MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Forget March Madness and the Final Four for a moment. This weekend saw a jaw-dropping, come-from-behind win in the men's NCAA Division 2 championship game. Barton College defeated the previously unbeaten Winona State, to win the championship, 77-75. And it was the last minute pyrotechnics by point-guard Anthony Atkinson that did the trick. Actually, not the last minute; it was the last 39 seconds of the game when Atkinson scored all of the Barton Bulldog's final 10 points. Here's what his last four baskets sounded like.
(Soundbite of a basketball game)
Unidentified Man#1: ...thirty second. Atkinson, (unintelligible), booked it. Twenty-three for Atkinson.
Unidentified Man#2: Right hand and...
Unidentified Man#3: Steal there.
Unidentified Man#2: Atkinson has foul and a chance for tie it.
Unidentified Man#1: Ten seconds left; down by two. The drive - reverse.
Unidentified Man#3: Oh, what a play. Anthony Atkinson (unintelligible), four seconds left. (unintelligible). He's got (unintelligible). Atkinson, layup -good! Good!
BLOCK: That winning shot came at the buzzer. We're joined by the coach of the Barton Bulldogs, Ron Lievense, who's in Wilson, North Carolina. And Coach Lievense, does that still give you a thrill?
Mr. RON LIEVENSE (Basketball Coach, Barton College): Well, you know, that was the first time that I've been able to hear the actual account of the game. And boy, when you hear that, it just sends chills up and down your spine.
BLOCK: You know, it doesn't even begin to do justice to what Anthony Atkinson was doing there. One of these shots is a reverse lay-up. There are two steals, one of them in the last 2.1 seconds of the game. Why don't you describe what happened there?
Mr. LIEVENSE: Well, you know, Anthony made that incredible reverse lay-up, which he was going full speed at that time across the baseline and put that in. It was absolutely unbelievable, you know, and then the steal by Bobby Buffaloe and the tip-ahead to Anthony. Anthony immediately looked up to see the time on the clock so that he could know whether to shoot a long-shot or to take it all the way to the basket, and that is an incredible sense of poise at that point in time and on that stage with a national championship riding on this particular play.
BLOCK: I love what he said after the game. He said that he knew that he had made the full length of the court in 3.5 seconds before, so he figured if he had 2.1 seconds, he did the math, he knew he could make it.
Mr. LIEVENSE: He didn't mean that bragging. He meant that as a fact, that he knew he could do it. He won three games in a row for us in the Elite 8. In all three of those games, he hit the last shot of the game.
BLOCK: You know, I think the best moment came after that final shot, when Anthony Atkinson runs - he basically does a lap of the gym. You can tell he just cannot believe what he and his team have just done. He looks completely stunned and overwhelmed.
Mr. LIEVENSE: Well, it was just such an emotional moment. I thought he just did a great job. You know, he did the only thing he knew what to do: run around and have a good time.
BLOCK: Well Anthony Atkinson is a senior. What happens to him now? Is he thinking about going pro? What are his...
Mr. LIEVENSE: He would like to play pro. And I'll tell you what, if there are any talent scouts that listen to this, this young man is a winner, and somebody better sign him because he's a big-time player.
BLOCK: This is doubly interesting, and not only because of this amazing win in the last seconds of the game, but also because your school is really small, fewer than 1,000 students. And you took down Goliath, Winona State, which had a 57-game - 57 games, I think, unbeaten streak?
Mr. LIEVENSE: I mean, it was incredible. You know, before we played there, I took out my Bible, and we read the David and Goliath story out to our team in the hotel room, and this team sent shock waves through the whole country with the three victories that we had up there in the Elite 8.
BLOCK: Well Coach Lievense, thanks so much, and congratulations.
Mr. LIEVENSE: Thank you.
BLOCK: Ron Lievense is coach of the men's NCAA Division II champions, the Barton College Bulldogs. Anthony Atkinson, the team's star player, has a history of big finishes. After his last home game in Wilson, North Carolina, he went to the mike at half-court and proposed to his sweetheart. She said yes.
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