Tampa captures the title for the first time in eight tries with a 60-51 victory over Henderson State.
By ROD GIPSON
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2001
ST. PETERSBURG -- The facts were staring Tampa directly in the face going into Saturday's game. Seven trips to the NCAA South Region championship game during the program's history. And seven trips home waiting for next season.
Oh, that crazy eighth.
Down by 10 five minutes into the game and appearing as if another region runner-up finish was imminent, Tampa (24-6) put together a methodical rally, used the scoring tandem of Elijah Piazza and Jon Brown and came back to post a 60-51 victory against Henderson State.
"We've always somehow come up short," Tampa coach Richard Schmidt said. "We started off slowly tonight, but our guys made big plays when they had to.
"We finally broke through."
Tampa, the tournament's third seed, advanced to the Division II Elite Eight in Bakersfield, Calif. It plays Adelphi, N.Y., which is 31-0, on March 21. The title game is 1 p.m. March 24.
Fifth-seeded Henderson State, the three-time defending Gulf South Conference champion, ended its season at 22-10.
With Henderson State up 10-0, the Spartans' rally began with a Piazza free throw with 15:31 remaining in the first half. From that point, UT outscored the Reddies 37-26, taking its first lead 38-36 midway through the second half on a three-pointer from Brown.
Brown finished with a team-high 21 points, none bigger than when Henderson State had tied the score at 38. Brown stole a pass and drove in for a layup. Seconds later, he hit a three-pointer, putting UT up 45-40 and all but sealing the title for the Spartans.
"We both fought hard," Henderson State coach Rand Chappell said. "We guarded them well in the first and they guarded us well in the second. But we just didn't get enough balls in the basket."
Piazza, tournament MVP, came off the bench to score 14, and Gecarri Freeman and Sylvere Bryan had seven each for the Spartans. Brian Woodland, who converted six three-pointers, led Henderson State with 18 points.
"We knew we had a good team," Piazza said. "We all kept working for this and now we are enjoying making history here. But we also know this is just one step toward another goal."