RICHMOND, Va. - Tony Tate made the MEAC championship his best game at Florida A&M, and gave a preview of what the Rattlers will bring to the NCAA Tournament.
Tate scored a career-best 20 and hit five of the team's 10 3-pointers Saturday, lifting Florida A&M to a 58-51 victory against Coppin State and its first berth in the NCAA Tournament since 1999.
This team, like that one, will arrive with a losing record. The Rattlers were 12-18 after winning the MEAC in 1999, and are 14-16 now.
Their first stop, coach Mike Gillespie said, will be the play-in game against another low-rated team for the last spot in the field of 64.
"That's fine," the fast-talking coach said. "That'll give us a chance to get another win and then go upset Kentucky or whoever we play."
The fifth-seeded Rattlers, who stunned top-seeded South Carolina State in the semifinals, will be making their third trip to the NCAA Tournament.
For Tate, who averaged just 6.8 points, the day started fast. He hit his first three shots, all from behind the arc, in the opening 4:07.
"When the third one went in, I was like, "Oh, maybe it's my day today,' " the sophomore said. He finished 5-of-6 on 3-pointers.
Terrence Woods, who made two trips to the NCAA Tournament at Tennessee before transferring, said: "There's no better feeling than going back."
Eckerd advances 70-62
VALDOSTA, Ga. - Every time Florida Southern tried to close the gap, Eckerd responded. In the end, that was good enough for a 70-62 NCAA Division II South Region first-round victory.
Eckerd plays Rollins, an 88-79 winner over Benedict, at 5 tonight in the first semifinal. The championship game is at 7 Tuesday.
After Eckerd (21-10) took as much as a 13-point lead in the second half, (47-34 with 13:57 left), Florida Southern (23-8) got back within five five times and after Kenny Ebanyst's three-point play with 1:21 left it cut it to 63-61.
"Their aggressiveness took over in the second half," Eckerd coach Tom Ryan said. "We said we couldn't settle for jump shots. We had to match their physical play and intensity. At this tournament, if you play soft for two minutes, you're going to dig yourself a hole."
But two Marcus Bryant (15 points, seven rebounds) inside plays in the final minute were enough to push the sixth-seeded Tritons, the defending region champions, into the semifinals.
"Eckerd played outstanding again," Florida Southern coach Tony Longa said. "We just couldn't match them for 40 minutes. The guys came back in the second half and played hard, and we gave ourselves a chance to get in the game. But we couldn't get a big play, a big stop."
Anthony Washington added 15 points and eight rebounds for Eckerd, and Greg Plummer and Steve Berg each had 10 points.
Chris Brooks, the South Region player of the year, had 18 points and five rebounds for Florida Southern.
- GREG McILVAIN
NO. 7 LA. TECH 76, RICE 52: Amisha Carter had 22 points and 16 rebounds, Erica Smith-Taylor added 22 points and the Techsters won their third straight WAC.
Tasha Crain scored nine for the Techsters (27-2), who won their 19th straight. With six steals apiece by Carter and Smith-Taylor, they earned their 23rd straight trip to the NCAA Tournament.
LIPSCOMB 64, UCF 62: Courtney Boynton hit two free throws with four seconds left to give the Bisons its first Atlantic Sun title in Dothan, Ala.