Xavier Green and Ahmad Caver wore winners' basketball nets as necklaces Saturday night.
Green scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half to lead Old Dominion to a 62-56 victory over Western Kentucky in the Conference USA Tournament championship game.
Top-seeded Old Dominion (26-8), the eighth-stingiest scoring defense in the latest NCAA statistics (61.2 points per game), won three tournament games by a total of nine points to earn its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2011.
"(The NCAA berth) hasn't hit me yet," Green said. "I think it's going to hit me later, like when I'm in the shower by myself or when I talk to my mom."
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Senior Caver scored 10 points and had nine assists.
The Monarchs' biggest lead Saturday was seven points.
"Our guys didn't blink," ODU coach Jeff Jones said. "We showed that we were a team that could consistently win close games."
Western Kentucky (20-14) was the second seed.
With ODU trailing 37-34, Green made a traditional three-point play to tie the game and added two 3-pointers for the lead.
WKU came back to tie it at 47 before C-USA Player of the Year B.J. Stith scored to break the tie. Green added another 3-pointer for a 54-48 lead and the Hilltoppers didn't move within four points after that.
Stith scored 13 points. Charles Bassey led WKU with 12 points, Josh Anderson scored 11 and Jared Savage had 10.
ODU won 25 games last season but didn't go to a postseason tournament.
Western Kentucky: C-USA Freshman of the Year Charles Bassey struggled in the first half (four points, three rebounds) but finished with a game-high 10 rebounds. ... WKU made only 18 of 52 field goal attempts (35 percent). ... The Hilltoppers finished with 20-plus wins for the 45th time in program history. ... They were 0-3 against ODU.
Old Dominion: The Monarchs became the fifth C-USA team to win both the regular-season and tournament championship in the same season. ... ODU lost to Butler 60-58 in the first round of the 2011 tournament and has a 3-11 record in NCAA Division I Tournament play. The Monarchs' last postseason berth came in 2016, when they were the Vegas 16 champions.
Western Kentucky sophomore Josh Anderson electrified the crowd with two first-half steals punctuated by dunks at the other end. The first was a two-hander with his back to the basket, the second a one-handed tomahawk slam.
BATTLE OF BIG MEN
Monarchs unheralded senior center Elbert Robinson III, an LSU transfer, scored six points in the first half by making all three shots to go with three rebounds, a blocked shot and a steal. Robinson combined with Dajour Dickens and Kalu Ezikpe to keep Charles Bassey in check. "It was a hell of a time for (Robinson) to play his best game of the season,"
Jones admitted that he was choked up after the game. "It hasn't been an easy year for both personal and professional reasons." Before the season began, Jones learned that he had a recurrence of prostate cancer.
Western Kentucky: Most likely will not receive an NCAA Tournament at-large berth and will wait for an offer from another postseason tournament.
Old Dominion: Will wait Sunday for seeding, opponent and site in the round of 64 in the NCAA Tournament.