Northwestern State tops McNeese, earns first NCAA bid
Updated: Saturday March 10, 2001 3:38 PM
BOSSIER CITY, La. (AP) -- Northwestern State is going to the NCAA tournament for the first time after capping an 18-12 season with three straight tournament victories.
Michael Byers-Dawson calmly sank two free throws with nine seconds remaining Saturday, giving Northwestern State a 72-71 victory over McNeese State in the Southland Conference tournament championship.
"It goes back further than the last minute," said Byers-Dawson, who sat out last season after transferring to Northwestern from Miami. "Coming into the tournament, I told these guys I wasn't going to let them lose. I told them we were going to the NCAA if I had anything to do with it."
Northwestern, the sixth seed in the tournament, won seven of its last eight games, and beat three teams in the tournament that swept it during the regular season.
McNeese (22-8) was the No. 1 seed and winner of the Southland's regular season title. The Cowboys entered with a 15-game winning streak, the second-longest in the nation behind Hofstra's 18.
"It's unfortunate that we're in the type of league that you have to win the tournament," McNeese coach Ron Everhart said. "But we knew what we were up against. We're not going to feel sorry for ourselves."
Byers-Dawson scored 22 points for Northwestern, which was in the conference tournament final for the second straight season.
"I expected this to happen," said Northwestern coach Mike McConathy, who took over the program last year. "I just didn't expect it to happen this quick."
Demond Mallet scored 19 points for McNeese and Tierre Brown 17. Ben Perkins had 16 points and 12 rebounds.
McNeese took its third lead of the game 4 1/2 minutes into the second half when Mallet's 3-pointer made it 50-47.
Northwestern tied the score at 57 on Byers-Dawson's basket with 5:13 remaining.
With 1:27 left, Hancock again tied the game at 66 on a 3-pointer. Pooh Davis stole the ball, setting up another Hancock score with 1:03 left that put Northwestern ahead 68-66.
Brown gave McNeese another tie on free throws with 44 seconds remaining. Thompson answered with two free throws to move Northwestern ahead 70-68.
McNeese's desperation shot missed and Mallet fouled Byers-Dawson on the rebound. Byers-Dawson's free throws with nine seconds left made it 72-68 Northwestern. Perkins made it close with a 3-pointer with three seconds left.
Northwestern shot 35 percent from the field to McNeese's 40 percent but outrebounded McNeese 53-41.
"They just out-efforted us," Mallet said. "A big key was
their rebounds, their hustle. We turned to ball over and didn't
make our shots and this is what happens when you do that."