ASU claims SWAC title, NCAA berth; Morgan State gets No. 15 seed against Oklahoma

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala.–Andrew Hayles was tired of sitting on the bench–and of losing to Jackson State–-in the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.–Andrew Hayles was tired of sitting on the bench–and of losing to Jackson State–-in the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament.

Hayles rebounded from early foul trouble to make three 3-pointers during a pivotal stretch and lift Alabama State to a 65-58 victory over the Tigers in the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament championship game.

“We’ve been trying to get here since my freshman year,” said Hayles, who scored 14 of his 17 points in the second half. “Jackson State has put us out twice during my four-year career. It was just tremendous.”

The top-seeded Hornets (22-9) make the NCAA field for the third time, and first since 2004. Alabama State played Morehead State March 17 for the right to play top-ranked Louisville in the first round of the Midwest Regional.

Limited to eight minutes in the first half, Hayles hit three 3-pointers during a 15-3 spurt that put Alabama State ahead 47-36 midway through the second.

“We knew he wanted to get the ball, so we had to run some plays for him,” Hornets coach Lewis Jackson said. “We wanted to get him going. He knocked down some threes, and everybody just kind of picked up from there.”

Darion Griffin hit two free throws to cut it to 49-46 with 5:24 left, but the Tigers (18-15) couldn’t sustain the comeback and lost in the title game for the second straight year.

The Tigers missed two 3-pointers in the final minute with a chance to pull to within three points. Alabama State made eight of 12 free throws in the last 1:22 to ice the win.

Hayles was selected the tournament MVP. The Hornets became the first No. 1 seed to win the tournament since Southern in 2006 and have won 13 of their last 14.

Wesley Jones added 14 points and seven rebounds for Alabama State, which shot 57 percent in the second half. SWAC player of the year Brandon Brooks had eight points and seven assists.

Grant Maxey led Jackson State with 15 points on 6-of-17 shooting, and Darrion Griffin and Garrison Johnson added 12 points each.

In Winston-Salem, N.C., Todd Bozeman pulled the souvenir championship cap over his tear-filled eyes, then clapped hard and pumped his fist at the crowd. The mood lightened, and he wore the net around his neck as he quoted noted philosopher Jay-Z.

Forgive the Morgan State coach for soaking up the moment. Yes, he may have been here before-but not for a long while.

Bozeman is headed back to the NCAA tournament after his Bears beat Norfolk State 83-69 on Saturday night in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title game.

“Once you drink from that cup, you want to drink from it all the time,” Bozeman said.

Reggie Holmes scored 20 points, Jermaine Bolden added 18 and Kevin Thompson had 15 points and 11 rebounds to help the top-seeded Bears (23-11) claim a spot in the field of 65 for the first time.

They reeled off 18 consecutive points in the first half and 11 straight in the second, shot 49 percent and figured out the Spartans’ energetic full-court press in plenty of time to send Bozeman-the two-time MEAC coach of the year- to his first tournament since he guided California there in the mid-1990s.

The next stop for these Bears: The sport’s grandest stage, as a 15th seed in the South region. They entered with an unofficial RPI of 129, and their nonconference victories over Maryland and DePaul were enough to keep them out of the Tuesday play-in game in Dayton–where the MEAC champion has been sent in four of the past five years.

“We’re dancing. Everybody’s not dancing,” Bozeman said. “We get a dance, and we get a song, and we’re going to try to make the song last as long as we can.”

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In top photo: Alabama State’s Andrew Hayles (2) puts up a shot over Jackson State’s Rod Melvin (3) during an NCAA college basketball game in the championship of the Southwestern Athletic Conference men’s tournament in Birmingham, Ala.

In middle photo: Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman cuts the net after their 83-69 win over Norfolk State in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament championship NCAA college basketball game in Winston-Salem, N.C.

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