DAYTON, Ohio — Holy Cross has a losing record — and a long-awaited win in the NCAA Tournament.
Robert Champion scored 19 points, including a key 3-pointer in the final minute, to help the Crusaders beat Southern University 59-55 Wednesday night for their first tournament victory in 63 years.
“I think it’s fantastic,” coach Bill Carmody. “It’s everything we’re trying to do at Holy Cross. We’re trying to jump-start the program because we realize what an athletic program can do for a school. It’s a great first step.”
Holy Cross (15-19) was an unlikely NCAA participant, earning its automatic bid by winning four consecutive road games to take the Patriot League Tournament title.
Now, after pulling out a sluggish game in the First Four, the 16th-seeded Crusaders are off to play No. 1 seed Oregon in the West Regional on Friday in Spokane, Washington.
And they certainly plan to savor the experience.
“We’re just enjoying this right now,” Champion said. “We’re going to hop on a plane and go to Spokane. We’re just enjoying it and going for the ride.”
Champion, a junior guard, also made two key free throws with 14 seconds left to seal the victory in a sloppy game that didn’t get tight until well into the second half. He connected on as many 3s as the entire Southern team, which was 3 for 20 from beyond the arc.
The Crusaders had lost nine consecutive NCAA Tournament games since defeating Navy and Wake Forest in 1953 — six years after Holy Cross won the national championship.
Holy Cross led by as many as 12 in the first half thanks to a smothering 1-3-1 zone defense that Southern struggled to solve, but a 9-0 run allowed the Jaguars to cut the lead to 27-22 at halftime.
Southern started the second half with 7-0 spurt and eventually tied it with 1:24 left, but Champion hit his big 3 to put Holy Cross ahead to stay.
“A dream come true,” Champion said. “Everybody dreams of making that shot.”
Southern coach Roman Banks said Holy Cross set the tone early.
“I thought they came out of the gates with a lot of energy and executed very well,” Banks said. “I think it took us a little time to find our rhythm in the zone, that 1-3-1 that they play.”
Southern (22-13), a historically black school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was ineligible for postseason play the past two years because of a problem with its academic reports to the NCAA. It earned an automatic bid when it beat Jackson State 54-53 in the championship game of the Southwestern Athletic Conference Tournament.
Anthony Thompson added 12 points for Holy Cross, and Karl Charles had eight.
Adrian Rodgers led Southern with 14 points, and Shawn Prudhomme scored 10.
Holy Cross: The Crusaders have won five straight, four by five points or fewer. The streak began after the Worcester, Massachusetts, school lost seven of its last eight games in the regular season.
Southern: Every Southern player wears No. 33 on the back of their warmups as a tribute to football player Devon Gales, who was paralyzed this past season.
Holy Cross: The Crusaders were the 25th team since 1955 to get into the NCAA Tournament with a losing record, according to STATS. Hampton was 16-17 before beating Manhattan in a First Four game last year. … The Crusaders have 12 previous NCAA Tournament appearances, the last one in 2007.
Southern: The Jaguars were in the tournament for the ninth time. Their previous appearance was 2013, and their lone win came against Georgia Tech in 1993.
Holy Cross: Faces top-seeded Oregon on Friday in Spokane, Washington.
Southern: Season is over.