Alcorn has to play its way into Big Dance’

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 11, 2002

[03/11/02]In past years, winning the Southwestern Athletic Conference title was enough to get into the NCAA Tournament.

Not this year.

Alcorn State, which won the SWAC’s regular-season and tournament titles, will have to win one more to make it into the 64-team field this time.

The Braves (21-9) will face surprising Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champion Siena (16-18) in the NCAA Tournament’s play-in game Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio.

The reward for the winner: A trip to Washington, D.C., to face top-seeded Maryland Friday in the first round of the East Regional.

All six of the Braves’ NCAA appearances have come under coach Davey Whitney, the winningest coach in SWAC history.

He was happy just to be back in the tournament for the second time in four years, but he expected to be seeded higher.

“I felt we deserved a 15th seed,” he said. “We won 21 games and we’re one of the hottest teams in the nation right now. But we’re pleased just to be going.”

The Braves last went to the NCAA Tournament in 1990, when they lost to Stanford in the first round, 69-57.

The play-in game created a logistical nightmare for the Braves, forcing them to leave Lorman at 2:30 this morning to catch a 6:30 flight from New Orleans.

They got back to Lorman from Birmingham, Ala., at 3 p.m. Sunday. They have played eight games in 17 days.

Alcorn has played in two NCAA games in Dayton and won both 81-75 over Xavier in 1983 and 79-60 over Houston Baptist in 1984.

Whitney, 72, has said that he may retire after this season.

“I don’t think that he should leave,” said senior forward Marcus Fleming, who leads the Braves with 15 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.

“Coach should finish it out with the freshmen who came when I was a freshman. That would be the best move for him.”

Dwayne Archibold, a 6-foot-6, 200-pound senior, leads the Saints with 20.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, and 6-7 junior Prosper Karangwa averages 10.3 points.