ASHEVILLE Davidson narrowly escaped Appalachian State’s upset bid in the Southern Conference semifinal Sunday night, winning 65-62 after a last-second 3-point attempt by the Mountaineers rimmed out.
It was a severe test for No.1 seed Davidson, which had beaten Appalachian by 23 and 35 points during the regular season. When asked whether such a challenge was good for his team, Davidson coach Bob McKillop said: “I love to beat people by 20-30 points every game. You want to see what my stomach looks like right now?”
No. 4 seed Appalachian State led by 13 points with 15 minutes to go. Davidson finally got untracked by throwing the ball inside repeatedly to De’Mon Brooks, a forward who scored all 16 of his points in the second half.
Davidson (25-7) will play the College of Charleston (24-9) in Monday’s 7 p.m. final.
The Wildcats are trying to make the NCAA tournament for the second straight year. If they lose, they will go to the National Invitation Tournament as the Southern Conference’s regular-season champion.
“This is bittersweet,” said Appalachian State coach Jason Capel, whose team finished 15-16. “I thought we defended the heck out of those guys.”
Appalachian State had talked openly of an upset Saturday when the semifinal was set.
“Nobody’s invincible,” Appalachian’s Nathan Healy had said.
Capel left the media room Saturday reminding a couple of his players about how Duke had been given no chance to beat Nevada-Las Vegas in 1991 in the Final Four, but then did so. Imagine that – a former North Carolina player bringing up a Duke victory for motivation.
For a long while, it looked like it might happen.
Appalachian made 10 of its first 12 shots. Davidson missed eight of its first 10. Brooks had two fouls in three minutes and sat for the rest of the first half.
The Mountaineers led by as many as 11 points in the first half, by 28-26 at halftime and 41-28 early in the second half.
“They hit us hard early and we responded,” McKillop said. “They hit us hard again and we responded.”
Davidson led or was tied for the lead for the game’s final 8:49 once Tyler Kalinoski tied it at 47 with a 3-pointer. It looked like the Wildcats had put it away with a 65-59 lead with 25 seconds left on two free throws from Jake Cohen, who had 17 points.
But Appalachian’s Tab Hamilton hit an acrobatic 3-pointer and Davidson’s Nik Cochran – America’s No.1 free throw shooter at 94.7 percent – clanked his only free throw of the game.
Capel called timeout with the ball and 4.7 seconds to go. Then Healy, who with 14 points and seven rebounds had been the Mountaineers’ most effective player, got a decent look at the basket from 25 feet.
It was a couple of inches too long, though, and Davidson’s escape was complete.