DAYTON, Ohio — So many things happened in those 5 final, furious minutes that Western Kentucky coach Ray Harper had trouble taking it all in.
“Wow,” he said, his face still flush with March emotion. “I don’t know where to begin.”
How about with that finish?
The only team with a losing record in the NCAA Tournament got it started with a classic March comeback – in front of a presidential audience, no less.
T.J. Price’s three-point play with 33 seconds to go completed the Hilltoppers’ rally from a 16-point deficit over the last 5 minutes for a 59-58 victory over Mississippi Valley State on Tuesday night.
President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron had front-row seats to see the tournament open with a ragged game that had an engrossing ending.
“It’s a crazy feeling,” said Derrick Gordon, who had 11 points. “That’s the president of the United States coming to watch our game. We wanted to put on a show. Things didn’t work our way for the first 35 minutes, but we came away with the W.
“I’m sure he liked what he saw.”
He saw the longest of long shots pull out another one.
The Hilltoppers (16-18) are the only squad in the 68-team field with a losing record. They played like it for most of the game, shooting only 30 percent and turning the ball over 28 times before rallying.
“You could see that look in their eyes: ‘We’re going to do this,’” Harper said.
Western Kentucky moves on to play Kentucky – the top seed in the South Regional – on Thursday in Louisville, an all-Bluegrass game for the second round.
Kevin Burwell scored 20 points for Mississippi Valley State (21-13).
The Hilltoppers were the losers’ favorite in the bracket – the first team since Coppin State in 2009 to make it to the tournament with a losing record.
for the Delta Devils.