Rodney Chatman half-jokingly called the Sunshine State Conference basketball tournament a trilogy _ three games in three days. That was before he wrote the final chapter.
Chatman, a 6-foot-3 junior from Boca Ciega High, scored six of Eckerd College's nine points in overtime Sunday and the Tritons held top-seeded Tampa to one free throw and a meaningless dunk in the extra session for a 77-71 victory, Eckerd's first SSC tournament title.
The Tritons claimed the SSC's automatic bid to the Division II national tournament but the Spartans also received a bid. The Spartans (21-8) are the No.
2 seed in the South Region at Huntsville, Ala. Friday, the Spartans will play the winner of a regional play-in game between Eckerd (16-12), seeded sixth in the region, and No. 3 seed Wofford (21-5). Those two meet Wednesday night at Spartanburg, S.C.
Eckerd advanced to the NCAA Tournament one other time, in 1973, when it lost 95-66 to Fayetteville (N.C.) State in the opening round. Tampa secured a spot in the NCAA field for the ninth time in 11 years.
Eckerd, which had never appeared in an SSC tournament title game and was seeded sixth this year, came into the tournament Friday with seven losses in its past nine games.
"We're finally getting it together," said Eckerd coach Jim Harley, in his 31st year. "Our defense has been good all week. We felt like if we could be in a position to hang tough, something could happen."
Chatman finished third in the SSC in scoring but was not named to the all-conference team.
"This makes up for that," said Chatman, whose 27 points and seven rebounds Sunday earned him the tournament's most valuable player award. "The guys have been looking to me to lead the team. So I did what I had to do."
Eckerd trailed 35-26 at halftime and withstood 25 second-half points by UT senior guard DeCarlo Deveaux, who finished with 33.
The Tritons closed the gap to three points with 7:29 left on two three-pointers by Anthony Parson. Short-range baskets by Kerwin Thompson and Paul Kinsella gave the Tritons a 62-61 lead. Chatman scored on a 6-foot turnaround and added two free throws to put the Tritons ahead 66-63 with 2:48 remaining.
Deveaux, the two-time SSC player of the year, converted a three-point play with 1:56 left to tie the score and added a scooping layup with 1:11 to go for a 68-66 UT lead. Kinsella and Floyd Watkins missed attempts to tie and UT had the ball with 25 seconds left.
But sophomore guard Lateef Duncan stole the inbounds pass and Kinsella sent the game into overtime on a layup with six seconds left.
Deveaux turned the ball over and Chatman broke free for a transition layup to begin the overtime.Tampa then missed six consecutive shots.