No. 20 Coll. of Charleston 83, Florida International 73
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) _ The College of Charleston finally won its way into the NCAA tournament as a champion, coming from 12 points down Saturday to beat Florida International 83-73 in the finals of the Trans America Athletic Conference tournament.
Thaddeus Delaney scored 13 of his 20 points in the second half as the 20th-ranked Cougars (28-2) went on a 17-4 run that put them up 57-48 with 7:17 to go. TAAC player of the year Anthony Johnson had 15 points, eight during the charge, for Charleston, which extended the nation’s longest winning streak to 22 games.
But that hardly mattered at the packed John Kresse Arena, where 3,000 fans showed up with ``Kresse for President″ signs and waited for a moment that was seven years in the making.
Delaney added 15 rebounds and closed the game with a rim-rattling dunk to send Charleston to the tournament for the second time, the other an at-large bid in 1994.
Gene Derkack had a season-high 26 points to lead Florida International (16-13), which had won five straight and was trying for its second TAAC tournament title in three seasons.
Delaney had 14 rebounds, while Rodney Conner had 16 points and Stacy Harris 15.
The Cougars beat FIU in two close games this season, coming from 10 points down each time. Harris’ 3-pointer at the buzzer earned Charleston a 78-75 victory on Jan. 18 at Kresse Arena, then there was an 85-81 decision in Miami on Feb. 13 in the Cougars’ first game as a nationally ranked team.
They had to do it again, this time trailing 24-12 with 12 minutes gone and 34-28 at halftime as Florida International used the Cougars’ take-away style to jump in front. Derkack had 14 points in the first half, including two 3-pointers during the Panthers’ 17-3 run.
But the Panthers couldn’t keep the intensity through the second half and eventually lost their poise. Florida International coach Shakey Rodriguez was called for a technical foul with his team trailing 51-48 and Quincy Gamble committed an intentional foul on Harris late.
Florida International was within 79-73 with 35 seconds left, but Johnson closed the door with two free throws.
The College of Charleston has dominated the TAAC, going 63-4 since joining four years ago. But the Cougars, who jumped from the NAIA to college basketball’s top Division in 1990, were not eligible to play in the conference tournament until this season.
So Charleston made sure to do it right, hosting the TAAC playoffs in the arena named after Kresse, its coach since 1979.
The Cougars made some NCAA noise in 1994, going 24-3 during the season and gaining an at-large bid. They led Wake Forest with with five minutes remaining in the first-round contest before losing.
The next two years, Charleston put up similar records _ 23-5 in 1995 and 25-3 in 1996 _ but did not have any marquee wins to impress the NCAA selection committee and went to the NIT both times.