Tuesday, March 07, 2017

East Tennessee State: 2016-17 Southern Men’s Basketball Champions



ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- T.J. Cromer looked down at the white basketball net hanging around his neck.

"It's my new favorite necklace," the senior guard said with a wide smile.

Cromer scored 23 points, and East Tennessee State beat top-seeded UNC Greensboro 79-74 to win the Southern Conference tournament championship on Monday night.

The Buccaneers (27-7) rallied in the second half to secure their first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2010.

Francis Alonso made five 3-pointers and scored 28 points for UNC Greensboro (25-9), which beat East Tennessee State twice during the regular season and led by seven at halftime. R.J. White had 23 points before fouling out in the final minute.

UNC Greensboro had a chance to tie the game in the final seconds after an unlikely 3-pointer by big man Jordy Kuiper and a steal in the backcourt. But Alonso's 3-point attempt from the left wing rattled out, and A.J. Merriweather knocked down two clinching free throws.

"I thought it was going in," ETSU coach Steve Forbes said of Alonso's 3-point attempt. "I was like, 'Well at least we're going to overtime.'"

The Spartans were unable to stop the Buccaneers down the stretch. ETSU shot 59 percent from the field in the second half. Merriweather had 11 of his 13 points after halftime, including seven straight during a crucial 17-4 run.

"Coach preached before the game we have to be gritty and tough and grind it out," Cromer said. "We knew we had to pick up the intensity and we knew we had 20 minutes to lay our guts out if we wanted to come out victorious."

Cromer was 6-for-13 from the field and 11-for-11 at the free throw line. The tournament's most outstanding player also had 41 points in ETSU's semifinal win over Samford.

Tevin Glass finished with 12 points and nine rebounds, helping the Buccaneers to their first Southern Conference title since 2004. They avenged a loss to Chattanooga in the SoCon championship game last season.

"We lost by six last year and we didn't want to have that sour taste in our mouths," Cromer said.

It was a disappointing end to the season for the Spartans, who were looking to end a 16-year NCAA tournament drought.

"I really hurt for our kids right now, for our seniors most of all," coach Wes Miller said. "I hurt for Diante [Baldwin] and R.J. I told the team in the locker room, I wish there was something I could do or say to make it better. This one really hurts. It's going to hurt forever."


The Buccaneers were perfect from the foul line in their biggest game of the season, making all 19 free throws.

BIG PICTURE

ETSU: Forbes, who coached under Gregg Marshall at Wichita State, said he believes the Buccaneers are built to win an NCAA tournament game because they have size and quality guards. "That's something that Coach Marshall taught me is you have to have some centers when you get in the tournament," Forbes said.

UNCG: The Spartans went through a stretch in the second half where simple shots simply wouldn't fall for them. They shot 37 percent after the break.

UP NEXT

ETSU: The Buccaneers last played in the NCAA tournament in 2010 and lost 100-71 to Kentucky.

UNCG: Picked to finish fifth in the Southern Conference, the Spartans still have a berth in the NIT by virtue of winning the conference's regular-season title. "We're not done playing yet," White said. "We've still got the NIT. This one hurts, but we can't let that take away from the special season we've had."

Iona: 2016-17 Metro Atlantic Men's Basketball Champions



ALBANY, N.Y. -- Jordan Washington played his way through major foul trouble -- all the way to the NCAA tournament.

Washington had 21 points and 10 rebounds, freshman E.J. Crawford had a tiebreaking layup in overtime and Iona topped Siena 87-86 on Monday night to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title for the second straight time.

Despite playing with four fouls for more than 13 minutes, Washington exerted himself in the tense extra period, hitting a tough scoop shot and four free throws around Crawford's clutch basket with 27.2 seconds left.

"My coaches said to just keep playing hard," said Washington, who was named tournament MVP. "I had to do what I had to do. I'm still emotional right now. We don't stop until [the clock] hits zero and that's what we did."

Marquis Wright hit a 3 at the final buzzer as Siena came up just short.

"Life's a funny thing," Siena coach Jimmy Patsos said. "Sometimes, you just don't get that extra bounce."

Iona (22-12) won its MAAC-record 10th title and improved to 9-0 against Siena in the conference tournament. Fourth-seeded Siena (17-17) advanced to the conference championship game for the first time in seven years.

Beating the Saints again on their home court made the championship more special for Iona, which split regular-season games with Siena, each team winning on the road.

"We said if we can win in this environment, this will be one that you remember forever," Iona coach Tim Cluess said. "The place is packed, everyone's against you. These guys can remember it's an overtime game, on the road, with 7,000 or 8,000 [fans] screaming against you."

Deyshonee Much had 18 points for Iona, and Rickey McGill finished with 14.

Wright finished with 29 points. Javion Ogunyemi had 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Saints, and Brett Bisping added 16 points and 14 rebounds before fouling out in the final seconds.

"Right now, it hurts," Bisping said. "I mean, I'm really proud. We really fought. I can honestly say I think everyone gave it everything they had tonight, and you can live with that."

Trailing by a basket at the break, the Gaels tied it at 40 when McGill drained an open 3 from the corner early in the second half. Schadrac Casimir and Much followed with two more from beyond the arc and a layup by Much gave the Gaels a 50-44 lead with 16:44 left.

When McGill rattled in another 3 from the top of the key, Iona led 57-48 and seemed ready to pull away.

Bispring responded with a pair of 3s and Wright swished another from long range, part of an 11-0 run that gave the Saints a two-point lead.

Neither team led by more than five the rest of the game, which was tied five times in the final 7:11 of regulation. Bisping sent the game into overtime by hitting a pair of free throws with 13.7 seconds left.


To have a shot at the title, the Saints had to defend the perimeter against the Gaels, who had made 323 shots from beyond the arc, seventh in the NCAA. Siena opened an eight-point lead midway through the opening half as the Gaels missed their first six 3-point attempts.

Iona erased the deficit quickly, getting 3s in a 34-second span from Casimir and Crawford to spark a 10-0 run. A hook in the lane by Washington gave the Gaels a 25-23 lead, their first of the game.

BIG PICTURE

Iona: Cluess has led the Gaels to the title game five straight times, a conference record. He is 12-4 against Patsos.

Siena: The Saints have lost eight straight to Iona on their home court at the Times Union Center after winning 11 of the first 12.

UP NEXT

Iona awaits its opponent for the NCAA tournament.

Siena's season is likely over.

UNC Wilmington: 2016-17 Colonial Men's Basketball Champions



CHARLESTON, S.C. -- C.J. Bryce, Devontae Cacok & Co. were headed off to celebrate when UNC Wilmington coach Kevin Keatts reminded his jubilant players to take their box scores.

"That's a championship stat sheet," Keatts said. "Get used to that."

They're working on it.

Bryce scored 24 points, and UNC Wilmington clinched its second straight NCAA tournament berth with a 78-69 victory over College of Charleston in the Colonial Athletic Association championship Monday night.

"We're champions again," Keatts said. "We're going dancing."

The Seahawks (29-5) grabbed control with an 18-5 run in the second half. Bryce sparked the decisive surge with a 3-pointer and finished it off with another long-range basket, making it 65-50 with 8:25 remaining.

College of Charleston closed to 76-69 on Evan Bailey's 3-pointer with 17 seconds left, but it ran out of time for a comeback. The Cougars (25-9) dropped to 0-6 in conference tournament finals since they last made it to the NCAAs by winning the Southern Conference title in 1999.

Seahawk fans rushed the court to join the celebration when the buzzer sounded. Players jumped and shouted. "We're not done yet," Bryce told the crowd.

Cacok had 15 points and 14 rebounds for the Seahawks, who extended their single-season record with their 29th victory. It was Cacok's 12th double-double of the season.

UNCW is 1-5 in its five previous NCAA tournaments, winning its first-round game in 2002 against No. 4 seed Southern California before falling in the next game to Indiana.

The Seahawks lost 93-85 to fourth-seeded Duke a year ago. Bryce had 16 in that game.

"This is definitely a confidence boost," said Bryce, a sophomore named the tournament's most outstanding player. "As long as we stay focused, we'll be good."

Keatts declined to address whether the Seahawks deserve a better NCAA seed than last year's group. "But since last year's [Duke] loss, we've only lost five games," he said. "That's hard to do."

Denzel Ingram had 11 points for UNC Wilmington.

Joe Chealey had 21 points for the Cougars, and Jarrell Brantley finished with 20.

Chealey said the team will learn from the experience.

"We got a taste of what it's like," he said. "We'll be back."

THE BIG PICTURE


College of Charleston: Chealey has to make shots for the Cougars to succeed and he struggled early on. He couldn't seem to get past the 6-foot-7 Cacok and 6-9 Chuck Ogbodo whenever he attempted to slash to the basket. Chealey was 7-for-19 from the field.

UNC Wilmington: The Seahawks shot 53 percent (28-for-53) from the field, helping make up for a lackluster 12-for-21 night for free throws.

EXPANDING SKILL SET

Cacok made sure Keatts saw he had one of the team's 16 assists. The sophomore forward is better known for his work down low grabbing rebounds.

After looking extra hard at the stat sheet, Keatts countered that Cacok also had a turnover. "So that wipes that [assist] out," he said, laughing.

Cacok has 14 assists this season.

UP NEXT

College of Charleston awaits a potential postseason bid.

UNC Wilmington will wait to see its NCAA tournament seeding.