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St. Vincent savors PAC title victory, NCAA bid

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Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Another postgame bedlam scene punctuated St. Vincent's first bid to an NCAA Tournament in men's basketball on Saturday night. It was no different at Carey Center throughout the Presidents' Athletic Conference Tournament, where top-seeded St. Vincent (23-5) enjoyed home-court atmosphere throughout.

Fans — many from the hundreds of students packing the end zone bleachers — rushed onto the floor following the Bearcats' 81-67 victory over Thomas More in the title game.

St. Vincent earned the PAC's automatic bid to the Division III Tournament.

“If we had been on the road, maybe we wouldn't have been able to do what we did here,” St. Vincent coach D.P. Harris said. “I do know that coming into that hostile environment with St. Vincent, those kids really make a difference.”

Attendance at St. Vincent's on-campus facility averaged 1,153 for the final four games — a regular-season finale to decide first place and home-court advantage, and three in the conference tournament.

Penn State-Behrend (20-8) also earned an automatic bid to the NCAA men's field on Saturday by beating Medaille, 63-60, to win the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference Tournament championship. It is the Lions' fourth trip to the tournament.

La Roche (24-2) clinched its third consecutive bid to the NCAA women's tournament with a 63-58 victory over Penn State-Behrend.

With the addition of at-large teams, the NCAA was planning to reveal the entire men's and women's brackets Monday.

“Everyone in the locker room fought for the minutes they got. We all wanted to win this thing,” said St. Vincent forward Grant Latus, the Mt. Lebanon product who scored 12 points and had five rebounds, five blocks and two steals in the championship game victory over Thomas More (23-5). “I've been here for three years, and we gave 100 percent in practice. We worked harder than any other year. The games were a reward.”

Latus, a 6-foot-8 redshirt sophomore who missed the 2011-12 season recovering from a torn ACL, leads St. Vincent in rebounding (6.8 rpg.) and tops the PAC in blocks (2.1 bpg.).

Known more as a contender in the NAIA, St. Vincent is new to the NCAA postseason. Since taking over as coach at the start of the 2004-05 season, Harris has led the Bearcats to back-to-back appearances in the NAIA Division II Sweet 16 in 2004 and '05 and to the ECAC Division II South Region championship in 2008.

No current member of the PAC has won a men's game in the NCAA Tournament.

“We want to change that,” Harris said. “For me, as a head coach, we have not lost a first-round opener in the postseason. We're in a very good Division III league with good coaches. We hope we can be successful, and once we do, it might change the tradition. We want to snap that streak.”

Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at dmackall@tribweb.com.

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