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Bender, Croshere, Mercer carry Pacers past Jazz

3/17/2003

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- It took some forgotten Pacers to remind Indiana how to win.

Jonathan Bender scored a career-high 22 points and Erick Strickland had 19 points and 11 assists as the Pacers snapped a six-game losing streak with a 101-81 win over the Utah Jazz on Friday night.

Austin Croshere scored 10 of his 14 points during a 26-6
second-quarter run, and Ron Mercer scored 10 in his best game in
over a month for the short-handed Pacers.

"The good thing about this team is we have a bunch of guys that
want to take this challenge,'' Strickland said.

The Pacers turned to their seldom-used reserves with three starters out of the lineup. Ron Artest was suspended by the NBA, Jamaal Tinsley was tending to personal matters and Brad Miller had a sore left foot.

Indiana also was in a deep collective funk, having lost 12 of 13
games to drop to fourth place in the Eastern Conference. But
everything clicked for Indiana on Friday.

The oft-injured, athletic Bender was making his first start of the season. Playing in only his 30th game of the season, he had several leaping dunks -- including one over Utah's 7-foot-2 center Greg Ostertag -- and was 8-for-12 from the floor despite sitting out the second quarter.

He played all 12 minutes of the third, sank both of his
3-pointers and scored 14 points to push the Pacers' lead to 24.

"It makes a player feel good inside to go out and contribute something to his team,'' said the soft-spoken Bender.

Croshere and Mercer played the entire second quarter and led Indiana's run. The two combined to shoot 7-for-10 from the floor and 4-for-6 from the free throw line for 20 points in the quarter.

Croshere's 12 points in the quarter were more than any he's had
in a game since Feb. 22, though he's received three DNP-CD's during
that span and missed three games for personal reasons.

"When you're coming off the bench, you don't know how many minutes you're going to get. But when you get them you want to be prepared,'' Croshere said.

Mercer hadn't scored double digits since Feb. 16, was mired in a
20-for-65 slump and received the first DNP-CD of his career.

Both were on against the Jazz, with Mercer hitting several long
jumpers and Croshere sinking two 3-pointers.

Croshere, though, wasn't expecting major minutes for Indiana's
next game. He's been through this before -- having a big game or two
only to return to the bench for extended time.

Croshere said Indiana's bench players are very cautious of doing
things right, because their margin of error is much smaller.

"We have to do things by the book, how they're drawn-up, or else we'll be out of there,'' he said.

The Pacers scored the first 12 points of the 26-6 run and ended it ahead by 27. They entered halftime with a 49-29 lead.

Jermaine O'Neal had 14 points and 11 rebounds for Indiana.

Karl Malone scored 21 points for the Jazz, Andrei Kirilenko had
15 and Matt Harpring 13.

"They never let up on us,'' Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "We didn't even deserve to be out there with them.''

Game notes
Bender had scored 20 points three other times. ... Artest was suspended for one game without pay for exceeding the maximum flagrant-foul penalty points. ... Miller scored 11 points and passed Robert Parish for 15th place on the NBA's career scoring list. ... Utah PG Mark Jackson, who spent 5½ years with the Pacers, had three assists, leaving him four behind Magic Johnson
for second place on the career assists list. ... Utah scored 11
points in the first quarter, the fewest scored in that quarter by a
Pacers' opponent this season. ... Ostertag took an accidental elbow
to the face from Malone in the third quarter. He did not return.
... A member of an entertainment group that performs during games
appeared to land on his head during a stunt. John Gentry left the
game on a stretcher and was taken to a hospital as precaution . ...
With two steals, Malone became the first player in NBA history to
record 35,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 4,0000 assists and 2,000
steals.