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College roundup

Clemson off to great start

Tigers advance with NCAA ‘First Four’ win

Despite close-up coverage from Vermont’s Luke Apfeld, Cleveland State’s Norris Cole goes in for a layup, 2 of his 27 points in the Vikings’ win. Despite close-up coverage from Vermont’s Luke Apfeld, Cleveland State’s Norris Cole goes in for a layup, 2 of his 27 points in the Vikings’ win. (Thomas Ondrey/Associated Press/The Plain Dealer)
Associated Press / March 16, 2011

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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, last night in an NCAA Tournament “First Four’’ game in Dayton, Ohio.

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) tomorrow afternoon in Tampa.

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, regular-season champions of Conference USA.

Ahead, 39-27, at the break, Clemson never let the Blazers draw closer than 8 points in the second half.

UAB’s hopes wilted when, already trailing 61-42, it lost point guard Aaron Johnson.

Johnson, leading the nation in assists at 7.7 per game, was injured while trying to prevent an easy layup by Grant. After lying on the floor for several minutes, he left the court on crutches with a right leg injury. He received a round of applause from the crowd of 10,025.

Clemson ran its NCAA record to 9-10. The win was its first since the 1997 team advanced to the Round of 16.

UNC-Asheville 81, Ark-Little Rock 77 — 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 in Dayton, Ohio, sending the Bulldogs over the Trojans in the dramatic opening game of the NCAA Tournament.

The Bulldogs (20-13) will play Pittsburgh, the top seed in the Southeast, tomorrow in Washington, D.C.

UNC-Asheville opened the “First Four’’ with a late comeback led by its best player. The Bulldogs led for only 51 seconds in regulation before Dickey asserted himself. He scored 14 of the team’s last 18 points in regulation, including a three with 10.5 seconds left to tie it.

Primm and Dickey had 22 points apiece.

Alex Garcia-Mendoza matched his career high with 21 points for Arkansas-Little Rock (19-17). The Trojans played overtime without Solomon Bozeman, the Sun Belt’s player of the year, who fouled out in the final minute of regulation. He finished with 18 points.

NIT Cleveland State 63, Vermont 60 — Norris Cole is accustomed to carrying his team on his back.

The Horizon League player of the year did it again in the Vikings’ win over the Catamounts in the opening round of National Invitation Tournament in Cleveland.

Cole scored 27 points, including the go-ahead basket with 1:23 remaining and four free throws in the final 26.5 seconds, to lead second-seeded Cleveland State (27-8) into the second round, where it will play College of Charleston.

Vermont coach Mike Lonergan, who knows a thing or two about playing against top guards, puts Cole in some select company. The Catamounts have faced Brigham Young’s Jimmer Fredette, Connecticut’s Kemba Walker, and Charleston’s Andrew Goudelock.

Cole gained attention last month when he scored 41 points and had 20 rebounds against Youngstown State for only the second 40-point, 20-rebound game in the nation in the last 15 years.

Fairfield 62, Colorado State 60 — Yorel Hawkins scored 17 points and the Stags’ defense shut down the Rams in a victory in the first round in Fort Collins, Colo.

Ryan Olander added 12 points and 10 rebounds for Fairfield (25-7), winners of six of seven. The Stags forced 20 turnovers, but had their string of consecutive games holding opponents under 60 points snapped at 41.

Andy Ogide led Colorado State (19-13) with 13 points.