Matt Dickey and the Bulldogs were quite an opening act on the NCAA Tournament's expanded stage. Dickey led a late run that brought overtime, and J.P. Primm hit five free throws and had a decisive steal in the closing seconds, sending UNC Asheville to an 81-77 victory over Arkansas-Little Rock in a dramatic "First Four" opener on Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio.
There wasn't time for a curtain call. The Bulldogs (20-13) quickly headed to the airport for a charter flight to Washington, D.C., where they'll play Pittsburgh — the Southeast's top seed — on Thursday. The Bulldogs had never flown a charter before this week, and joked they felt "presidential" on their trip to Dayton.
UNC Asheville pulled it out with a tournament-worthy performance by its best player. The Bulldogs led for only 51 seconds in regulation, before Dickey asserted himself. He scored 14 of the Bulldogs' last 18 points in regulation, including a three with 10.5 seconds to go that tied it.
Dickey, who was the Big South Tournament's MVP, took only two shots in the first half.
"I came in at halftime and they kept telling me to keep being aggressive, my shots will start falling," Dickey said. "I started getting open looks, my shot started falling and it felt good."
Primm and Dickey had 22 points apiece.
Alex Garcia-Mendoza matched his career high with 21 points for Arkansas-Little Rock (19-17). The Trojans played overtime without Solomon Bozeman, the Sun Belt's player of the year who fouled out with 55 seconds to go in regulation. He finished with 18 points.
Missouri St. 89, Murray St. 76: Jermaine Mallett scored a career-high 23 points, leading host Missouri State to a win over Murray State in the opening round of the National Invitation Tournament.
Missouri State (26-8) held a double-digit lead through most of the first 10 minutes of the second half before Murray State (23-9) went on a 14-2 run to cut it to 68-66 with 6:09 left. But the Racers, who led only once early in the game, were never able to go ahead.
Alabama 64, Coastal Carolina 44: Tony Mitchell, Charvez Davis and Trevor Releford all scored 12 points to lead Alabama past visiting Coastal Carolina.
The top-seeded Tide (22-11) built a 20-point lead late in the first half and never let the short-handed Chanticleers (28-6) get anything going.
Oklahoma St. 71, Harvard 54: Marshall Moses had 18 points and eight rebounds, and Oklahoma State defeated visiting Harvard.
Oklahoma State (20-13) scored 41 points in the first half and won an NIT game for the first time since 1997. The Cowboys had lost three straight from 2006 to 2008.
Former Wildcat Matt Pilgrim had 12 points for the Cowboys.
Irving could be back for Duke
Injured Duke point guard Kyrie Irving could return for the Blue Devils' NCAA Tournament opener, Coach Mike Krzyzewski said Tuesday. Krzyzewski said Irving practiced "a little bit" with the team Tuesday, but he won't know for a few days whether the freshman will be available for the top-seeded Blue Devils' West Regional opener against 16th-seeded Hampton on Friday in Charlotte.
"There is a chance that he would play," Krzyzewski said.
Irving, the team's leading scorer with an average of 17.4 points, injured the big toe on his right foot in a win against Butler on Dec. 4.
Lowe resigns at N.C. State
Sidney Lowe resigned Tuesday as coach at North Carolina State, ending a frustrating five-year run in which he failed to lead the Wolfpack to the NCAA Tournament.
Lowe had an 86-78 overall record, but just 25-55 in Atlantic Coast Conference play. He inherited a program coming off five straight NCAA Tournament trips, but he never finished higher than ninth in the ACC despite twice being picked to finish in the top third of the 12-team league.