March 5, 2009 10:40 am ET by Kyle Whelliston
In the only game of the first evening session of the tourney, East Tennessee State pulled away from Stetson in the second half. A-Sun leading scorer Kevin Tiggs of ETSU (21.5 ppg) registered a thumpin' 37 point performance and the Bucs shot 50 percent from the floor to eliminate the Hatters. They'll play the winner of Mercer-Belmont, and perhaps face a replay of last year's contentious semifinal against the three-time champs.
The league double-champion American Eagles opened their tourney campaign with great defense and a strong win over Lafayette, shooting 58 percent and getting three strong double-figure performances from Derrick Mercer (20 points), Garrison Carr (19) and Brian Gilmore (17 on 8-for-12 shooting). R.J. Evans had 31 and Holy Cross made half its shots in its late pullaway against old rival Bucknell. The Crusaders also caught a break when Colgate came from behind to elimnate Navy in Annapolis in the 3/6 matchup, a game in which the home team shot just 32 percent but stayed in it with solid rebounding. Red Raider Ben Jonson double-doubled with 22 points and 10 rebounds as the 'Gate showed the Mids the door in overtime. Lehigh finished the season with a superior record (finishing 15-14 overall) but 11-18 Army won one more PL game, and dropped the poor-shooting Mountain Hawks at Cristl.
It took thousands of travel miles to make it happen, but the first round of the Sun Belt playoffs is complete. There were no shock-and-awe blowouts last night, but there was a minor upset: freshman phenom Freddy Asprilla had 15 points and 11 rebounds as Florida International knocked off the Ragin' Cajuns, who were also dropped in the first round on their home floor last season as well. North Texas, the 2007 champs, fought off a late charge by bottom seed Florida Atlantic to stave off embarrassment. Team USA nearly blew a 16-point lead against New Orleans, but escaped with a two-point decision thanks to late free throws. Middle Tennessee turned the ball over just eight times in ending Arkansas State's inaugural season as the Red Wolves. Hopefully Louisiana-Monroe will get a ski trip as a parting gift after their defeat out at Denver; the Pioneers broke open the 7/10 game in the final two minutes. The five winners will now converge on Hot Springs, Ark. to meet the three top seeds on Sunday.
at  North Texas 79,  Florida Atlantic 73 | GameFlo
at  Middle Tennessee 69,  Arkansas State 62 | GameFlo
 Florida International 71, at  Louisiana-Lafayette 69 | GameFlo
at  South Alabama 62,  New Orleans 60 | GameFlo
at  Denver 66,  Louisiana-Monroe 57 | GameFlo
On Tap Tonight
The A-Sun's tourney fun continues with two more first-round games, which will determine the two semifinalists that will meet top seed Jacksonville and ETSU, yesterday's winner. Both season series ended in splits.
3:30 pm ET -  Mercer 17-14 (11-9) vs.  Belmont 18-11 (14-6) | Preview
Recent: 02/22/2009 BELM 83 @MERC 89 01/26/2009 MERC 82 @BELM 86
9:30 pm ET -  Campbell 14-15 (11-9) vs.  Lipscomb 16-13 (12-8) | Preview
Recent: 02/09/2009 LIP 83 @CAMP 67 01/08/2009 CAMP 69 @LIP 68
The Big South becomes the first conference to move into a final-four round. Both games will be played at top seed Radford.
6:00 pm ET -  Liberty 22-10 (12-6) vs.  Virginia Military Institute 23-7 (13-5) | Preview
Recent: 02/24/2009 VMI 109 @LIB 72 01/17/2009 LIB 91 @VMI 80
8:00 pm ET -  North Carolina-Asheville 15-15 (10-8) at  Radford 19-11 (15-3) | Preview
Recent: 02/14/2009 RAD 66 @UNCA 65 01/10/2009 UNCA 88 @RAD 98
The Valley gets things going with its traditional evening session of first-round games, and will see if its Bizarro nature so far carries over to the conference tourney. Drake, the double-champions of 2008, find themselves playing on a day they'd grown accustomed to: the Bulldogs' No. 1 seed last year broke a three-year streak of participation on Play-In Thursday. And there's one type of topsy-turviness that happens quite often on this day: since the conference moved back to 10 members in 1997, the No. 9 and No. 10 seeds have both won on five occasions: 1997, 2000, 2003, 2004 and 2007. On the other hand, both higher seeds have swept the day only thrice, in 1998, 2002 and last season. In other words, expect a minor upset.
7:05 pm ET -  Drake 17-14 (7-11) vs.  Indiana State 10-20 (7-11) | Preview
Recent: 02/11/2009 DRKE 57 @INST 69 01/07/2009 INST 50 @DRKE 69
9:35 pm ET -  Missouri State 11-19 (3-15) vs.  Wichita State 15-15 (8-10) | Preview
Recent: 02/10/2009 MOST 61 @WICH 62 01/14/2009 WICH 55 @MOST 68
The NEC will begin its elimination rounds with simultaneous starts tonight. Robert Morris rolls into the event with its second consecutive No. 1 seed, but is trying to avoid something like last season's semifinal blowout loss to eventual P.I.G. participants Mount Saint Mary's, which forced the Colonials to use their automatic NIT ticket. MSM emerged from a three-way tiebreaker at 12-6 to claim the No. 2 seed this time, its highest placement since 1996. Sacred Heart has had a history of missing the playoffs this decade (as Fairleigh Dickinson, Monmouth and Saint Francis PA did this time), but could be a tough out due to its league-best offense. Unlike the Patriot, the NEC will reshuffle its seeds after tonight and allow the two higher surviving seeds to host semifinals. Watch out for the 4/5 game; that's provided minor upsets two of the last three years.
7:00 pm ET -  Quinnipiac 14-15 (10-8) at  Long Island 16-13 (12-6) | Preview
Recent: 02/21/2009 QUIN 78 @LIUB 73 01/31/2009 LIUB 63 @QUIN 69
7:00 pm ET -  Central Connecticut State 13-16 (8-10) at  Sacred Heart 16-13 (12-6) | Preview
Recent: 02/19/2009 SH 101 @CCSU 67 01/31/2009 CCSU 69 @SH 77
7:00 pm ET -  Saint Francis (NY) 10-19 (7-11) at  Robert Morris 21-10 (15-3) | Preview
Recent: 02/05/2009 RMU 61 @SFNY 54 12/04/2008 SFNY 87 @RMU 79
7:00 pm ET -  Wagner 16-13 (8-10) at  Mount Saint Mary's 17-12 (12-6) | Preview
Recent: 02/19/2009 MSM 65 @WAG 70 01/31/2009 WAG 51 @MSM 65
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