DAYTON, Ohio (AP) The arena was half-empty and the cable
network was ready to go to its monster truck show. The play-in game
that no one wanted needed something to make it memorable.
Josh Hancock gave the final minute an NCAA Tournament feel.
Hancock hit a 3-pointer with 1 minute left Tuesday night,
setting up Northwestern State's 71-67 victory over Winthrop that packed all of its
drama into the final minutes.
"When we got here, we weren't used to all the lights," guard
Michael Byars-Dawson said, celebrating the Demons' first NCAA
Tournament win. "We weren't even used to flying. We didn't want to
come here for just one game."
Northwestern State (19-12) earned another game that amounts to
the toughest challenge ever for a No. 16 seed. The Southland
Conference champions have only two days to get ready for No. 1
Illinois, a formidable team with a pronounced size advantage.
A 16th seed has never beaten a No. 1 since the tournament
adopted its current format in 1985. In those 64 games pitting Nos.
1 and 16, the underdog has lost by an average of 25 points.
"We've made history already by playing this game,"
Byars-Dawson said. "Why can't we make more history?"
The NCAA went to the play-in format for the first time in 10
years and wound up with a game that lacked the feel of a tournament
game until the final, tense minute.
Hancock, who won two other games for the Demons with last-minute
baskets this season, put them in control with his 3 from the right
corner as the shot clock ran down and the game clock hit 1:00.
"I feel comfortable when I shoot," said Hancock, who made only
two of his six 3-point tries. "I wasn't shooting well during the
game, but at that time it went in."
Winthrop (18-13), the Big South representative, made 11-of-20
3-point tries, but Tywan Harris missed a pair of them in the final
minute and the Demons hit their free throws to hold on.
"It's a very bitter taste in our mouths," said coach Gregg
Marshall, who is 0-3 in NCAA Tournament games. "The 3 (by Hancock)
was a tremendous shot, and we had one roll out at the other end."
To get the crack at Illinois, the play-in teams had to overcome
two days of hectic travel, little sleep and disappointment over
getting sent to the tournament's pseudo-opener.
Neither had time to rest or prepare for the game, and it showed.
There were double dribbles and blown alley-oops, shots off the side
of the backboard and one too-hard jumper that actually went over
the backboard, slamming off the front of the shot clock above it.
The crowd of 6,813 wasn't into it, either. Dozens got up and
headed for the exits when Hancock hit his 3-pointer, missing the
game's tense finish.
Although the NCAA dubbed it an opening-round game, the play-in
had less emotion and television exposure than the teams' conference
CBS, which owns rights to the tournament, aired "JAG" and "60
Minutes II" rather than the first 40 minutes of the tournament.
Television commentator Rick Pitino wore a dark CBS blazer at
midcourt for his pregame remarks, but held a TNN microphone.
Viewers had to find the game on TNN, sandwiched between
"Martial Law" and a monster truck show.
Most of the fans wore Flyers sweatshirts and sat with their arms
folded. A few dozen Demon and Eagle fans behind the benches had to
provide the noise.
A groan rippled through the crowd when Winthrop's Marcus Stewart
put too much oomph on a jumper from the top of the key in the first
half and it made a beeline for the shot clock, smacking it with a
Stewart dropped his head and went to the bench as, mercifully,
his coach called a timeout.
"I can't believe he shot it that high," said Northwestern
State center D'or Fischer, who scored 10 points and blocked nine
shots. "I guess he knew I was a good shot blocker."
There was a round of sympathy applause when Northwestern State's
Chris Lynch couldn't complete an uncontested alley-oop dunk, losing
the ball as he tumbled to the floor.
It went that way throughout the first half, which featured five
ties and six lead changes.
Lynch's 3-pointer pushed the lead to 56-44 midway through the
second half. Winthrop hit five 3's in a row, two of them by Harris,
and pulled even at 62 on Roger Toxey's reverse layup with 3:15
left, leaving the game to be decided by the final flurry of 3-point
Chris Thompson led Northwestern State with a game-high 18
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|Northwestern State's Chris Thompson, left, and Josh Hancock, right, tie up Winthrop's Marcus Stewart.|
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