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Bieg men in Big Dance
Lafayette College earns first NCAA bid since 1957
Posted: Friday March 05, 1999 11:08 PM
EASTON, Pa. (AP) -- For Tyson Whitfield, winning Lafayette's first-ever Patriot League Tournament championship is a ticket to an even larger dream long in coming.
"Since I started playing basketball, I have always wanted to play in the NCAA Tournament," the Lafayette guard said after the Leopards defeated Bucknell 67-63 to capture the league title and an NCAA berth Friday night.
Lafayette (22-7) advanced to the NCAAs for the first time since 1957, ending the nation's second-longest drought behind that of Harvard (1946). Bucknell (16-13) was also seeking its first Patriot League title, as well as its first berth in the NCAA Tournament since 1989.
"It feels so good to reach it, especially after losing to Navy [93-85] last year," Lafayette center Ted Cole said. "This is the goal we set at the beginning of the season. Everybody wanted this so bad, as a team we couldn't even think about losing."
The thought may have crossed their mind during the rocky first half, when Lafayette shot just 32 percent from the field.
"Bucknell did a great job defensively," said Tim Bieg, who along with Whitfield scored 15 points each. "We couldn't get into a rhythm."
"I knew that once we got into a rhythm, we would be able to start hitting some shots, but the first half was rough," said Brian Ehlers, who scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half. "The shot by Tyson before halftime [from beyond the half-court line at the buzzer] loosened up the team in the locker room."
"I feed off everybody in the stands when I'm out on the court," said Whitfield. "We couldn't let them down today."
Bucknell coach Pat Flannery was not satisfied with his team's first-half effort either.
"We let the tempo get away from us, and Lafayette's perimeter skills hurt us," Flannery said. "We opened up the floor a little bit too much, and they gave a great effort on the glass. We tried to work the perimeter too early in the game."
"I thought that both teams came out a little tentative, but we settled down in the second half," Lafayette coach Fran O'Hanlon said. "We got up by six in the second half with some turnovers and fast breaks, and I think that was the turning point of the game."
Lafayette built its biggest lead of the second half at 63-54 on Cole's tip-in with 3:57 left to cap an 11-2 run.
Bucknell drew to 63-58 on consecutive inside baskets by Bowen, and Valter Karavanic hit a 3-pointer to help Bucknell close to within 63-61 with 21.5 seconds left. But Bieg hit two free throws with 20.6 seconds left and Frank Barr blocked a layup attempt by Willie Callahan.
Ehlers followed with a pair of free throws with 12.4 seconds left to give Lafayette a 67-61 lead. Bowen hit a jumper in the final seconds.
Tom Bowen had 19 points to pace Bucknell, which entered the game with 12 victories in its last 14 games. Jake Ramage had 14 points.
"Lafayette had the extra incentive of playing for their home crowd," Bowen said. "We were pumped to play on national television with a packed house and our families in the stands. That's what you play for."
Bieg's performance won admiration from even Bucknell's coach.
"I try to impress upon my guys that the way Bieg plays is how the point guard position should be played," Flannery said. "He is a true point guard and has a lot of talent."When the game was over and everyone stormed the court, Tim Bieg took the time to come over to us and say, 'Good job, coach.' That is the type of thing that makes it all worthwhile to coach in this league."
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