Hare nets career-high 32 to lift Belmont to its first NCAA bid

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (AP) -- Talk about bragging rights.

Belmont left the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament with its

first ever NCAA bid and championship trophy on Saturday after

beating crosstown rival Lipscomb 74-69 in overtime.

Neither team had been to the NCAA tournament, but they were very

familiar with each other since their campuses are only miles apart

in Nashville.

The reward of an NCAA bid only raised the stakes in the "Battle

of the Boulevard" series that dates to 1953.

Lipscomb (21-10) and Belmont (20-10) tied for the regular season

title, but Lipscomb earned the No. 1 seed by a tiebreaker. It was

only fitting the championship game would go into overtime.

"The fact that it was the two of us just upped the ante big

time," Belmont coach Rick Byrd said.

"If we'd been playing Gardner-Webb or East Tennessee State we

would have wanted to win bad, but we wouldn't have gone home and

listened to who won for two weeks and naturally so. And they didn't

want to have to do it either."

The players compared it to the Tobacco Road series between Duke

and North Carolina.

"It's a big rivalry, but this is a smaller scale," Belmont's

Josh Goodwin said.

Justin Hare scored 10 of his career-high 32 points to lead

Belmont as the tournament's most valuable player.

Hare also got a steal on Lipscomb's final possession and

dribbled the ball several times as the clock ran down before he

flung it high in the air at the buzzer.

"As the game went on I just tried to find ways to help our team

win. Luckily I had my best game at the most important time. It's a

great feeling," Hare said.

The game went into overtime after it was tied three times in the

final 4:41.

The Bisons took a 58-55 lead when James Poindexter hit a 3 with

27.7 seconds to go, but Hare drove the lane for a layup and was

fouled. He converted the three-point play, and it was tied at 58

with 20.7 left. Neither team could score again in regulation.

In overtime, the sophomore guard led the Bruins. Boomer Herndon

scored Belmont's first basket, and Hare had another driving layup

to put Belmont up 62-58 with four minutes left. The Bruins never

trailed again.

Goodwin and Brian Collins added 10 points apiece for Belmont.

Eddie Ard led Lipscomb with 19 points while Poindexter and

LaKory Daniel each scored 13.

"They made the plays necessary down the stretch and that's what

you've got to do," Lipscomb coach Scott Sanderson said.

Belmont and Lipscomb had not met in a conference championship

game since they played for the NAIA's Tennessee Collegiate Athletic

Conference title, which the Bisons won.

Belmont moved to NCAA Division I in 1997, and Lipscomb moved up

in 2000.

"We've never backed down from who we've played in the whole

time we've been in Division I. We've played a lot of good teams.

We've lost by 40 and 50 a couple of times," Byrd said.

And the Bruins weren't intimidated by the prospects of playing

some of the top teams in the country like Duke or Connecticut.

"Bring them on," Collins said.

And then Byrd injected, "Obviously I didn't talk to my guys

before we came in here."

"We're glad to be one of the teams playing one of those

teams," he said.

The teams were playing for the third time this season. Lipscomb

won the first game 97-85 on Jan. 20, and Belmont won 81-65 on Jan.

31.

But the season's not over for Lipscomb. The Bisons are off to

the NIT under new rules adopted for the tournament that allows all

regular-season champions to get a bid.

"It's going to take us a day or so to come to grips with what's

going on, but we're excited," Sanderson said. "I think it's a

great reward."