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Monday, March 10
Blizzard's shooting has Seahawks back in Dance

Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. -- Brett Blizzard bid the Colonial Athletic Association tournament farewell Monday night with one more of his vintage performances that league coaches have come to know -- and dread.

Blizzard scored 13 of his 20 points in the second half and hit three big 3-pointers as North Carolina-Wilmington beat Drexel 70-62 in the CAA championship, earning the Seahawks a return to the NCAA tournament.

``I feel like my role on the team sometimes is when we're in a tight situation to come up with a shot and make something happen,'' Blizzard said. ``I try to have confidence in myself to make the shot and I think them having confidence in me to take it is what helps me even more.''

The Seahawks had let a 14-point lead in the second half shrink to 53-48 with 12:32 left when both teams went cold, going nearly 3 1/2 minutes without a point. Then Blizzard hit two 3-pointers, the second from way out with the shot clock winding down, to rebuild the Seahawks' lead to 11.

``He really killed us,'' Drexel's Robert Battle said.

Craig Callahan, who also hit a big 3-pointer as part of a late 9-0 run, said the team has no question about Blizzard's role in a pinch.

``When it gets tight, it's time to get him the ball,'' he said.

The Seahawks (24-6) advanced to the NCAAs for the second consecutive season and the third time in four years. Last year, they stunned No. 4 seed Southern California 93-89 in overtime in the first round.

Wilmington also did it in Brad Brownell's first year as coach. He was elevated when Jerry Wainwright left for Richmond after last season.

Brownell deflected the credit to his players.

``When (Drexel) made a great run, which we knew they would, ... our kids had enough poise and I had enough sense to get Brett the ball,'' he said.

``He wouldn't let us lose.''

Drexel (19-11), seeking its first NCAA bid since 1996 and its fifth overall, trailed 28-6 eight minutes in after the Seahawks' 22-0 run and rallied to make it interesting, but never got closer than five again.

The Dragons didn't help their cause by missing their first eight free throws in the second half, costing them dearly once Blizzard got hot.

``When you miss eight in a row, what can you say?'' coach James ``Bruiser'' Flint said. ``We didn't shoot foul shots the whole tournament.''

Somehow, though, it seemed like Blizzard and the Seahawks would have had an answer even if the Dragons had pulled even. They were in the championship for the fourth straight season, and their poise showed.

``I think the experience of being in the finals four straight years was the difference,'' Brownell said. ``Our kids have been in big games.''

And been smart enough to get out of the way of their star.

``What can you say? The kid's probably one of the best players ever to play in this league,'' Flint said, arms extended. ``He never gets rattled.''

Earlier this year, Blizzard won his second straight league MVP award, and became its first-ever four-time all conference first-team selection.

Callahan's 3-pointer gave Wilmington a 62-48 lead with 7:06 left and apparent control, but the Dragons made one more push, scoring nine straight to get to 62-57 with 2:35 to play before Blizzard did them in.

Taking an inbounds pass three-quarters of the court away from his basket with eight seconds on the shot clock, Blizzard dribbled around and through several players, pulled up about 25 feet away and swished his fourth 3-pointer with 1:13 left, extending the lead to 65-57.

That was it for the Dragons.

Blizzard also had six rebounds, four assists and a steal for the Seahawks. Tim Burnette added 16 points, all in the first 23 minutes, and Callahan also scored 16 and grabbed six rebounds.

Battle led the Dragons with 25 points on 10-for-12 shooting and nine rebounds, and Phil Goss had 14, including four 3-pointers.

The Seahawks led 43-32 at halftime, thanks to a 22-0 run that gave them a 28-6 lead with 12 minutes left in the half. Wilmington hit 16 of its first 20 shots, but just three of its last 12 in the half.

The Dragons answered the big run with a 12-4 burst and closed the half with a 12-6 run, getting 15 points on 6-for-6 shooting by Battle.