NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Travis Ford has played in a handful of NCAA Tournaments and even a Final Four. Coaching his own team to an NCAA appearance easily beats anything the former Kentucky Wildcat ever accomplished on the court himself.
Zach Ingles scored 15 points and Eastern Kentucky earned its first NCAA Tournament berth since 1979 by holding off Austin Peay 52-46 on Saturday in the Ohio Valley Conference championship.
"This will be something that you remember for a lifetime," said Ford, who will be making his NCAA Tournament debut as a head coach.
The Colonels set a school record for victories in a season by winning their seventh straight and improving to 22-8 overall. This will be Eastern Kentucky's sixth NCAA Tournament berth overall.
Ford said he told his Colonels to seize an opportunity that may never come their way again in a conference where only the tournament champion is assured of an NCAA berth.
"I guarantee you if we win this game it moves to the very top without even questioning it, and it does. This is my greatest sports achievement to this date. I'm so happy for these guys that they get to experience it," Ford said.
Michael Haney added 12 points and grabbed 13 rebounds for the second-seeded Colonels. Ford joked that he had to beg the 6-foot-6 senior forward to help him rebuild a program that won only seven games during each of the coach's first two seasons.
Haney said he had faith that Ford would keep bringing in good players, and now he will get to finish his career in the NCAA Tournament -- an unimaginable goal four years ago.
"It's just an unbelievable feeling," Haney said.
Austin Peay (13-19) was trying to earn its second NCAA berth in three years despite entering the OVC tournament as the No. 5 seed. Coach Dave Loos wasn't too upset with a team that won only two of its first 10 games but came so close to an improbable finish.
"I prefer to see it half full. I think these guys, while our record wasn't that good, I think they accomplished some things," Loos said.
The Governors didn't make it easy on Eastern Kentucky.
The Colonels led by as much as 13 twice, the last at 32-19 on a 3-pointer by Ingles with 15:29 left. But Austin Peay got back into the game with a 16-5 run and pulled to 47-46 on a pair of free throws by Maurice Hampton with 50.6 seconds left.
Ingles answered with a long 3-pointer with 21.7 seconds to play to seal the victory.
"He was almost out of bounds," Hampton said of Ingles' 3. "He got a good look and got it off."
Zac Schlader led Austin Peay with 14 points. The Governors hit as many shots at the free-throw line (15-of-21) as they did from the floor (15-of-46). Eastern Kentucky also turned 14 turnovers into 19 points.
Senior guard Anthony Davis, who missed his first seven shots from the floor, got the Governors back into the game by starting the run with a pair of free throws and then drew a foul on a jumper -- his first field goal of the game -- with 14:37 remaining. Schlader capped the run with a layup that pulled Austin Peay within 37-35 with 9:04 left.
Eastern Kentucky led 22-15 at intermission after an ugly first half that featured poor shooting by both teams. The Governors didn't score from the floor in the final 5:11.
The Colonels weren't much better, hitting 9-of-26. But they took the lead for good on a 3-pointer by Ingles at 9-7, and he hit another to start a 10-0 spurt.