Thursday, March 13, 2003

Wagner wins Northeast berth


Dereck Whittenburg works more tourney magic

By Hal Bock
The Associated Press

NEW YORK - A lifetime ago, Dereck Whittenburg learned that dreams can come true. On Wednesday night, he taught that lesson to tiny Wagner College.

Tucked away in remote State Island, Wagner had never reached the NCAA tournament. That all changed when the Seahawks earned the 900th victory in school history, beating St. Francis of New York 78-61 in the championship game of the Northeast Conference tournament.

Twenty years after launching the most famous airball in NCAA tournament history - Lorenzo Charles turned it into the winning basket for North Carolina State's 1983 NCAA title - Whittenburg paced the sideline, shed his jacket and led the 2,100 fans crammed in the tiny gym in cheers as his team closed in on a landmark victory.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg was in the crowd and watched Wagner (21-10) seize the early lead and control the game. With nine minutes left, it became apparent that St. Francis wasn't coming back. Whittenburg wasn't so sure.

"A couple of 3's, you don't know," Whittenburg said. "It was the longest nine minutes of the season. I thought it would never end."

When it did, Whittenburg remembered how coach Jim Valvano drummed the dream message into that N.C. State team.

"You can make dreams happen," he said. "Jimmy V. taught me that. I took that into coaching with me. I promised these guys they would work hard and go to class."

And now they are going further than any Wagner team ever has before, thanks to Whittenburg and NEC Player of the Year Jermaine Hall, who scored 27 points, 22 in the first half and grabbed 12 rebounds. When St. Francis played Hall one-on-one, the Seahawks' star was surprised.

"They didn't double me," he said. "I just had to get myself open and make something happen."

The Seahawks dominated St. Francis in every aspect of the game. They forced 17 turnovers, blocked eight shots and never were in danger against a Terrier team that beat them just 11 days ago.

"They took it to us," St. Francis coach Ron Ganulin said. "They deserved everything they got tonight. They were composed and poised. They did a very good job."

The Terriers (14-16) had struggled through a difficult season, forced to play their first 14 games on the road while their new gym was being completed. When they got a home of their own, they flourished, winning five straight and eight of the last nine. Wagner ended that run decisively.

"I can't say enough about these guys," Whittenburg said. "They work hard on and off the court in the true sense of student-athletes. What a great thing for Wagner College to come out and play the way we did."

Then Whittenburg compared this achievement with the national championship he was a part of two decades ago.

"It's one thing to do it as a player," he said. "This is like a national championship for us, to do it for the first time. We have a team that works hard, believes in each other and made a dream come true."




TODAY'S BASKETBALL GAMES
Scores and game wrap-ups

UC BASKETBALL
Bearcats blindsided by Southern Miss
DAUGHERTY: Committee holds UC's fate
Like Mardi Gras for Southern Miss
Other Conference USA games
C-USA Tournament Glance
Marquette's Wade C-USA player of year

XAVIER BASKETBALL
XU right at home in UD Arena
West again A-10 player of year
Dayton finally gets to play

MORE COLLEGE BASKETBALL
For Miami, first things first
Does UK need to lose?
UK sweeps SEC coaches' honors
Big East: St. John's trips Notre Dame
Wagner wins Northeast berth
Weber St. to represent Big Sky
Georgia players sue school

BENGALS-NFL
Bengals clearing path for Palmer
TE Kelly first addition to Bengals' offense
Playoffs Spikes' top priority in Buffalo
Blake steps into Arizona QB job
Luchey ready to start winning
NFL minorities organize
Raiders sign ex-49er Stubblefield
Officiating mistakes lead to dismissals

REDS-BASEBALL
Manzanillo could land in bullpen
Reds Notebook: Wilson's debut delayed
Yankees 10, Reds 5
Schott hospitalized again
Piazza charges mound after plunking
Other spring training games
Spring Training Standings
Bonds' ball dispute settled
Baseball Notebook: Ex-Red may have cancer

GOLF
Arnie and Jack stage final go-round

TENNIS
Roddick rides serve to second-round win

HIGH SCHOOLS
Today's basketball schedule
NCH girls carry city banner to state
6-8 Clemons leads Reading to final
Madeira's surprise run ends
Middletown dumps boys basketball coach
Ky. Games: Holy Cross, Boone, Brossart advance