ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- Davidson is back in the NCAA tournament. Getting there was tougher than expected.
Clint Mann's dunk with 1:04 left in double overtime put Davidson ahead to stay as the Wildcats defeated Western Carolina 93-91 to win the Southern Conference championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament Monday night.
Western Carolina's Keaton Cole, who helped spark a furious rally at the end of regulation, missed a 3-pointer from 20 feet with three seconds left that would have given the Catamounts a huge upset and their first tournament berth since 1996.
"We did a terrific job of creating a lane for Clint," coach Bob McKillop said of the winning shot. "We tell them they're unleashed, they're freed up and to take what's there. But you must see the game. He saw the open lane and we had sealed inside and Clint went inside and threw it home like a man."
Neither team scored in the final minute of double overtime, although both had chances.
Catamounts coach Larry Hunter said his team was so tired after playing four games in four days that he went for the win at the end of the second overtime after getting a rebound with 14 seconds left.
"I told the guys in the last timeout that I didn't think we had a third overtime in us," Hunter said. "I said that we were going to go for the win. We got our best shooter a really good look and it just didn't go."
Davidson, the tournament's top seed after finishing 14-2 in the regular season -- four games better than the nearest opponent -- came in as a heavy favorite.
But Western Carolina didn't play like a .500 team.
"It wasn't about fatigue out there tonight," Mutombo said. "Guys had adrenaline rushing through them. We knew it was going to be a tough one and some guys bodies reached badly, but mentally and in our heart we didn't give up. That was the key."
Davidson had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation and again in the first overtime, but couldn't get shots to fall.
Davidson led by 13 points with 2:47 left in regulation but the Catamounts mounted a furious comeback behind a pair of 3-pointers by Trey Sumler.
Then Davidson made the mistake of fouling Cole as he was attempting a 3-pointer with 11 seconds left in the game. Cole made all three shots.
Davidson's Nik Cochran's driving layup was slapped away at the end of regulation and the game went to overtime.
In the first overtime Davidson had an even better chance to win as Brooks' turnaround jump shot in the lane at the buzzer hit the rim softly three times before bouncing away, sending the game into double overtime.
"I thought it was in," Brooks said. "I was ready to run down the court, but it just came out. We had to keep on playing. That shows the character of our team."
Said McKillop: "To see the faces when they came to the bench when overtime occurred the resolve was still there. Everyone could be part of that blame game, but they didn't relent. Then, to go into a second overtime, you want to be able to talk about letdown. To be able to come out after two experiences like that it shows the extraordinary resolve of this group of men."
It is Davidson's first NCAA berth since 2008 when a boyish-looking shooter named Stephen Curry led the Wildcats on a magical run to the regional championships where they lost to eventual national champion Kansas.
Now the Wildcats are back.
They may not have an NBA lottery pick this year, but they do have is a balanced scoring attack that features five starters who average in double figures.
Jake Cohen scored 17 points before fouling out in the second overtime and Cochran added 16. Mann had 10 points off the bench, including the monster dunk.
"Western didn't back down, they kept coming after us and we just couldn't pull away," Cohen said. "It's a testament to these guys in our locker room that we didn't get down when they made those big shots. We stayed positive and kept attacking them back and it paid off down the stretch."
Western Carolina went 8-10 in the conference during the season but played like an inspired team.
But behind a partisan crowd, the Catamounts kept pressing on looking to become the first Southern Conference team to win four games in four days. Mutombo scored 10 of his team's first 15 points as Western Carolina bolted to a 30-18 lead.
"There were probably some breakdowns in execution, but what a whale of a ballgame in terms of heart and competitive effort on both teams," Hunter said. "Congratulations to Davidson. They are a really nice club and so well coached. They really did what they had to do."
- Gary Maxwell
- Ted Valentine
- Lee Cassell