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Liberty Flames make NCAA men’s basketball tournament even before playing in Atlantic Sun finale

Liberty will face North Alabama in the Atlantic Sun tournament championship game Sunday, but it already has clinched a spot in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament even before stepping on the court.

The Flames beat Stetson 77-64 in the semifinals Friday in Jacksonville, Florida, and since North Alabama — a school transitioning to Division I athletics — is ineligible for the NCAA tournament, Liberty was granted the league’s automatic berth.

Can we punch our ticket early? 🔥

With UNA defeating FGCU, we have clinched the ASUN auto bid to the NCAA Tournament! pic.twitter.com/KoKRtUKnmv

— Liberty Men’s Basketball (@LibertyMBB_) March 6, 2021

North Alabama joined the Atlantic Sun and commenced its move from Division II to Division I in the 2018-19 season. Per NCAA rules, a Division II program making the jump to Division I cannot compete in the NCAA tournament until it has completed the four-year transition requirement.

The potential scenario that unfolded for Liberty was anticipated entering the tournament, but most assumed the conference’s regular-season champion ultimately would have to go through a different ineligible team — Bellarmine, not North Alabama, which went 1-7 in its final eight games of the regular season before making a run to the conference tournament title game, including a win against Florida Gulf Coast in the semifinals.

Bellarmine, which began its transition from Division II to Division I this season, finished second to Liberty in the conference’s regular-season title race before losing to Stetson in the first round.

In back-to-back games against North Alabama last month, Liberty won 74-54 in both matchups.

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