Clemson, UNC Asheville open with NCAA victories
DAYTON, Ohio – Jerai Grant scored a career-best 22 points and fast-starting Clemson built a double-figure lead and never backed off in beating Alabama-Birmingham 70-52 Tuesday night in an NCAA tournament “First Four” game at the University of Dayton Arena.
In a matchup of No. 12 seeds, part of the expanded tournament’s new look, the Tigers (22-11) went on a 21-2 run in the first half and never let the big lead slip away, as they had in several recent games.
Clemson hurried out after its first NCAA tournament victory in 14 years to catch a flight to a second-round game against fifth-seeded West Virginia (20-11) on Thursday afternoon in Tampa, Fla.
Milton Jennings added 11 points and Tanner Smith and Devin Booker each had 10 for Clemson, picked to finish seventh in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Jamarr Sanders had 19 and Dexter Fields 12 for UAB (22-10), regular-season champions of Conference USA.
Ahead 39-27 at the break, Clemson never let the Blazers draw closer than eight points in the second half.
UNC Asheville 81, Ark-Little Rock 77 (OT): Matt 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 the Bulldogs (20-13) to a victory over the Trojans (19-17) in a dramatic opening game for the NCAA tournament.
The Bulldogs will play Pittsburgh, the top seed in the Southeast, on Thursday in Washington, D.C.
UNC Asheville’s late comeback was led 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 3 with 10.5 seconds to go that tied it.
Primm and Dickey had 22 points apiece. Alex Garcia-Mendoza matched his career high with 21 points for Arkansas-Little Rock.