MARCH 7 2012 04:05h

West. Ky. reaches NCAA with losing record

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark., March 6 (UPI) -- A rebound and layup by O'Karo Akamune with 10 seconds left Tuesday lifted Western Kentucky to a 74-70 win over North Texas in the Sun Belt Conference final.

The Hilltoppers thus earned the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament despite having a losing record.

With a week remaining in the regular season, Western Kentucky had a 9-18 record. The Hilltoppers then ran off six straight victories to capture their third Sun Belt tourney title in six years. They overcame an eight-point deficit in the second half.

Western Kentucky had a two-point lead with 10 seconds to go when T.J. Price went to the foul line with a 1-and-1 free-throw opportunity.

Price missed the first foul shot, but Akamune was there to grab the rebound and put in the basket that gave the Hilltoppers a 72-68 advantage.

Teeng Akol scored 23 points to lead Western Kentucky, which came into the conference tournament as the No. 7 seed. Tony Mitchell scored 18 points for North Texas (18-14), a 17-point winner over Western Kentucky by 17 during the regular campaign.