Kenny Payne sank two free throws with six seconds left tonight to lift the University of the District of Columbia to a 67-66 victory over Mount St. Mary's for the NCAA Division II South Atlantic region title.
The victory sends the Firebirds into the national quarterfinals at home next weekend against Cheyney State, the No. 1-ranked Division II team in the nation. UDC is ranked third.
There was confusion at the buzzer. As Mount St. Mary's guard Durelle Lewis threw a 25-foot desperation shot that hit nothing, an official appeared to call a foul on the action under the basket. Many in the crowd of more than 3,000 came onto the floor, only to be waved back. After consultation, the referees decided the foul had come after the buzzer.
It was the second straight close game for the Firebirds, who defeated Virginia Union in overtime Friday night, 68-64, in a semifinal.
UDC nearly threw this one away. The Firebirds were on the brink of defeat after a late-game stall effort fell flat, but moved ahead, 65-62, on a fast break by Michael Britt. On their next possession, the Firebirds tried to slow it down. But Mount St. Mary's guard Jay Bruchak stole the ball with 1 1/2 minutes to go. Mike Jones sank a 10-footer to cut the lead to one, then with 23 seconds left, Tom Looney made an 18-foot jump shot to give Mount St. Mary's the lead.
Payne was driving to the basket 17 seconds later when he was fouled, and he made the two free throws despite the thunderous chanting of the Mounts' fans.
When the buzzer sounded, about 500 UDC fans went wild. The players hoisted Coach Wil Jones onto their shoulders, and he cut down the net. The victory puts UDC's record at 22-7, and it was by far the most important victory.
"We're on our way," Britt shouted among the jubilant players in the UDC locker room. "This one means a lot to us--to us and the university. I feel more confident now (going into the quarterfinals) than I ever did."
Britt was on the bench for about 13 minutes of the first half after committing his third foul, and his absence caused the team considerable problems.
When he was taken out of the game, UDC was leading, 13-4. The Firebirds had scored 13 straight points after Mount St. Mary's made the first basket. But with Britt out, the Mounts came back. With eight minutes left in the half, the game was tied at 19.
A tap-in at the buzzer by 7-foot center Earl Jones put the visitors up, 35-33.
It was close the rest of the way, with neither team leading by more than four points.
Guard Greg Carson kept the Firebirds in the game with four jump shots in the second half. He led UDC with 17 points. Jones had 16 and Britt 14. Mount St. Mary's was led by Lewis, with 22 points.
After the game, Coach Jones said he wanted the team to take outside shots early to draw the Mounts' defense out, then go inside to the big men, Jones and Britt. But Britt's fouls ruined that plan, as Earl Jones' four fouls had the night before.
At the start of the second half, the Firebirds did go under the basket with some success, but several missed shots and bad passes left them looking for another strategy. Carson did the job with his 12-foot jump shots.
Coach Jones said he wasn't trying to slow the game toward the end. "I was just trying to get their (Mount St. Mary's) defense to come out, to get 'em into a man to man. But it didn't work out that well."