Former Oklahoma City University coach Ray Harper takes Western Kentucky to face top-seeded Kansas in the NCAA men's basketball tournament at 8:50 p.m. CST Friday at the Sprint Center.
Western Kentucky, the 16th seed, makes its second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance under Harper. The contest will be broadcast on TNT (Cox channel 31 in the Oklahoma City area).
Harper returns to the city where he led OCU to the 2007 and 2008 NAIA Division I championships. Harper's longtime assistant with the Stars and Kentucky Wesleyan, Tommy Wade, also is in the NCAA Tournament as part of Travis Ford's staff at Oklahoma State. OSU meets Oregon at 3:40 p.m. CST Thursday in San Jose, Calif. OSU's game is televised on TNT.
The Hilltoppers (20-15) secured their NCAA Tournament bid by edging Florida International 65-63 for the Sun Belt Conference Tournament championship on March 11 in Hot Springs, Ark.
Jamal Crook scored Western Kentucky's final six points. Western Kentucky clung to the lead despite Tola Akomolafe sinking a layup that cut FIU's deficit to 49-48 with 8:16 remaining in the game.
Crook, a 6-foot-3 senior from Louisville, Ky., hit a free throw for a 60-54 Western Kentucky cushion with 2:19 left. Crook added a lay-in, then nailed 3-for-4 from the free-throw line in the last 23 seconds to hold off FIU. Crook tied with George Fant for game-high scoring honors with 17 points each. T.J. Price became Sun Belt Conference Tournament most valuable player.
Western Kentucky completed a run of four wins in four days.
"They believe that we can win this game," Harper said on the Tim Brando Show about the NCAA Tournament matchup. "If we didn't believe we could win this game, I wouldn't be going to Kansas City this weekend. There's some other places we can go and do some other things. We feel like we're going to go in there, we're going to compete and we're going to have a game plan in place. Hopefully we stick to it, and hopefully it works. We know how good they are, there's no question about it. At the same time, you've seen crazier things happen. No 16 has ever beaten a one. Why not Friday night? No one had ever won four straight games in four days in back-to-back years, but they have now. Our goal Friday is to shock the world."
Harper has directed Western Kentucky to a 31-23 record since taking over as interim head coach on Jan. 6, 2012. Western Kentucky removed the interim tag from his title Feb. 19.
From 2005-08, Harper guided OCU to a 95-17 record, three NAIA national title games, three Sooner Athletic Conference championships and two SAC Tournament titles. The Stars had seven all-Americans during that time, including NAIA player of the year Ollie Bailey and two-time NAIA Tournament most valuable player Kameron Gray.
He was named NAIA Division I coach of the year by the NAIA and the National Association of Basketball Coaches in 2008 and SAC coach of the year three times.
For his career, Harper owns a 373-86 record in his 14th season as a head coach. Harper has coached in nine national championship games, winning four championships. He led Kentucky Wesleyan to NCAA Division II crowns in 1999 and 2001.
Harper was the winningest active coach in NCAA Division II when he left Kentucky Wesleyan. He set an NCAA record by reaching 30 wins for six consecutive seasons.
During his playing days, Harper became Southwest Conference rookie of the year under Abe Lemons at Texas.
Wade is his fifth season at Oklahoma State as director of player development. Wade has been a part of six NCAA Tournament teams, three with the Cowboys (24-8).