A 56-YEAR-OLD New York prison inmate says former Syracuse University assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine began molesting him more than 40 years ago and continued to have sexual contact with him into adulthood.

Floyd VanHooser told the Associated Press during a prison interview in Dannemora, N.Y., yesterday that Fine began sexually abusing him when VanHooser was 14 years old. As an adult, the contact included sex acts for money.

VanHooser is the fourth man to accuse Fine of sexual abuse. He initially made his allegations to the Post-Standard, of Syracuse.

Fine was fired Nov. 27 after a 36-year career at Syracuse after three men said he molested them when they were boys.

Fine has denied wrongdoing and has not been charged. A federal investigation is ongoing.

His lawyers did not immediately return a call yesterday seeking comment.

VanHooser is serving 16 years to life at Clinton State Prison near the Canadian border for several burglaries of Syracuse-area homes. He was sentenced in October as a persistent felony burglar.

Last week, Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick referred to a fourth accuser in the Fine case as someone serving a life sentence in prison as a persistent felon, but didn't disclose his name. Fitzpatrick said that person's claims were not credible.

VanHooser said both his parents died by the time he was 13 and he moved in with Fine at age 14, which is when the abuse started. Although he began running away after 6 months, VanHooser said he saw Fine on and off for nearly 40 years. He said the sexual contact continued over that period.

VanHooser has listed Fine's former Syracuse address as his own in the past, including on a tax lien from 1999. VanHooser did painting and other maintenance work on Fine's home and he also worked for several years at a Syracuse University fraternity house where Fine was an adviser for many years.

VanHooser said he never saw Fine abusing other children.

Cindy Clarke, a former girlfriend of VanHooser's and the mother of his 17-year-old daughter, said VanHooser told her of the abuse in 2002.

"He was going to go to Bernie's and do some work on his house and he really didn't want to go. He seemed so upset, and I questioned him and he said that Bernie had been abusing him that it had started way back in 1970," Clarke said in a phone interview yesterday.

Noteworthy * 

Guard Kevin Ware joined practice with No. 4 Louisville for the first time this week, after he was ruled ineligible for the fall semester for failing to meet NCAA initial eligibility requirements.

In games last night * 

At Missouri, Ricardo Ratliffe and Michael Dixon had 18 points each and the No. 10 Tigers shot 60 percent from the field in a 104-67 rout of Kennesaw State.

Marcus Denmon added 17 points and Phil Pressey had nine points and 10 assists for the Tigers (10-0), unbeaten after the first 10 games for the first time since an 11-0 start in 1991-92. They also ran their homecourt nonconference winning streak to 65.

Freshman Delbert Love had a career-best 27 points with five three-pointers for Kennesaw State (2-6), which faced a Top 10 team for only the second time in school history.

* At Wisconsin, Jared Berggren scored 13 points to lead four players in double figures and the 14th-ranked Badgers beat Savannah State, 66-33.

Playing for the last time before final exams begin, Wisconsin (10-2) used runs of 11-0 and 11-2 in the first half to push its lead to 30-10 with 4 minutes left.

The Tigers (4-8) cut the lead to 15 points twice, the last time at 41-26 with a little less than 14 minutes to go. But Wisconsin reeled off a 23-4 run over the next 12 minutes before coach Bo Ryan pulled all of his starters.

Cedric Smith and Arnold Lewis led the Tigers with eight points each.

* At Murray State, Ivan Aska and Ed Daniel scored 16 points each to lead the No. 24 Racers (11-0) over Lipscomb, 89-65.

Murray State won its first game as a ranked team in 13 years. The Racers have coach Steve Prohm off to the best start for a rookie coach in school history.

* At George Washington, Walt Lemon Jr. hit a three-pointer with 46 seconds left to snap a tie and Bradley (5-4) held on for a 67-66 win over the Colonials.