Wednesday, March 19, 2003

UNC-Asheville scores first NCAA upset

By Rusty Miller
The Associated Press

DAYTON, Ohio - Overtime is Asheville time. Just 10-16 in regulation but 5-0 in overtime games, North Carolina-Asheville blew a four-point lead with 17.1 seconds left in regulation then dominated the overtime to edge Texas Southern 92-84 Tuesday night in the play-in game.

Andre Smith spurred the Bulldogs on in overtime by scoring 10 of his 28 points.

Asheville received a dubious prize for advancing. The Bulldogs next play top-seeded Texas in the first round of the South Regional on Friday in Birmingham, Ala.

"I just hope we take Texas to overtime," Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach cracked.

After closing the regular season with four consecutive losses, the Bulldogs (15-16) have won four in a row - three of them in overtime.

The Bulldogs' game with the Longhorns will reunite Texas coach Rick Barnes with Biedenbach, who gave Barnes his first coaching job when he was the head coach at Davidson in 1978.

"We've got our hands full with Texas but we've played most of the top seeds in the country in the last few years," Biedenbach said. "We're not going to back down from anyone. Our margin of error will go down considerably when we play Texas, though."

Smith came right out as the overtime began and almost immediately hit a 3-pointer - and the Bulldogs never trailed again.

"We got in the huddle and my teammates said, 'It's your time,"' Smith said.

Bryan McCullough added 15 points, Alex Kragel hit three second-half 3-pointers and finished with 14 points, Ben McGonagil had 12 points and Joseph Barber 11 for Asheville, in the NCAA tournament for the first time.

The Bulldogs are the unlikeliest of NCAA entrants. They're the only team with a losing record and were just 1-14 on the road - granted, while playing heavyweights such as Kansas, Oklahoma, Michigan State and Connecticut - before their 3-0 run in the Big South Conference tournament 10 days ago.

"We've got a little saying: Do not be denied," Kragel said.

Allan Lovett, who started his college career at Asheville, led Texas Southern (18-13) with 28 points and 14 rebounds. Ra'Kim Hollis, MVP of last weekend's Southwestern Athletic Conference championship run, added 18 points and Lionel Willis had 17.

Smith scored six of Asheville's first eight points in the overtime before Chad Mohn's 3-pointer from the right corner upped the lead to 86-79 with 2:22 left.

Smith added a layup with 47.6 seconds left and then made two more free throws with 28.6 seconds remaining to push the lead to 90-82.

"When it got to overtime, just as we got back to the bench, some of the coaches said, 'Are we going to lose in overtime?' " Smith said. "We said we wouldn't. That's just been our motto - we don't lose in overtime."

Texas Southern led by as many as nine points early in the second half but the Tigers found themselves down 74-70 after a Kragel free throw with 17.1 seconds left in regulation.

Marquel Timmons came right back with a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to one before Smith added another foul shot.

Down by two with 5.5 seconds to play, Texas Southern inbounded under its own basket. Hollis passed to Lovett near the right block and he powered up for a layup that went over the rim. Teammate Lionel Willis caught the ball in the air and put it back to tie the game with 3.4 seconds left and force the overtime.

The Tigers lost the game at the line, hitting just 3-of-10 free throws in the overtime and finishing 14-of-31.

"That's something that has bothered us all year and it really hurt us tonight," Tigers coach Ronnie Courtney said. "We won about every category, but we just didn't make our free throws."

Lovett quit at Asheville midway through his freshman year two seasons ago. He was a force all night against the bigger Bulldogs.

"We just didn't take care of business. We wanted to play Texas and now we're going home," he said. "They didn't outplay us - they just made their free throws."

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