DAYTON, Ohio — Diminutive point guard Junior Robinson fearlessly dribbled into the heart of New Orleans' defense, pulled up and hit another of his oh-so-soft jumpers. This one decided a frenetic opening game for the NCAA Tournament.
The smallest player in Division I-A scored 23 Tuesday night, including that go-ahead jumper with 1:27 to play, and Mount St. Mary's held on for a 67-66 victory over New Orleans in the First Four.
Robinson carried the Mountaineers (20-15) to only their second NCAA Tournament win, making jumpers with so much arc they appeared to tease the ceiling.
"The way he plays out there — his speed, his athleticism — it's just so special," coach Jamion Christian said. "When you're a smaller guy, you're naturally going to have a chip on your shoulder and you want to go out there and show the world the things you can do."
The Mountaineers will head to Buffalo to play defending national champion and top overall seed Villanova in the East Region on Thursday. They had a charter flight waiting after the game.
"It's a dream come true," guard Elijah Long said. "But this is March Madness, and this is part of the madness."
Mount St. Mary's led most of the way, but New Orleans pulled off a comeback befitting its resurgent season. The Privateers had a chance for a final shot, but former Wesley Chapel standout Erik Thomas' inbounds pass with 2.6 seconds left was off target and stolen by Chris Wray.
The Privateers' tournament appearance was part of a huge turnaround for the school, which was severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. They went 10-20 last season but won the Southland's regular season and tournament titles for the first time in school history.
Their final comeback came up short.
After trailing by as many as 11 in the first half and nine in the second, they briefly took a 64-63 lead on Christavious Gill's free throws with 1:48 left. Robinson responded with his soft jumper, and the Mountaineers held on.
"We started the engine on the car, and now the car is moving," said Nate Frye, who led New Orleans with 18 points. "We've got to pick up speed and keep building off what we did this year. We established the building blocks of what was broken down from Katrina."
NBA DRAFT: Central Michigan redshirt junior Marcus Keene, who led the nation with 30 points per game, is entering the NBA draft, the Associated Press reported. Also, North Carolina State 7-foot freshman center Omer Yurtseven is declaring for the draft but will not hire an agent to preserve his eligibility.
WOMEN: South Carolina forward Alaina Coates will not return to the lineup for the NCAA Tournament because of a right ankle sprain she suffered more than three weeks ago. … Matt Bollant, who had one winning season in five years and was sued two years ago for allegedly abusing players, was fired as the Illinois coach. Bollant was 61-94 overall.
Another surgery for Gators QB Del Rio
GAINESVILLE — Quarterback Luke Del Rio's bid to regain his starting position at Florida will take another hit today when he has his second shoulder surgery of the offseason.
Del Rio is scheduled to have his right (throwing) shoulder cleaned up, coach Jim McElwain said. The procedure is not expected to affect his status for the fall.
"He'll be fine," McElwain said. "It's not major."
It is, however, another setback for the redshirt junior.
Del Rio started the Gators' first three games last year before hurting his knee. He returned for three more games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury at Arkansas. He finished the year 114-of-201 passing for 1,358 yards, eight touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Del Rio was already sidelined for the spring after having surgery on his other shoulder in January. In his absence, redshirt freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask are battling for the starting job this spring.
Franks, the presumptive favorite, began Tuesday's practice with the first team.
Times staff writer Matt Baker contributed to this report.