Andre Smith looked into his teammates' eyes and knew that the game was resting on his shoulders.
"We got in the huddle and my teammates said, 'It's your time,"' Smith said after scoring 10 of his 28 points in overtime to extend sub-.500 North Carolina-Asheville's season with a 92-84 play-in victory over Texas Southern on Tuesday night.
Smith came right out as the overtime began and almost immediately hit a 3-pointer — and the Bulldogs (15-16) never trailed again.
"When it got to overtime, just as we got back to the bench, some of the coaches said, 'Are we going to lose in overtime?' " Smith said. "We said we wouldn't. That's just been our motto."
Asheville, the only team in the tournament with a losing record, received a dubious prize for advancing. The Bulldogs next play top-seeded Texas in the first round of the South Regional on Friday in Birmingham, Ala.
That game will reunite Texas coach Rick Barnes and Asheville's Eddie Biedenbach, who gave Barnes his first coaching job when he was at Davidson in 1978.
"The people who are playing great right now are the ones who are enjoying basketball and having fun," Biedenbach said. "We're one of those teams right now, and so is Texas."
Bryan McCullough added 15 points, Alex Kragel hit three second-half 3-pointers and finished with 14 points, Ben McGonagil had 12 points and Joseph Barber 11 for Asheville, in the NCAA tournament for the first time.
The Bulldogs are the unlikeliest of NCAA entrants. They ended the regular season with four consecutive losses before storming through the Big South postseason tournament 10 days ago.
They were just 1-14 on the road — granted, while playing heavyweights such as Kansas, Oklahoma, Michigan State and Connecticut — before their 3-0 run in the conference tournament.
"We've got a thing we say: Do not be denied," Kragel said.
Allan Lovett, who started his college career at Asheville, led Texas Southern (18-13) with 28 points and 14 rebounds. Ra'Kim Hollis, MVP of last weekend's Southwestern Athletic Conference championship run, added 18 points and Lionel Willis had 17.
Smith scored six of Asheville's first eight points in the overtime before Chad Mohn's 3-pointer from the right corner upped the lead to 86-79 with 2:22 left.
Smith added a layup with 47.6 seconds left and then made two more free throws with 28.6 seconds remaining to push the lead to 90-82.
Texas Southern's fans got the wave going in a crowd of 7,711 at the University of Dayton Arena after the Tigers had taken a 51-45 in the first four minutes of the second half.
But the Tigers' wave didn't last. Nor did their lead.
Asheville had to call a timeout with 1:15 left after a trainer came on the floor before he was beckoned by officials to attend to Smith, who was fouled hard on a drive.
Smith then hit both free throws for a 70-69 lead.
The line was a huge factor in the game, with Asheville hitting 17-of-26 and Texas Southern mustering just 14-of-31.
"That's something that has bothered us all year and it really hurt us tonight," Tigers coach Ronnie Courtney said. "We won about every category, but we just didn't make our free throws."
Lovett was called for an offensive foul at the other end, giving Asheville the ball. Smith then drew a second defender in the Tigers' zone and passed to Kragel, who hit a 3-pointer from the right wing with 44 seconds left.
"We were up (four) with very little time left in the game and we gave them some easy layups," Biedenbach said. "We needed toughness in there. We let them get back in it."
Hollis was fouled behind the arc and made just one of four shots
he was awarded another free throw after a lane violation on his second attempt.
Lovett rebounded the final missed foul shot, but Hollis missed two 3-pointers, and Kragel was fouled while rebounding the second. He made one free throw with 17.1 seconds left for a 74-70 lead.
Marquel Timmons came right back with a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to one before Smith added another foul shot.
Down by two with 5.5 seconds to play, Texas Southern inbounded under its own basket. Hollis passed to Lovett near the right block and he powered up for a layup that went over the rim. Teammate Lionel Willis caught the ball in the air and put it back to tie the game with 3.4 seconds left.
Lovett played his best against his former team.
"We just didn't take care of business. We wanted to play Texas and now we're going home," he said. "They didn't outplay us — they just made their free throws."
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