Michael Britt scored 40 points and had 13 rebounds tonight to lead the University of the District of Columbia past California State-Bakersfield, 76-71, and into the final of the NCAA Division II championship tournament.
UDC's 7-foot center, Earl Jones, drew his fourth foul with 16:36 remaining in the game and UDC ahead by one point. With Jones on the bench, Britt, 6-7, moved into the pivot and took charge. After Jones returned with about 11 1/2 minutes left, Britt led a rally that clinched the game.
His 40 points set a record for a Division II semifinal game, eclipsing the previous record of 38, set in 1965.
But Britt said a record never occurred to him: "All I wanted to do was to be the first college team from Washington to win a national championship." On Saturday he'll get the chance when UDC faces defending champion Florida Southern, which defeated Kentucky Wesleyan, 90-89, in double overtime in the other semifinal. The final will be broadcast at 8 p.m. on WOL-1450, and on the ESPN cable television network.
Florida Southern won the game on center John Ebeling's free throw with three seconds to play. Ebeling, 6-9, led all scorers with 32 points. Kentucky Wesleyan forced the first overtime when Rod Drake made a 70-foot shot with one second left.
Florida Southern (22-9) has won 17 of its last 19 games. This is the third straight year it has been in the final four.
Tonight's UDC game, played before 3,000 fans in Springfield's Civic Center, was anyone's to win until the Firebirds took a five-point lead with five minutes to play.
With Bakersfield ahead, 63-60, Jones made a turnaround jump shot. As the Californians brought the ball upcourt, Britt stepped in and stole it, and UDC broke for the basket. Britt tipped in a missed layup, and UDC led by one.
Next time Bakersfield came upcourt, Britt leaped into a passing lane, made a clean steal and scored on the resulting fast break, putting UDC up by three. James Neal cleared the ball on a missed shot by Bakersfield and Jones broke downcourt to finish another fast break with a slam dunk. It was 68-63, five minutes remaining, and Bakersfield's fate was sealed.
Payne was the second-highest scorer for UDC with 16. Jones, whose mother was among about 250 cheering UDC fans, had 12.
But it was the ball-hawking of point-guard Payne in the closing minutes that won praise from Bakersfield Coach Bobby Dye. "Britt's obviously a tremendous player," Dye said, "but Payne is very, very good; very unselfish. Really, they have three excellent ballplayers in Britt, Jones and Payne."
Payne said the streak that ensured the victory resulted from increased defensive pressure that forced the two turnovers. Bakersfield was in the process of making 59.6 percent of its shots, most from outside the foul line.
"We were playing a zone and they were hitting from 15 and 17 feet. We just started playing tougher defense. We got them shooting from deeper and turned it around," Payne said.
UDC (24-5) broke to an early, 12-4 lead against Bakersfield (22-5), which had the third-best defensive record in the nation. But Dye called a timeout and settled his players, and it was nip-and-tuck from then until the late UDC drive.
Said Britt: "I was worried. They had a whole lot of pressure on us, and they were hitting the long shots."
But UDC Coach Wil Jones said he figured the string of successful jump shots had to end. "We were very concerned that they shot the ball well," he said. "But you can make jumpers, and jumpers can get you in the end. Late in the last half, unless you're a very psychic kid, you'll have trouble making it."
During one stretch in the second half, Howard Hosbey, who was high for Bakersfield with 22, made long jumpers on three straight possessions. Wayne McDaniel, a muscular Bakersfield forward, added 18 points, including several jump shots. Said Jones, "He's supposed to be an inside shooter."
UDC made 54.2 per cent of its shots. Britt made 14 of 18, mainly from close to the basket, but only 12 of 19 free throws. He had 20 points at halftime and Payne said, "They were quiet points. It didn't seem like he had that much."
After the game, Wil Jones joked that it was a good thing Britt hadn't scored more. The coach holds a small-college playoff record with a 54-point total he scored in the quarterfinals when he was with American University in 1960. He said if Britt had gotten up to 53, "I'd have taken him out."