, the coach's nephew, scored all but two of his 13 points in the second half Friday to help third-seeded Missouri pull away from Cornell for a 78-59 victory in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Leo Lyons finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds for the Tigers (29-6), the Big 12 tournament champions who returned to the NCAAs for the first time in six years and will face Marquette in the second round of the West Regional on Sunday.

Ryan Wittman led the Ivy League champions with 18 points and 14th-seeded Cornell (21-10) hung around in this game for a half, trailing by only four.

But Mizzou's talent took over after the break and the win gave the Big 12 a clean sweep _ six wins, no losses through the first round of the tournament.

Led by Carroll's improving play, the Tigers opened the lead to double digits shortly after halftime and coasted in. The Tigers got easy layups by making the extra pass, and it showed in the stat sheet: Carroll finished with five assists and J.T. Tiller had six.

Kim English hit three 3-pointers to finish with 13 points.

On defense, Missouri's full-court trap also started taking its toll. Coach Mike Anderson, an assistant for Nolan Richardson for years, teaches the old Arkansas "40 Minutes of Hell" system _ full-court press, run whenever you can, havoc all the way.

After the slow first half, it turned out to be more like 20 Minutes of Hell, but that was more than enough to dispatch the Big Red.

Wittman shot 4-for-11 from 3-point range, and the nation's third-best team from behind the arc made only six 3s all day _ not enough to succeed at this level.

Cornell fell to 0-5 lifetime in the tournament and the Ivy League stayed winless since Princeton beat UNLV back in 1998. Still, this was much more competitive than Cornell's 77-53 loss to Stanford in the first round last year.

Missouri, meanwhile, overcame a slumbering start and made 12 of its first 22 shots in the second half to start pulling away.

With Wittman not at his best, Cornell tried going into 7-foot-1 center Jeff Foote. Facing only single coverage, he got great position inside but had trouble scoring when the game was still competitive. His final line still looked decent: 5-for-11 for 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Cornell shot only 35 percent and with the game getting out of reach, frustration started to show. Holding the ball and trying to create room on the sideline, Wittman pinged Zaire Taylor with a nasty elbow. The refs checked out the play on the monitor but decided only an offensive foul _ not a flagrant _ was in order.

Overall, it turned into a nice tune-up for Mizzou, a school troubled with NCAA problems and coaching changes for much of this decade. Even this year, the Tigers were picked as a second-division team in the Big 12, but Anderson's (or Richardson's) system started taking hold, wearing teams down and turning the Tigers into legit contenders.

Carroll was the MVP when the Tigers won the Big 12 tournament last week, another nice reward for transferring to Missouri to help out his uncle after the system at Vanderbilt wasn't to his liking.

And speaking of family, with Missouri comfortably ahead, Anderson was able to get his son, Mike Anderson Jr., into the game for a minute at the end _ a nice close for a team that has built itself on family and character as much as the frenetic pace since the coach arrived from UAB three years ago.

Last January, with the program languishing and his job hardly secure, Anderson suspended five players before a conference game against Nebraska. Missouri lost, but the coach said it "wasn't even a decision" _ better to send the right message than get a win.

Six months before that, Carroll, the 6-8 forward from Birmingham, put his life on the line and got shot in the foot while playing peacemaker in a fight.

"Once I transferred here, everything started going wrong," he said of the incident. But Anderson asked him to keep the faith, and because he did, he and the Tigers get to celebrate an NCAA tournament win.