Va. Commonwealth 46, NC-Wilmington 43
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Ivan Chappell thought it odd that Virginia Commonwealth won its biggest game of the season at the foul line.
``It’s kind of funny, winning on free throws,″ he said after his four foul shots in the final 37.8 gave the Rams 46-43 victory over N.C.-Wilmington in the Colonial Athletic Association championship Monday night.
The Rams (24-8), who also won the CAA regular season title with a 14-2 record in their first year in the league, earned an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament. It will be their first NCAA berth since 1985.
While dominating teams almost throughout its first season in the CAA, the Rams hardly had occasion to notice their feeble 65.7 percent foul shooting. But when things weren’t going as they usually do, it saved their necks.
Chappell’s 4-for-4 showing in the final minutes capped a 7-for-8 night for him, and masked a 3-for-12 effort from the rest of the Rams at the line.
``After I hit my first couple, I was trying to get the ball so they would foul me,″ said Chappell, a 68.9 percent shooter from the line this year.
Chappell’s first two came with VCU clinging to a 42-40 lead. The next two came after a 3-pointer by Stan Simmons drew the Seahawks within one.
``I never thought that we would lose,″ VCU coach Sonny Smith said, ``until Simmons made that 3-pointer. Then I got a little nervous.″
Chappell, however, kept his cool.
``I just tried to put it all out of my mind,″ he said. ``I just stepped up to the line, took my two dribbles and made the shots.″
N.C.-Wilmington (13-16), which reached the title game by holding Old Dominion to 26.2 percent shooting in a 59-39 semifinal victory, scored only 17 points in the second half in their bid for their first NCAA berth.
N.C.-Wilmington coach Jerry Wainwright said the Rams, former members of the Metro Conference, will represent the CAA well in the tournament.
``I don’t think we lost the game,″ said Wainwright, whose team shot just 31.3 percent. ``I think we were beaten.″
Simmons, who averaged 3.5 points this season, made 5 of 7 3-point shots and led all scorers with 17 points. He was stripped of the ball by Ben Peabody with :02 left, though, depriving the Seahawks of their last chance.
Peabody also made a heads-up play with 2:43 left, sneaking inside on the baseline to force a jump ball with N.C.-Wilmington center Preston McGriff, winning the Rams possession because the arrow was pointing their way.
Bernard Hopkins, the CAA’s player of the year, scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half for the Rams. VCU dominated the boards 22-14 over the final 20 minutes, including an 8-3 edge on the offensive glass.
Playing for the third time in as many days, both teams struggled all game from the field. VCU made 16 of 45 shots (35.6 percent), the Seahawks 15 of 48.