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Champ of NEC gets first win in NCAAs
Published March 15, 2006
DAYTON, Ohio - A hot shooter and an imposing center won over a neutral crowd and helped Monmouth finally measure up in the NCAA Tournament.
Chris Kenny set an opening-round record with six 3-pointers Tuesday night, and 7-foot-2 center John Bunch entertained the crowd with his bulk and blocks in a 71-49 victory over Hampton in the play-in game.
Monmouth (19-14) goes to Philadelphia to play No. 1 seed Villanova in the Wildcats' back yard Friday, looking to pull off that elusive 16-over-1 upset.
Even if it doesn't get it, the Northeast Conference champion already has had a breakthrough tournament. A school with a history of NCAA blowouts opened this tournament on the other side of one.
Monmouth lost by 24 to Marquette in 1996, 43 to No. 1 seed Duke in 2001 and 33 to Mississippi State in 2004. The conference hadn't won an NCAA Tournament game since 1983.
"The big difference is I feel like a winner," said Kenny, who played on the 2004 team. "We got crushed against Mississippi State. I'm on cloud nine right now and I'm going to stay there for a while."
A handful of students made the short-notice trip to the University of Dayton Arena. The crowd of 7,764 waited to choose a rooting interest.
Midway through the first half, it made its choice: the one from Jersey.
Kenny made five 3-pointers in the first half, matching his career high and the record for a play-in game. After one long-range swish, he and Dejan Delic retreated down the court flicking their trigger fingers at each other as if in a shootout.
Kenny finished with 18 points, and Delic had 14. Overall, Monmouth made 10 of 26 3-pointers.
As if that wasn't enough, Hampton (16-16) had to contend with the game's most imposing player. Bunch weighs 320 pounds and stood at least a head taller than almost everyone else on the court.
"He's a big kid," said Hampton's Jeff Granger, who had 10 points. "Everywhere you went, he was there."