Tyson Patterson had waited three years for a chance to play in the NCAA tournament. He made sure it happened this time.
The 5-foot-9 guard, the Southern Conference player of the year, had seen his team lose a close championship game to Davidson in 1998. Last year, the Mountaineers led Charleston by 11 points before falling in the title game.
Stuck in a tie game with one last shot at the NCAA tournament, Patterson took control.
"This feels so good," Patterson said. "It wipes away the loss two years ago, the loss last year. It feels five times better than how bad I felt then."
Patterson, who took his jersey home a year ago after the Mountaineers (23-8) lost to Charleston in the title game to remember the feeling, scored six points in a 13-2 run that put them up 56-45 lead with 4:11 left.
"It took me three years to get it," said Patterson, the tournament's most outstanding player. "Now, it's so sweet."
It will be the Mountaineers' first NCAA appearance since 1979, when they were coached by Cremins, who resigned this season after 19 years at Georgia Tech.
Charleston (24-6) lost its first tournament game since joining the Southern Conference a year ago. The defeat also likely ended a string of three straight NCAA appearances.
"We would be very happy and proud to play in the NIT," Charleston coach John Kresse said. "Tell them we'll pack our bags and go anywhere. I think we have some name recognition that could be good for the tournament."
These Cougars were not the powerhouse team that went unbeatn in the league last season. Junior center Jody Lumpkin was the only returning starter, and when keys plays were needed at the end, the Cougars came up short.
Freshman Troy Wheless threw the ball away. Sophomore Jeff Bolton missed two straight shots. Even Lumpkin, who finished with 16 points, had the ball stolen as he tried to make an outlet pass.
Patterson, meanwhile, kept his experienced team calm. They had lost two previous Southern Conference finals last year they led Charleston by 11 points before falling 77-67 and Patterson talked all week about cashing on his last NCAA tournament chance.
When Cedrick Holmes went to the foul line with the Mountaineers ahead 48-43, Patterson gave a last reminder, "Just stay in it, stay focused and we're going to the Big Dance."
"This man to my left, he just won't be denied," Appalachian State coach Buzz Peterson said, pointing to Patterson. "He had the will to win and wasn't going to give it up."
Patterson came to Appalachian State's rescue twice this tournament. He had 10 of its last 12 points in a 60-56 semifinal victory over Furman on Saturday. This time, he had a little help from Rufus Leach.
Leach's 3-pointer began the Mountaineers' winning run, which came with the game tied at 43-all.
Patterson followed with a driving layup, Holmes hit two free throws and Patterson had two more baskets.
"I was missing a lot of shots," said Leach, whose 3-pointer ended an 0-of-6 string from behind the arc. "But I knew I had to keep shooting."
Leach had 16 points, 12 in the second half, for the Mountaineers.
Patterson had tears in his eyes when the horn sounded. He jumped into Holmes' arms and was surrounded by teammates.
Fans chanted "Ty-son Patter-son, M-V-P," as he pumped his fists in the air.
Peterson, who played at North Carolina and was Michael Jordan's college roommate, said he has gained a new respect for how difficult it is for teams like his to reach the NCAAs.
"Just to see all the hard work my assistants and these guys put in, it's great," Peterson said. "I had a feeling this team would be special and had a chance to get the NCAAs."
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