ORLANDO, Fla. – Gary Clark put Cincinnati ahead for good with a free throw with 4.3 seconds remaining and the eight-ranked Bearcats held for a 56-55 victory over No. 21 Houston on Sunday in the American Athletic Conference championship.
Clark finished with 20 points and the league regular-season champions rescued themselves for the second straight day with a stellar second-half performance, limiting Houston to 20 percent shooting and 18 points after halftime.
Cincinnati (30-4) earned the AAC’s automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament with its first conference tournament championship since the Bearcats won Conference USA in 2004.
Houston (26-7), which split a pair of games against Cincinnati during the regular season, lost for just the third time in its last 15 games and is headed to the NCAA Tournament, too.
Rob Gray led the Cougars with 17 points but missed a long 3-pointer in the closing seconds, then had a turnover that cost Houston a chance to try to win the game after Clark made one of two free throws after rebounding Gray’s miss.
Kentucky 77, (13) Tennessee 72
ST. LOUIS – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 29 points to lead Kentucky to its fourth straight Southeastern Conference Tournament championship.
The championship is the 31st in tournament history for the fourth-seeded Wildcats (24-10), who have won seven of their past eight games since a four-game losing streak last month. It was their first victory in three tries this season against the No. 2 seed Volunteers (25-8).
Gilgeous-Alexander was 10 of 16 from the field and added seven rebounds and a pair of steals, and he hit the clinching free throws with 2.4 seconds remaining. His 29 points were one off his career high of 30. Kevin Knox added 18 points and Quade Green had 10 for the Wildcats.
Admiral Schofield had 22 points and 10 rebounds to lead Tennessee, which was attempting to win its first tournament championship since 1979.
Davidson 58, (25) Rhode Island 57
WASHINGTON – Still looking for its first victory in the NCAA Tournament since Stephen Curry led the way, Davidson is going dancing as the Atlantic 10 champion after edging Rhode Island in the conference final behind Kellan Grady’s 17 points.
Bubble teams across the land could not have been pleased to see Davidson (21-11) pull through, because the Wildcats were not going to get to join in the March Madness fun with a loss. The top-seeded Rams (25-7), though, were an at-large selection in the bracket.
Davidson won despite going nearly 13 minutes in the second half without making a field goal, a 0-for-11 drought that somehow did not prevent it from celebrating at game’s end. The Wildcats haven’t been to the NCAAs since 2015 – and haven’t won a March Madness game since the Curry-led 2008 squad pulled off victories over Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin before bowing out against Kansas in the Elite Eight.
E.C. Matthews led the way with 20 points and eight rebounds for Rhode Island, which was trying to win a second consecutive conference tournament title.
Subscribe to The Spokesman-Review’s sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.