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No rest for the winners

Eckerd men's basketball coach Jim Harley sat on the bench outside McArthur Gymnasium on Monday waiting for his players to return from class.

It had been an astonishing weekend for the Tritons, who shocked everyone by winning three games in less than 48 hours to capture their first Sunshine State Conference tournament championship and gain an automatic berth in the NCAA Division II tournament.

But Sunday's 77-71 victory over Tampa was just the beginning of another hectic 24 hours.

NCAA officials Sunday evening said Eckerd would play Wednesday in Spartanburg, S.C., against Wofford. Around midnight, Harley found out Eckerd would actually play tonight at 7:30 because of a conflict with a women's basketball game that had previously been scheduled in Spartanburg.

The players went to class Monday thinking they were playing Wednesday. Assistant coach Tom Ryan didn't know about the time change until he got to campus Monday afternoon.

"The players are exhausted," said Harley, who won his 500th game earlier this season and claimed his first SSC tournament title in 31 years at Eckerd. "Sure, we would have liked to rest but it just means that we get to fly now."

And that's something none of the players seem to mind.

"We might have had to take a bus trip if it had worked out the other way," said senior forward Josh Bohlander. "It shouldn't be too bad for us. We're ready to go."

Indeed, the Tritons (15-12) are.

After a mediocre season which saw Eckerd lose six games by less than three points, the Tritons finally displayed their strength and saved their finest performance in years for the SSC tournament.

"It was a frustrating season for us. We knew we had the talent and thought we could do better all along," said junior Rodney Chatman, the former Boca Ciega star who has emerged as one of the premier players in the conference. "But we were losing the close ones. We just needed to click and make something happen. We knew we could do it."

Actually, Chatman and junior teammate Floyd Watkins talked about what it would take the night before the tournament began.

"This is our trilogy," said Chatman, who was named the most valuable player of the tournament. "We thought of it Thursday night and spent the weekend making it happen."

Chatman, averaging more than 20 points per game while playing shooting guard and low post in the tourney, has become a feared inside threat with creative moves. The smooth Chatman, however, can also hit the perimeter jumper.

"Rodney has reached another level," Harley said. "He is what Eckerd is all about. A student athlete with a purpose who has done the most with the opportunity he has had."

Chatman was an unheralded Boca Ciega guard who chose Eckerd over two other smaller schools.

"I just wanted to become the best all-around player that I could," Chatman said. "I'm doing that at Eckerd."

Along with Chatman, sophomore guards Shane Vogt (Chamberlain) and Lateef Duncan have contributed heavily in the backcourt while 6-foot-9 center Kerwin Thompson of Point Fortin, Trinidad, Bohlander and Diego Chin-a-sen have given Eckerd the most depth Harley has had in years.

"We're hot right now," Chatman said. "We're playing on desire, emotion and our talent. That can take you a long way. We don't want to wait around any longer than we have. We're ready."

TONIGHT

Who: Eckerd Tritons vs. Wofford Terriers.

What: NCAA Division II South Regional first round.

When/where: 7:30, Spartanburg, S.C.

TV/radio: None.

Coaches: Wofford (Richard Johnson); Eckerd (Jim Harley).

Key players: Eckerd _ Rodney Chatman, 6-4, Jr. F/G (18.9 ppg); Kerwin Thompson, 6-9 Jr. C (8.7 rpg). Wofford _ Matt Allen, 6-6, Sr. F (17 ppg); John McGinnis, 6-7 Sr. C (12.5 ppg).

Notes: Chatman must be able to move around the court and create shots. Depth will be the key for the Tritons, who have used it wisely. Diego Chin-a-sen came off the bench to score 22 points in a first-round SSC tourney win over Barry University. The senior leadership of Josh Bohlander and Thompson could prove pivotal in a tight game while guards Shane Vogt and Lateef Duncan must be able to handle Wofford's intense defensive pressure.

_ WAYNE McKNIGHT

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