03/05/12 — NCAA committee snubs Trojans

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NCAA committee snubs Trojans

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on March 5, 2012 1:48 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Craig Hayes felt Mount Olive had more games to play.

Too bad NCAA Division II men's basketball tournament selection committee didn't share Hayes' sentiment.

The Trojans didn't get invited to the Big Dance.

"We got left out," said MOC head coach Joey Higginbotham late Sunday evening. "We're pretty shocked ourselves right now. Now I know how those Division I teams feel this time of year when they're on the bubble."

Despite losing to nemesis Barton in the Conference Carolinas championship game earlier in the day, Higginbotham felt confident of his team's at-large chances. But those aspirations faded when Wingate completed its Cinderella run to the South Atlantic Conference title later in the day.

"Sorry, you're not in," read the text message sent to Higginbotham by Region 2 chairman Mark Peeler, who is the head coach at Erskine and represents Conference Carolinas on the selection committee.

The two unexpected automatic qualifiers, Barton and Wingate, completely changed the selection process. Still, Higginbotham thought his team's overall "body of work" and its late-season run of 13 wins in its final 15 games might sway the committee.

It didn't.

When the eight-team Southeast Regional field was finally announced on NCAA.com, Higginbotham and his coaching staff scratched their heads. Columbus State, which lost to top-seeded Montevallo in the Peach Belt tournament final, received an at-large bid despite having less in-region wins and more in-region losses than the Trojans.

MOC (21-8 overall) defeated at-large selection King (Tenn.) in the Conference Carolinas semifinals, and also beat at-large recipient Anderson (S.C.) on a neutral court last November. At-large picks Lincoln Memorial and USC-Aiken completed the regional.

"I guess we didn't do enough work," said Higginbotham. "I thought when we beat King, we had a shot. It just goes back to our league not getting any respect. It seems like we're the red-headed stepchild of the Southeast region."

Higginbotham and his staff walked to the dorms once they received the news, and informed each player that the season had come to a bitter end.

"It was hard to explain to them when they ask 'why?' and I really didn't know the answer," said Higginbotham. "I hate it for my guys and my seniors. This was a fun group that worked hard and they deserved a better fate than this."