KANSAS CITY, Mo. - (Box score; Video) Kevin Dukes' fade-away jumper in the lane with 3.9 seconds remaining lifted unseeded Southern-New Orleans to an improbable 94-92 overtime victory over No. 3 Robert Morris (Ill.) tonight at the 75th Anniversary of the 2012 Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship. Appearing in their first championship since 2004, the Knights completed a comeback after trailing by 11 points with nine minutes remaining.
Southern-New Orleans advances to play No. 14 Georgetown (Ky.) on Friday at 9:45 p.m. CDT.
"I just thought the second half we played much better defense and were more under control on offense," said Southern-New Orleans head coach Dale Valdery. "Those were the things that carried us. Also, we knew (Diante Watkins) was going to get his points, so we had to limit the other guys and we did a pretty good job of taking them out of the game in the second half. That's a tremendous team. My hat goes off to them. If we continue to play defense the way we are, we'll probably be in every game we play."
Clyde Moore of Southern-New Orleans and Robert Morris' Diante Watkins were the highlight shows. Moore finished with 34 points and 21 rebounds, while Watkins went for a career-tying 38 points before fouling out in 39 minutes of play.
Valdery commented on the play of his junior forward. "Clyde is one of those guys who gives you everything he has out there on the floor, whether it be on offense or on defense. He's our inspirational leader. When he plays hard, it's a follow up for the rest of the players. He's just somebody that we go to when we really need a bucket. Twenty-one rebounds and thirty-something points; that's amazing."
This was a game of runs with the Knights striking first. They took their largest lead of the game at 24-17 at the 6:30 mark. Then, the Eagles rattled off a 20-4 spurt to head into the locker room with a 37-28 advantage. Watkins had 12 points to lead the charge and the defense held Southern-New Orleans to 29 percent shooting.
Watkins made a two-point basket at the 16:32 mark in the second half and things appeared to be going smoothly with Robert Morris leading 46-34. But that is when Moore and the Knights had an answer. In the game's next 16-plus minutes, Moore scored 20 points and was the hero.
Trailing 64-53 at the 9:15 mark, Nicholas Washington's two points in the paint fueled a 14-2 run that made the upset seem a reality. Robert Morris was poised for the win in regulation, but allowed two baskets in the final minute as the game went to overtime.
In the extra session, Brian Bradley for Robert Morris made the first shot of a bonus free throw and on his second attempt, his miss was cleaned up by Tyler Warden. That lay-up tied the score at 92-92 with 37 seconds left. But, Dukes would have the final answer as he dribbled down the lane and made the bucket for the Knights first win in the tournament since 2004.
"Give Southern-New Orleans a lot of credit for a great effort," said Robert Morris head coach Al Bruehl. "We made a lot of mistakes tonight that we don't normally make and we weren't strong enough on the boards. Besides rebounding, I thought we played good defense and our guys played hard the whole game, especially our bench players who haven't seen much time. It's the national tournament and you need to make plays to win. Unfortunately, we didn't make enough of them to win tonight."
Robert Morris exits the tournament in the first round for the first time in five years as it snaps a four-game opening round win streak. The Eagles head home with a 27-5 record.
Robert Morris: Robert Morris made its ninth-straight national tournament appearance and had won each of its previous eight first round contests (2007 win vs. Westmont was later forfeited) before losing to Southern-New Orleans ... The Eagles dropped to 17-9 all-time in the national tournament and 1-3 in overtime contests ... Under the guidance of head coach Al Bruehl, Robert Morris has advanced to the Fab Four on three occasions with the most recent appearance coming in 2010 ... The Eagles have averaged almost 29 wins over the past nine seasons including five campaigns with at least 30 victories ... Robert Morris entered the national tournament ranked No. 3 in the NAIA in scoring offense (87.5), No. 4 in scoring margin (14.7) and 3-point field goal made per game (9.9), and seventh in blocks per game (4.6) and turnover margin (+4.6) ... Robert Morris was the highest-seeded team to lose in the first round since No. 1-seeded Rogers State fell in the 2009 opener.
Southern-New Orleans: Southern-New Orleans is appearing in its seventh national tournament with an all-time record now sitting at 3-6, including a 3-4 mark in opening round contests ... The Knights are making their first appearance in the national tournament since 2004 when they advanced to the second round ... Southern-New Orleans brought a five-game winning streak into the national tournament that included three-straight victories to claim the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Tournament championship ... Junior forward Clyde Moore posted the highest single-game rebounding total in the first round of this year's tournament with 21 boards.