Thursday, March 09, 2017

Gonzaga: 2016-17 West Coast Men's Basketball Champions



LAS VEGAS -- Gonzaga coach Mark Few brought in veteran transfers and one of the best recruiting classes in school history this season, a group that's been called the best in his 18-year tenure as head coach.

The Zags have lived up to the hype so far, nearly pulling off an undefeated regular season and earning another West Coast Conference Tournament title. Next up could be another No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Nigel Williams-Goss scored 22 points, Przemek Karnowski added 15 and No. 4 Gonzaga won its fifth straight WCC tournament title by beating No. 19 Saint Mary's 74-56 Tuesday night.

"It's no secret: if we play our best basketball, dial into the process the coaches give us, play like we did in the first half at both ends of the floor, there's no doubt in our minds we can go win the whole entire tournament," said Williams-Goss, who also had six assists, six rebounds and six steals.

Gonzaga (32-1), the regular-season WCC champion, was not particularly sharp in the WCC semifinals, beating Santa Clara by nine to reach the title game for the 20th straight season.

The Zags got their mojo back in a dazzling first half against Saint Mary's, then had to hold on after a shaky start to the second.

Gonzaga shot 50 percent overall, scored 20 points off turnovers and had a 38-22 advantage inside, staking claim to a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

"We're 32-1, this team has been exceptional all year," Few said. "They've stepped up and met every challenge. We've been good from Nov. 10 to March 7 and haven't taken any nights off. Our results speak for themselves."

Saint Mary's (28-4) fought back after an ugly first half with a big charge in the second. The Gaels could not make it all the way back from a 21-point deficit, though, losing to the Zags for the third time this season.

Calvin Hermanson had 14 points and Jock Landale 10 for the Gaels, who must wait out selection Sunday for the second straight season.

"I felt good last year on this day and no question I felt we should have been in the tournament and I feel more confident this year," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "Nothing is done until it's done, so the only chance to make sure was tonight. But there's not many teams that have done what we've done this season."

Gonzaga and Saint Mary's in the WCC final has become an annual tradition.

The conference's top two teams have met in the title game seven of the past nine years, with the Zags winning six titles.

Gonzaga won the two regular-season meetings this year fairly easily, but Saint Mary's had it easy in the WCC semifinals, beating BYU by 31 after hitting 13 3-pointers.

The Gaels didn't have the same shooting touch against Gonzaga's smothering defense, needing nearly 11 minutes just to crack double figures scoring. Saint Mary's was discombobulated offensively throughout the first half, hitting 6 of 28 shots and turning it over 10 times while scoring 18 first-half points.

Gonzaga turned the missed shots and turnovers into baskets in transition , using a 12-0 run to build a 39-18 halftime lead .

"You have that many turnovers in a half, you're probably going to throw up a clunker," said Saint Mary's guard Joe Rahon, who had seven points and five assists. "We got a little stagnant, the turnovers, took some bad shots and that's a recipe for disaster against a good team."

The Gaels were better to start the second, shutting the Zags down while trimming the lead to 51-46 midway through.

They got no closer. Landale had to leave after picking up his fourth foul and Gonzaga took advantage, stretching the lead back to double digits.

BIG PICTURE

Gonzaga will likely contend for No. 1 in the NCAA Tournament's West Regional with the Pac-12 Tournament winner.


Saint Mary's should have a good enough resume to make the NCAA Tournament despite the loss, but could have some anxious moments on selection Sunday after being left out last season.

TWO-BID WCC

The WCC had just one NCAA Tournament team a year ago after the Gaels were left out of the bracket. The conference should get two this season, if Few has his way.

"They're an excellent basketball team, plain and simple," he said. "They're very worthy and going to be a handful for someone who hasn't played them before."

UP NEXT

Saint Mary's is expected to play in the NCAA Tournament.

Gonzaga is headed to the NCAA Tournament for the 19th straight season.

South Dakota State: 2016-17 Summit Men's Basketball Champions



SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- After a sluggish start, South Dakota State dug in, took care of the ball, and hung on to defeat Omaha and win the Summit League championship for the fourth time.

Mike Daum scored 24 of his 37 points in the second half to help the Jackrabbits beat the Mavericks 79-77 on Tuesday night.

Omaha led with 4:43 left to play, but Daum, who was the league's player of the year and tournament MVP, took over. He scored seven straight to give South Dakota State a 73-72 lead with 3:30 left. The Jackrabbits wouldn't relinquish it. Omaha had a chance for the win at the buzzer, but Tra-Deon Hollins' 3-pointer rimmed out.

Daum went 14-for-24 from the floor and continued his torrid scoring pace, averaging 29.3 points per game in SDSU's three conference tournament wins.

"He's just a heck of a player. He's just talented and the run a lot of sets for him. You have to be on your toes the entire game," Omaha's Tre'Sahwn Thurman said of Daum. "You have to be communicating and you have to know what's coming. He's able to create for other guys and able to create mismatches. He's just a tough guy to guard. I wish him well in the NCAA tournament."

The Jackrabbits struggled early with nine turnovers in the first nine minutes. Omaha took advantage of it, building its biggest lead of the game at 16-7 when Tre'Shawn Thurman hit a 3-pointer. But fortunately for SDSU, the Jackrabbits were 8-for-9 from the field over that span, keeping the SDSU in the game.

"It's not typical. It's not who we've been," SDSU coach T.J. Otzelberger said of the early turnovers. "We don't need to be panicked, but I think we came out a little bit tight. We need to do a better job of taking care of the basketball. I think this team has continued to grow and find different ways to win."

After the early turnovers, SDSU (18-16) settled down and built its biggest lead of the game, leading 37-31 at halftime. But Omaha went on a 9-0 run to open the second half, and the back-and-forth battle in the second half was set. The second half featured eight lead changes and seven ties.

Omaha, in its first conference championship game in school history, had four players in double figures with Thurman leading the way with 21 points. The loss breaks a five-game win streak for the Mavericks.

LOW SEEDS ADVANCE:

The Summit League championship game between No. 3 seeded Omaha and No. 4 seeded SDSU marks the first time since 1993, and only the fifth time in history, that neither the No. 1 nor No. 2 seed appeared in the title contest.

BIG PICTURE

The Jackrabbits outrebounded Omaha 44-25 including a 16-9 advantage on the offensive end. After opening the game with nine turnovers in the first nine minutes, SDSU took care of the ball the rest of the way, turning it over ten more times.

UP NEXT

South Dakota State clinches an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. This is SDSU's fourth trip to the tournament. The Jackrabbits have won four of the last six Summit League tournament championships.

Omaha finishes the season with a record of 18-14. The Mavericks have never secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

Bucknell: 2016-17 Patriot Men's Basketball Champions



LEWISBURG, Pa. -- Zach Thomas waved his arms in the air as he walked toward the baseline and exhorted the rowdy Bucknell students to cheer even louder.

Nana Foulland yanked him back to the huddle. The Bison still had 68 anticlimactic seconds to wait before the students would burst toward them for a court-storming celebration that ignited a Patriot League party.

Kimbal Mackenzie scored 18 points to help send Bucknell into the NCAA tournament with an 81-65 victory over Lehigh in the conference championship game Wednesday night.

The Bison (26-8) are back in the tournament for the first time since 2013 and seem ready to shake up the brackets one more time. Bucknell beat Kansas in 2005 and Arkansas in 2006 to earn a reputation as March upset masters.

Let the scouting reports on basketball's big boys wait until after Sunday's field is announced.

"Until then, I'm going to enjoy this," coach Nathan Davis said. "I'm not going to worry about it a whole lot."

Bucknell was knocked out of the NCAA tournament in the first game each of the last two trips. But Foulland and Thomas, who had 17 points and nine rebounds, had the electric home crowd ready to taste the tournament from the opening tip.

The crowd of 4,254, sixth largest in Sojka Pavilion history, stormed the court and mobbed the players to set off a March celebration. Bucknell students danced and snapped selfies on the court as the public address announcer urged them to head back to the bleachers for the traditional cutting of the nets.

Bucknell opened the second half on a 12-0 run that turned Sojka Pavilion into a zoo, complete with a dancing Bison (mascot) and a gyrating shark. The Mountain Hawks (20-12) were the endangered species, and lost in the Patriot League tournament championship game for the second straight season.

"We had great individual careers but we never made it to the [NCAA] tournament. That hurts," senior guard Austin Price said.

While so many conference tournament games this week were played in half-empty arenas in major cities, Bucknell's 4,000-seat Sojka rocked from the moment the doors opened to hundreds of students lined up outside all the way to the postgame madness on the court.

The two schools are separated by 125 miles, and the student sections engaged in dueling insults and sarcastic signs that gave this championship game a true big-game flavor.

Lehigh won both games against Bucknell during the regular season and had counted on 3-point shooting (39 percent; 23rd nationally) to pull off the road upset. The Mountain Hawks hit just two 3s in the first half and a 30-25 lead was more mirage than a needed spark toward snipping the nets.

Foulland, the Patriot League player of the year and defensive player of the year, was in foul trouble in the first half and sat out the last 4 minutes. The Bison still scored on their next three possessions when he was benched and Avi Toomer made a 3 a tick before the horn for a 35-35 halftime lead.

Bucknell was just getting started.

The top-seeded Bison gave the frenzied, orange-dressed crowd a reason to go wild on a steal from Foulland that led to an easy bucket and he quickly added his own monster dunk. Mackenzie buried a corner 3 that capped a 12-0 run to open the second half.

"It makes it feel like they can never come back," Thomas said.

The Bison, who won the Patriot League title outright for the third straight season and sixth time in the last seven years, got a three-point play from Mackenzie late in the game that shook off a late Lehigh push. The championship celebration was on deck.

Tim Kempton had 22 points and 17 rebounds for Lehigh.

BIG PICTURE


Bucknell has won six straight games and has not lost consecutive games all season. The Bison entered 24th in the country in field-goal percentage (48.1) and could prove to be a tough out in the tournament.

The Mountain Hawks had won six straight games. Former Lehigh great and Portland Trail Blazers star CJ McCollum rooted on the Mountain Hawks on Twitter ("Come on fellas").

FEELING LOW

The Mountain Hawks missed 10 of 14 3s and made only 7 of 15 free throws. Both ugly numbers were well off their season averages.

UP NEXT

Bucknell will likely earn a double-digit seed in the NCAA tournament.

Lehigh has not made the NCAAs since 2012, when it knocked off Duke, and could settle for an invitation to one of the minor March postseason tournaments.

Mount St. Mary's: 2016-17 Northeast Men's Basketball Champions



EMMITSBURG, Md. -- The freshly cut net draped around his neck like a well-fitted scarf, Mount St. Mary's coach Jamion Christian spoke excitedly about what just might have been the perfect night.

Playing for the Northeast Conference championship at home for the first time in school history, the Mountaineers thrilled a standing-room only crowd by rallying to beat Saint Francis University 71-61 Tuesday night to earn an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.

"It's just really special to be able to do it here in front of your fans with a great group of guys who you love," Christian said.

Christian never lost faith in that group of guys, even when they fell behind 31-23 at halftime after going 0 for 10 from beyond the arc and getting outscored 20-2 over a seven-minute stretch.

"He came into the locker room and said, `We've got them right where we want them," guard Chris Wray said of his coach.

"And I meant that," Christian said. "I just thought we were in a really good place."

The top-seeded Mountaineers opened the second half with a 22-3 run that started with five straight points from Junior Robinson and a pair of 3-pointers from Elijah Long.

Mount St. Mary's (19-15) coasted from there. After the final buzzer sounded, the team piled over each another at midcourt to celebrate its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2014.

Long finished with 24 points, Robinson added 22 and Miles Wilson contributed 15 points and 10 rebounds.

"We worked so hard for this, and for it to end like this is amazing," Robinson said.

Fourth-seeded Saint Francis (16-16) reached the title game with a 71-70 semifinal win over No. 3 seed Wagner 71-70, a game decided by Keith Braxton's 3-point shot at the buzzer.

There were no such heroics this time for the Red Flash, who got only seven points from Braxton in their bid to earn a place in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1991.

"I'm proud of these guys for getting to this point," coach Rob Krimmel said.

Isaiah Blackmon led Saint Francis with 17 points. The Red Flash missed 10 of 17 free throws and was 3 for 16 from beyond the arc before hitting its last three attempts in the final minutes.

The key, of course, was the second half.

"The first five minutes was critical," Krimmel said.

After playing catch-up for the latter part of the opening half, the Mountaineers needed only 2 1/2 minutes to pull even at 31. Minutes later, Wilson drilled successive 3-pointers and added a layup in an 11-0 spurt that made it 45-34.

That brought the volume of the tiny arena to an ear-splitting level as they began preparing for a first-of-its-kind celebration on The Mount's home court.

"The fans were great, the support amazing. The atmosphere was crazy," Robinson said. "It was surreal."

FOUL PERFORMANCE

Saint Francis: The Red Flash missed 10 free throws and lost by 10 points. Do the math. "All year in the conference we were close to 75 percent. We just didn't make them tonight. Sometimes that's how the ball bounces."


Mount: Robinson was 11 for 13 at the line and the Mountaineers went 18 for 22.

BIG PICTURE

Saint Francis: The Red Flash finished .500, but can take solace in reaching the NEC championship game after starting the season 3-9.

Mount: Operating in relative obscurity north of Baltimore, the Mount is one of Maryland's most successful teams. This was its fifth appearance in the NEC title game over the past decade.

UP NEXT

Saint Francis: Season likely over, barring an unlikely invite from the CIT.

Mount: The Mountaineers will gather Sunday to learn their destination in the NCAA Tournament.

Northern Kentucky: 2016-17 Horizon Men's Basketball Champions



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."

Brock Stull scored 19 points and Brett Prahl had 12 for the Panthers, who won nine in a row, including three in the tournament, before their run ended against Northern Kentucky.

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.

BIG PICTURE

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.

ALL-TOURNEY TEAM

Holland was voted MVP and was joined on the all-tournament team by McDonald, Stull, Prahl and Youngstown State's Cameron Morse.

UP NEXT


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.