DETROIT -- DETROIT -- Lavone Holland's body was pressed against the court and he became the base of a celebratory pile of teammates.
Holland scored 20 points to help Northern Kentucky hold off Milwaukee for a 59-53 win Tuesday night in the Horizon League final, putting the school in the NCAA Tournament in its first season of eligibility.
"It has always been a dream of mine to be in one of those piles," Holland said after getting upright on the court, sporting a championship cap with a clipped piece of a basketball net tied into the back clasp. "And, it's a dream come true for that to happen after winning a game that puts us in the NCAA Tournament."
The fourth-seeded Norse (24-10) are in their fifth season of Division I basketball, but had to wait until this year to have a shot to earn a spot in college basketball's showcase.
"We got another game to play," Drew McDonald said after finishing with 14 points and 12 rebounds. "I got the chills just thinking about it."
Jim McMillan, the first recruit for the school's inaugural basketball team that debuted during the 1971-72 season, waited in a long line to congratulate Northern Kentucky coach John Brannen on the court after the game below the banner-filled rafters at the home of the Detroit Red Wings.
"Thank you! Thank you!" McMillan told Brannen after giving him a hug. "I've been waiting 35 years for this."
Tenth-seeded Milwaukee (11-24) was a win away from having the most losses in NCAA Tournament history, which has had three 20-loss teams in its history: Cal Poly (2014), Liberty (2013) and Coppin State (2008).
"I think it was an inspiration," Panthers coach LaVall Jordan said. "I know for people in the Milwaukee community, our university and our city, it inspired a lot of belief when you are down and nobody thinks you can."
The Norse were in control for much of the game, which had only one tie and one lead change, but they couldn't pull away from the pesky Panthers.
Milwaukee pulled within three points with 1:11 and 32 seconds left, but McDonald made a jumper and Holland made a free throw on the ensuing possessions to keep a relatively comfortable cushion.
Milwaukee: An improbable run ended in part because the Panthers simply struggled to make shots. Milwaukee made just one-third of its shots in the second half and shot 36 percent overall.
N. Kentucky: By making the NCAA Tournament, the Norse have made this a special season and any success they have in the NCAA Tournament will be a bonus for the program.
Holland was voted MVP and was joined on the all-tournament team by McDonald, Stull, Prahl and Youngstown State's Cameron Morse.
Milwaukee: Prahl said the Horizon Tournament will give the team confidence and the end result will help while preparing for next season.
"This loss is going to be a big motivation," he said. "We will all work really hard this offseason and hopefully we can build on it for next year."
N. Kentucky: The Norse will have a chance to celebrate for the rest of the week before finding out Sunday where they're seeded in the NCAA Tournament, where they will likely be a low seed and a big underdog.
"We'll be prepared to compete," Brannen said.
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This story has been corrected to show that Milwaukee lost nine in a row before the tournament.