ATLANTA - If Indiana is the B.F. Goodrich of the 2002 Final Four - the other guys, remember? - then Jeff Newton, A.J. Moye and Donald Perry are the spare tires hidden inside the trunk.
Funny thing is, the Hoosiers are riding the retreads all the way to the championship game.
Newton and Moye - a couple of Atlanta-born and bred favorites - and freshman Perry were the catalysts that carried Indiana to yet another stunning upset against another heavily favored team. Indiana's 73-64 victory over Oklahoma in the Georgia Dome has the Hoosiers in the school's sixth NCAA championship game.
In case you were wondering, Indiana is 5-0 in title matches.
What has 11-loss Indiana on the brink of another championship is a supporting cast straight out of Hoosiers. While all the press clippings pile up regarding Jared Jeffries and Tom Coverdale and Dane Fife, it's the extras in the chorus who make this Cinderella story work.
Led by career highs from Newton (19 points) and Perry (10), the Indiana bench poured in 41 points - 56.2 percent of the Hoosiers final total. Oklahoma's reserves, by way of comparison, scored 12.
"Our three guys off the bench probably are the reason we are where we are," said Dane Fife.
You think? You may recall it was Moye who hit the decisive free throws that beat Duke and Newton who clung to the game-ending rebound.
Moye, the outspoken sixth man from Atlanta's Westlake High, asks the world to pay no attention to the men behind the curtain - at least until late Monday night.
"Don't talk about our bench," Moye pleaded. "Let us all be a surprise. And we will surprise you."
Newton is a surprise no longer. The product of Atlanta's Mays High led all scorers Saturday with 19, including 13 in the second half, and posted four blocked shots. He was the guy standing next to Jim Nance in the postgame on-camera interview.
Hoosier coach Mike Davis said it was simply, "the best I've seen Jeff play."
If Newton was on top of the world, he wasn't going to spoil the view by boasting about it.
"All I was dreaming about was coming in and winning both these games in front of the home crowd," Newton said. "I didn't have too many personal goals."
Newton's entrance into the Final Four didn't last long. A couple lackadaisical minutes that included a missed jumper, a foul and two turnovers had him back on the bench and getting an earful from Davis.
Newton took off from there. Two straight three-point plays dragged the Hoosiers back from their deepest deficit (17-9).
"He's like an escalator - up and up and up," Moye said of Newton.
Can Newton think of a better night, personally, than Saturday?
"Not off the top of my head," he said through a smile.
Come Monday, when the hometown kids come off the bench and play for the national championship, maybe the world will finally give these Hoosiers their due.
Not that they're worried about it. Moye says the Indiana motto is "Just us." Who cares that everybody else believes the national title was decided late Saturday night between Maryland and Kansas?
"We don't have the athletes of the team we just played or Duke," Moye said. "But we can compete."
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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