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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Indiana players return home to play on center stage

Thursday, March 28, 2002

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - Add to A.J. Moye's ever-growing list of credentials that of prophet.

He told teammate and best friend Jeffrey Newton the two would be back home in Atlanta for the Final Four - and not looking for tickets.

"Going back and playing in a Final Four with your best friend," Moye said. "That's special."

It's either an accident of geography or fate for Moye and Newton to be returning to Atlanta - the place where there careers began and were intertwined - for Indiana University's first Final Four appearance since 1992.

They'll take either for the chance to play for a national title in front of friends and family.

"It's going to be an exciting time," said Newton. "I finally get a chance to go back and play in front of my family and friends. . . . Everybody I know is trying to get tickets. I have no idea how I'm going to get them all right now."

Newton led Atlanta's Mays High to a state title as a junior, while Moye's Westlake High went 33-0 and won the Class AAA state title his senior season. With the coaching situation unsettled at Georgia, Newton opted for Indiana and Moye followed a year later.

Together, the duo has created IU's odd couple. Newton, for instance, is the anti-Moye. He is as quiet as Moye is brash. Moye is a sturdy 6-foot-5 who shows every bit of the emotion he cannot contain. Newton is a lanky 6-10 who could have a solid career as a mime after his playing days are through.

Neither player is a starter on this year's team, but both have made key contributions. The loquacious Moye, a sophomore forward, has been a spark plug and emotional leader for the team. His clutch play was instrumental in IU's upset of top-seeded Duke last week in Lexington, Ky.

And Newton has matured and is among the Big Ten's best shot-blockers. His uninspired play a year ago in the NCAA Tournament led to his benching against Kent State in the Hoosiers' opening-round loss. Perhaps taking a page from Moye's playbook, that has not been the case this season.

Both Newton and Moye are averaging just over 9 points per game in the NCAA Tournament this year. Newton had 15 points on 7 of 9 shooting against Utah. Moye had 14 points against Duke and has hit 12 of his last 14 free-throw attempts, including game-clinchers against Duke.

That brings us back to this weekend's homecoming, which doubles as the biggest weekend of Newton's and Moye's basketball-playing lives.

Moye says the pressure - if there is any on fifth-seeded Indiana - is all in the situation, not the location for him.

"I won't have any pressure playing (in Atlanta). Does it look like I have pressure playing now? I played at home for 18 years - if anything I should be more relaxed," said Moye. "They've seen me stink it up. They've seen me play exceptional. They've seen OK games. That's my city. A lot of people just want to see my face. They could care less about the game."

Actually, the number of Atlantans who now have a rooting interest in Indiana basketball is considerably higher than it would be otherwise this weekend.

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