After squandering an opportunity to win the game in regulation, Bowie State point guard Kevin Bell found himself with a chance for redemption. Bell stood dribbling the ball near midcourt, waiting until the clock ticked down to five seconds before starting toward the basket. As he reached the free throw line, instead of continuing as he had in the final seconds of regulation, Bell passed the ball over to Isaiah Johnson on the left wing.
Johnson, who had missed his previous seven three-point attempts, launched a shot from behind the arc that sailed cleanly through the net with 0.8 of a second remaining on the clock. Johnson's three-point basket capped a remarkable rally by the top-seeded Bulldogs, who escaped with a 91-88 overtime victory over No. 8 seed Tusculum yesterday in the South Atlantic Regional first-round game of the NCAA Division II tournament.
"I was very confident," Johnson said. "When it left my hands, I saw it in the air, I just knew it was good."
Bowie State (25-4), hosting a regional for the first time in school history, will play Columbus State in a regional semifinal tonight at 7:30. The Cougars beat Kennesaw State, 83-78, in overtime.
The Bulldogs had tried to run the same play to win the game in regulation. But instead of passing to Johnson as he was supposed to, Bell drove all the way to the basket. His shot looped over the rim and fell away as time expired.
The lively crowd of 4,000, which included Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, grew restless late in the second half as Tusculum (18-11) built its lead. The scrappy Pioneers from Greeneville, Tenn., who were making their NCAA Division II tournament debut, were playing with poise and savvy.
After Letheal Cook, Bowie State's leading scorer at 20.8 points per game and the South Atlantic region player of the year, fouled out with 8:05 remaining, Bowie State's prospects appeared grim. Less than a minute after Cook (nine points) sat down, the Bulldogs trailed 69-59.
It was then that Brent Campbell (Lab School) began his three-point barrage. Campbell sank five shots from behind the arc in less than a four-minute span to give Bowie State its first lead, 76-74, since 3:25 remained in first half.
"We went from a power team to a little bit more of a finesse team because of Lee Cook being out, Attila Cosby not playing, and Aaron Watson broke his foot the other day in practice," Bowie State Coach Luke D'Alessio said. "Right now, we're actually changing the team that we are."
Bowie State, which entered the game reeling from its CIAA tournament quarterfinal loss last week, had plenty on its mind going into the game. The players wore white wristbands in memory of three people closely associated with the program who were killed traveling to the CIAA tournament. The mother, sister and 16-year-old daughter of Michael Hyles, a resident of Northeast and a longtime supporter of the Bulldogs, died after being struck by an Amtrak train. D'Alessio broke down as he told the story in the postgame news conference.
"We couldn't lose this one for him," Campbell said.