The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, seeded sixth in the Sun Belt Tournament, got 17 points and 13 rebounds from sophomore George Fant to complete an improbable run to an NCAA tournament berth, beating the No. 4-seeded Florida International Golden Panthers, 65-63, in Monday's conference tournament final.
The Hilltoppers (20-15) won four games in four days, including a three-point win in the quarterfinals and a two-point win in the semifinals, to secure its second-straight trip to the big dance. Western Kentucky made a similar run in last year's Sun Belt Tournament under interim head coach Ray Harper (head coach Ken McDonald was fired in January 2012 after a 5-11 start to the season).
Harper, now in his first year as Western Kentucky's full-time head coach, has two NCAA tournament berths to his name.
The Golden Panthers, who beat the No. 1 Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders in the semifinals, closed to within two points at 62-60 with 27 seconds to play. Jamal Crook answered with two made free throws on Western Kentucky's next trip down for the Hilltoppers.
Florida International's Tymell Murphy hit a three-pointer with two seconds left to set the final score at 65-63.