Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Augustana Vikings: 2015-16 NCAA Division II Men's Basketball Champions



FRISCO, Texas  A 14-point lead with 14 minutes left put Augustana on the road to its first NCAA Division II men’s basketball championship. Lincoln Memorial, though, made sure the ride had a few rough spots.

But every time the game got close Saturday afternoon at the Dr. Pepper Arena, Augustana made a clutch play that paved the way for its 90-81 victory in front of an energetic crowd.

“I don’t know if there is one word to do it justice, to be honest,” said Augustana senior Alex Richter, “but I am just so happy to be a part of this team and a part of the coaching staff.

“We thank the fans for coming out. Whether it was Tarleton, Western Oregon or today, we felt we were at home. We are extremely happy to be in this situation.”

Augustana, which led the entire second half, finished the season 34-2.

“It really helps when you have three seniors like this,” said Augustana coach Tom Billeter as he looked at Richter, Daniel Jansen and Casey Schilling at the postgame press conference. “To be honest, nothing works if you don’t have the players. I have such a special group. I am so proud of them.”

Richter led the Vikings with 26 points, Jansen scored 25 and Schilling added 20.

Lincoln Memorial also has a special group of players, who carried a 24-game winning streak into the championship game and finished the season 34-3. Four players scored in double figures for the Railsplitters, led by 21 from senior Gerel Simmons and 15 apiece from sophomore Emanuel Terry and senior Jalen Steele.

“We knew we had to play our best game of the season to have a chance,” Lincoln Memorial coach Josh Schertz said. “We missed free throws like we did and shot the ball poorly from the three-point line. Give credit to Augustana because they continued to make shots and plays down the stretch.”

Twice in the opening minute of the second half, Lincoln Memorial closed to two. The last time was at 45-43 on two free throws by Simmons.

“We tried to come out of the half with more energy, and we tried to make a run,” said Simmons, who finished with 21 points. “We made a little run, but they made a run back and that was how it was throughout the whole time.”

Back-to-back baskets by Schilling gave the Vikings a 49-43 lead. Sophomore Jordan Spencer followed with a basket, increasing the lead to 51-43, prompting Schertz to call timeout with 17:20 remaining in the game.

Over the next three minutes, Augustana built its lead to 62-48. It was a position Lincoln Memorial had not been in over the last two months. But the Railsplitters kept battling and got to within six at 69-63 with nearly 9 minutes left.

At this point, the Vikings showed their clutch gene, making plays to maintain a lead of seven to 10 points.

Lincoln Memorial didn’t go away and with under 5 minutes left, the Railsplitters closed to five at 82-77 on field goal by junior Luquon Choice.

Perhaps the biggest basket of the second half came next when Richter drilled a three-pointer, giving Augustana an 85-77 lead.

“We were right in business, a five-point game and 3 minutes to go for a national title,” Schertz said. “That was the biggest shot of the game, Richter’s three-pointer from the corner. They just stepped up and made big shots.”

If it wasn’t for a shoulder injury that forced Richter to sit out the 2013-14 season, he wouldn’t have been on the team this season. He definitely came up big in the championship game. His last three-pointer in a Vikings uniform will be one Richter and many followers of Augustana basketball will remember for a long time.

“That shot is up there,” Billeter said of some of the big baskets made in his 13 years at Augustana. “If he doesn’t hit it and all of a sudden it gets down to two, you don’t know what would happen. That was a huge basket.”

The dagger came with 2:12 left and the Vikings leading 85-78. The shot clock was near zero, when junior Adam Beyer had the ball. He was off-balanced on the baseline, but he managed to put up a fall-away shot that went in, making it 87-78.

“Beyer hits one later with the shot clock expiring and at the same token, we miss a couple of good looks,” Schertz said. “It is simplified, but sometimes it is a game of makes and misses.”

Every point in the championship game is important, so when Schilling knocked down a mid-range jumper at the halftime buzzer to give Augustana a 43-38 lead, the Vikings received a late boost.

It was a nice way for the Vikings to end a half that had several momentum swings. Augustana controlled the early portion of the game, building a 15-6 lead.

“We needed to set the tone because we had such great respect for them defensively,” Billeter said. “They are so long and they really attack. You got three guys coming at you as fast we have ever seen.”

After Jansen’s basket, shots stopped falling for Augustana and the Railsplitters took advantage. They went ahead 18-17 on a basket by Dorian Pinson. Augustana went right back in front on a field goal by Richter.

Pinson tied the game at 23-23 on a three-point play and then Lincoln Memorial went ahead with a basket by Simmons.

Over the next several minutes, the lead changed a few times. At 36-36, Augustana had the last little offensive swing in its advantage, starting with a three-point play from Jansen and a basket by Richter, giving the Vikings a 41-36 lead.

“The difference between last year’s team and this year is last when we were up and a team went on a run, we kind of cracked a little bit,” Jansen said. “I think this year, we showed our maturity as a team as a whole. If a team goes on a run and we have a lead of eight and they cut it to two or one, we are going to stay a tight knit group, and say, they threw their punch, now it is our time to throw our punch.”

The Vikings showed that mentality in all three of their Elite Eight games and that is why they stood Saturday afternoon in Texas as the 2016 NCAA Division II men’s basketball national champions.

St. Thomas Tommies: 2015-16 NCAA Division III Men's Basketball Champions


Taylor Montero and Ryan Saarela made sure their final college basketball games were memorable ones.

The St. Thomas senior forward and center combined for 53 points and 21 boards and propelled No. 8-ranked Tommies to an NCAA Division III championship with Saturday's 82-76 win over previously-unbeaten Benedictine (Ill.) in Salem, Va.

The Tommies (30-3) won their second national crown in six years but first under fifth-year head coach John Tauer.

UST built a double-digit lead in each of their contests during a 6-0 run through the Division III playoffs. St. Thomas eliminated the Nos. 18, 11, 1, 4 and 2 ranked teams over the last 15 days.

In Saturday's victory, St. Thomas sank 50 percent from the floor, had only seven turnovers, knocked down 27 of 36 free throws and had a 36-32 rebunding edge. That offset Benedictine's 24-3 advantage in 3-point scoring.

Taylor Montero scored a season-high 27 points -- one off his career high -- and added 11 rebounds while logging 37 minutes.

Ryan Saarela's 26 points were his career high, and he added 10 rebounds for his 13th double double of the season. UST went 23-0 in games this season when Saarela scored in double figures.

Junior guard Grant Shaeffer added 14 points and played all 40 minutes.

The Tommies led 37-32 at halftime and built the advantage to 12 points during the second half. Benedictine (31-1) pulled as close as 73-71 with 1:33 to go on Lucas Johnson's dunk.

Montero answered at the other end with a layup, then rebounded a missed BU shot. UST sank 7-of-10 free throws in the final 42 seconds to secure the NCAA title.

St. Thomas made only three field goals in the last 8:30 but held off Benedictine with nine points at the foul line.

Johnson led Benedictine with 21 points and 11 boatds. BU, playing in its first Final Four, shot 48 percent from the floor and had only 10 turnovers.

The victory is St. Thomas' 16th national team championship, including two in men's hoops. In the 2000s alone (last 17 seasons), St. Thomas has two NCAA crowns each in the sports of men's basketball, baseball and softball, plus one in volleyball.

Columbia Lions: 2016 College Insider Tournament Champions



NEW YORK -- Columbia coach Kyle Smith showed his team a photo of the empty trophy case in front of his office before the game.

He told them it was about time they put something in there.

The Lions responded.

Grant Mullins scored 20 points and Columbia rallied to beat UC Irvine 73-67 on Tuesday night to win the CollegeInsiders.com Tournament.

The Lions became the first New York City school to win a postseason title since St. John's won the NIT in 2003. The Red Storm later vacated that championship.

"It's great," said senior Maodo Lo, who was the tournament MVP. "We were talking about that earlier. Only a handful of teams that play at this time of year. ... It's a good moment right now."

Columbia also became only the second Ivy League school to win a postseason crown.

Trailing 53-48 with 7:20 left, Columbia (25-10) scored 17 of the next 21 points. Mullins hit a 3-pointer and then on the next possession made an incredible shot, flipping the ball over his head as he was fouled on the drive. That three-point play gave Columbia a 54-53 advantage. Lo's 3-pointer made it 63-57.

The Anteaters (28-10), who had won 18 of their past 22, could only get within four the rest of the way.

As the final buzzer sounded, the Lions celebrated the school's first postseason title. Confetti came down on them and the team cut down the nets in their home gym.

"It's really special, only four or five teams that get to cut down nets every year and we were one of those," senior Alex Rosenberg said. "It's something I'll always remember. It's been a tough road, we came from a 12-16 team to 25-10. If that's not changing the culture, I don't know what is."

Jeff Coby finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Lions, who had the most wins in school history, including 15 non-conference victories.

Lo added 13 points and finished third on the school's all-time scoring list, 12 short of breaking the school record.

Trailing 20-14 with 8:52 left in the first half, Columbia used a 17-6 run to close the half and take a 31-26 lead at the break. Lo hit a 3-pointer to get the run started and Luke Petrasek's 3-pointer made it 29-22.

Mamadou Ndiaye, the Anteaters 7-foot-6 center, then had consecutive dunks where he barely had to leave the ground to make it a five-point game at the half.

Mike Best scored 17 points to lead the Anteaters. Ndiaye finished with 14 points and eight rebounds.

TIP-INS:

UC Irvine: The Anteaters set a school record with 15 non-conference wins and 13 road victories. ... Alex Young became the first player in school history to record 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists in his career.

Columbia: The CIT could stand for the Columbia Invitational Tournament as the Lions hosted all four of their games in the tournament. ... Buck Jenkins is the school's all-time leading scorer with 1,767 points. Jim McMillian is second with (1,758). Lo has 1756. ... The only other Ivy League team to win a postseason tournament was Princeton, which won the 1975 NIT. ... Smith has won 101 games in five seasons at Columbia. It's the most wins in a five-year span for Columbia since the team won 106 games from 1950-55.