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Siena keeps Cinderella run alive

The Associated Press

DAYTON – The team that couldn’t win during the regular season has figured it out at tournament time.

Wednesday, March 13, 2002

DAYTON – The team that couldn’t win during the regular season has figured it out at tournament time.

Siena became only the second team to win an NCAA tournament game with a losing record, beating Alcorn State 81-77 Tuesday night in a play-in that provided a fitting start.

Prosper Karangwa scored a career-high 31 points and struggling Dwayne Archbold hit a pair of free throws in the closing seconds – the type of clutch performance that the Saints (17-18) rarely managed in the regular season.

”A week ago, we were left for dead,” coach Rob Lanier said. ”It’s quite a contrast.”

Siena joined the 64-team bracket and won a trip to Washington to play Maryland, the East’s No. 1 seed, on Friday.

The Saints also became the first team in 47 years to win an NCAA tournament game with a losing record. Bradley is the only other team sharing the distinction – it won two in 1955.

Siena lost its last three regular-season games, leaving only one path to the NCAA tournament. It won four Metro Atlantic Conference tournament games on its home court to get the automatic bid.

Alcorn State (21-10) had been unbeaten in play-in games in Dayton, winning two in the 1980s under coach Davey L. Whitney. The Braves spent a sleepless night getting to Dayton for this one, then faced elimination at the end of a back-and-forth game that found them at less than their best.

”I know we didn’t have any zip in the first half,” Whitney said. ”We had a little more in the second half. I didn’t see the fierceness and the desire we usually play with when we’re behind. I don’t know what to put that on. It was our eighth game in 17 days with a lot of travel.”

It might have been the last game for Whitney, a former Negro League shortstop completing his 26th year at the Mississippi school. Whitney, 72, hasn’t decided whether to return for another season.

Siena got to the play-in by getting 111 points from Archbold during the four-game conference tournament.

Archbold was closely guarded and went only 3-of-12 from the field for 12 points Tuesday, but Karangwa took up the slack by hitting the biggest shots. After the game, they embraced.

”I went up to him and said, ‘That’s what I’ve been waiting for,”’ Archbold said. ”He can take it easy sometimes, but I knew he could play like this.”

Siena is only the 16th team in NCAA history to make the tournament with a losing record, and the first since Florida A&M in 1999. Florida A&M went on to lose to Duke 99-58.

Siena had won only one other NCAA tournament game, upsetting Stanford 80-78 as a No. 14 seed in its first appearance in 1989. That was the year that Siena were changing nicknames, from Indians to Saints, and had to play several home games in an empty gym because of a measles outbreak on campus.

This one will rank right up there with it.

There were 20 lead changes and 12 ties, with neither team leading by more than six points. The game was so even throughout that the crowd of 8,681 remained seated and neutral until the scintillating final seconds.

The small Siena cheering section tried to win them over by chanting, ”Dayton, Ohio!” but got no response. For most of the game, the two teams’ small contingents made most of the noise.

The crowd finally let out a roar when Alcorn State pulled ahead 64-60 on Marcus Fleming’s high-off-the-glass putback with 6:45 left. Fleming led Alcorn State with 20 points and a career-high 17 rebounds.

Karangwa dribbled around the perimeter, found some room when defenders dropped off and hit a 3-pointer that put Siena ahead to stay 72-70 with 3:08 left.

”You don’t try to look for that shot,” Karangwa said. ”You just let it come to you. It was a random shot.”

His three-point play – he was fouled while hitting a floating jumper – stretched it to 79-74 with 43 seconds to go.

Jeff Cammon hit a 3-pointer for Alcorn State, but Tori Harris’ driving shot was blocked in the closing seconds and Archbold hit two free throws with 5 seconds left to clinch it.

Archbold, who is Siena’s top scorer and even has a bobblehead in his likeness back on campus, spent most of the first half sitting after picking up three fouls in a 2-minute span.