Originally posted on FOX Sports  |  Last updated 3/10/13
The buildup to the NCAA tournament began in earnest Saturday, with a trio of teams -- Florida Gulf Coast, Harvard and Belmont -- earning the first bids to the Big Dance. Florida Gulf Coast was the first to punch its tournament card with an 88-75 win over top-seeded Mercer in the Atlantic Sun championship game to earn the conference's automatic bid. The Eagles' trip to the postseason will come in just their second year of eligibility. This is their sixth year as a Division I program, but they could not take part in the tournament until last season. They almost made it to the NCAAs on their first try as well, but lost to Belmont in last year's conference championship game after squandering a 13-point lead. "We will not be intimidated," FGCU coach Andy Enfield said after the monumental win in Macon, Ga. "We've seen it all. We're going to have fun with it. Whoever we play, we'll give it our best shot." In Cambridge, Mass., Harvard earned its bid later in the day, but needed some help to do it. The Crimson beat Cornell 65-56 for a share of the Ivy League conference title. They won it outright when Princeton lost to Brown less than an hour later. After going 66 years without an NCAA tournament berth, Harvard has now earned a spot two years in a row. "Leaving here, knowing that we're going to the tournament and winning the Ivy League championship outright, there's no better feeling for me," senior Christian Webster said. Belmont became Saturday's final team to earn a tournament berth with a dramatic 70-68 overtime win over Murray State in the Ohio Valley Conference title game in Nashville, Tenn. Kerron Johnson, who chose Belmont over Murray State when picking his college, hit both of the night's biggest shots. He first hit the tying shot in regulation to force overtime, then made a 10-foot jumper with 1.2 seconds left in the extra period to win it. Belmont has become an NCAA tournament mainstay, earning its sixth berth in the last eight seasons. The last five came after winning the Atlantic Sun Conference, and this year was its first as a member of the OVC. The championship also marked the 1,000th win in the program's history. ''We had a little bit of a chip on our shoulder,'' Johnson said. ''We really wanted to win and prove we can come to quote, unquote a bigger conference and do well, play well and perform well.'' --The Associated Press contributed to this report
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