College Hoops Player of the Day for Tuesday, March 6, 2011
Western Kentucky completed their assault on Sun Belt opponents with their fourth straight tournament win, a 74-70 victory over North Texas in the conference tournament championship.
6'11" junior Teeng Akol led all scorers with 23 points, a career high for the import from Sudan. Akol also had five rebounds and blocked four shots.
The Hilltoppers were left for dead on January 5 when a loss to Louisiana Lafayette left the team with a 5-11 record and coach McDonald was fired. Ray Harper was named interim coach at that point, but the team lost three more games in a row. The Hilltoppers then began winning a little bit, taking six of their last 10 conference games, but still finishing the regular season with an 11-18 record and a 7-9 mark in the conference.
With nothing to lose in the conference tourney, the Hilltoppers beat Florida International, Arkansas Little-Rock (West division champion) and Denver before Tuesday's triumph in the final.
At 15-18, Western Kentucky becomes the first team with a losing record to qualify for the NCAA tournament since 16-20 Coppin State qualified out of the Mid-Eastern conference in 2008.
TOURNAMENT FINAL RESULTS:
South Dakota State 52 Illinois State 50 - The Jackrabbits of South Dakota State snatched away an important automatic NCAA bid with their win over the Leathernecks of Illinois State in the Summit conference tournament championship. Senior Griffan Callahan made a pair of free throws to force overtime as the Jackrabbits rallied from a four-point deficit at the half and then made the game-winning three-pointer in overtime for the win.
The 'Rabbits were the fortunate beneficiaries of Illinois State's largesse, because the Leathernecks were the ones to knock off regular season champ, Oral Roberts, in one of the semi-final games, 54-53, Monday. South Dakota State's win leaves Oral Roberts in hoops limbo, hoping to get an at-large seeding from the tournament committee on Sunday. The Golden Eagles won the conference with a 17-1 record and are 27-6 overall, their biggest win a 64-42 win over Xavier in December. Losses at West Virginia, Oklahoma and Gonzaga will work against them.
Detroit 70 Valparaiso 50 - Valparaiso took the regular season title in the Horizon League with a 14-4 record, but could not deliver the goods when it mattered most. Against a Detroit team they beat twice during the season, the Crusaders made just 2 of 18 three-pointers and shot 34% for the game, missing out on their opportunity to go to the big dance.
Instead, the Detroit Titans proved their mettle, taking the tournament championship and the automatic bid, despite an 11-7 record in the conference and a 22-13 record overall. Ray McCallum led all scorers with 21 points, adding six rebounds in the victory. Detroit shot 58% in the second half and ran away with the win. This will be the Titans first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 1999.
Elsewhere, Princeton defeated Penn, 62-52, leaving the Quakers a game behind Harvard in the Ivy League. A Quaker win would have forced a one-game playoff with the Crimson, but the loss gives Harvard, which finished conference play with a 12-2 record, the automatic bid.
There are 27 games on tap for Wednesday, including second round games in the Big East and opening rounds in the PAC-12, Big 12 and Conference USA tournaments. A few ore tickets will be punched when Lehigh faces Bucknell in the Patriot League tourney final and Robert Morris and Long Island battle for the Northeast championship. Both championship games are at 7:00 pm ET. Weber State and Montana duel for the Big Sky tourney title at 9:00 pm ET.