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Championship Week recap: Day 9’s best game, top player

Vinny Zollo, T J Price

Western Kentucky’s Vinny Zollo (41), T.J. Price, left, and the rest of the team celebrate their victory after an NCAA final Sun Belt conference tournament college basketball game in Hot Springs, Ark., Tuesday, March 6, 2012. Western Kentucky defeated North Texas 74-70. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)


Over the next 13 days, the brackets will start to take shape. Teams with no at-large aspirations will make one final push at the post-season. Teams on the bubble will look to assert themselves as worthy members of “The Big Dance”, and contenders will start priming their engines for a national Championship run. While “March Madness” officially begins following Selection Sunday, the real madness starts now.

Until Sunday, March 11, this will be your home for Championship Week recaps and previews. The players and teams are starting to prepare for March Madness, so you should too.

Game of the Night: South Dakota State 52, Western Illinois 50 OT
Despite a sub-par performance for their superstar scorer Nate Wolters, the SDSU Jackrabbits erased a 11-point second half deficit to beat the Leathernecks of Western Illinois in overtime of the Summit League title game. Senior Griffin Callahan hit two big free-throws to force the extra period and eventually hit the game-winning 3-pointer to seal the victory. Western Illinois had opportunities to take the lead, but Ceola Clark committed a costly turnover, and Tommie Taylor’s final chance fell short. With the win, the Jackrabbits earn their first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history.

Player of the Night: Jeremy Lamb, UConn
For the second year in a row, No.9-seed UConn put on an impressive performance against No.16-seed DePaul in the first round of the Big East Tournament. Jeremy Lamb was the driving force behind the Huskies 81-67 win over the Blue Demons, scoring 25 points on 10-of-18 shooting, including 3-of-6 from beyond the arc. Lamb scored 15 of the Huskies first 30 points, and scored in a wide variety of ways. He also chipped in with five rebounds and four assists. If UConn is to make a deep tournament run, it will be on his shoulders.

Team of the Night: Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Less than two months ago, Western Kentucky fired their head coach after an embarrassing loss due to a bizarre “six players on the court” situation following a 5-11 start to the season. Since then, interim head coach Ron Hunter has led the Hilltoppers to a 10-8 record including a six game winning streak. WKU trailed North Texas in the Sun Belt finals by 13 points in the second half, but rallied back on the shoulders of big-man Teeng Akol, who led all scorers with 23 points. The Hilltoppers will make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2009.

Tuesday Results:

Atlantic-10 Conference First Round
#8 Massachusetts 92, #9 Duquesne 83
#7 LaSalle 80, #10 Richmond 72
#6 Dayton 67, #11 George Washington 50
#5 St. Joseph’s 80, #12 Charlotte 64

Big East First Round
#14 Villanova 70, #11 Rutgers 49
#13 Pittsburgh 73, #12 St. John’s 59
#10 Seton Hall 79, #15 Providence 47
#9 Connecticut 81, #16 DePaul 67

Big Sky Semifinals
#2 Weber State 69, #3 Portland State 63
#1 Montana 74, #4 Eastern Washington 66

Horizon League Finals
#3 Detroit 68, #1 Valparaiso 50

Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference First Round
#13 South Carolina State vs. #4 Bethune-Cookman
#12 Maryland-Eastern Shore vs. #5 North Carolina Central
#11 Florida A&M 74, #6 Coppin State 72
#10 Howard 51 #7 North Carolina A&T 50
#8 Hampton 69, #9 Morgan State 65

Summit League Finals
#2 South Dakota State 52, #4 Western Illinois 50 OT

Sun Belt Conference Finals
#7 Western Kentucky 74, #5 North Texas 70