Wofford beats Appalachian St, earns 1st NCAA berth
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP)—Mike Young remembers being an assistant coach at Wofford in the school’s first Division I season in 1994-95 and falling behind 26-0 to Clemson en route to a 49-point loss.
It was those early experiences that made reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time so sweet.
Cameron Rundles scored 20 points and Wofford used stifling defense to overcome a long second-half scoring drought and beat Appalachian State 56-51 on Monday night for the Southern Conference title.
The school perhaps best known in sports circles as being the training camp home of the Carolina Panthers will soon have a basketball banner to hang.
“We hung in there,” said Young, his dress shirt drenched from a celebratory water bath and the cut-down net on the table in front of him. “And to do it in 15 years, Holy Toledo.”
Wofford’s 13th win in a row didn’t come easy, though. The Terriers (26-8) overcome going nearly 10 minutes without a point to deny Appalachian State coach Buzz Peterson an NCAA bid in the first year of his second stint at the school.
Andre Williamson scored 12 points and Ryann Abraham added 11, but the Mountaineers (21-11) shot 29 percent. Their top two scorers—Donald Sims and Kellen Brand—combined to shoot 2 of 23.
“They just really did a good job of taking out of anything we tried to do offensively,” Peterson said. “I told Mike and (athletic director) Richard Johnson, go win for the league for us. Go get the league some money. They’re playing well enough right now to do that.”
It was a new experience for Wofford, which also got 13 rebounds from Tim Johnson. Players danced and sang on the floor after the buzzer, posed for pictures and celebrated the most wins in school history a year after going 16-14.
Even Jerry Richardson, the Wofford alum and owner of the Panthers who put training camp at his alma mater, was in the arena to watch the Spartanburg, S.C., school of just 1,450 students reach a new milestone.
“I saw what he envisioned,” Wofford’s Noah Dahlman said of Young. “For it to come true … we took lumps. To come out this year and put it all together, it’s what you dream of.”
Dahlman had 10 points and eight rebounds and was voted tournament MVP in a season that’s included victories over Georgia and South Carolina, the same schools that beat up on Wofford early in its transition from Division II.
“You hang in there and you believe in it,” said Young, who replaced Johnson as coach in 2002-03.
Wofford appeared in control when Junior Salters made a 3 on the first possession of the second half to make it 36-18.
But the Terriers then missed 14 straight shots and three free throws, not scoring again until Corey Godzinski’s half-hook off an offensive rebound with 9:50 left.
Trouble was, Appalachian State was shooting so poorly itself the comeback was slow. The Mountaineers did get within 48-44 on Abraham’s four-point play with 2:24 left.
But Appalachian State missed three of four free throws and Sims’ fired up an airball on a 3-point attempt, allowing Wofford to hit enough free throws to hold on as its fans yelled “Let’s go dancing!”
It was a bitter return to Time Warner Cable Arena for Peterson, where he spent two seasons as director of player personnel for the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats while working under former college roommate Michael Jordan.
It was part of Peterson’s whirlwind after leaving Appalachian following its last NCAA trip in 2000. It included getting fired at Tennessee, turning down a chance to return to Appalachian, and then finally accepting.
Turning around a team that went 13-18 last season, the Mountaineers entered the title game having won 10 of 11. But the shots wouldn’t fall.
Brand, who scored a career-high 37 points in Appalachian’s semifinal win, was 0 for 8 from the field. Donald Sims, who scored 30 points in the quarterfinals, shot 2 for 15, quieting the partisan Appalachian crowd.