Belmont Punches NCAA Dance Card with OT Thriller

Saturday, March 04, 2006

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. – Belmont became to third team in the nation to punch its ticket to the NCAA tournament with a 74-69 overtime victory over Lipscomb in the championship game of the 2006 General Shale Brick Atlantic Sun Men’s Basketball Championship at Memorial Center on Saturday afternoon.

It is the first conference championship for the Bruins (20-10) and will be their first post-season appearance since making the move from NAIA to the NCAA.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” Belmont coach Rick Byrd said. “There are a very difficult few years when you go Division 1. We lost a lot of games and played some good teams. The guys who lost those 40 and 50 point games are the reason why we’re here. They paid the price and I appreciate it.”

Tournament MVP Justin Hare put the Bruins on his shoulder and turned in a career-effort to lead his team to the victory. Hare, a sophomore, scored a personal best 32 points to go with five rebounds, four assists and two steals.

“Going in, I didn’t expect to play this well,” Hare said. “As the game went on, I was trying to do the things to help us win. It feels great to have my best game on this stage.”

Hare scored 10 points, plus had a steal and an assist, in overtime to pave the way to the “Big Dance.” With Hare showing the way, Belmont got off to a quick start in overtime and forced Lipscomb to play catch-up.

Boomer Herndon put up the first points of the extra period, but Hare quickly followed with a driving basket. Hare later scored on a back-door cut and made all six free throw tries in the final minute to put the finishing touches on his performance. For the game, Hare made 10-of-15 shots from the floor, including 3-for-5 from 3-point range, and sank all nine tries from the charity stripe.

All-tournament selection Josh Goodwin, Brian Collins and Andrew Preston scored 10 points each for the Bruins. Herndon added eight points and seven rebounds.

Eddie Ard led the way for Lipscomb with 19 points, but foul trouble limited his playing time in the second half. James Poindexter and LaKory Daniels scored 13 points each.

Despite struggling from the floor overall, Poindexter made the shot of the game for the Bisons and did his part to bring Lipscomb back in overtime. With the game tied at 55 in regulation, Poindexter drained a 3 with :30 left on the clock. Before the Bisons’ defense could get set, Hare drove the lane and converted a conventional three-point play to tie the score and force the extra period.

Just getting the game tied at 55, however, took a serious rally by the Bruins. ON Ard’s jumper with 6:33 remaining Lipscomb led 53-47. Belmont rallied with an 8-0 run over the next three minutes to take a brief lead. Goodwin started the run with three free throws, Collins got a steal and basket in transition and Hare capped it off with a driving make.

Collins had five steals for the Bruins, who will likely earn a date with one of the NCAA’s perennial powers.

“Bring ‘em on,” said Collins. “We’re going to respect whoever it is we play, but we’ll be ready for them.”

Byrd tried to temper that statement.

“Let me just say, we’re glad to be getting a chance to play one of those teams,” Byrd said.

The season will not end for Lipscomb (21-9), which by virtue of a new agreement between the NCAA and NIT and being the league’s No. 1 seed earns a spot in the NIT Tournament.

“It’ll take a while for us to come to grips with this, but we’ll be excited when it comes time to play,” Lipscomb coach Scott Sanderson said. “It’s a great reward for the team who won the A-Sun. We wished for the NCAA, but it’ll be exciting. It’s our first time in the post season.”

General Notes
• The No. 1 seed has not won the A-Sun tournament since 2001. Georgia State was the last top seed to advance.
• This is the third straight year that No.1 has faced No. 2 in the championship game. No. 2 has won all three.
• Belmont becomes the 10th team to win an A-Sun title in their first championship game appearance.
• Belmont becomes the first private school to win the A-Sun tournament since Samford won back-to-back in 1999-2000.
• The No. 2 seed improves it record to 37-19 in tournament games.
• The No. 2 seed wins its fourth league title in 26 tries.
• Lipscomb still leads the all-time series between the two rivals 66-47.
• This was the first overtime in a championship game since 1988.
• The title game featured six lead changes and eight ties.
• Fitting end? Belmont and Lipscomb tied atop the regular-season standings and split their regular-season games, including the Bisons win in overtime in January.

Belmont Notes br> • Belmont made 25-of-50 shots, hitting exactly its shooting percentage for the season, The Bruins rank third in the NCAA by hitting 50 percent of all shots.
• Brian Collins inched closer to the school’s single-season record for assists. He collected two against Lipscomb and needs just two more to break Dougie Webb’s mark of 134. Collins did have seven rebounds and five steals.
• While Belmont owns an incredible won-loss record when scoring 88 or more points (10-0) and hitting at least nine 3-pointers (13-1), they managed to win this one without accomplishing either number.
• The Bruins improve to 13-2 when shooting at least 50 percent from the floor.

Lipscomb Notes
• LaKory Daniels completed a tremendous tournament with his 13 points effort. In three games, Daniel scored 34 points. During an injury-plagued regular season, he scored just 36 points.
• Brian Fisk was limited to just four points on 1-of-4 shooting. It was the first time in 23 games that Fisk did not reach double figures.
• The Bisons made just six field goals in the second half and made only 36 percent of their tries for the game.
• Lipscomb falls to 1-6 when scoring less than 70 points.

All-Tournament Team
• Justin Hare, Belmont – MVP
• Josh Goodwin, Belmont
• LaKory Daniels, Lipscomb
• Eddie Ard, Lipscomb
• E.J. Gordon, Stetson
• Tim Smith, ETSU