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March Madness Kicks Off With Clemson, UNC Asheville Wins

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March 15, 2011: Arkansas-Little Rock guard D'Andre Williams (10) is guarded by North Carolina-Asheville forward John Williams (23) in the first half of a first round NCAA college basketball game.AP

DAYTON, Ohio -- As happy as Clemson and UNC Asheville were to win NCAA tournament games, there was no time to celebrate.

A group hug with your teammates, handshakes for the opponents, a few postgame remarks and both teams were airborne.

Jerai Grant scored a career-best 22 points and the fast-starting Tigers built a double-figure lead and never backed off in beating Alabama-Birmingham 70-52 on Tuesday night in an NCAA tournament "First Four" game at the University of Dayton Arena.

Then the Tigers (22-11) hurried to catch a flight to their second-round game against fifth-seeded West Virginia (20-11) on Thursday afternoon in Tampa, Fla. -- almost exactly 36 hours after their first game ended.

"We'll go to the mandatory shootaround (on Wednesday) but certainly that will be the only physical thing that we do," Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. "I'll have to watch film through the night, obviously."

In the earlier game, 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, sending UNC Asheville to an 81-77 victory over Arkansas-Little Rock.

Like Clemson, the Bulldogs (20-13) didn't have time for a curtain call. They quickly headed to the airport for a charter flight to Washington, D.C., where they'll play Pittsburgh -- the Southeast's top seed -- on Thursday.

The Bulldogs had never flown a charter before this week, and joked they felt "presidential" on their trip to Dayton.

"We're going to feel presidential again, and we're going to D.C.," Primm said. "So it's going to feel even better."

UNC Asheville pulled it out with a tournament-worthy performance by its best player. The Bulldogs led for only 51 seconds in regulation, before Dickey asserted himself. He scored 14 of the Bulldogs' last 18 points in regulation, including a 3-pointer with 10.5 seconds to go that tied it.

Dickey, who was the Big South tournament's MVP, took only two shots in the first half.

"I came in at halftime and they kept telling me to keep being aggressive, my shots will start falling," Dickey said. "I started getting open looks, my shot started falling and it felt good."

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 with 55 seconds to go in regulation. He finished with 18 points.

Each year, the tournament turns into a big stage looking for a star. Dickey became the first to take the spotlight.

"He made some big plays coming off ball screens," Bozeman said. "We weren't able to contain him."

The shooting guard took control with nine minutes left, leading the late surge that culminated in his 3-pointer from the left corner. Primm had missed a 3, but the Bulldogs got the rebound and passed it around to Dickey, who was open and didn't hesitate.

"I didn't know how much time was left on the clock," he said. "I was pretty sure it was under 15 or 20 seconds."

His timing was perfect.

In the nightcap, Clemson had blown a big lead in losing to North Carolina in the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament on Saturday. So this time the Tigers decided to just build such a big lead that they couldn't fritter it away.

"We clearly had North Carolina in a difficult position and didn't close the game," Brownell said. "The more games like that you're in, I do think it hardens your guys. And I'm sure it helped in some way (tonight)."

In a matchup of No. 12 seeds, part of the expanded tournament's new look, the Tigers went on a 21-2 run in the first half. UAB (22-9) made a run but never got closer than eight points again.

Milton Jennings added 11 points and Tanner Smith and Devin Booker each had 10 for Clemson, picked to finish seventh in the ACC. The win was its first in the NCAA tournament since the 1997 team advanced to the round of 16.

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 what coach Mike Davis called a broken leg. Johnson received a round of applause from the crowd of 10,025.

Jamarr Sanders had 19 points and Dexter Fields 12 for UAB, regular-season champions of Conference USA.

"Clemson is a real good team," Davis said.

And, he could have added, a real tired one, too.