Sunday, March 7, 2004

Racers earn 5th NCAA berth in 8 years

NCAA Tournament qualifiers

The Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Adam Chiles hit a jumper with 3:43 left that put Murray State ahead for good, and the Racers beat Austin Peay 66-60 Saturday to win the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament title and their 12th NCAA Tournament berth overall.

The second-seeded Racers (28-5) earned their fifth NCAA berth in the last eight years, and first since 2002, by winning their eighth consecutive game. They did it by handing regular-season champ Austin Peay (21-9) its first loss to a league opponent.

The Governors became the first OVC team to go 16-0 in league play, and they appeared headed for their fourth NCAA berth, and second straight, with their stingy defense that had been holding opponents to just 60.2 points a game.

But Murray State brought in the league's best offense, averaging 81.6 points. Austin Peay held the Racers well below that but couldn't slow them enough.

The Governors had a last chance as Josh Lewis scored on a three-point play to pull them within 60-57 with 49 seconds left. Austin Peay then forced Kevin Paschel to turn the ball over as he stepped out of bounds with 38.8 seconds left.

Cuthbert Victor, the league's player of the year, tipped the ball away from Governors center Josh Lewis near the basket, and Antione Whelchel got the steal. He followed by sinking two free throws with 29.5 seconds left to pad out the lead, and he finished off the game with a final dunk with six seconds left.

East Tennessee St. 78, Chattanooga 62

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. - Tim Smith scored 25 points, and East Tennessee State earned the NCAA Tournament's first automatic bid, beating Chattanooga (19-11) for the second straight year to win the Southern Conference title.

Smith was the difference for the Bucs (27-5). The 5-foot-9 sophomore was named tournament MVP for the second year in a row.

It's East Tennessee's sixth NCAA trip, all since 1989. The Bucs' most memorable and successful tournament came in 1992 when they upset Arizona before losing to Michigan.

Central Fla. 60, Troy St. 55

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Dexter Lyons scored 18 points, and Central Florida won the Atlantic Sun Tournament and earned its third NCAA Tournament berth.

UCF (25-5) never trailed, but Troy State (24-6) never let the Golden Knights stake a double-digit lead in the second half.

After Troy State's Greg Davis, the A-Sun's player of the year, hit a 3-pointer to make it 53-50 with 2:02 left, the game turned into a free-throw shooting contest.

UCF was 7-of-8 from the line stripe in the final 58.4 seconds, while Troy State went 3-of-6.

Now the Golden Knights will look to better their previous NCAA experience after falling 92-70 to top-seeded Massachusetts in the 1996 tournament.

Liberty 89, High Point 44

LYNCHBURG, Va. - Liberty's Larry Blair knew very early that his shots would start falling Saturday in the Big South Conference Tournament championship. High Point's shots, on the other hand, never did.

Blair scored 29 points and tied a championship-game record with seven 3-pointers, and Gabe Martin added 19 points to help the Flames post the largest margin of victory in Big South Tournament history.

The top-seeded Flames (18-14), who played all three of their tournament games at home under the league's new format, beat the Panthers for the third time and earned their second NCAA Tournament bid.

Princeton 64, Dartmouth 59

HANOVER, N.H. - Judson Wallace scored 24 points to lead the Tigers to the Ivy League title and an automatic NCAA Tournament bid.

The title was the third in four years for the Tigers.

Princeton (19-7, 12-1) led by as many as 20 points early in the second half before a 16-5 run by Dartmouth (3-25, 1-13) cut the advantage to four late in the game, the last time at 58-54 with 32 seconds left. Wallace hit eight free throws in the last two minutes to hold off the Big Green.

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