Wright State downs Butler to grab spot in NCAA tourney

Wednesday, March 7th 2007, 6:17 am
By: News On 6

FAIRBORN, Ohio (AP) _ When Butler made one last surge, Wright State refused to buckle.

DaShaun Wood scored 27 points and Will Graham hit four free throws in the last 12 seconds to lead the Raiders past the 19th-ranked Bulldogs 60-55 Tuesday night for the Horizon League postseason title and their second trip to the NCAA tournament.

``The kids didn't panic,'' Wright State coach Brad Brownell said. ``We remained composed and we made good shots down the stretch to win it.''

The Raiders' only previous trip to the NCAA tournament in their 20 years in Division I came in 1993, when they were pounded 97-54 by Indiana in the first round after capturing the Mid-Continent Conference tournament title.

The next NCAA challenge is an afterthought for Wright State (23-9), a growing school in suburban Dayton.

``We're not worried about the NCAAs for at least another 48 hours,'' Brownell said. ``We're going to enjoy this with our fans.''

Brownell saw it all coming, amazingly. A year ago, the Raiders were coming off a 13-15 season and a first-round loss in the Horizon League tournament when he took over. The school and coach Paul Biancardi parted ways because of an NCAA cloud that had followed him from his previous job as an assistant at Ohio State.

Yet when Brownell, who led North Carolina-Wilmington to the NCAA tournament last year, first met with his new team, he made a bold prediction.

``Coach came in from day one and said we could make it,'' Wood said while receiving high-fives and hugs on the crowded floor after the game. ``All I know is we did make it. And nobody else thought it could be done.''

In other conference tournament championship games, Oral Roberts beat Oakland 71-67 to earn the Mid-Continent Conference's NCAA bid and North Texas beat Arkansas State 83-75 in the Sun Belt Conference title game.

Butler (27-6) still looks like a solid bet to receive an at-large bid to its seventh trip to the NCAA tournament.

The Bulldogs have lost six of their last seven games at Wright State's Nutter Center _ ending a five-game skid with Saturday night's 67-66 overtime win over Loyola of Chicago.

Wood helped turn the tide after Butler had scrambled back from an eight-point deficit to take the lead in the final minutes.

``When we went up two (points), they were able to counter,'' coach Todd Lickliter said. ``It seemed like they were able to counter a lot. I was really impressed with Wright State's poise.''

With the score tied at 52 and 1:25 left, Butler's A.J. Graves drove to the basket but Wood blocked the shot from behind. Then at the other end, Wood curled off a pick and hit a 3-pointer from the right wing with 1:06 left.

Brandon Crone, who led the Bulldogs with 18 points, scored inside off an inbounds pass to cut the lead to one as hundreds of Wright State students crammed around the floor in expectation of a celebration.

The teams each hit a foul shot, before Graham was fouled with 11.6 seconds left. A 66-percent free-throw shooter, he made them both for a 58-55 lead.

``DaShaun came up to me before the first set and said, 'Hey, you've got two shots. You only have to make one.' He was trying to loosen me up. That took some of the weight off my shoulders,'' Graham said.

Graves, who had 12 points, then rushed the ball up the court but missed a 3-pointer while trying to draw a foul with 4.5 seconds left.

``I was just trying to push the ball up and see what the best shot was that we could get,'' he said. ``I knew we needed a 3 and I knew we didn't have any timeouts left.''

Graham again was fouled with 1.3 seconds left and made two more to clinch the win, touching off a wild rush to the floor by the students.

Drew Burleson scored 15 points and Scottie Wilson had 10 for Wright State, which won the Division II national championship in basketball in 1983. Now it's after bigger things.

``Our kids believed all along that we could win this game,'' Brownell said. ``We just didn't know what it was going to come down to. In every huddle we told them to relax, stay calm, play the next play.''

Oral Roberts 71, Oakland, Mich. 67

At Tulsa, Okla., Ken Tutt banked in a jumper with 31.6 seconds left to lift Oral Roberts to an automatic NCAA bid for the second straight year.

Caleb Green scored 28 points to become the Mid-Con's career scoring leader, and Tutt had 20 points for the top-seeded Golden Eagles (23-10).

Erik Kangas, who hit six first-half 3-pointers to stake the second-seeded Golden Grizzlies (19-14) to an 11-point halftime lead, missed a 3 from the right wing that would've given Oakland the lead after Tutt's jumper from just to the right of the paint.

Adam Liberty added two free throws to ice the game for Oral Roberts.

North Texas 83, Arkansas St. 75

At Lafayette, La., Calvin Watson hit six 3-pointers and scored 24 points to help North Texas get to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1988.

Watson, the Mean Green's season and career leader in 3-pointers, hit his first five against the Indians. It made the difference for North Texas (23-10), which held only slim leads most of the second half and missed 13 free throws.

Isaac Wells led Arkansas State (18-15) with 21 points.