Sunday, March 08, 2015

Northern Iowa: 2014-15 Missouri Valley Men's Basketball Champions


ST. LOUIS -- The Missouri Valley player of the year looked the part when it counted. His Northern Iowa teammates stepped up, too, when the game looked hopeless.
Seth Tuttle had 15 points, nine rebounds and three assists, leading the 11th-ranked Panthers back from an 18-point first-half deficit to beat Illinois State 69-60 in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament championship game on Sunday.
"I knew we weren't out of it," said forward Nate Buss, who had 15 points with two blocks. "We're not ranked 11th in the country for nothing. We're not just going to lay down and die.
"We knew we were going to come back."
The Panthers (30-3) took control with a 25-4 run that erased a 36-22 halftime deficit. Jeremy Morgan had three 3-pointers in the run and Tuttle, the Valley player of the year and tournament MVP, added eight points, often getting loose from constant double-teaming.
"He really exerted his will," Illinois State coach Dan Muller said. "When we're in zone, they got it in to Tuttle, when we went man, they got it in to Tuttle."
Daishon Knight had 16 points for fourth-seeded Illinois State (21-12), which needed a win to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998. Knight had 25 points in the Redbirds' semifinal upset of top seed Wichita State.
Northern Iowa won the title for the third time in seven years and has won 19 of 20 games.
"That was different than just about every game I've been a part of," coach Ben Jacobson said. "We had more than our hands full at halftime."
The winners shot 23 percent in the first half and 54 percent the rest of the way, and held Illinois State to 33 percent in the second half.
"We were the ones on our heels and we just told each other 'That's what we've got to do, we've got to reverse it,' " Tuttle said. "It was a lot of fun to be a part of that."
Deontae Hawkins added 14 points with four 3-pointers for Illinois State, which did much of the scoring on transition in the first half but couldn't capitalize on early chances in the second.
"We missed three layups in the first 4 minutes," Muller said. "If we make those, we keep the lead even though they're scoring."
Illinois State made eight of its first 12 shots, four of them 3-pointers, and led 33-15 with 2:44 to go in the half. Reserve Justin McCloud made all three of his 3-point attempts. The 18-point bulge was four points more than Northern Iowa's largest margin of defeat in a loss at Wichita State that decided the Valley title in the regular season finale.
"We went on a nice little run," Tuttle said. "You could feel it turn, and it was turning there for a quite a while."
Northern Iowa began the game just 5 for 27 from the field, three of the shots swatted back byReggie Lynch.
TIP-INS
Illinois State: McCloud totaled nine points in the first two tournament games and reached double figures in one of the previous 17 games. ... Muller played for the Redbirds' last tourney title team.
Northern Iowa: Buss, who entered the tournament averaging 6.6 points, also had a team-high 23 points in the quarterfinals against Bradley. "It's been kind of a tough season for me. I just came in trying to wipe my slate clean, trying to clear my head and not think about it so much."... The Panthers went almost 7 minutes between points during one stretch in the first half, then hit seven of their first nine shots after the break.
ALL-TOURNEY TEAM
Buss also made the all-tournament team for Northern Iowa along Knight and Lynch from Illinois State and Wichita State's Fred VanVleet.
NEXT UP
Illinois State: NIT, maybe.
Northern Iowa: NCAA Tournament.

Coastal Carolina: 2014-15 Big South Men's Basketball Champions


CONWAY, S.C. -- Coastal Carolina coach Cliff Ellis stood atop the ladder after slipping the Big South Conference championship net around his neck. The fit was just as sweet as ever.
"This is a euphoric moment," Ellis said Sunday, celebrating his team's second consecutive conference title, an 81-70 victory over Winthrop.
Now, Ellis is on another mission -- gaining a higher seed in the NCAA tournament than the No. 16 the Chanticleers had last year. Ellis said his team has proven its mettle the past two seasons, including going toe-to-toe with No. 1 seed Virginia in last season's 70-59 NCAA defeat.
"Yeah, I'm out beating on a drum," the 69-year-old Ellis said. "But I've earned the right to do it."
Coastal Carolina (24-9) displayed that grit to pull away from a game tied 38-all at halftime with a 15-4 run to start the second half and wrest control from the Eagles (19-13).
Warren Gillis scored 22 points and Elijah Wilson had 14 of his 19 in the second half for the Chanticleers. Wilson was named tournament MVP. Both were part of last year's NCAA run and are eager to take things further this season.
"We can matchup with anybody," Coastal forward Badou Diagne said.
Coastal Carolina's victory brings the 10th NCAA Tournament appearance for Ellis, the only Division I coach with 150 or more victories at four separate schools. Ellis last year joined the club of 11 coaches who have taken four teams to the NCAAs. Now, he's done it multiple times at each of his four stops: South Alabama, Clemson, Auburn and Coastal Carolina.
Keon Johnson led Winthrop with 18 points.
Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey thought his team had momentum at halftime after erasing Coastal's nine-point lead to tie the game. But breakdowns on defense and missed open shots swung the game, he said.
"When a veteran team has a lead like that, it's tough to claw back," Kelsey said.
Josh Cameron dribbled out the clock, then threw the ball into the air when the horn sounded as he and the team were quickly swarmed by Coastal Carolina students and fans celebrating the team's fourth NCAA Tournament appearance (1991, 1993 and 2014).
The Eagles came up short in the Big South finals for the second straight season in Kelsey's three years.
Coastal Carolina finished with four players in double figures as Cameron had 13 points and Diagne 11.
The Chants earned their first NCAA Tournament trip in 21 years with a 76-61 victory last year. These teams came from back in the field -- and got plenty of help along the way -to set up the conference tournament's first ever rematch.
Coastal Carolina, the third seed, topped UNC Asheville and Gardner-Webb (a seventh seed that upset No. 2 High Point on Friday) to advance. Winthrop was seeded fifth and moved on with wins over No. 4 seed Radford and ninth-seeded Longwood, a quarterfinal winner over regular-season champion and No. 1 seed Charleston Southern.
WILSON'S WORLD
Wilson scored 61 points in three games to earn tournament MVP honors. He had a career-high 29 points off seven 3-pointers in the Chants quarterfinal win over UNC Asheville, then 13 points against Gardner-Webb.
ELLIS' TAKE
Ellis acknowledged the excitement of returning the NCAA Tournament, yet said he's learned to temper things because of the low points that inevitably follow such highs. He brought up the 1990 NCAA Sweet 16 game with Connecticut as Clemson's coach when Huskies guard Tate George hit a last-second shot to end the Tigers' run. "I've been on the other side of this, too," Ellis said.
TIP INS
WINTHROP: Eagles were a mid-major power from 1999-2010 with nine Big South Conference tournaments and NCAA appearances under Gregg Marshall and Randy Peele. ... Winthrop missed out on consecutive 20-win seasons for first time since posting four straight from 2004-08. ... Winthrop is just the second No. 5 seed to reach the Big South title game, joining 2003 UNC Asheville, which won the league tournament championship.
COASTAL CAROLINA: Coastal Carolina and Winthrop have played 80 times, the Chants holding a 41-39 edge.

North Florida: 2014-15 Atlantic Sun Men's Basketball Champions


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Standing at midcourt following a raucous celebration, North Florida coach Matt Driscoll recalled his first team meeting in August 2009.
He gathered his players around a basket, pulled out an Atlantic Sun Conference championship banner and told them to pretend they won the league title and made the NCAA Tournament. The staged event included a net-cutting ceremony with "One Shining Moment" playing in the background.
Five and a half years later -- with several of Driscoll's former players in attendance -- the Ospreys got to do it for real.
Demarcus Daniels scored 22 points off the bench, Jalen Nesbitt added 16 and North Florida beat USC Upstate 63-57 in the A-Sun final Sunday to earn its first NCAA Tournament berth.
"It was just something to set the vision, to make sure they understood," Driscoll said. "If you see it, you can be it. If you view it, you can do it. If you believe it, you can achieve it."
North Florida (23-11), which ended a five-game losing streak in the series, will be a double-digit seed in the NCAA field and might even wind up in a play-in game. But none of that mattered Sunday.
Many of the school-record crowd of 6,155 rushed the court as the final buzzer sounded. Players and coaches welcomed the swarm, posing for pictures while donning championship hats and T-shirts.
"We are the Champions" blared through UNF Arena. Eventually, A-Sun officials presented the conference trophy and named the all-tournament team. No surprise, Daniels was the Most Valuable Player.
The 6-foot-7 junior from Georgia made two 3-pointers, hit all six of his free throws and added six rebounds and two blocks. Not bad for a bench player who averages 8.9 points.
"He wants me to start. I just chose not to," Daniels said. "I really can't explain it. I'm just more comfortable coming off the bench."
Upstate had won both previous meetings this season and looked like it might sweep the series when it scored the first 11 points of the second half. The Spartans erased a 12-point deficit after the break and led 48-44 midway through the second half.
But Daniels and Nesbitt took over down the stretch, getting in the lane and making things happen. They finished a combined 14 of 30 from the field.
The Ospreys needed their efforts, especially with Dallas MooreBeau Beech and Chris Davenport a little off. Moore had 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting. Beech, the team's second-leading scorer, was 0 for 5 from the field and 0 for 4 from 3-point range. Davenport had eight points and 10 rebounds.
Beech and fellow 3-point bomber Trent Mackey were a combined 0 for 9 from behind the arc, making them 1 of 23 from that range in the last two games.
"If you would have told me that, it would have been a tough sell," Driscoll said.
The Ospreys' ability to hit 3s -- they rank fourth in the country in treys -- makes them a formidable matchup in the NCAA Tournament.
They didn't rely on those long-range shots against Upstate, finishing 5 of 21 from behind the arc. Instead, Daniels and Nesbitt did most of their damage in and around the paint.
Maybe more important for North Florida, the Ospreys played solid defense against conference player of the year Ty Greene.
Greene led the Spartans (23-11) with 21 points on 9-of-23 shooting, but nearly every look came with a hand in his face.
---
ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM
Moore and Nesbitt joined Daniels on the all-tournament team. Upstate's Greene and Fred Milleralso made it, as did Brett Comer of Florida Gulf Coast and Talbott Denny of Lipscomb.
BRAGGING RIGHTS
Nesbitt went to high school in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and got a rare win against his hometown team. "I couldn't have drew it up better than this. I can finally go home and brag a little bit."
TIP-INS
USC Upstate: Greene rolled his left ankle and busted his lip during the game, but played 39 minutes. ... The Spartans finished with five assists and 14 turnovers.
North Florida: Had never finished higher than fourth in the A-Sun since moving to Division I in the 2005-06 season. ... Had lost eight of nine to Upstate before Sunday. ... Moore's 70-year-old maternal uncle, Raymond "Coonie" Johns, died earlier this week from kidney failure.

Belmont: 2014-15 Ohio Valley Men's Basketball Champions


NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Rick Byrd planned to play for the tie and overtime. Officials stopped the game after a clock malfunction, forcing the Belmont coach to take a timeout and switch plays after having shown his hand.
And Taylor Barnette made it pay off.
Barnette hit an off-balance 3-pointer with 3.2 seconds left, and Belmont upset No. 25 Murray State 88-87 on Saturday night to win the Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship and clinch its seventh NCAA tournament berth.
"As it turns out, it was the best thing that could've happened," Byrd said.
The Bruins (22-10) improved to 7-1 in conference tournament finals -- all in the past decade. They knocked off defending tournament champ Eastern Kentucky in the semifinals and beat Murray State, the regular-season champ, to earn their first NCAA berth since 2013, when they needed overtime to beat the Racers in the title game.
"This one's special because I didn't expect our team to be able to do it frankly," Byrd said of team with only two seniors playing in this game. "I didn't think it wasn't possible. We're just so young."
Murray State had one last chance, but T.J. Sapp's deep 3 came nowhere near the basket before the buzzer.
Racers coach Steve Prohm said he blew it and probably should have called a timeout to set up the final shot.
"You second-guess a lot of things," Prohm said.
The Racers (27-5) couldn't add a perfect run through the tournament to the first undefeated league record in the program's history. The Racers snapped a 25-game winning streak that had been second only to No. 1 Kentucky, and Prohm wasted no time lobbying for an at-large NCAA berth, noting the success of the OVC in recent years.
"You play a Belmont-Rick Byrd team and go play Belmont in Nashville or go in at Belmont," Prohm said. "We're very, very deserving if you look at what we've done and you've watched us play. ... These guys deserve it. I hope we get an opportunity. If not, we'll be gracious about it and go play in the NIT."
Cameron Payne hit two free throws with 20.7 seconds left, putting Murray State ahead for the last time at 87-85. Nick Smith missed a 3 for Belmont wide right of the basket with 11 seconds left, but the Bruins had one last chance, throwing the ball in with 9.1 seconds remaining after the stop and timeout. The Bruins usually run the play for Smith but went with Barnette.
Barnette, scoreless in the first half, tossed in the winning 3 with a defender in his face.
"It still seems like it didn't go in," Barnette said. "But it's just surreal."
That was the 12th and final lead change in a game that also had 10 ties, keeping fans on their feet for much of the second half. Both teams shot 50 percent or better.
Craig Bradshaw scored 25 points for Belmont, and Evan Bradds added 21. Smith finished with 16 as the Bruins knocked down 15 3-pointers.
Sapp finished with a career-high 28 points. Payne, the OVC player of the year, finished with 20 points. Jeffery Moss added 12, Jarvis Williams 11 and Jonathan Fairell 10.
Belmont jumped on the Racers from the start, thanks to hitting eight 3-pointers, and the Bruins jumped out to a 29-19 lead. Murray State finished the half on a 30-12 run, and the Racers took the lead at 37-36 on a one-handed dunk by Fairell with 4:52 left. They took a 49-41 lead into halftime.
Bradds scored 10 straight for the Bruins to get them back into the game, setting up another thrilling finish between these teams.
TIP-INS
Belmont: The Bruins have made the second-most 3s nationally since moving from NAIA to Division I in 1996-97, second only to Duke. ... They outrebounded Murray State 36-29. ... They now are 7-1 all-time in conference tournament title games. ... The Bruins came into this season as one of only six Division I programs to win 26 games or more each of the past four seasons.
Murray State: The Racers outshot Belmont 52.4 percent (33 of 63) to 50.8 percent (33 of 65). ... The Racers now are 63-35 all-time in the OVC tournament and 15-11 in the tournament championship.