Friday , Mar , 16 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

49ers challenge Vols in NCAA Tournament first-round action

Columbus, OH (Sports Network) – A couple of schools meeting for the first time
ever on the hardwood hook up in the first round of the NCAA Tournament today,
as the 12th-seeded Long Beach State 49ers collide with the fifth-seeded
Tennessee Volunteers in the South Regional. The victor of this contest moves on
to face either fourth-seeded Virginia or 13th-seeded Albany on Sunday.

The 49ers won the Big West Conference Tournament title for the first time since
1995 and with that they earned an automatic bid to the Big Dance. LBSU, which
has already notched a 20-win season for the first time since 1999-00, enters
the tourney red-hot, as it has won six straight and 11 of its last 12 games
overall. This it the program’s eighth appearance in the NCAA Tournament, where
it has gone 7-8 all-time.

As for Tennessee, it earned an at-large bid to the Big Dance by posting a 22-10
record, which includes several quality wins. The Vols are appearing in their
15th NCAA Tournament and their second straight. The school is 9-15 all-time in
this event, but it has never won more than two games in any one of its

The 49ers’ success hinders on the shoulders of their high powered offense that
is averaging a healthy 80.3 ppg on 45.3 percent shooting from the field. Aaron
Nixon leads this potent attack with 18.6 ppg, and he is also grabbing 4.9 rpg
and dishing out 3.1 apg. Kejuan Johnson has provided a solid second option for
LBSU, as he puts forth 15.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg and 3.6 apg. He is also the team’s
best defender with 45 steals to his credit. Sterling Byrd adds 13.9 ppg and a
team-best 6.7 rpg to the mix, while Kevin Houston contributes 11.7 ppg and a
club-high 4.4 apg. Houston is also knocking down 41.5 percent of his three-
point tries.

Much like its opponent today, Tennessee has thrived at the offensive end of the
court, averaging a hardy 79.6 ppg behind 44.3 percent shooting from the floor.
Leading the way for the Vols is Chris Lofton, who is pouring in 20.6 ppg on the
strength of 41.7 percent shooting from long distance. He has also had success
at the foul line, converting on 80.1 percent of his free-throw attempts. JaJuan
Smith has provided a nice complement to Lofton, as he turns in 15.0 ppg and 4.5
rpg to go along with a team-high 69 steals. Ramar Smith chips in with 10.4 ppg
for Tennessee, which is forcing its opponents into 19 turnovers per game.