Dayton, Ohio — Holy Cross has a losing record — and a long-awaited win in the NCAA Tournament.
Robert Champion scored 19 points, including a key 3-pointer in the final minute, to help the Crusaders beat Southern University 59-55 Wednesday night for their first tournament victory in 63 years.
“I think it’s fantastic,” coach Bill Carmody said. “It’s everything we’re trying to do at Holy Cross. We’re trying to jump-start the program because we realize what an athletic program can do for a school. It’s a great first step.”
Holy Cross (15-19) was an unlikely NCAA participant, earning its automatic bid by winning four consecutive road games to take the Patriot League Tournament title.
Now, after pulling out a sluggish game in the First Four, the 16th-seeded Crusaders are off to play No. 1 seed Oregon in the West Regional on Friday in Spokane, Washington.
And they certainly plan to savor the experience.
“We’re just enjoying this right now,” Champion said. “We’re going to hop on a plane and go to Spokane. We’re just enjoying it and going for the ride.”
Champion, a junior guard, also made two key free throws with 14 seconds left to seal the victory in a sloppy game that didn’t get tight until well into the second half. He connected on as many 3-pointers as the entire Southern team, which was 3-for-20 from beyond the arc.
The Crusaders had lost nine consecutive NCAA Tournament games since defeating Navy and Wake Forest in 1953 — six years after Holy Cross won the national championship.
Holy Cross led by as many as 12 in the first half thanks to a smothering 1-3-1 zone defense that Southern struggled to solve, but a 9-0 run allowed the Jaguars to cut the lead to 27-22 at halftime.
Southern started the second half with 7-0 spurt and eventually tied it with 1:24 left, but Champion hit his big 3-pointer to put Holy Cross ahead to stay.
“A dream come true,” Champion said. “Everybody dreams of making that shot.”
Southern coach Roman Banks said Holy Cross set the tone early.
“I thought they came out of the gates with a lot of energy and executed very well,” Banks said. “I think it took us a little time to find our rhythm in the zone, that 1-3-1 that they play.”
Southern (22-13), a historically black school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was ineligible for postseason play the past two years because of a problem with its academic reports to the NCAA. It earned an automatic bid when it beat Jackson State 54-53 in the championship game of the Southwestern Athletic Conference Tournament.
Anthony Thompson added 12 points for Holy Cross, and Karl Charles had eight.
Adrian Rodgers led Southern with 14 points, and Shawn Prudhomme scored 10.
Michigan women prevail
Katelynn Flannery scored 22 and Sierra Thompson 19 for Michigan, which won its Women’s NIT opener, 81-53 over visiting Wright State.
Danielle Williams scored 12 and Hallie Thome had 11 rebounds for Michigan (18-13), which plays either Akron or Bucknell this weekend.
Texas Tech is Smith’s fifth NCAA squad
Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith has been around long enough to realize teams should savor the opportunity of playing in the NCAA Tournament.
Few coaches would know better.
The well-traveled veteran is one of two coaches to take five schools to the NCAAs now that the Red Raiders — in for the first time in nine years — are facing Butler in today’s first round of the Midwest Regional.
“I would like to be able to stay in one place,” Smith said. “But every job we took, it was a step in the right direction. We’ve certainly moved our family quite a bit. … They’re not going to hire you unless you were successful at the prior university, so I’m really pleased about that.”
Smith, with 557 career wins in 25 seasons, has led Tulsa, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota and now eighth-seeded Texas Tech (19-12). Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger is the only other coach to take five schools to the NCAAs.
Stony Brook loses its biggest fan
There were one, maybe two, home basketball games at Stony Brook that Richard Solo missed in the past four seasons, even as he coped with cancer treatment.
He was confident this would be the year for the Seawolves.
And so, the man who spent 53 years on campus as a chemistry professor, administrator, mentor and fan, told two Stony Brook players just that a few weeks before the season started.
“He was talking to us about how long he’s been a fan of the Stony Brook program and how much this season was going to mean to him and how he felt that we’ve got a really good chance of making history this year,” Stony Brook senior Rayshaun McGrew said.
Solo was not around to see it. He died from colon cancer on Nov. 27 at the age of 79, the day before the first home game for the Seawolves.
Cal State-Bakersfield has airplane trouble
A chartered airplane flying Cal State-Bakersfield’s basketball team to its first NCAA Tournament game made an emergency landing in Las Vegas.
McCarran International Airport spokesman Chris Jones said Sun Country Airlines Flight 8606 was in the air about 30 minutes after takeoff from Bakersfield, California when the plane landed.
The plane was delayed about an hour.