South Florida 81, N.C. Charlotte 74
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) _ Radenko Dobras scored 24 points as South Florida won the Sun Belt Conference tournament and its first ever trip to the NCAA tournament with an 81-74 victory over North Carolina-Charlotte on Monday night.
South Florida (20-10), which began its basketball program in 1971, had made it to the Sun Belt finals twice before, losing in 1978 to Jacksonville and in 1983 to Alabama-Birmingham.
Yugoslavia-born Dobras, the tournament’s most valuable player, scored 15 points from the field and hit on nine of 10 free throws.
South Florida led 67-66 with 1:59 left when the 6-foot-7 sophomore hit two free throws and then a basket. Bobby Russell following with another basket to give the Bulls a 73-66 lead, too much for UNCC (16-14) to overcome in the final minute.
UNCC’s Henry Williams scored 25 points, including four 3-pointers. Williams was the league’s top scorer during the season with a 21.4 average.
South Florida, seeded No. 2 in the tournament, went on a 12-point scoring run in the first half to go up 24-15, but fifth-seeded UNCC fought back to a 38-38 halftime tie.
The Bulls ran off eight straight points to lead 65-58 with 4:14 left in the game, but UNCC closed to 67-66 before Dobras and Russell got the six points that iced the game.
South Florida beat UNCC in both their regular-season games.
The Bulls gained the tournament final by turning back South Alabama 80-78 and Jacksonville 86-59, with Dobras scoring a total of 55 points in his team’s three games.
UNCC defeated Western Kentucky 91-67 and top-seeded Alabama-Birmingham 61-57.
UAB, which finished 22-8, has a chance for an NCAA bid. The Blazers won the conference regular season title by three games.
South Florida was the only current conference team never to have played in an NCAA tournament.
NCAA Executive Director Dick Schultz took part in halftime ceremonies honoring Sun Belt Commissioner Vic Bubas, who is retiring this summer.