ASU claims SWAC title, NCAA berth
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP)—Andrew Hayles was tired of sitting on the bench—and of losing to Jackson State—in the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament.
Hayles rebounded from early foul trouble to make three 3-pointers during a pivotal stretch and lift Alabama State to a 65-58 victory over the Tigers on Saturday night in the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament championship game.
“We’ve been trying to get here since my freshman year,” said Hayles, who scored 14 of his 17 points in the second half. “Jackson State has put us out twice during my four-year career. It was just tremendous.”
The top-seeded Hornets (22-9) make the NCAA field for the third time, and first since 2004.
Limited to eight minutes in the first half, Hayles hit three 3-pointers during a 15-3 spurt that put Alabama State ahead 47-36 midway through the second.
“We knew he wanted to get the ball, so we had to run some plays for him,” Hornets coach Lewis Jackson said. “We wanted to get him going. He knocked down some 3s and everybody just kind of picked up from there.”
Darion Griffin hit two free throws to cut it to 49-46 with 5:24 left, but the Tigers (18-15) couldn’t sustain the comeback and lost in the title game for the second straight year.
The Tigers missed two 3-pointers in the final minute with a chance to pull to within three points. Alabama State made eight of 12 free throws in the last 1:22 to ice the win.
Jackson State made just 4-of-20 3-pointers.
“We kept telling them, run our offense and execute,” coach Tevester Anderson said. “In a game like this, sometimes you get carried away.”
Hayles was selected the tournament MVP. The Hornets became the first No. 1 seed to win the tournament since Southern in 2006 and have won 13 of their last 14.
Wesley Jones added 14 points and seven rebounds for Alabama State, which shot 57 percent in the second half. SWAC player of the year Brandon Brooks had eight points and seven assists.
Grant Maxey led Jackson State with 15 points on 6-of-17 shooting, and Darrion Griffin and Garrison Johnson added 12 points each.
Jackson State lost to Mississippi Valley State in last year’s championship game on two free throws with 1 second left and was left with another frustrating ending.
“Last year, we let the championship slip away,” Maxey said. “This year, we didn’t perfect the things we needed to perfect and let it slip away again.”
The league’s top shooting team, Alabama State made only four field goals in the opening 17 minutes and trailed by as many as 10 points.
The Hornets made most of that up before the half. They closed it on a 10-2 run and cut the deficit to 25-23 when Brooks stole the ball from Rod Melvin near midcourt and raced for a dunk in the final seconds.
No SWAC team has won an NCAA tournament game since Alcorn State beat South Alabama in 1980. The Hornets could be a candidate to go into the play-in game, but Jackson is hoping his team’s resume is stronger than that.
“We’re conference champions: 22-9,” Jackson said. “Hopefully that’s enough to get us straight in.”