Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Gonzaga: 2017-18 West Coast Men's Basketball Champions



LAS VEGAS -- Bubble teams around the country will sleep a little bit easier Tuesday night after Gonzaga's 74-54 win against BYU in the West Coast Conference championship game.

The Bulldogs' sixth straight WCC tournament title all but eliminates the Cougars from NCAA tournament contention. BYU isn't expected to receive serious consideration for an at-large berth after finishing the season 24-10, according to ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi.

No. 6 Gonzaga (30-4), the national runner-up a year ago, will enter the NCAA tournament on a 14-game winning streak -- currently, the longest active streak in the country -- and for the second year in a row is the first team in the country to reach the 30-win mark.

"It doesn't get old. Every team is different; every journey is different," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "I'm unbelievably proud and so happy for these guys, all they've accomplished. Thirty wins is a very significant accomplishment in college basketball."

After losing four of its top five scorers off of last year's team, the Zags had their skeptics coming into the season. In the official preseason poll, WCC coaches voted overwhelmingly to anoint Saint Mary's the favorite, but in hindsight, it's clear they were overthinking things.

Yes, Gonzaga needed to replace four of its top five scorers, but it took very little time for it to become clear what team, again, was the conference's deepest and most talented. Coming into the championship game, five Gonzaga players were averaging between 11.5 and 13.6 points per game and against BYU that depth was on display.

Killian Tillie, who was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, led the Zags with 22 points, while Zach Norvell Jr. (17), Josh Perkins (11) and Johnathan Williams (10) all scored in double figure.

It was close early, but Gonzaga used an impressive 40-8 run to that leave BYU searching for answers it could never find.

"That's probably as good a run as I've ever been a part of in the 28 years I've been at Gonzaga and definitely the 19 I've been the head coach," Few said. "Just fantastic defense that led to great offense, where we're sharing it, making quick decisions, moving the ball, running at each other, running together. It was just a thing of beauty to see."


With 13:20 left in the game and the Zags up 57-31, their fans broke out into chant: "This is our house."

They weren't wrong.

At this point, the Orleans Arena -- which has hosted the WCC tournament for the last 10 years -- has become a more than a second home for Gonzaga. Since the tournament moved to the desert a decade ago, Gonzaga is 23-2 -- a winning percentage (0.92) that somehow surpasses its mark in Spokane (0.903), where it has the nation's fifth-best home winning percentage in that span.

Now in his 19th season leading Gonzaga, coach Mark Few has yet to miss an NCAA tournament. The school's tournament streak extends one year further to 1999, Dan Monson's last season as head coach. Only Kansas (28), Duke (22) and Michigan State (20) have longer active streaks and each of those schools will be among this year's field.

For Gonzaga, the WCC tournament title is nice, but the program is past the point where its success will be measured on what takes place before the Big Dance.

"It's not easy when everyone is telling them that," Few said. "Quite frankly, whether they turn on the TV and see that, or people book tickets down here for the Monday and Tuesday games. These guys do a masterful job throughout the whole year dealing with expectations.

"There's great expectations put on this program, and there is even more put on the program after what these guys accomplishing last year going to the national championship."

The last time Gonzaga lost in the conference tournament was to Saint Mary's in the 2012 championship game and the Zags haven't missed a final in 21 years.

While BYU is likely headed to the National Invitation Tournament, Lunardi still believes the WCC should get two teams in, with Saint Mary's in line for a bid despite its loss to the Cougars in the semifinals Monday night. Saint Mary's finished the season 28-5, but a soft nonconference schedule and a lack of impressive wins outside its victory at Gonzaga on Jan. 18 leaves some room for debate.

LIU Brooklyn: 2017-18 Northeast Men's Basketball Champions



NEW YORK -- LIU Brooklyn's two best players raised their game. Wagner couldn't buy a basket. And the Blackbirds are NCAA Tournament-bound after shocking their New York City rival.

Joel Hernandez had 32 points and seven rebounds, Raiquan Clark had 20 points and eight rebounds and LIU Brooklyn beat Wagner 71-61 on Tuesday night to win the Northeast Conference Tournament title and earn its first NCAA Tournament bid in five years.

The fourth-seeded Blackbirds (18-16) handed top-seeded Wagner (23-9) its first loss this season on its Staten Island campus as the Seahawks struggled from the field all night, shooting 30 percent.

"We couldn't throw a ball in the ocean," Wagner coach Bashir Mason said. "I thought my guys battled. They played extremely hard and to the game plan. You have to give LIU Brooklyn a lot of credit. They prepared. Their two best players stepped up. It's a tough pill to swallow, but I told our guys this is something that's going to help us get better. We'll learn from this, grow from this and get better from this moment."

Romone Saunders had 17 points and Devin Liggeons had 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Seahawks.

LIU Brooklyn never trailed after Hernandez converted a three-point play with 12:05 left in the first half, and the Blackbirds went on a 15-2 run to take a 34-19 lead into halftime.

"I thought he put us on his back in the first half," first-year LIU Brooklyn coach Derek Kellog said of Hernendez. "I thought he gave us a nice cushion that we needed, and then every time Wagner made a run he came up with a big basket or a big play. I told him all along that's what a fifth-year senior is supposed to do if he wants to elongate his career and give himself an opportunity to play at the highest level in the NCAA Tournament."

Wagner cut the deficit to seven three times in the final six minutes, the last time with 59 seconds left, but the Seahawks didn't score again.

Hernandez made two free throws with 38 seconds left to seal it as "MVP" chants rained down from the LIU Brooklyn fans. He was officially named the tournament MVP after the game, and he gets to play at least one more time.

"I was thinking about that, especially coming into the game," Hernandez said. "I wanted to make sure I played my hardest and I left everything out on the floor. Even if we lost, I didn't want to have any regrets after the game, so I just wanted to make sure I played hard for my brothers on the court and I feel like I did that."

BIG PICTURE


LIU Brooklyn: The Blackbirds made the NCAA Tournament three straight years from 2011-13 and are headed back for the first time since then.

Wagner: The Seahawks missed a chance for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2003 and will go to the NIT as the NEC regular-season champion. They also won the regular-season title two years ago.

BATTLE OF THE BOROUGHS

This was just the second time two New York City teams faced off in the NEC title game. The previous time was also at Spiro Center in 2003, when Wagner beat St. Francis Brooklyn.

UP NEXT

LIU Brooklyn: On to the NCAA Tournament.

Wagner: On to the NIT.

College Of Charleston: 2017-18 Colonial Men's Basketball Champions



NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. -- College of Charleston coach Earl Grant never doubted his team would cut down the nets at the Colonial Athletic Association championship and return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 19 years.

"We didn't realize we'd have that much adversity" on the way to the title, a smiling, relieved Grant said.

Joe Chealey had 32 points as the top-seeded Cougars rallied from 17 points down in the second half to win the CAA title with an 83-76 overtime win against Northeastern.

"Amazing grit by the players, amazing toughness, amazing belief," he marveled.

It certainly was an amazing comeback for a team that looked cooked early in the second half, down 42-25 with less than 18 minutes left and struggling to find any offensive rhythm. Yet an hour later, fans mobbed the Cougars at the North Charleston Coliseum in celebration.

"I was crying my eyes out so I didn't really get to see it," said Chealey, a fifth-year senior

Now, it's off to the NCAAs, where Charleston hasn't been since 1999 when then-coach John Kresse built the Cougars into a yearly mid-major threat with four trips to the Big Dance from 1994-99. The school's most successful run came in 1997 when it knocked off then-ACC power Maryland before falling to eventual champion Arizona.

Grant believes his team might have another such run in them.

"I think this team's got some destiny," he said. "March is just starting. The madness is just starting."

After rallying to tie, the Cougars caught fire in the extra period. They hit their first four shots, including a pair of 3-pointers by Marquise Pointer to take a 75-69 lead. Northeastern (23-10) could not come back.

The Cougars (26-7) appeared done early in the second half, trailing 42-25 after Vasa Pusica's 3-pointer with 17:27 to go. That's when Charleston ramped up the pressure -- it forced 14 turnovers the second half -- and tied it at 65-all on Chealey's layup with 10.1 seconds to go.

Charleston got the ball back with the chance to win in regulation, but Chealey's long 3-pointer hit off the front of the rim.

Jerrell Brantley gave the Cougars their first lead of the game, 67-65, in overtime before Pointer's first 3 gave Charleston the lead for good. Two minutes later, Pointer did it again as the large, loud crowd at the North Charleston Coliseum exploded in delight.

Northeastern's last chance disappeared when Pusica lost the ball out of bounds on a drive with 40 seconds to go.

"I can't imagine a tougher" loss, Northeastern coach Bill Coen said.

"I thought we had a winning effort," he continued. "We had our chances. We lost our composure a little bit at a couple of key moments. Obviously, we've got a lot of emotional players in the locker room."

Pusica had 30 points to lead the Huskies, who saw their nine-game winning streak ended. Shawn Occeus added 19 points.

Grant Riller scored 20 points for Charleston, 14 of those after halftime. Brantley finished with 18.

BIG PICTURE

Northeastern: The Huskies were poised and prepared in the opening half, but fell apart after the break. They turned the ball over 15 times in the second half and overtime to fuel Charleston's rally.

College of Charleston: The Cougars finally closed the deal after missing out a year ago in their first CAA Tournament finals in their home city. A team that appeared flustered and out of sync the first 22 minutes turned up the pace and ran past Northeastern.

GRANT'S HOME

Grant, in his fourth season, grew up a few miles away from the arena. He said the past few days he jogged about four miles to his old neighborhood, channeling the good vibes from his community for the Cougars to make a winning tournament run. "Last year, I jogged it and stopped at three miles," he said. "I thought, `We've got to go further,' so I went all the way in. It's good to feel the energy of this city."

RATTLED HUSKIES


Coen said the big, pro-Cougar crowd had an effect on the Huskies. "The building got loud. I tried to quiet it down with a couple of time outs," he said. "We knew that they were going to make a run, we were just hoping we could withstand it."

MURRAY MOMENT

Bill Murray, the comic actor and sometimes Charleston resident, was among the crowd rooting home the Cougars. He jumped and cheered with Charleston fans and had a big smile on his face when the Cougars took the title.

Murray is a frequent visitor to local sporting events and wore a Charleston RiverDogs cap. Murray is part owner in the Class A baseball team.

UP NEXT

Northeastern, which shared the regular-season crown with Charleston, will see if it will get an invite to a postseason tournament.

College of Charleston awaits its NCAA Tournament seeding.

UNC Greensboro: 2017-18 Southern Men’s Basketball Champions



ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- When 6-foot-9 forward Jordy Kuiper was in high school, his coach would make him run "suicide" sprints if he took a shot outside the lane.

That changed when Kuiper arrived at UNC Greensboro, where coaches began working on his jumper.

"They told me by the time I was a senior I would be able to knock down big shots," Kuiper said.

Kuiper did just that on Monday night, scoring 11 of his 13 points in the second half to help UNC Greensboro defeat East Tennessee State 62-47 to win the Southern Conference championship and earn its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2001.

Demetrius Troy added 13 points, and James Dickey III dominated the paint in the second half. He finished with nine points, eight rebounds and five blocks for the Spartans, who avenged last year's championship game loss to ETSU.

The Spartans broke open a tie game at halftime behind Kuiper, as the lefty knocked down a pair of 3-pointers to spark a 9-0 run. The Buccaneers went nearly eight minutes without a field goal to open the second half and never recovered.

Kuiper scored off an offensive rebound with 4:40 left to give the Spartans their first double-digit lead. Troy added the dagger with 1:30 left when he buried a 3-pointer from the left wing to stretch the lead to 14.

UNCG held ETSU to 30.6 percent shooting.

The Buccaneers made just 3 of 16 shots from beyond the arc and went nearly eight minutes without a field goal to start the second half.

"You have to give Greensboro the credit. We just couldn't get it going offensively," ETSU coach Steve Forbes said. "They took us out of our rhythm. When we did get to the basket we just couldn't finish."

That defense allowed UNCG (27-7) to prevail despite a poor shooting night from leading scorer and tournament MVP Francis Alonso, who was held to six points on 2-of-11 shooting.

BIG PICTURE

ETSU: The Buccaneers need to find some offense next year after struggling in the championship game from the field, particularly from beyond the arc.

UNCG: The Spartans have some skill players, but a lack of overall size and depth could hurt them in the NCAA Tournament.

INCENTIVE

As painful as it was, UNCG coach Wes Miller kept last year's runner-up trophy on display in his office so his players could see it every time they came in for a visit.

"It motivated us," Miller said.

It was the second straight year UNCG entered the tournament as the No. 1 seed. Last year, the Spartans' second-half defense began to crumble in the loss to the Buccaneers.

"It left a bad taste in our mouths," UNCG senior Marvin Smith Jr. said. "We got away from our defensive principles last year. We knew defense would lead us to the championship because that is what we preach."

FORBES' FUTURE

Forbes' name continues to pop up in coaching circles despite recently signing a contract extension through the 2022-23 season. He said he expects to stay at ETSU unless something were to come along that would be a "life-changing experience."

McLOUD LEADS THE WAY


Jalan McLoud had 15 points and eight rebounds to lead ETSU (25-9) on a night when Desonta Bradford and David Burrell missed time with ankle injuries.

WANTED: BETTER SHOOTING

Alonso and Smith combined to shoot 2 of 13 from 3-point range, to which Miller quipped, "Yeah, you guys can't do that in the NCAAs."

UP NEXT

ETSU: Forbes said he doesn't expect the Buccaneers to receive an NIT berth despite a solid season. He said it will likely be the team's final game since playing in the CIT isn't what his team signed up for.

UNCG: The Spartans are dancing for the first time in 17 years and likely will be a No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Loyola-Chicago: 2017-18 Missouri Valley Men's Basketball Champions



ST. LOUIS -- Step aside, Northwestern. Take a seat, DePaul.

For now, Loyola-Chicago is the king of Windy City basketball.

The Ramblers earned their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 33 years with a 65-49 win over Ilinois State in the Missouri Valley Conference championship game on Sunday.

Donte Ingram scored 18 points and Cameron Krutwig added 11 points and nine rebounds for Loyola-Chicago (28-5), which reached the Sweet 16 in its last NCAA tourney appearance, in 1985.

"We've got much respect for all of the other programs in Illinois and Chicago," Ingram said. "But we're here now and we're going to enjoy this one and think about what we have moving forward."

Mailk Yarbrough and Phil Fayne led Illinois State (18-15) with 12 points each. Fayne added 12 rebounds.

Loyola-Chicago, which has won 10 in a row, had been an afterthought in Chicago-area basketball circles the past few years.

"It feels awesome," Krutwig said. "It means everything to me right now. Obviously, we're going to celebrate."

Ingram, who earned tournament MVP honors, hit five of 11 shots including 4 of 9 from 3-point range. His four-point play with 6:21 left in the first half capped a 7-2 run that put the Ramblers up 27-18.

"It really changed the outcome of the game," Ingram said. "That was one of those momentum swings. When I get my shot I'm confident and I'm going to take it."

Loyola-Chicago scored eight of the first 11 points in the second half to take a 43-30 lead.

The Ramblers were appearing in their first conference title game since 2002, when they were members of the Horizon League.

"Tonight we had a laser-like focus to come and get it done," Ingram said. "And we just didn't look back."

Loyola-Chicago never trailed and raced out to a 9-2 lead after a 3-pointer from Ben Richardson.

"I'm just so happy for these kids. They're doing it the right way," Loyola-Chicago coach Porter Moser said. "This will connect them for the rest of their lives."

The Ramblers' 10-game winning streak is the longest in Moser's seven years at the helm.

Illinois State, which missed 14 of its first 17 shots, lost in the title game for the third time in the last four years.

"We missed some shots right around the rim," Illinois State coach Dan Muller said. "I think it might have been nerves or a little fatigue."

CLOSE CALLS

The championship game was the only contest in the nine-game tournament decided by 10 points or fewer.

BIG PICTURE


Loyola-Chicago: Moser became the second coach in MVC history to win a title as a player and coach. He played for the Creighton title team in 1988-89. Chris Lowery of Southern Illinois also achieved the feat.

"I'm going to be honest, it was probably more fun as a player," Moser said. "That's why I'm so happy for these guys."

Illinois State: The Redbirds are hoping to receive a berth in the National Invitational Tournament. It would be their 15th NIT appearance overall and second in a row. The Redbirds began play on Sunday with a 78 RPI.

"I'm very, very hopeful for the NIT," Muller said. "We're the eighth-best league in the country."

Iona: 2017-18 Metro Atlantic Men's Basketball Champions



ALBANY, N.Y. -- New faces. Same old Iona.

Roland Griffin and Zach Lewis, transfers playing their first seasons with the Gaels, combined to score 49 points and Iona beat Fairfield 83-71 on Monday night to capture the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament title for the third straight time and earn the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

It was the fourth MAAC title for coach Tim Cluess and every bit as sweet as the others, if not moreso, because of all the doubters that surfaced after the Gaels started the season 1-4 after being picked to win the conference.

"I love these guys because they found a way," Cluess said. "They know that people doubted. They know that people gave up on them. I think it's even more special because they never gave up on themselves. They're just a tough, gritty group."

Iona (20-13), the fourth seed, extended its league record to 11 tournament titles. Fairfield (17-16), the sixth seed, had won seven straight games and was seeking its fourth title. But the Stags were no match inside for the Gaels, who outscored them 44-22 in the paint instead of relying so much on the long ball. Iona entered the game averaging nearly 10 made 3s per game and attempted just 13.

"We were mindful of their shooting and they found another way to hurt you," Fairfield coach Sydney Johnson said.

Griffin had a career-high 29 points, four blocks, and made all 11 free throws he attempted.

"The whole year coach said just make plays," said Griffin, who played at Illinois State and Midland College in Texas before transferring to Iona for his final two years of eligibility."

Lewis, a graduate transfer from Canisius, was named tournament MVP after scoring 20 points and nabbing a game-high four steals.

"This is amazing," Lewis said at the podium afterward, the shiny championship trophy at his side," Lewis said. "All I want to do is win. That's why I came here."

Iona's path to its sixth straight MAAC championship game was made easier when the top three top seeds -- Rider, Canisius, and Niagara -- were eliminated in the quarterfinals.

It was the first time since 2002 that the top three failed to make the semifinals, and the Gaels took advantage. They edged Saint Peter's 65-62 in the semifinals, never gaining the lead until three minutes remained. Fairfield beat Quinnipiac 74-64 in the other semifinal behind 21 points and 11 rebounds from Ferron Flavors Jr. and 19 points from Tyler Nelson.

Although Nelson's final MAAC game didn't turn out the way he envisioned, he didn't disappoint, hitting 6 of 8 from behind the arc and scoring 25 points to help keep the Stags in the hunt for the championship.

When it was over, Nelson and Johnson embraced along the sideline for several seconds.

"Obviously, that moment was a tough moment, but it was also something I'll remember the rest of my life," Nelson said. "I'm just thankful to him."

Iona and Fairfield split during the regular season, each winning at home, but the Stags struggled a lot in this one, especially inside against a team that had finished the regular season on the skids, losing three of its final four games before coming alive in the tournament.

The Stags trailed 43-37 at the break and Iona stormed out in the second half and built the lead to double digits with a 7-1 flurry, a 3 from the left corner by Rickey McGill boosting the margin to 50-38 at 17:04.

After Flavors briefly stopped the surge with a 3, Griffin scored four points and McGill hit an open 3 from the top of the key to make it 57-41 and the Stags were reeling. A fallaway 3-pointer by Deyshonee Much gave the Gaels a commanding 64-44 lead midway through the second half.

Nelson hit his sixth 3 of the game with 5:25 to go to cut the lead to 11 and give Fairfield a glimmer of hope, and a layup by Jonathan Kasibabu completed a 10-4 run that narrowed the gap to 75-69 with a minute left. The Gaels sank four straight free throws in the final seconds to secure the win.

DOWNTOWN FIRST-HALF FLURRY

Fairfield committed eight turnovers in the first seven minutes but stayed with the Gaels in the first half by hitting from long range. Fairfield finished 7 of 12 from behind the arc in the period but hit only 4 of 17 in the second.

FREE THROW WOES


Fairfield missed only one of 22 foul shots in the semifinals, hitting all 19 in the second half. Against Iona, they finished 10 of 20.

BIG PICTURE

Fairfield: The Stags lose Nelson, who hit 104 3-pointers on the season. But returning is Flavors, and the junior made 95 from behind the arc this year.

Iona: The Gaels have struck out in the NCAA Tournament in 12 appearances, but if Griffin and Lewis continue to excel, Iona will pose a tough matchup in the first round.

UP NEXT

Fairfield: The Stags await an invite to a postseason tournament.

Iona: The Gaels await their seed for the NCAA Tournament.

Michigan: 2017-18 Big Ten Men's Basketball Champions



NEW YORK –- The man whom teammates sometimes refer to as the "Big Sleep" was wide awake Sunday night at center court in Madison Square Garden. Jon Teske, Michigan's soft-spoken 7-footer, pounded his chest and hollered at a crowd chanting his name after a thunderous dunk that served as the emphatic climax of his team's second consecutive Big Ten tournament championship.

Teske's two-handed finish gave the Wolverines an 18-point lead over Purdue with six minutes to play in the title game. For Teske, it capped a 14-point performance in a 75-66 win for a sophomore who is typically content to linger in the shadows of a team full of burgeoning personalities. For Michigan, it capped a stretch of four wins in four days that removed any doubt that it will enter the NCAA tournament as one of the nation's hottest and most dangerous teams.

Michigan finished fifth in the Big Ten regular-season standings but has lost only once since February began. The Wolverines have nine straight victories, including the last two against the league's top teams -- Purdue and rival Michigan State, the group traditionally known for peaking at this time of year.

Coach John Beilein has made a strong case for Mr. March in the past two years. His teams are 11-2 in the postseason during that time as he adjusts to the skills and personalities that reveal themselves during the course of a season.

"We had all new leadership," Beilein said when comparing this year's tournament champs to the 2017 team. “Players had to step up. I think it wasn't until we got almost to February that our coaching staff just figured out a little bit what we could do and what we could expect."

What Michigan can expect now is energy by the bucketful. And more than any team Beilein has coached in Ann Arbor, that energy has been infectious on both ends of the floor.

Teske's big dunk sent freshman Jordan Poole dancing toward center court to meet him and sophomore Zavier Simpson -- a feisty point guard who has taken the reins of this team in the past month -- flexing close behind them. Moe Wagner, Michigan's more established big man and energy provider, couldn't contain his smile. A few minutes earlier, he had knocked down back-to-back 3s in dramatic fashion to stretch Michigan's lead to double digits and make the final 10 minutes more of a celebration than a stressful race to the finish line.


The Wolverines have lost just once since February began. AP Photo/Julie Jacobson
Beilein said the mutual trust that has served as the foundation of his team's emerging identity took time to develop this season. With Simpson especially, there was a feeling-out process while the sophomore worked his way from a backup role earlier this season to a driving force for their current run. His defense helped change the dynamic of Saturday's semifinal win against Michigan State. Then he scored 10 points and added five assists (including the pass that unleashed Teske's slam) in the championship game against Purdue.

"We're pretty confident," Simpson said Sunday night. "We've just got to keep playing and keep doing smart things."

The trick for Michigan will be keeping that momentum rolling during an unprecedented break in action. It will be at least 11 days before the Wolverines take the court for their next game, thanks to a conference tournament that played out a week early so it could reserve Madison Square Garden as its stage.

These will be uncharted waters for all four Big Ten teams likely to be playing in the NCAA tournament later this month. While it's a thin group of participants for the conference, all four have the potential to do some damage. Michigan State remains among the country's most talented groups. Purdue can string together wins when its inside-outside attack is taking advantage of both dimensions. Ohio State features one of the country's breakout stars in Keita Bates-Diop. And, of course, Michigan has emerged as sharpest of that group the past week in New York.

"It's going to be kind of weird, but we've got to embrace it," Simpson said when asked how he plans to handle the long layoff. "We'll do the smart things in that time to get better."

A long rest could be a help to some. Beilein was quick to point out that plenty of teams that usually get their conference tournament done early have punched above their weight class in the NCAA tournament in past years. He conceded that it would be nice to keep the good times rolling right now, but he is no position to argue with the benefits of having more time.

"In a perfect world that would be great [to keep playing]," Beilein said. "But playing in this arena in front of that crowd, which I feel like was very pro-Michigan, that's a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us. I think it'll be worth the wait."

If the past couple of seasons have taught Beilein's teams anything, it should be that patience is often rewarded.

Radford: 2017-18 Big South Men’s Basketball Champions



RADFORD, Va. -- Carlik Jones had clear instructions: Take the final shot of regulation and leave no time on the clock for Liberty to counter.

The freshman did just that, and swished a 3-pointer at the buzzer on Sunday, giving Radford a 55-52 victory in the Big South Conference championship and its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2009.

The result, Jones said, was better than the Highlanders' execution.

Radford (22-12) called timeout with 13 seconds left, setting up the final play. It was meant to be a double screen, but as Jones dribbled away the time, one of his teammates forgot his role, forcing Jones to make his move with about three seconds remaining.

"I had to let it go," he said. "You shoot it, and I looked at it after a while and I was like, `That's good," he said.

"It's one of the greatest feelings ever."

Officials reviewed the play to be sure no time was left on the clock, and once that was confirmed, Radford fans began celebrating.

Jones had 13 points and six assists to lead the Highlanders, who'll carry a seven-game winning streak into the tournament. Travis Fields Jr. added 12 points on 4-for-4 shooting from 3-point range and Ed Polite Jr. and Devonnte Holland had 11 each.

The Highlanders, in their seventh season under coach Mike Jones, were picked to finish seventh in the preseason.

"Everybody's shocked because nobody believed in us but Radford," Polite said. "We played with that chip on our shoulder the whole year."

Mike Jones choked up talking about the path his career has taken. Hired away from VCU after being an assistant under Shaka Smart when the Rams made their Final Four run in 2011, he took over a program that had won just five games the previous year and was losing players.

"It's been a long road," he said, noting that the victory evened his career record at 115-115.

Scottie James had 20 points, 16 after halftime, and 13 rebounds to lead the Flames (20-14), who lost to Radford for the third time this season. Lovell Cabbil added 15 points, but missed a 3-pointer to set up the Highlanders' final possession. He also was defending Jones on his game-winner.

"He hit a tough shot," Cabbil said. "I thought I got a decent contest. He just made a big shot at the right moment."

Holland did all his scoring in the first half, including six points during a 10-4 run that broke a 14-all tie late in the first half.

The Highlanders led 26-21 at halftime.

BIG PICTURE



Liberty: The Flames hurt their cause with 15 turnovers that Radford turned into 18 points. Liberty scored 11 off seven Radford turnovers.

Radford: Holland led the Highlanders with seven rebounds and kept them in the game as Polite, their scoring leader at 13.6 per game, went scoreless in the first half while saddled with foul trouble. Fields hit three 3-pointers in the second half and Jones' game-winner was Radford's only other one in 12 attempts.

UP NEXT

Liberty will hope for an invitation to the NIT.

Radford heads to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in nine years.

Lipscomb: 2017-18 Atlantic Sun Men's Basketball Champions



FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Madness.

That's the only way to explain this. Lipscomb led by 29 points at halftime, went up by 32 in the second half, then saw the lead get shredded down to five -- on the road against a Florida Gulf Coast program that has squeezed the utmost from nearly every opportunity it has gotten in March since becoming the "Dunk City" NCAA darlings five years ago.

"We've experienced every emotion imaginable," Lipscomb coach Casey Alexander said.

With that, it's time to experience another: The Bisons are going to the NCAA tournament for the first time.

Garrison Mathews scored 33 points and the second-seeded Bisons -- once on the brink of all-out collapse -- recovered just well enough in the final minutes to beat top-seeded FGCU 108-96 in the Atlantic Sun Conference title game on Sunday and win the league's automatic berth into the field of 68.

Lipscomb (23-9) shot 65 percent from the field, an utterly ridiculous 87 percent from 2-point range, and took 47 free throws to FGCU's 28 on the way to dethroning the two-time reigning A-Sun champion Eagles (23-11).

"Couldn't be happier," Alexander said. "Someone asked me how I was feeling. I don't even know."

He's got time to figure it out. Selection Sunday isn't for another week, and Lipscomb will be one of the teams on the bracket line.

"It was huge for us to keep our composure," Mathews said.

There are games of runs -- and then there was this game, which went about as wildly back-and-forth as one can get.

In the first half, Lipscomb went on a 52-21 run to go up by 32. And just about every bit of that was needed, given that FGCU put together a 42-15 run of its own in the second half.

But the Bisons, who won twice on FGCU's floor this season, didn't crumble.

"An excellent performance," FGCU coach Joe Dooley said. "They got on a roll. I compliment them. I congratulate them."

Kenny Cooper scored 17 for Lipscomb, which made 15 of its first 18 shots. Rob Marberry and Matt Rose each scored 14 points and Eli Pepper finished with 13 for Lipscomb, which won despite giving up 65 points in the second half.

Zach Johnson tied an FGCU school record with 37 points, 29 of those coming after halftime. Brandon Goodwin added 34 for the Eagles, who were bidding for a fourth NCAA trip in the last six seasons.

Afterward, Johnson struggled containing his emotions when talking about FGCU's senior class.

"I feel like we didn't send them off right," Johnson said. "Yes, we've got the NIT, but they just mean everything to me. They're my brothers."

Mathews made his first four shots, three of them 3-pointers, in the first five minutes to set the tone for the Bisons, and he was up to 26 points by halftime.

The game was over.

Problem was, no one told FGCU.

The Eagles -- still down by 32 with 16:33 remaining -- went from finished to fighting to flourishing in the blink of an eye. Johnson scored 17 points in 3½ minutes by himself, but even after that flurry FGCU still found itself down 19.

So they kept digging. Another 3-pointer from Johnson with 10:29 left cut the lead to 10. Goodwin's layup a minute later got it back to single digits for the first time in forever. Goodwin then connected on three 3-pointers in a 2-minute span, the last two of those getting the Eagles within five.

But they got no closer.

"Thankfully," Alexander said, "the clock ran out."

BIG PICTURE



Lipscomb: The Bisons (yes, they use the plural, not Bison) won the title on the 12th anniversary of their only other appearance in the A-Sun title game, a loss to Belmont on March 4, 2006. Alexander was an assistant on that Belmont team. ... Cooper was 11 for 16 from the foul line, and had nine assists.

FGCU: The Eagles lost for only the third time in their last 19 games, that run coming after a 7-8 start to the season. ... This was FGCU's sixth trip to the Atlantic Sun title game in seven seasons of eligibility.

NO SLUMPS

Lipscomb missed three consecutive shot attempts in one stretch -- its last two of the first half and its first of the second half. That was the longest "slump'' by the Bisons all afternoon.

UP NEXT

Lipscomb: On to the NCAA tournament.

FGCU: Earned an automatic NIT berth as the regular-season conference champion.