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Lehigh coach Tom Schneider has a message for those who don't believe that the Engineers deserve to be one of the 64 teams in the NCAA tournament. They qualified with a 76-74 overtime upset of regular-season champion Bucknell in the final game of the East Coast Conference postseason tournament. "That's the American way," says Schneider. Lehigh's 12-18 record is the worst of any NCAA entrant since 1960-61, when George Washington snuck in with a 9-16 mark. "It's simply not fair to be critical of us because of our record. We are dues-paying members of the ECC and the NCAA. They have tournaments, the NCAA invites our champion, and we're it." Lehigh will probably pay heavy dues in its first NCAA appearance ever. The Engineers will face Georgetown in the first round of the East Regional.
Iona earned its second consecutive NCAA berth by defeating archrival Fordham 57-54 in the Metro Atlantic tournament championship game. In their locker room afterward, the Gaels directed a chant of "We want St. John's! We want St. John's!" toward the Redmen's Chris Mullin, who had stopped by to congratulate his friend Gael point guard Rory Grimes. "Chris told me that Looie [Carnesecca] sent him here to scout us just in case we met in the NCAAs," Iona coach Pat Kennedy quipped. Such a meeting is unlikely: Iona is seeded No. 13 in the East Region, while St. John's is No. 1 in the West.
Temple received an automatic bid by beating host Rutgers 59-51 for the Atlantic 10 tournament championship. Navy took Richmond 85-76 in the ECAA South title game to earn its first trip to the NCAAs since 1960.
Oregon State coach Ralph Miller almost never alters his game plans. But when injuries left him with just eight healthy players, even Miller, one of the few men alive who can say that they learned basketball from Dr. James Naismith, had to adjust. After the Beavers' 60-58 overtime win at USC on his 66th birthday, Miller said, "We didn't press in the first half. We came back with the press in the second half, and it worked well. But that's the first time we've changed a game plan in a long time." How long? "Since 1948," said Miller. The defeat dropped the Trojans into a tie for the Pac-10 title with Washington, which got the conference's automatic NCAA bid because it had a better record (22-9) than the Trojans' 19-9.
Nevada-Las Vegas was disappointed to learn that Cal State-Fullerton, not Fresno State, would be its opponent in the championship game of the PCAA tournament. The Runnin' Rebels' only conference loss had come at Fresno State on Feb. 9, and they wanted revenge. "I was afraid there would be a letdown when Fullerton beat Fresno," said UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian. Tark needn't have worried. The Rebels crushed the Titans 79-61 to win the PCAA title.
Texas Tech coach Gerald Myers used a motivational ploy to help the Red Raiders to a 67-64 victory over Arkansas in the Southwest Conference title game. With Tech trailing the Razorbacks 16-7 midway through the first half and looking sluggish, Myers, seeking to wake up his team, intentionally drew a technical foul by stepping onto the floor and bumping referee Jim Harvey. "The players thought I was going to lose my head and get thrown out," said Myers. "I told them, 'Hey, I know what I'm doing.' " Myers' move paid off: Tech got aggressive and rallied to earn its first trip to the NCAAs since 1976.
When Auburn nipped Alabama 53-49 in overtime, it became the seventh different school in as many years to win the SEC tournament. For Tiger coach Sonny Smith, who shouted himself hoarse while directing the Tigers to victories over Vanderbilt, LSU, Florida and Alabama in four nights, it was an appropriate going-away gift. Smith resigned on Feb. 8, effective at the end of the season, amid rumors that the university's board of trustees would not renew his three-year revolving contract. "You're looking at a happy man," Smith rasped after the victory. As for his future, he said, "I expect to be coaching somewhere next year." After the NCAAs, Smith will work, at least for a while, as a consultant for an oil company in Johnson City, Tenn. Then he's likely to be named coach at East Tennessee State—also located in Johnson City—replacing Barry Dowd, who was fired Feb. 26.