ORLANDO, Fla. — Gary Clark put Cincinnati ahead for good with a free throw with 4.3 seconds remaining and the eight-ranked Bearcats held on Sunday for a 56-55 victory over No. 21 Houston in the American Athletic Conference championship.
Clark finished with 20 points and the league regular-season champions rescued themselves for the second straight day with a stellar second-half performance, limiting Houston to 20 percent shooting and 18 points after halftime.
Cincinnati (30-4) earned the AAC’s automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament with its first conference tournament championship since the Bearcats won Conference USA in 2004.
Houston (26-7), which split a pair of games against Cincinnati during the regular season, lost for just the third time in its last 15 games and is headed to the NCAA Tournament, too.
Rob Gray led the Cougars with 17 points but missed a long 3-pointer in the closing seconds, then had a turnover that cost Houston a chance to try to win the game after Clark made one of two free throws after rebounding Gray’s miss.
Houston made just 6 of 30 shots in the second half.
Davidson 58, Rhode Island 57
WASHINGTON — Bubble teams all across the land were keeping an eye on the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament final and Davidson, a school still waiting for its first victory in the NCAA Tournament since a guy by the name of Stephen Curry was leading the way.
The Wildcats were all too happy to disappoint those other folks whose hopes hinged on their result Sunday.
Freshman Kellan Grady’s go-ahead baseline floater with 74 seconds left ended a nearly 13-minute drought without a field goal for Davidson, and lifted Curry’s alma mater to a 58-57 victory over 25th-ranked Rhode Island for the A-10 title.
“I would say, ‘I’m sorry,’ but I’m not,” said smiling senior Rusty Reigel, who was a freshman the last time Davidson participated in March Madness.
“We won and we’re going dancin’ and I couldn’t be happier for my guys and for everybody,” said Reigel, fiddling with a piece of the net he’d just helped cut down. “I just can’t wait to get there next week.”
Davidson (21-11) would not have gotten to join in the fun with a loss Sunday.
Kentucky 77, Tennessee 72
ST. LOUIS — John Calipari kept telling anyone who would listen that this group of Kentucky freshmen just needed a little more time than most to figure things out.
That faith was shaken when the Wildcats lost four straight games last month. But they delivered on their coach’s optimism on Sunday.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 29 points, and Kentucky beat No. 13 Tennessee 77-72 for its fourth straight Southeastern Conference Tournament championship.
It’s the 31st title in tournament history for the Wildcats, whose No. 4 seed in the event was the lowest in Calipari’s nine seasons at the school. The Wildcats (24-10) were one defeat away last month from what would have been the longest losing streak in the Calipari era, but they have won seven of eight since — including their first in three tries this season against the No. 2 seed Volunteers.
All in all, it’s a Kentucky group that appears primed for next week’s NCAA Tournament.
“A month ago, I wasn’t sure we’d be in the tournament,” Calipari said. “And then I had to ask … ‘Does everybody get to go to the SEC tournament?’ I wasn’t even sure we’d get here. But I come back to this: We needed to lose those games. We needed to lose four in a row.”
Despite racing to a 17-point lead in the first half Sunday, the Wildcats’ seemingly annual SEC Tournament coronation was delayed by a Tennessee team trying to win its first title in almost 40 years.
Penn 68, Harvard 65
PHILADELPHIA — Sitting on top of the rim, clutching the net that was just cut down, Darnell Foreman couldn’t help but think of all of the great Penn players who won championships before him.
After a long wait and an unlikely turnaround, the senior guard can add his name to that list.
Foreman scored 19 points, AJ Brodeur had 16 points and 10 rebounds and Penn earned its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2007 with a 68-65 win over Harvard in the Ivy League Tournament title game Sunday.
Georgia State 74, Texas Arlington 61
NEW ORLEANS — D’Marcus Simonds scored 27 points and Georgia State defeated Texas Arlington 74-61 Sunday to win the Sun Belt Conference Tournament championship.
No. 2 seed Georgia State (24-10) will be making its fourth NCAA Tournament appearance and first since 2015. Fourth-seeded UT Arlington, which upset Sun Belt regular-season champion Louisiana-Lafayette in the semifinals, fell to 21-13.
The Panthers, who set school records for 3-point percentage and 3-pointers made this season, connected on 8 of 17 from beyond the arc. The Mavericks made 4 of 25 3-pointers and shot 29.8 percent (17 of 57) from the floor.
Johnny Hamilton led the Mavericks with 23 points and 14 rebounds, Erick Neal scored 12, Kevin Hervey had 11 and Kaelon Williams 10.