Kennesaw State wins ASUN title, earns 1st NCAA tourney berth

March 6, 2023 GMT

KENNESAW, Ga. (AP) — Terrell Burden scored 19 points and made a free throw with less than a second left to rally Kennesaw State to a 67-66 victory over Liberty on Sunday, earning the Owls their first Atlantic Sun Conference championship and their first trip to the NCAA Tournament.

It is a remarkable turnaround for Kennesaw State under fourth-year coach Amir Abdur-Rahim. The Owls finished with a 1-28 record in 2019-20 — Burden’s freshman season and the first under Abdur-Rahim. They went 5-19 in Abdur-Rahim’s second season and 13-18 last year. Now the Owls will bring a school-record 26-8 mark to their first Big Dance.

Kennesaw State can credit its victory to the defensive job it did on Liberty’s Darius McGhee, the ASUN player of the year and the conference’s all-time leading scorer. McGhee made just 6 of 21 shots from the floor and he was 0 for 11 from beyond the arc. McGhee came in averaging 22.7 points per game but finished with 14. Kyle Rode scored a career-high 23 points for the Flames (26-8). The senior made 9 of 14 shots with four 3-pointers.

Chris Youngblood hit all seven of his free throws and scored 16 for Kennesaw State. Demond Robinson pitched in with 10 points and 11 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season. Brandon Stroud added 12 points and six boards.

Rode hit two 3-pointers and scored 11 to guide Liberty to a 29-27 lead at halftime.

Kennesaw State battled back to take a 48-43 lead on a 3-pointer by Simeon Cottle with 10:54 left in the game. The Owls stayed in front until Rode hit a 3-pointer to cap an 8-0 run that put the Flames on top 53-51 at the 7:43 mark. Youngblood answered with a 3-pointer, Burden followed with a layup and Kennesaw State reclaimed the lead.

Colin Porter buried a 3-pointer to pull Liberty even at 66 with 23 seconds left. Porter was fouled on a drive to the basket with O.7 seconds remaining. He made the first one for the lead and intentionally missed the second to run out the clock.

The contest marked the first time a game at the KSU Convocation Center was broadcast on national television. The Owls notched their victory before an arena-record crowd of 3,805.

Liberty entered 3-0 in its previous trips to the ASUN title game.

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