March 7, 2006
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) - Richard Law scored 22 points, and South Alabama routed Western Kentucky 95-70 Tuesday night to win the Sun Belt Conference tournament championship and earn its first NCAA tournament berth since 1998.
The Jaguars (24-6) are having their best season since 1980-81 when they went 25-6. They have won eight straight and 11 of their last 12 in giving John Pelphrey, the Sun Belt Coach of the Year and former Kentucky forward, his first NCAA trip as a head coach.
No teams have played in this game more than these, but the Jaguars got a measure of revenge against the Hilltoppers (23-7) who had won the last two and four of the previous six meetings.
The Jaguars clinched their seventh NCAA berth by mixing their best shooting performance of the season with stingy defense. They shot 34-of-55 (62 percent) and forced Western Kentucky into 17 turnovers they turned into 22 points.
Demetric Bennett added 18 points for South Alabama, Chey Christie had 14 and Mario Jointer 11.
It was the worst loss this season for Western Kentucky, which gave up 91 points in a loss to Pacific in December.
Anthony Winchester, the league's player of the year, finished with 18 points. However, he was 6-for-21 from the floor, including one 3-point attempt that hit the backboard right of the rim.
Elgrace Wilborn added 11 points, and Courtney Lee had 10.
Having the home-court advantage with lots of red in the stands didn't help the Hilltoppers handle South Alabama's pressing defense. The Jaguars forced eight turnovers in an 18-4 run, capped by Law's 3-pointer with 8:36 left for a 28-14 lead.
Wilborn scored with 2:19 remaining to pull Western Kentucky within 36-26. South Alabama scored the final nine points, the last a 3 from the top of the key by Carlos Smith, for the 45-26 halftime lead - the Jags' largest of the half.
The Jaguars kept adding to the margin in the second half and led by as many as 29 twice, and they spent most of the second half running out the clock until they could start celebrating and dancing near mid-court.