Wells scores 27 and McNeese beats Nicholls 92-76 for its first NCAA Tournament berth in 22 years

LAKE CHARLES, La. (AP) — Shahada Wells scored 27 points and McNeese beat Nicholls 92-76 on Wednesday to win the Southland Conference Tournament and advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002 with its 30th victory this season.

Wells, the conference player of the year, had three 3-pointers and was 12 of 13 from the line for the top-seeded Cowboys (30-3), who won their 11th straight game and finished 18-0 on their home court. Wells also scored 27 points in a 76-57 semifinal win over Lamar.

The NCAA bid comes a season after McNeese went 11-23. Will Wade was hired as coach a year ago after spending a year out of college basketball. He was cited for recruiting violations by the NCAA while at LSU, which fired him in 2022. Wade had to serve a 10-game “show cause” suspension to open this season.

“It's a tremendous day for our guys, our program, everyone involved in Lake Charles and McNeese," Wade said. "I'm so happy for everybody. I don't know what to say. I mean today we tied the largest turnaround in college basketball history. We turned this thing around by 19 games, these guys. It's incredible.”

DJ Richards Jr., with four from the arc, added 16 points, including 12 in the first half when he combined with Wells for 29 points and McNeese took a 48-32 lead. Javohn Garcia scored 14 of his 19 points in the second half. Christian Shumate added 11 points including a couple of thunderous second-half dunks.

Diante Smith scored a career-high 33 points on 11-of-20 shooting, including five 3-pointers, to lead the third-seeded Colonels (20-14), who lost by a combined 64 points in three matchups with the Cowboys this season. Robert Brown III added 13 points and Jamal West Jr. 11.

McNeese led by double figures from the seven-minute mark of the first half. The Colonels got within 12 with four minutes left in the game but the Cowboys scored five straight points punctuated by a Shumate dunk.

Antavion Collum and Wells hit 3-pointers in the first minute and McNeese led throughout. Smith scored six points in a 10-2 run to get Nicholls within a point but the Cowboys then scored the next 13, including six straight from Wells, on their way to a 16-point halftime lead.

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