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Championship Week: Pac-12, Big East Tournaments heat up

March 9, 2012 Leave a comment

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Craig Robinson and the Oregon State Beavers have made an unexpected run to the final four in the Pac-12. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Three days ’til Selection Sunday. By now, Championship Week has provided us with some indelible images, incredible games and burst bubbles. You can almost smell the fresh-printed ink of those brackets now. Last night, Northwestern and Mississippi State virtually guaranteed that their names won’t be on that bracket sheet by losing to double-digit seeds in Minnesota and Georgia in the first round of their conference tournaments. Here’s a look at the brackets in the major conference tournaments:

PAC-12 TOURNAMENT BRACKET

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What we’ve learned so far: Colorado has done a spectacular job in its first year in the Pac-12, winning 21 games and advancing to the semifinals in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals. The Buffaloes will fare much better in the Pac-12 than they did in the Big 12, where they had to battle Kansas, Kansas State, Texas, and the rest of the big boys in the midwest. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Colorado knock off Cal and advance to the Pac-12 final, possibly stealing the Golden Bears’ tournament bid in the process. Oregon State has also advanced to the final four, which means that the Beavers are two wins away from forcing President Obama to pick them to win the national championship. (You know, because, his brother-in-law is the coach.)

BIG EAST TOURNAMENT BRACKET

These jerseys should be laid to rest. (Photo:espnmadison.com)

What we’ve learned so far: South Florida and UConn have played their way into NCAA Tournament bids. Both could have easily advanced to the tournament semifinals, and both were helped by Seton Hall’s loss to Louisville. Also, Cincinnati, Marquette, and USF have established themselves in the Big East after transferring from Conference USA in 2004. They are beginning to become true conference members with real rivalries and history—unfortunately, the Big East won’t be the same conference next year so it won’t mean much. Syracuse has advanced to the semifinals in perhaps its last Big East tournament appearance ever, and likely won’t face much of a challenge from Cincinnati, which doesn’t match up well with the Orange.

Tournament Highlight: The Georgetown-Cincinnati double-overtime game Thursday afternoon was a classic, and it was even more impressive that the Bearcats won the game. Cincinnati hasn’t had such a marquee win in its Big East history, so that was a program-building victory over Georgetown, and one that may give the Bearcats a top-six NCAA tournament seed.

Tournament Lowlight: Louisville’s uniforms. They Cardinals are wearing hot pink.

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Categories: Champ Week 2012

Championship Week Mailbag: Recap of Thursday’s conference tournament action

March 9, 2012 Leave a comment

By: Kels Dayton

Championship Week has come so fast and furious at us here at Roundball Daily that it’s been hard to keep up with everything that’s going on. That’s why we’re going to get you caught up on everything, Bill Simmons-style, with a mailbag chock-full of college basketball questions from the most loyal of Roundball Daily readers.

Q: Would you be shocked if UConn made another run to the Final Four?

It would be a shock to see these guys repeat their Final Four run of last season without Kemba. (Photo: Hartford Courant.com)

Kels: Yes. This year’s Huskies team has the talent to play with anybody in the country, but that doesn’t mean that they will put it all together for the four most important games of the season. In fact, I’m positive that they won’t. This is the same UConn team that lost to Rutgers and Seton Hall in the same season for the first time since 1969. This is also the same group that lost to Central Florida, got their manhood handed to them by Louisville, lost a huge game to Providence at the end of the season and lost nine of twelve in the middle of the year. Any comparisons to last year’s Huskies are insane. That team had Kemba Walker. They won the Maui Invitational at the beginning of the year, beat 5 ranked teams during the regular season (compared with ZERO this year) and won five games in five days in the Big East tournament in one of the most remarkable runs in NCAA history. Did I mention that team had Kemba Walker? This year’s team is talented enough to upset a top seed in the NCAAs, and a run to the Sweet 16 isn’t out of the question, but the Final Four? That would be shocking considering the inconsistency with which this group of Huskies has played this season.

Q: What would UConn need to do to make a deep tournament run?

Kels: Well, for one thing, Jeremy Lamb would need to forget about that night with Bruno in Secaucus, remove himself from the second-half Witness Protection Program, and actually move to get the ball on the wing when he wants it. Right now, his strategy is to stand as far away from the ball as physically possible, half-heartedly raise one hand, remain completely motionless and then disinterestedly jog back on defense when he doesn’t get it. Shabazz Napier would need to realize that there are 4 other guys on the team, and that a contested 40-footer is not the shot we want after 15 seconds of perfecting the art of the 5-foot chest pass with Ryan Boatright. Alex Oriakhi would need to understand that time did not cease to exist after the 2011 Final Four and that yes, he is still expected to contribute to the team, and Jim Calhoun would have to stay out of the hospital, which is a bit like asking Rick Majerus to stand 50 feet clear of an Arby’s. If all that happens, the Huskies can make a deep NCAA run. It hasn’t come together all year, but it’s not impossible.

Q: Does Northwestern have any chance to reach the NCAA Tournament after their loss to Minnesota on Thursday?

Northwestern blew its chance to clinch a first-ever NCAA Tournament bid with a loss to Minnesota on Thursday. (Brian Spurlock/US Presswire)

Kels: Nope. The loss to Minnesota was, as ESPN’s Dan Dakic put it, “that final blow to the chin.” The Wildcats had been taking a lot of body blows, but they finally got knocked down in that loss to the Gophers in the first round of the Big Ten tournament on Thursday. They’ll be playing their postseason basketball in the NIT.

Q: Did Texas wrap up a bid by beating Iowa State Thursday night?

Kels: They probably did; although I’m still not that impressed with the Longhorns. I would much rather see a team like Drexel, which went 16-2 in the CAA, a league that has produced more Final Four teams in the past five years than the Big XII, get in. I think the ‘Horns have separated themselves from teams like Seton Hall and Washington, but Texas still doesn’t have many top-flight wins and shouldn’t be considered a threat to make a deep run in the NCAAs the way a Drexel or even an Iona might.

Q: How many bids will the Mountain West get?

Kels: I think the Mountain West gets four if Colorado State takes out top-seeded San Diego State in the semifinals on Friday. San Diego State and UNLV have wrapped up bids, and New Mexico is right there as well…they just need a late-night win over Wyoming to feel 100 percent confident about their spot in the field. If CSU finds away to defeat the Aztecs and advance to the championship game, it will give them a real chance at cracking the field of 68. But they have no shot if they don’t take out SDSU. Losses to Boise State and TCU in mid-February clinched that.

Q: How good is South Florida?

Anthony Collins and the Bulls have done more than enough to earn an NCAA bid this season. (AP Photo)

Kels: Pretty good. This team won 12 games in the rugged Big East, held opponents to just 40 percent shooting from the floor, and finished eighth in the nation in points allowed at 57.4 per game. The Bulls advanced to the Big East quarterfinals for the first time ever and have mimicked the Pittsburgh blueprint to a ‘T’. This is an NCAA tournament team. It doesn’t matter that they don’t have a player who averages in double figures in scoring, or that they began the year 7-6. They’ve gotten consistently better throughout the season and have had excellent point guard play in freshman Anthony Collins, who could grow into a Big East star. I can’t say this enough: they belong in the NCAA tournament.

Q: Will this year’s tournament be as crazy as last year, when Butler and VCU made the Final Four?

Kels: It certainly could be. With apologies to Kentucky and Syracuse fans, there are no great teams in college basketball this season. There are about 35-40 teams that could potentially get hot and make a run to the Final Four, and that’s just crazy. A lot of it has to do with parity and youth at the top programs, but there’s also just a ton of really good basketball players out there. The difference between teams in the major conferences and the good teams in the mid-major conferences is size and strength. It’s not speed, shooting, or even raw basketball ability, as it once was. For example, Northeast Conference champion Long Island may get a 15-seed, but they are an impressive team to watch. They’re impossibly quick, decisive with the basketball, and have a potential NBA prospect in forward Jamal Olasewere. And they play in the freakin’ Northeast Conference. The NCAA Tournament isn’t going to be crazy. It’s going to be certifiable, just like last season.

Q: Is Washington in trouble after its loss to Oregon State?

Kels: Probably not, although the Huskies won’t have much of a beef if the selection committee does decide to leave them out. Losing in Round 1 of your conference tournament is never a good idea if you’re on the bubble, and Washington fell apart down the stretch, missing four straight free throws to close out an unceremonious loss to Oregon State. Still, U-Dub won 21 games overall and went 14-4 in the Pac-12 this season, which should be good enough to earn them a bid no matter how putrid the league was this season.

Categories: Champ Week 2012

Davidson survives Western Carolina in overtime thriller to win Southern Conference championship

March 6, 2012 Leave a comment

By: Kels Dayton

Information from ESPN and the Associated Press was used in this report.

It’s one of the things you have to love about Championship Week. An underdog team from a small conference that took some lumps during the regular season, in this case Western Carolina and its 8-10 Southern Conference record (17-18 overall), makes a glorious run through their conference tournament, upsetting some high seeds and making an impossible run at the ultimate dream–an NCAA Tournament bid. Like most of these teams, though, Western Carolina fell short in the championship game, falling in double overtime to a 25-win Davidson team after making a furious comeback from double-digits down with just minutes to play. It might have been the best game of championship week thus far. Here are the heartbreaking highlights.

Associated Press

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Davidson is back in the NCAA tournament. Getting there was tougher than expected.

Clint Mann’s dunk with 1:04 left in double overtime put Davidson ahead to stay as the Wildcats defeated Western Carolina 93-91 to win the Southern Conference championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament Monday night.

Western Carolina’s Keaton Cole, who helped spark a furious rally at the end of regulation, missed a 3-pointer from 20 feet with three seconds left that would have given the Catamounts a huge upset and their first tournament berth since 1996.

Bob Leverone/Associated Press

“We did a terrific job of creating a lane for Clint,” coach Bob McKillop said of the winning shot. “We tell them they’re unleashed, they’re freed up and to take what’s there. But you must see the game. He saw the open lane and we had sealed inside and Clint went inside and threw it home like a man.”

Neither team scored in the final minute of double overtime, although both had chances.

Catamounts coach Larry Hunter said his team was so tired after playing four games in four days that he went for the win at the end of the second overtime after getting a rebound with 14 seconds left.

“I told the guys in the last timeout that I didn’t think we had a third overtime in us,” Hunter said. “I said that we were going to go for the win. We got our best shooter a really good look and it just didn’t go.”
JP Kuhlman and De’Mon Brooks, the tournament’s most outstanding player, each scored 19 points to lead the top-seeded Wildcats (26-7).

Western Carolina was led by Cole’s 21 points. Tawaski King and Harouna Mutombo had 20 points each for the Catamounts (17-18).
Davidson, the tournament’s top seed after finishing 14-2 in the regular season — four games better than the nearest opponent — came in as a heavy favorite.

But Western Carolina didn’t play like a .500 team.

“It wasn’t about fatigue out there tonight,” Mutombo said. “Guys had adrenaline rushing through them. We knew it was going to be a tough one and some guys bodies reached badly, but mentally and in our heart we didn’t give up. That was the key.”

Davidson had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation and again in the first overtime, but couldn’t get shots to fall.

Davidson led by 13 points with 2:47 left in regulation but the Catamounts mounted a furious comeback behind a pair of 3-pointers by Trey Sumler.

Then Davidson made the mistake of fouling Cole as he was attempting a 3-pointer with 11 seconds left in the game. Cole made all three shots.

Davidson’s Nik Cochran’s driving layup was slapped away at the end of regulation and the game went to overtime.

In the first overtime Davidson had an even better chance to win as Brooks’ turnaround jump shot in the lane at the buzzer hit the rim softly three times before bouncing away, sending the game into double overtime.

Davidson advanced to the NCAAs for the first time since 2008, when a baby-faced Stephen Curry led the Wildcats to the Elite Eight. (AP Photo)

“I thought it was in,” Brooks said. “I was ready to run down the court, but it just came out. We had to keep on playing. That shows the character of our team.”

Said McKillop: “To see the faces when they came to the bench when overtime occurred the resolve was still there. Everyone could be part of that blame game, but they didn’t relent. Then, to go into a second overtime, you want to be able to talk about letdown. To be able to come out after two experiences like that it shows the extraordinary resolve of this group of men.”

It is Davidson’s first NCAA berth since 2008 when a boyish-looking shooter named Stephen Curry led the Wildcats on a magical run to the regional championships where they lost to eventual national champion Kansas.

Now the Wildcats are back.

They may not have an NBA lottery pick this year, but they do have is a balanced scoring attack that features five starters who average in double figures.

Jake Cohen scored 17 points before fouling out in the second overtime and Cochran added 16. Mann had 10 points off the bench, including the monster dunk.

“Western didn’t back down, they kept coming after us and we just couldn’t pull away,” Cohen said. “It’s a testament to these guys in our locker room that we didn’t get down when they made those big shots. We stayed positive and kept attacking them back and it paid off down the stretch.”

Western Carolina went 8-10 in the conference during the season but played like an inspired team.

But behind a partisan crowd, the Catamounts kept pressing on looking to become the first Southern Conference team to win four games in four days. Mutombo scored 10 of his team’s first 15 points as Western Carolina bolted to a 30-18 lead.

“There were probably some breakdowns in execution, but what a whale of a ballgame in terms of heart and competitive effort on both teams,” Hunter said. “Congratulations to Davidson. They are a really nice club and so well coached. They really did what they had to do.”

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press

Categories: Champ Week 2012, News

Championship Week: Illinois State shocks Wichita State, Creighton blows past Evansville in Missouri Valley Semifinals

March 4, 2012 Leave a comment
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Illinois State did some shocking of its own, sending No. 14 Wichita State home early. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam)

The Missouri Valley Conference tournament is the best mid-major tournament, period. The site is high-major quality (Scottrade Center in Saint Louis), the teams play unbelievable defense, and the television broadcast is spectacular. Every team in the league has won the championship since 1998, and there are usually upsets, bubble teams, and bid-stealers galore. This tournament has everything, and it proved it once again today.

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MVC TOURNAMENT SCORES:  March 3

(4)  Illinois State 65  (1)  Wichita State 64

ST. LOUIS — Illinois State had the right guy at the line. Wichita State turned cold, cold, cold at the wrong time.

Brown made two free throws with 6.4 seconds left and finished with 25 points as the Redbirds upset the Shockers (No. 14 ESPN/USA Today, No. 15 AP) 65-64 in the semifinals of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament on Saturday.

“We shocked the world!” Brown said in a fired-up locker room. “Shocked the Shockers!”

Tyler Brown led the Redbirds with 25 points.(AP Photo/Tom Gannam)

Jackie Carmichael added 12 points and 11 rebounds for the fourth-seeded Redbirds (20-12), who rallied from 13 points down early in the second half. Illinois State, which lost at home to the Shockers by 13 points on Feb. 22, snapped a 24-game losing streak against ranked teams, dating to 1987. A victory in the championship game Sunday would give the school its first NCAA tournament berth since 1998.

“I’m sure a lot of people didn’t think we were going to win this game,” Brown said. “All we have is us — our team, our fans.”

Joe Ragland had 17 points for Wichita State (27-5), which had won nine in a row and 17 of 18. Now the Shockers must wait to learn if they will receive an at-large bid and get into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006. The case appears strong for the Valley to end its string of four straight years with only one team in the field.

Only the tournament champion is assured of a bid, but Wichita State entered the day an impressive No. 10 in the RPI. Coach Gregg Marshall’s biggest concern is a lower seed.

“I don’t think we’re going to do too much fixing. We’re 27-5. We’re going to play in the NCAA tournament,” Marshall said. “I’m not worried. Are you worried? You shouldn’t be. Sleep well tonight.”

Wichita State was scoreless after Toure’ Murry made a free throw for a 64-63 lead with 2:51 to go, including a pair of misses in the final seconds.

“The first time we played them they had a couple of shots in the air to tie it,” Marshall said. “They certainly have our respect, and you can see why.”

Ben Smith had 14 points and 13 rebounds, and Murry had 15 points for Wichita State, which won the NIT last season. Leading scorer Garrett Stutz, who averages 13.8 points, was in foul trouble throughout and was held to six points and five rebounds.

Murry missed from the key with about 3 seconds to go. Stutz misfired from the wing at the buzzer.

“I thought it was a pretty good shot,” Murry said. “I didn’t put enough lift on it.”

“They got real good shots at the end,” Brown said. “Luckily, they missed them.”

Illinois State has been in the NIT three of the last four seasons, but had won just two of five games before this tournament.

Carmichael had a big finish after getting just two points and three rebounds in eight minutes of the first half. Smith had 11 points and nine rebounds after the break. Illinois State was 5 for 13 from 3-point range in the second half.

(AP Photo/Tom Gannam)

“It’s such a mountain and it’s such a competition,” coach Tim Jankovich said. “When you see your group go to a level that maybe they didn’t know they have and become different, it makes you a little emotional. It’s probably one of the most gratifying things.”

Neither team shot well: Illinois State finished at 33.9 percent, and Wichita State at 34.9 percent.

Brown, who totaled 21 points in the two regular season meetings against Wichita State, missed his career high by a point. He has made 36 of 39 at the free throw line in the last 10 games. Carmichael has a pair of double-doubles in the tournament.

Stutz drew a personal foul and a technical with 11:59 left, giving him four fouls. Illinois State’s John Wilkins was whistled for his second technical after jostling underneath the Wichita State basket.

Illinois State went 12:12 between baskets in the first half and shot just 29 percent, but stayed in range by going 12 for 14 at the line.

Murry had 10 points in the half, six in a 14-0 run that put Wichita State up by 10 with 6½ minutes to go. The Shockers led by as many as 13 before Nic Moore made a 3-pointer with 2:42 left to end Illinois State’s drought.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press
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 (2) Creighton 99  (3) Evansville 71

ST. LOUIS — Creighton was on upset alert after Illinois State knocked off top seed Wichita State in the opening semifinal of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.

Needlessly, as it turned out.

Gregory Echenique had a season-best 20 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots in just 20 minutes, and the Bluejays (No. 24 ESPN/USA Today, No. 25 AP) also clicked from outside in a 99-71 rout of Evansville on Saturday that put them in the title game.

Gregory Eschenique and the 'Jays eviscerated Evansville, 99-71. (AP/Tom Gannam)

“I’m very happy and I feel like we played hard,” Echenique said. “We actually made a statement.”

Doug McDermott added 14 points and nine rebounds and Antoine Young had 13 points for the second-seeded Bluejays (27-5), who were 8 for 10 from 3-point range in the first half while building a 19-point cushion and shot 60 percent overall. They entered the day leading the nation with 50.7 field goal percentage and were third in 3-point shooting at 42 percent.

The 6-foot-9 Echenique was 8 for 11 from the field and is a 77 percent career shooter (24 for 31) in five career games against Evansville, which lacks inside presence.

“They were hard to guard in all aspects,” Evansville coach Marty Simmons said. “We had a hard time getting out to their shooters and they beat us up on the boards as well.”

Creighton carries a six-game winning streak into the championship game against No. 4 seed Illinois State, which erased a 13-point second half deficit in a 65-64 upset over Wichita State. Creighton has won the tournament six of the last 13 seasons and is seeking its first trip to the NCAAs since 2007.

The Valley has had just one NCAA bid the last four seasons, but has a shot for three if Illinois State pulls another upset. Wichita State was the regular-season champion with a 10 RPI and Creighton also has strong credentials.

“I think everybody on our team would want Wichita in the finals,” Young said. “That would have been nice, but it is what it is. It’s just another opportunity to go out and prove ourselves.”

Creighton is rested heading into the final. McDermott played 23 minutes and Young 20. Coach Greg McDermott planned on getting the bench heavily involved.

“It worked out great, we got a win and we didn’t play guys 27 minutes,” McDermott said. “We felt like we had a little bit more depth and we could keep fresh guys on Colt Ryan and Denver Holmes.

“They don’t have another Colt Ryan and Denver Holmes coming off the bench that can do what those guys can do.”

Kenny Harris had 17 points and Ryan 13 for Evansville (16-15), which has lost 14 of its last 16 to Creighton. Ryan, who scored 43 points in a 93-92 overtime loss at Creighton on Feb. 21, was just 3 for 12 from the field.

“It wasn’t about me trying to go out and score as many as I could,” Ryan said. “I think the big thing was we couldn’t stop them. We really needed to block out a little better because they got second-chance points.”

Three Evansville players — Ryan, Holmes and Troy Taylor — played at least 30 minutes.

Creighton finished 2-1 against Evansville, outrebounding the Aces 43-17 on Saturday.

“We’re obviously disappointed with the result, but overall I’m really proud of the guys,” Simmons said. “Creighton was just really, really good today.”

The Bluejays won both regular-season meetings against Illinois State, including a 28-point blowout at home Feb. 1.

“They’re very streaky,” Echenique said. “They can be a dangerous team and they obviously showed that today. I feel like we match up well and we’ll be ready.”

Echenique finished one point shy of his career high set with Rutgers. Creighton easily shrugged off technical fouls to Echinque and Will Artino for hanging on the rim after emphatic dunks.

Creighton dominated in all phases in the first half, shooting 60 percent with a 22-6 rebounding bulge. The points total was the school’s best since the tournament went to a neutral site in 1991.

“They just outexecuted us,” Harris said. “Those open 3s just killed us, and we got hurt on the glass.”

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press

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MVC TOURNAMENT BRACKET
Categories: Champ Week 2012

Belmont rallies to capture Atlantic Sun tournament championship, return to the NCAAs

March 4, 2012 Leave a comment

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

MACON, Ga. — Ian Clark scored 16 points and Blake Jenkins had 15 to lead Belmont, which rallied from a 13-point first-half deficit to beat Florida Gulf Coast 83-69 in the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament championship game Saturday night.

Belmont cruised past FGCU in the second half. (AP Photo/Jason Vorhees)

Belmont (27-7) outscored Florida Gulf Coast 44-27 in the second half, downing the sixth-seeded Eagles and ending their surprise run to the Atlantic Sun championship game.

The Bruins advanced to the NCAA tournament with a 14-game winning streak following their fifth conference tournament championship in seven years, including the last two. But Belmont is leaving the Atlantic Sun for the Ohio Valley Conference on July 1.

Brett Comer scored 20 points for Florida Gulf Coast, which led the tournament’s top seed 35-22 in the first half. Filip Cvjeticanin had 13 points, all in the first half, and Kevin Cantinol also had 13 for the Eagles (15-17).

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press
Categories: Champ Week 2012

UNC-Asheville wins Big South Championship, advances to NCAA Tournament for second straight year

March 4, 2012 Leave a comment

 

Associated Press

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Matt Dickey showed again why he’s the reigning Big South Conference Player of the Year.

Despite being hindered by a hip pointer, the senior guard had 15 points and five steals to spark UNC Asheville to its second straight berth in the NCAA tournament with an 80-64 win over VMI in the Big South Conference championship game Saturday.

Matt Dickey and the Bulldogs are heading back to the Tournament. (AP Photo)

After earning a trip to the NCAA tournament a year ago, the Bulldogs entered the season as the heavy favorite to win the league and they lived up to that pressure, winning the regular season title and the tournament too.

UNC Asheville has won the tournament three previous times, but never as the No. 1 seed.

The fact that that the senior-laden Bulldogs won on their new home court, Kimmel Arena, made this one more special.

“We’ve always been the underdog, so this year we really had to change our thought process because this year there was always the target on our backs,” UNC Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach said.

The Bulldogs (24-9) only led by one at the halftime. But Dickey, the Big South player of the year, provided a key spark midway through the second half that put the Bulldogs ahead for good.

He had 10 points in the second half and added six assists and made all seven free throw attempts.
“I wasn’t shooting as well as I liked, but they found me in the corner and I was able to knock that one down and that was big,” Dickey said. “We were able to go on that run because of our defense and how we play as a team.”

Jeremy Atkinson led UNC Asheville with 18 points while Dickey’s backcourt mate and tournament MVP J.P Primm had 16 points.

All five Bulldogs starters scored in double digits.

Biedenbach called Dickey and Primm “two of the toughest kids I’ve ever coached.”

Big South Tournament MVP J.P. Primm (left), Chris Stephenson and Jeremy Atkinson after UNC-Asheville's dominant second half performance. (Randy Sartin/US Presswire)

“J.P. played football in high school and he worked with Matt to toughen him up and Matt worked with J.P. to keep him on the straight (path),” Biedenbach said with a laugh.

This is the last year the Big South Championship will be held at the top remaining seed’s home court. Next year the tournament will move to an as-yet undetermined neutral site.

“It was wonderful to win here at home,” Primm said. “I told Matt (Dickey) this would be the best time of our lives. We were out there celebrating (with our fellow students) crying tears of joy. The fans were great. There were times I couldn’t hear the ball bouncing on the floor it was that loud.”

Keith Gabriel led VMI (17-16) with 12 points.

VMI, the No. 7 seed, was looking for its first NCAA berth since 1977. They had to win three tournament games to get to the finals, including an upset of No. 2-seed Coastal Carolina.

“I felt like we were playing with house money all week,” VMI coach Duggar Baucom said.

A year ago the Bulldogs beat Arkansas-Little Rock before losing to Pittsburgh 74-51 in the second round.

With the game tied at 44 in the second half, Dickey stepped up big with a series of plays that aroused the home crowd.

Dickey converted a traditional 3-point play when he drove through on a fastbreak and made the layup and was fouled. After a jump shot by Quinard Jackson, he hit a 3-pointer and added two more foul shots.

Dickey the slashed through the lane and dished down low to Jackson, who sealed his man off for an easy layup to give the Bulldogs their biggest lead of the game at 56-47 with 11:44 left.

The Keydets could never get within six points after that and the Bulldogs began to pull away.

“We called a timeout to try to diffuse the run, but I looked at them in the huddle and the guys didn’t have anything left,” Baucom said. “That’s the first time this year that I’d seen that. They were just really fatigued.”

Primm, Atkinson and Chris Stephenson of UNC Asheville were named to the All-Tournament team along with VMI’s Gabriel and Stan Okoye.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press

Categories: Champ Week 2012

No. 9 Murray State holds off Tennessee State, earns NCAA Tournament bid in OVC Championship

March 4, 2012 Leave a comment


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Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Somewhere, a bubble team can breathe a little easier for the NCAA tournament thanks to the Murray State Racers (No. 9 ESPN/USA Today, No. 12 AP).

Jewuan Long drove the baseline for a layup with 4.4 seconds left, and Murray State rallied from seven points down in the final 5:28 to beat Tennessee State 54-52 for the Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship Saturday and the automatic NCAA tournament berth.

Had Tennessee State won it, the Racers would have probably received an at-large bid, bursting another team’s tournament bubble.

The Tigers were the only team to defeat Murray State this season, and came up just two points shy in their NCAA Tournament bid. (AP/Wade Payne)

The Racers just considered this comeback a final tuneup for the NCAA tournament in their first trip back since finishing the 2010 season 31-5 and beating Vanderbilt in the first round. Senior guard Donte Poole said the finish just shows how focused the Racers are as they held Tennessee State without a point in the final 3:45.

“Down the stretch, we were down we just tried to put a number of stops together to give ourselves the best chance to come down and get a shot,” Poole said.

The final shot didn’t go off as planned. Isaiah Canaan was supposed to take the shot, but the Tigers smothered him so he passed off to Long for the floater. Tennessee State coach John Cooper thought M.J. Rhett got his feet set to draw a charge on Long with no call.

Long finished with six points.

“I got a lot of confidence in him,” Murray State coach Steve Prohm said. “He hadn’t made a lot of shots all night, but that’s his shot. You ask any of these guys. … His shot’s the floater.”

Canaan then stripped Tigers guard Patrick Miller of the ball driving to the basket, and Long guarded Robert Covington on his 3-pointer at the buzzer to preserve the win, getting the Racers to 30-1 and avoiding a second loss to the only team to beat them this season.

Covington said he could’ve taken a better shot but didn’t realize where he was at the time.

“I seen it fade left, and after that, I mean, just put my head down,” Covington said.

Prohm said the finish shows just how resilient his Racers are and congratulated the Tigers.

“They had a great game plan today,” Prohm said. “Slow you down in the offensive end. They really made it tough on us on the offensive end, and they made us work for everything so congratulations to them.”

Covington led Tennessee State (20-12) with 14 points, and Kellen Thornton had 11. These Tigers were 9-23 in Cooper’s first season three years ago.

The Racers will head into the NCAAs with a 30-1 record. (AP/Wade Payne)

“Murray State did everything they needed to do down the stretch of the game,” Cooper said. “Maybe didn’t play their best game of the year, but they made plays down the stretch when they needed to make plays. That’s what good teams do. Hats off to them and hats off to everything they’ve been able to accomplish.”

Canaan and Poole each scored 14 points for the Racers.

Fittingly, because the Tigers are the only team to beat Murray State, this game couldn’t have been much tighter with 10 ties and 11 lead changes. Murray State led 29-27 at halftime, then came out and looked early as if it was trying to help the OVC put two teams into the NCAA tournament.

Most of the fans at Municipal Auditorium dressed in Racers’ blue and yellow, but the Racers were sloppy as they started the second half missing their first six shots. They didn’t hit their first field goal until 14:27 was left on a 3 by Long. That was part of a 12-2 run as the Racers rallied from a 38-31 deficit, and Jackson’s layup put the Racers up 43-40 with 8:28 left. Tennessee State answered with 10 straight points to go back up 50-43 on Rhett’s jumper with 5:28 left.

That set up a furious finish.

Tennessee State last led 52-48 when Rhett dunked with 3:46 left for its final bucket. Ivan Aska answered, then Ed Daniel hit two free throws with 1:01 left for his only points of the game tying it up.

Miller had another turnover with 30 seconds left for Tennessee State. That allowed the Racers to run out most of the rest of the game before Canaan found Long in the left corner. Long drove the baseline and scored, giving him six points for the game.

Cooper said Miller was his best driver, while Covington was his best jump shooter.

“We’ve come up 0 for 2. We’ll live with that,” Cooper said.

Tennessee State twice led by seven in the second half. The Racers came back each time.

The Tigers outshot Murray State 46.8 percent (22 of 47) compared to 37.5 percent (18 of 48). They also outrebounded Murray 34-24. But the Racers scored 15 points off Tennessee State’s 18 turnovers and had a big edge at the free throw line, hitting 14 of 16 while the Tigers hit 5 of 10.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press
Categories: Champ Week 2012