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Western Kentucky's dramatics oust Drake

Guard Ty Rogers puts up the winning shot in overtime for Western Kentucky’s first tourney win since 1995.

BRIAN CASSELLA | Times

Guard Ty Rogers puts up the winning shot in overtime for Western Kentucky’s first tourney win since 1995.

TAMPA — The best story in college basketball this season was 37 years in the making. Tales this good take time, you know.

The next chapter in the Drake Bulldogs' long-awaited return to the NCAA Tournament was to be their first tournament win since the Nixon administration.

But Ty Rogers had other ideas. And Tyrone Brazelton did, too. No, Western Kentucky would be no footnote to history.

It took Rogers' impossibly long 3-pointer at the overtime buzzer to send the Hilltoppers to a 101-99 victory in a West Region first-round matchup Friday at the St. Pete Times Forum, a game that likely will long be recalled as one of this tournament's most breathtaking.

With Western Kentucky trailing by one and inbounding from the opposite baseline with 5.7 seconds remaining, Brazelton (33 points) grabbed the entry pass and scurried the full length of the court with designs on going to the basket.

His path blocked by two Drake defenders, Brazelton kicked the ball out to Rogers, standing about 6 feet beyond the 3-point arc near the right elbow.

With time expiring, with Drake's nearly four decades of frustration seemingly about to end, with 12th seed Western Kentucky about to fall short in its upset bid, Rogers nailed the basket that sent the Hilltoppers (28-6) to the second round for the first time since 1995.

"You got to love the NCAA Tournament, don't you?" Western Kentucky coach Darrin Horn said. "I think what you just saw out there is why this is the greatest show on earth."

He has a point. This game was nothing if not entertaining, from its 200 total points to Drake's clutch comeback from 15 down in the final 8 minutes, 30 seconds. Western Kentucky — which became the 21st No.  12 seed to defeat a No.  5 in 24 years — withstood a barrage of threes from a fearless Drake team that shoots on sight. The Bulldogs launched 42 3-point attempts, connecting 16 times.

But Western Kentucky kept its composure in the face of a furious comeback, and its ability to hit the final 3-pointer rather than Drake was the difference.

"We understand it's going to be a game of runs," said Western Kentucky guard Courtney Lee, whose team shot an efficient 14-of-28 from 3-point range. "We've got high-character guys on this team. We have tremendous poise."

And, now, the story of how tiny Drake (28-5) took the nation by storm comes to an untimely end. The Bulldogs, picked in the preseason to finish ninth in the Missouri Valley Conference, reached No.  14 in the Associated Press poll on the strength of a 21-game win streak.

They hadn't won a tournament game since 1971 but were a prohibitive favorite. Would Friday's result perhaps change the perception of this overachiever from a mid-major conference?

"We did a lot of things this year, winning the (conference) tournament and the regular season," forward Klayton Korver said. "So, I think we lost to a good team on a last-second shot. It was an awesome year. I think what we did speaks for itself."

Next up for Western Kentucky: San Diego, which scored its own upset Friday against Connecticut. One can only guess what Sunday's game has in store.

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com.

No. 12 WKU 101

No. 5 Drake 99

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Western Kentucky's dramatics oust Drake 03/21/08 [Last modified: Sunday, March 23, 2008 10:58pm]
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