Holy Cross holds off Southern in NCAA Tournament

By Jeff Wallner, The Sports Xchange   |   March 17, 2016 at 2:08 AM
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DAYTON -- For much of this season, Holy Cross found it difficult to close out wins. But in March, the Crusaders have been at their best when the game is on the line.

"It goes back to our toughness mentally that we don't cave in those situations," said junior guard Robert Champion.

Champion was the hero on Wednesday night, scoring 19 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 57 seconds left, helping Holy Cross defeat the Southern Jaguars 59-55 in an NCAA West Regional preliminary-round game at University of Dayton Arena.

It was the Crusaders' first NCAA Tournament victory since 1953 and a pair of free throws by Champion helped seal it with 14 seconds left.

"It's a dream come true," Champion said. "Everybody dreams of making that shot. But the '3' was set up before I even took it. (Forward) Malachi (Alexander) made a great play to get me open. It was just a practice shot for me."

Despite entering the tournament with a losing record, the Crusaders (15-19) advanced to face top-seeded Oregon on Friday in Spokane by winning the battle of No. 16 seeds.

"We packed for the weekend," said Holy Cross guard Anthony Thompson, who scored 12 points. "You have to expect to win."

Another lengthy NCAA Tournament victory drought continued on Wednesday as Southern (22-13) failed to record its first win since 1993.

Guard Adrian Rodgers scored 14 points and Shawn Prudhomme added 10 for the Jaguars, who rallied from an early 12-point deficit but went 3 of 20 from 3-point range.

Holy Cross went without a field goal for the first four minutes of the second half and Southern began attacking its zone.

"It took us a little time to find our rhythm in that 1-3-1 they play," said Jaguars coach Roman Banks. "I thought we had some good looks. They just put enough pressure on us that we didn't shoot well."

Rodgers scored seven straight points, including a baseline jumper that gave the Jaguars their first lead, 28-27.

Holy Cross surged back ahead 38-33 on freshman guard Matt Zignorski's 3-pointer.

But the Crusaders committed 14 turnovers for the game and some of those sparked another Southern rally.

"They were playing zone for two passes then going man-to-man, and it sort of threw us," said Holy Cross coach Bill Carmody.

Guard Christopher Hyder scored six points during a 9-0 run, putting the Jaguars ahead 42-38.

Southern was 0-for-12 from 3-point range before Prudhomme connected from beyond the arc to put Southern ahead 49-48.

Champion hit a 3-pointer to put the Crusaders ahead 55-52 with 57 seconds left.

The Jaguars then went 2 of 3 from 3-point range, including one by Rodgers, to cut their deficit to 57-55, with 24 seconds left.

But Champion sealed the win at the free throw line.

The Crusaders took an early lead in the first half, hitting five of their first eight shots.

Champion's 3-pointer put the Crusaders ahead 12-4 six minutes into the game.

Meanwhile, Southern, which averages 73 points per game, was cold out of the gate, missing nine of its first 11 shots.

The Crusaders went scoreless for more than four minutes in the first half, but the Jaguars failed to take advantage, going 1-for-8 in that same stretch.

Alexander's 3-pointer broke the field-goal drought, putting Holy Cross ahead 18-7.

"They made some timely baskets that hurt us," Banks said. "They shoot the basketball very well and they proved that tonight."

Champion and Alexander each scored seven points and combined to go 3 of 5 from 3-point range for the Crusaders in the half.

Southern trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half but erupted for a 9-0 run just before halftime, capped by three straight free throws by Prudhomme after he was fouled attempting a 3-point shot.

There were 10 lead changes in the second half, but the Crusaders hit the key shots down the stretch.

"It's fantastic," said Carmody of the win. "We're trying to jump-start this program. This is a great first step."

NOTES: Holy Cross is the 25th team to reach the NCAA Tournament with a losing record, according to STATS, Inc. Eight of those teams won at least one game. ...Southern made its ninth NCAA Tournament appearance and now is 1-9 overall, its lone win coming in 1993 when the 13th-seeded Jaguars upset fourth-seed Georgia Tech. ... Holy Cross made its 13th NCAA Tournament appearance, and its first since 2007. The Crusaders are 8-17 all-time and had lost nine straight dating to 1953.

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