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WKU wins Sun Belt bid, goes dancing at 15-18

Mar 7, 2012 - 5:48 AM Hot Springs, AR (Sports Network) - The Western Kentucky University Hilltoppers may have a losing record, but they're going to the NCAA Tournament anyway.

Kahlil McDonald's 14 points included the go-ahead three-pointer with 1:09 remaining, and Western Kentucky came back from a 13-point second half deficit to defeat North Texas, 74-70, in the final of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament on Tuesday.

Teeng Akol netted a game-high 23 points and George Fant scored 17 to go with six rebounds for the Hilltoppers (15-18), who won a record eighth SBC title and their first since back-to-back championships in 2008-09.

They won four games in as many days, and will play in the NCAA tourney for the 22nd time.

"Another great college basketball game," said Western Kentucky coach Ray Harper. "I'm extremely happy for these young men, they won't quit, they're resilient. I'm just really happy for these guys that they are going to have the opportunity to continue to play."

Sun Belt freshman of the year Tony Mitchell paced the Mean Green (18-14) with 18 points. Alzee Williams contributed 16 and six rebounds and Brandan Walton donated 14 points for North Texas, which fell in the conference title game for the second consecutive year.

After a tightly contested first half, North Texas appeared to pull away early in the second, rolling off a 12-0 run to make it 55-42.

But Western Kentucky responded by scoring the next nine points, part of a 17-4 spurt that tied the game at 59.

Fant's layup high off the backboard a bit later finished off the comeback, giving WKU its first lead, 67-66, since early in the second half.

Williams hit two from the charity stripe to put the Mean Green back on top with 1:32 to play before McDonald's decisive trey.

North Texas held a 32-30 halftime edge.

"I thought our guys did a fantastic job getting to this point and playing with a great deal of effort and energy," said North Texas coach Johnny Jones. "Unfortunately we just weren't able to finish those guys off tonight."

Game Notes

Fant was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player...WKU has come back to win six of the last seven times it has trailed at halftime...Western Kentucky became the first team with a losing record to make the NCAA Tournament field since Coppin State in 2008...Mitchell's two blocks set a single-season North Texas record with 70. The previous record was Shawnson Johnson's 69 in 2003-04...One of either WKU or UNT had played in every SBC final since 2006, but this was their first meeting in the championship game.