RADFORD, Va. -- Artsiom Parakhouski said he took a chance by coming to Radford hoping to "make something happen" at a school where the men's basketball team had just gone 10-20.
The 6-foot-11 Belorussian by way of an Idaho junior college made sure it happened on Saturday, getting 26 points and 18 rebounds as the Highlanders beat Virginia Military Institute 108-94 to win their first Big South Conference championship in 11 years.
"We know that we have to dominate the paint to win this game," Parakhouski said, a wearing a Belarus flag given to him by a fan draped around his neck. "I guess we did a pretty good job."
The Highlanders (21-11) took command with a 13-3 second-half run, turning a two-point deficit into an eight-point lead, and earned their second trip to the NCAA tournament. The victory, earned on their home court as the top seed, was their 17th in the last 19 games.
"Finally Radford isn't little ol' Radford for once," guard Kenny Thomas said.
It couldn't have happened without Parakhouski leading the way toward a dominating performance inside. Radford scored 64 points in the paint and outrebounded VMI 57-31.
"They just ate us up down low," VMI's Chavis Holmes said, shaking his head.
The Highlanders achieved a season high in points, in part by playing the Keydets' frenetic, up-and-down style, and largely because their big guys had their way near the basket.
Truth be told, coach Brad Greenberg said, his contribution was getting out of the way and letting Parakhouski and 6-8 forward Joey Lynch-Flohr take advantage of their size advantage.
"I'd be lying if I told you we ran offense," the second-year coach said. "We didn't run a play the whole game. We said, 'Go inside.' We said, 'Art, once we cross halfcourt, get as close to the basket as you can get. Joey, get as close to the basket as you can get."
Parahkowski finished 11-for-16 from the field, and Lynch-Flohr, who had 17 points and 11 rebounds, was 7-for-10. They also combined for 14 offensive rebounds.
VMI (24-8), seeking its first trip to the NCAA tournament since 1977, started fast, taking a 13-0 lead in the first two minutes, but once the Highlanders settled down, the Keydets had no answer with a lineup featuring lots of speed but no player taller than 6-6.
"Art was a house inside," said VMI coach Dugger Baucom, whose team's best season in years began with a victory at Kentucky. "He has no business playing in this league. He could play anywhere in the country. We played [Kentucky's] Patrick Patterson and he's every bit as good."
"It was unbelievable," Thomas said of the final seconds, thinking of going from 34-55 his first three years to the NCAA tournament. "I didn't know how to feel."
Austin Kenon hit eight 3-pointers and scored 34 points, both career highs, to lead the Keydets, while Chavis Holmes added 21 points and his twin brother Travis added 12.
VMI, which shot just 38 percent, closed within 74-70 with 8:40 left, but the Highlanders used a 9-2 to rebuild their lead to 11, and the Keydets' never got closer than eight again.
VMI finished 16-for-50 from 3-point range and lost despite forcing 27 turnovers.
"It's kind of like the operation is a success but the patient died," Baucom said.
The Keydets led 58-56 before Parakhouski and Thomas scored on consecutive putbacks. After Keith Gabriel's 3-pointer gave VMI a 61-60 lead, Parakhouski and Thomas again both scored inside, Parakhouski made a free throw and Phil Martin and Lynch-Flohr added inside baskets.
It was 69-61, and the sellout crowd at Radford's Dedmon Center was roaring.
When it was over, fans turned the court into a sea of red-clad revelers.