Sunday, March 06, 2016

Florida Gulf Coast: 2015-16 Atlantic Sun Men's Basketball Champions



FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Zach Johnson sat out last season at Florida Gulf Coast for medical reasons, with doctors so concerned about his health that some wondered if he would ever play college basketball.

He's better than ever now -- and he and the Eagles are headed to the NCAA Tournament.

Antravious Simmons scored 21 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, Johnson capped his 19-point effort by blocking a potential game-tying shot at the rim with four seconds left in overtime, and fourth-seeded FGCU won the Atlantic Sun's automatic berth to the NCAAs by beating seventh-seeded and upset-minded Stetson 80-78 in the conference title game Sunday night.

"I'm just excited I can get the seniors a chance to go," Johnson said during the on-court celebration. "A lot of them haven't been. And me, I'm a freshman, I haven't had a chance to go."

Next week, that'll change. FGCU became the fifth school to punch its ticket into the field of 68.

Marc-Eddy Norelia scored 16 and Christian Terrell added 15, including a spinning layup with 56.4 seconds left in overtime for FGCU (20-13), which is headed back to the NCAAs for the first time since the team's "Dunk City" crew made a stunning run to the Sweet 16 in 2013.

"Great college atmosphere," FGCU coach Joe Dooley said. "I think the league looked great on TV tonight ... a really good college basketball game, and I'm really proud of our guys."

Derick Newton scored 22 for Stetson (12-22), which knew its season would end win or lose because the school is ineligible for the NCAAs this season.

Grant Lozoya and Divine Miles each scored 11 for the Hatters, but Miles' layup was the one Johnson blocked in the final moments.

"We still had a lot in the tank," Stetson coach Corey Williams said. "But they stepped up and made big plays, too."

FGCU trailed for much of the second half before using a 10-0 run late in the regulation to build a five-point lead. But the Hatters -- helped by a pair of big 3-pointers from Lozoya and Leo Goodman -- closed the half on a 9-4 run, then forced Johnson into a contested miss at the rim with 6 seconds left to force overtime.

FGCU scored the game's first 10 points, a run that started with a dunk from Demetris Morant and ended with a dunk from Johnson. However, Stetson recovered and went on a 16-4 run to take its first lead on a 3-pointer by Goodman.

And the teams stayed close from there. Stetson led 35-30 at the half, and neither team was up by more than five the rest of the way.

Stetson was ineligible for the NCAA Tournament this year because of a subpar Academic Progress Report score, caused in part by the effect that two players who transferred to other schools had on that score. So if the Hatters won, the A-Sun would have seen regular-season champion North Florida get the automatic berth into the NCAAs.

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TIP-INS

Stetson: The Hatters played 34 games this season, the most in school history. ... Stetson plans to add one scholarship player for 2016-17, plus bring back all 12 of its current players. "We're going to take a week off," Williams said. "We're going to get back to work because we want to get back here."

FGCU: Redshirt senior Filip Cvjeticanin and assistant coach Michael Fly are the only members of the Eagles' roster and coaching staff who were at FGCU during the NCAA run in 2013. ... FGCU reached the 20-win mark for the fourth consecutive season.

A-SUN HISTORY

Stetson was previously in the A-Sun title game in 1987 and 1994, losing both. FGCU has reached the A-Sun championship game four times in five years of eligibility since joining the conference, winning in 2013 and losing in 2012 and 2014.

UP NEXT

Stetson: Season complete.

FGCU: NCAA Tournament, TBA.

UNC Asheville: 2015-16 Big South Men's Basketball Champions



BUIES CREEK, N.C. -- UNC Asheville coach Nick McDevitt stood on the court facing the Bulldogs' screaming fans with his arms raised when sophomore Ahmad Thomas ran over, embraced him and lifted him off the ground.

As Thomas started to carry his coach around, teammate Sam Hughes interrupted by running over to celebrate the same way.

The next time these Bulldogs have a chance to do that, it will be in their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2012.

Freshman Dwayne Sutton had season highs of 25 points and 18 rebounds to help UNC Asheville beat Winthrop 77-68 in Sunday's championship game of the Big South Tournament, capping an unexpected run to the title after being picked to finish seventh in the preseason poll.

"We tell our team a lot, often, that winning is hard," said McDevitt, in his third season at his alma mater. "And certainly winning a tournament is really hard because you have to beat three really good teams to do it. ... A lot of people put forth a lot of effort to give us this opportunity and to be able to take advantage of that feels really good."

Sutton was named the tournament's most valuable player for the fourth-seeded Bulldogs (22-11), who shot 53 percent after in the second half by aggressively attacking the paint to take control.

Hughes added all 15 of his points in a second half that saw UNC Asheville get to the free throw line 28 times and outrebound the Eagles, completing a two-day sweep of the tournament's top two seeds to claim its fifth championship in its ninth finals appearance.

Jimmy Gavin scored 31 points to lead the second-seeded Eagles (23-9), who had control of the opening half but went cold as the Bulldogs made their move. Winthrop shot just 34 percent after halftime and 35 percent for the game while struggling to keep the Bulldogs out of the lane, with leading scorer Keon Johnson finishing with two points on 1-for-16 shooting.

Winthrop was making a league-record 14th appearance in the final and was seeking its first title since 2010, but instead the Eagles lost in the final for the third straight season.

"At the end of the day, we fell a little short," coach Pat Kelsey said. "We want to get back here again and try it again."

The teams split their regular-season meetings, each winning by a point at home -- though the Bulldogs' 85-84 win in January came after rallying from 23 points down in the final 15 1/2 minutes. It was the biggest second-half comeback in program history.

They rallied again from a double-digit deficit, this time 11 points late in the first half, primarily by putting their head down and attacking the lane. Trailing 33-24 at halftime, UNC Asheville went ahead for good on a 3-pointer from leading scorer Dylan Smith with 11:39 left.

"We wanted to attack the bigs," Sutton said. "We knew (they) were good shot blockers, but we couldn't be afraid going in there."

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TIP-INS

UNC ASHEVILLE: Smith hit three second-half 3s after a 1-for-6 shooting performance before halftime. He finished with 11 points. ... Kevin Vannatta scored 12 points. ... UNC Asheville made 18 of 28 free throws in the second half after going 0 for 1 in the first half.

WINTHROP: Joshua Davenport had 15 points. ... Winthrop shot 13 of 17 from the free throw line. ... Xavier Cooks had 12 rebounds.

COLD SHOOTING

The Eagles' biggest struggles came from behind the arc, where they missed 28 of 33 tries. That included Johnson missing all nine of his attempts.

"Could we have made another play here? Could I have taken care of the ball better?" Gavin said. "There's a lot of things that happen. It's not on one person. It's on all of us. We weren't good enough today."

UP NEXT

UNC Asheville will play in the NCAA Tournament.

Winthrop will wait to find out if it plays in the postseason.

Northern Iowa: 2015-16 Missouri Valley Men's basketball Champions



ST. LOUIS -- Wes Washpun was given the chance to send Northern Iowa to the NCAA Tournament. He had to wait a second before he knew he had done it.

Washpun hit a jumper from the top of the key that bounced high off the back of the rim and fell in at the buzzer to give the Panthers a 56-54 victory over Evansville on Sunday in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship game.

Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson had a timeout but didn't call it. Instead letting Washpun decide the game He stood alone, dribbling the ball until he started for the basket, made a crossover move, clearing just enough space for the straight-on jumper.

"That's what he allowed me to take so that's what I had to take," Washpun said of the defense. "Not a better feeling in the world."

The Panthers led by as many as 17 points before giving up the lead in the final minutes.

"We gave up the momentum and then we had to find a way to win," Jacobson said. "A lot of times, that doesn't happen. Usually, you don't beat them."

Washpun, named the tournament MVP, made two big shots in the final minute, also scoring from the key to put Northern Iowa up by two with 50 seconds to go.

D.J. Balentine's reverse layup tied it with 24.9 seconds remaining on Evansville's third scoring chance in the same possession. Then Northern Iowa held it for the final shot.

Washpun had 18 points, five rebounds and three assists for Northern Iowa (22-12), following up a 20-point effort in an overtime victory over top seed Wichita State in the semifinals. Klint Carlson added 17 points for the Panthers, who repeated as champion.

They dispatched Evansville (25-9) for the third time this season -- by a total of seven points.

Famous Northern Iowa alum Kurt Warner gave the team motivational support via texts.

"He just kept telling us to live in the moment," said Jeremy Morgan, who added 14 points and four blocks.

Balentine had 20 points and Jaylon Brown added 18 for Evansville, which hasn't made it to the NCAA Tournament since 1999. The conference tourney winner gets an automatic bid and Wichita State could get an at-large bid.

Northern Iowa has won the tournament four of the last eight years, and enters the NCAA Tournament having won 12 of 13 games.

"Coach Jacobson told us it's harder to do what we did this year, when you go through a little bit of a rut and pick yourself back up," Washpun said of the Panthers who started 2-6 in conference play.

The Panthers twice led by 17 points, late in the first half and in the opening minute after the break when Morgan's 3-pointer made it 35-18.

Brown and Balentine had big second halves for Evansville, scoring 16 and 15 points. Evansville twice led by a point in the closing minutes.

"We just played a lot harder, we had better rhythm and I just thought we played faster," coach Marty Simmons said. "Those are all things we certainly wanted to do in the first half. No excuses."

Northern Iowa led 32-18 at halftime, the second-fewest points scored in the first half by Evansville this season. The Purple Aces mustered just 16 in the first half at Northern Iowa in the regular season finale.

A 21-4 run capped by five points from Carlson gave Northern Iowa a 26-9 lead.

Carlson had 13 points in the half and Balentine, the leading active scorer in the NCAA, was held without a point for more than 17 minutes.

TIP-INS

Teams in the title game grabbed all the all-tournament spots, with Carlson and Morgan also representing Northern Iowa and Evansville represented by Balentine and Brown.

NORTHERN IOWA: Carlson averages 6.6 points but was 8 for 12 from the field and added five rebounds. Morgan was 4 for 5 from 3-point range.

EVANSVILLE: The Purple Aces shot 23 percent in the first half, 50 percent in the second half. Egidiju Mockevicius had 18 rebounds.

UP NEXT

Jacobson was so relieved to win that he had no immediate reaction when asked what seed Northern Iowa deserves. "No. Are you crazy?" he said. Evansville, which won the CIT last year, could land in the NIT.

"I'm sure it will be anxious," Simmons said. "There's nothing easy for us."

Austin Peay: 2015-16 Ohio Valley Men's Basketball Champions



NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Dave Loos gasped when senior Chris Horton went down with a sprained left ankle late in the first half.

Turns out the veteran coach needn't have worried. His Austin Peay Governors had come too far to let injury or playing their fourth game in as many days stop them.

Freshman Jared Savage scored 24 points, hitting 8 of 14 from 3, as Austin Peay upset No. 2 seed UT Martin 83-73 Saturday night in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship earning an automatic NCAA Tournament berth.

Austin Peay hit a school-record 16 3-pointers to help Loos celebrate his 69th birthday, and the Governors (18-17) won their sixth straight overall for their first OVC title since 2008 and fifth overall. This will be their sixth NCAA Tournament berth. They upset the league's regular season champ to reach the final in a tournament where they had to win the final two of the regular season and get help to even earn the eighth and final seed.

"Best birthday present I have ever had without question, and these guys made it possible," Loos said. "So very appreciative."

Josh Robinson added 20 points, Khalil Davis 14 points, and John Murry 11 for the Governors.

Horton, the All-OVC senior, averaged 27.3 points and 16.3 rebounds through the first three games of this tournament but went down going for a rebound late in the first half and limped to the locker room to get taped up. Horton returned but was limited to eight points and seven rebounds.

So the Governors kept shooting away from outside.

"I wanted to say stop it, but they kept going in so we went on with it, and these guys were really good," Loos said.

The league's Western Division champ, UT Martin (19-14) was looking for its first OVC tournament title. Coach Heath Schroyer said the Governors deserved to win.

"We tried every scheme we had in the book, I mean literally, and I really believe when we cut it to 10 with 5 minutes left, I thought we were going to come back," Schroyer said. "They just hit a back-breaking 3."

Twymond Howard led the Skyhawks with 24 points, Jacolby Mobley had 15, and Alex Anderson 14.

The Skyhawks jumped out to an 11-3 lead.

Then the team that should've been exhausted took control with a 19-2 run. Horton's dunk with 11:38 left put the Governors ahead to stay at 14-13, and they led 38-33 at halftime.

Savage started the second half by hitting three straight 3s, and Robinson added another for a 12-4 run by the Governors to go up 50-37. The Skyhawks got within 78-70 on back-to-back 3s by Mobley with 1:39 left but couldn't get closer.

"It's just all confidence," Savage said. "Once you make the first one, you start rolling."

TIP-INS

Austin Peay: The Govs shot better outside the arc (16 of 31, 51.6 percent) than they did inside (26 of 57, 49.1 percent). ... Savage's father, Jermaine, won an OVC title with Austin Peay in 1996. Horton's father, Eddie, also played for the Governors in the mid-1970s.

UT Martin: The Skyhawks had won nine of their last 10. ... The Skyhawks hit 16 3s twice this season but went 9 of 29 outside the arc. ... The Skyhawks had a 32-20 edge in the paint and scored 19 points off Austin Peay's 13 turnovers. They also had a 19-4 edge on fast-break points.

RALLY FOR RHYAN: Loos' granddaughter, Rhyan, had surgery Wednesday for a neuroblastoma, and the Governors had the phrase "Rally for Rhyan" on the back of their warmup shirts for the 5-year-old girl. Supporters also wore that phrase on bracelets. Rhyan's father, Brad, is an assistant coach at Missouri, and Loos said his son watched the title game on TV.

UP NEXT

Austin Peay: NCAA Tournament.

UT Martin: Waiting and hoping for a postseason invitation.

Yale: 2015-16 Ivy League Men's Basketball Champions



NEW YORK -- Yale finally ended its long NCAA tournament drought.

Makai Mason scored 22 points and Brandon Sherrod added 13 to lead Yale to a 71-55 victory over Columbia on Saturday night, clinching the Bulldogs' first NCAA bid since 1962.

The Bulldogs shared the Ivy championship last year with Harvard, but lost the playoff game with the Crimson.

"It's amazing," Sherrod said. "You look up in the gym and see the last time we got to tournament was 1962, it really motivates you to win. Every college basketball player wants to go to the big dance. It's unbelievable, great time for our school, great opportunity for our team. It's surreal."

Saturday's win ended the second longest NCAA drought of any team that has made the tournament previously, according to STATS. Only Dartmouth has gone longer without making it, not dancing since 1959. Tennessee Tech has the second-longest drought (1963), followed by Bowling Green and Columbia, who haven't made the tourney since '68.

Yale won without its captain Jack Montague, who left the team last month. The school has declined to detail why he left. Montague's family didn't return messages left by The Associated Press, but his father told the New Haven Register on Friday that his son was expelled.

"It's not something we talk about," Yale coach James Jones said. "We coach basketball and play basketball, deal with guys that are in the room and do the best we can."

The team did FaceTime with Montague before the game.

The Ivy League remains the only conference not to have a postseason tournament, so the regular-season champion goes to the NCAAs.

The Bulldogs (22-6, 13-1 Ivy) jumped out to a 17-3 lead as Columbia missed nine of its first 10 shots. Consecutive 3-pointers by Anthony Dallier capped the opening run 6:38 into the game.

Yale extended the advantage to 27-10 before Maodo Lo scored 10 straight points for the Lions, who used a 15-4 burst to close to within six with 4:31 left in the half. But that's as close as they'd get. Mason scored seven straight points during a 10-2 spurt to close the half and give the Bulldogs a 41-27 lead at the break.

Columbia rallied within 49-45 with 9:12 left, but consecutive 3-pointers by Mason and Khaliq Ghani restored the double-digit lead with 7:17 left. Columbia could only get within six the rest of the way.

As the final seconds ran down, Yale started to celebrate the end of 54 years of frustration with coach James Jones hugging his players.

Lo scored 21 points to lead Columbia (21-10, 10-4). The Lions are in the midst of one of the most successful seasons in school history. They already have the most regular season wins in program history since the 1950-51 season when Columbia won 23 games. The Lions were trying to win 11 league games for the first time since 1978.

They honored seniors Lo, Alex Rosenberg, Isaac Cohen and Grant Mullins before the game. The quartet is the winningest class for Columbia since 1953.

"I love our team, these guys were once young guys in the locker room," Columbia coach Kyle Smith said. "These four seniors logged a lot of minutes, won more than most and set a number of records. You go back 45-50 years to some of the accomplishments they made. They'll be missed for sure."