Four-time Atlantic Sun champion Belmont barely escaped Mercer, and Big South top seed Radford fought off a strong challenge from No. 4 UNC Asheville in that league's semifinals.
The Big South final on Saturday is set: VMI at Radford.
The three top seeds in the Northeast Conference won, but No. 5 Quinnipiac nipped No. 4 Long Island in overtime.
The CAA, America East, MAAC, SoCon and West Coast begin play today with first-round games.
More tourneys continue: the Ohio Valley and Atlantic Sun play semifinals in advance of Saturday's first autobid games. The Horizon League holds a second-round slate at Butler's Hinkle Fieldhouse. The Missouri Valley is down to eight teams and will eliminate four in today's quarterfinal round.
Belmont sub Mick Hedgepeth (a rock and roll name if ever there was one) scooped up an offensive rebound off Andy Wicke's missed shot with a second left in a tense game against No. 6 Mercer, and put it back for a one-point winner. The win kept the Bruins' hopes for a fourth consecutive A-Sun championship alive. In the late game, Lipscomb broke it open with a barrage of second-half 3's to eliminate the Fighting Camels. MMBOW Adnan Hodzic had 16 points in duty limited by excessive garbage time.
Liberty was gaining control of the first semifinal, held at Radford's Dedmon Center, until VMI broke free with a run midway through the second half and cruised to a 20-point victory; the Keydets have won two games in 10 days versus the Flames by a total of 57 points. The home team got a career-high 35 points from Kenny Thomas (tied for the single-game BSC tourney record) and sank the defending regular-season champion Bulldogs in a barrage of late free throws. No. 4 UNC Asheville had cut the lead to two points with five minutes remaining.
Indiana State eliminated Drake, last year's regular season and tourney champions, but nearly squandered a 13-point halftime lead. The Bulldogs cut the lead to one point with a minute and a half remaining. It was another in a series of minor upsets in the tourney's first day, but Wichita State made sure the No. 10 Bears didn't advance in the late game. Missouri State shot just 29 percent and converted only three of its 18 3-point attempts as the Shockers pulled away in the second half.
Former MMBOW James Feldeine was a star with 22 points as Quinnipiac upset Long Island in overtime on the Blackbirds' own floor; Justin Rutty had a huge double-double with 18 points and 16 rebounds. There was little last-second drama in the other three tilts. Top seed Robert Morris jumped out to a 17-6 lead on Saint Francis (NY) and never looked back. Defending titlist Mount Saint Mary's worked its way out of a close game with a late surge led by Jean Cajou (21 points, 10 in final five minutes). Sacred Heart won its Nutmeg State showdown-throwdown with CCSU behind 22 from Chauncey Hardy.
The A-East was strong in nonconference play, finishing just five games under .500, and put on a great conference race that went down to the final week. The two teams participating in tonight's "Pillowfight Friday" in Albany played no part in any of this. Hartford was the league runner-up last year, but the Hawks won as many games during the 2009 regular season (two) as they did during last year's tourney. Maine received a slight bump from last year's No. 9 seed, but this was the Black Bears' second consecutive single-digit season under Ted Woodward. They went 7-23 last year.
Both of the semifinal matchups ended in season splits, and it's difficult to predict winners tonight -- mostly because No. 4 Lipscomb will be going up against the top-seeded Jacksonville Dolphins on its home floor, with its mildly disruptive LUnatics fan section in tow. ETSU has been waiting a year for this. In last year's semifinal, the Bucs led by a point late when Kenyona Swader received a hard foul from Belmont's Henry Harris. The official whistled Swader for a technical, claiming the player said something derogatory after the foul. Belmont pulled ahead with the TFT's, then Swader missed the front end of the original one-and-one, paving the way for a Bruin win. If you didn't see it, you can relive it for the first time.
In what should be a lightly attended evening of basketball at Hinkle Fieldhouse, four lower seeds fight over the opportunity to fight No. 1 Butler and No. 2 Wisconsin-Green Bay on Saturday evening. Three of the four defended their home courts in Tuesday's first round, but Illinois-Chicago arrived in Indianapolis via Youngstown, where they beat the homestanding Penguins in the 6/7 game.
The other tourney being held in Albany will hold its own annual pillow party. It may be the last opportunity of the season to catch the Jimmy Patsos show, as his Loyola (Md.) squad fell hard after three straight years of progress. Iona has flatlined at 12 wins this year despite a strong influx of Big East transfers in Kevin Willard's second year, and all Marist has received in its first year of Chuck Martin's rule is Dribble Drive Mess.
The Valley will try to avoid any and all Bizarro overtones as its quarterfinals get underway this afternoon. But Northern Iowa received its worst nightmare last night: another date with an Indiana State squad that opened the Panthers' season with a loss and nearly escaped with a season sweep in late January. In fact, three of the four quarterfinal matchups are replays of splits; only Illinois State won both games, against Evansville. Creighton still holds a distant chance at an at-large bid due to severe bubble weakness, but their minimum requirement is to make it to Sunday's final.
All four top seeds won out in the campus-site first round on Tuesday, so they'll converge on Nashville's NHL arena tonight. This was the level that three-time MMBOW Lester "Done Ruthless" Hudson made it to last season, but Austin Peay ended the Skyhawks' NCAA dream in overtime. He appears to be on some sort of mission of something, dropping 42 on Tennessee Tech the other night. APSU is mourning the loss of the architect of Peaymania, highly-successful head coach Lake Kelly, who died yesterday at a hospital in Kentucky.
It's inevitably going to be billed as the Stephen Curry show, but there are plenty of great non-Davidson storylines as the oldest league tourney in the land resumes in Chattanooga this afternoon. Keep an eye on College of Charleston, a dangerous team that won 23 games, split with Davidson, and is headed for another collision in Sunday's semis. There's a chance that there could be an all-Charleston final -- one of the best redemption stories in Hoops Nation this year, The Citadel, is in a position to make the NCAA tournament for the first time ever. And this is no Division II transitional, the Bulldogs have been playing and failing every year since the Tournament began in 1939.
Thousands of Catholics and Jesuits descend on Sin City... seriously, what could go wrong? The WCC's weekend in Las Vegas begins tonight with two low-seed eliminators in what is certainly Hoops Nation's most aesthetically advanced bracket. Anybody who can make a kid's mobile out of this structure, takes a picture and sends it in to bally at midmajority dot com, will receive a lifetime Basketball State subscription.