The regional basketball season came to an abrupt end in the national quarterfinals. Here's the final recap:
NORTHWEST MISSOURI STATE 79 ST. THOMAS AQUINAS 70
Justin Pitts scored 26 points in 40 minutes of action and #1 Northwest Missouri State held on to beat St. Thomas Aquinas at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, SD. The Spartans - playing in their first-ever Elite-8 - led only once all night (18-16 just past the midway mark of the first half) but hung around all night, trailing between two and 10 points the entirety of the second period. The Bearcats matched their largest lead at 61-51 with five-and-a-half minutes to play when Justin Reyes put his team on his back, scoring a lay-up and 3-pointer in succession to slice the deficit in half (61-56) with 4:39 left (he garnered 15 of his game-high 28 points in the final 8:07 and added four blocks for the game). The junior forward brought Aquinas within 67-63 with a pair of free throws at the 1:37 mark, but Brett Dougherty (14 points) scored on a press-break lay-up five seconds later, and the Bearcats - the only Elite-8 team to have played at the Pentagon - converted 8-of-10 at the stripe over the final 70 seconds, with a Pitts lay-up thrown in, to hold the Spartans at arm's length. Aaron Cust added 14 points for STAC, which shot better from the floor (50%-45%) but was whistled for nearly twice as many fouls (26-14) and was outworked on the glass (38-25) in seeing its nine-game win streak go by the boards.
Despite a historic season for STAC, the result assures that the East Region (formerly known as the Northeast and New England) has now gone 29 straight seasons without a national championship – the longest drought among the eight regions of Division II – dating back to Lowell’s 1988 title. And it’s now been 12 years since a regional club has played in the national championship game – namely Bryant (like Mass-Lowell, a Division I team these days), which lost to Virginia Union in North Dakota at the 2005 Elite-8.
Thus wraps up another season of reports from the East Region. Sincere thanks to all the coaches, sports information directors, players and administrators who have helped provide the information and hospitality as I made it to 38 of the 39 schools over the course of the winter (sorry, Concordia - conflicts with every game). Thanks as well to all of you fans and supporters who have read the recaps and checked out all the stats and standings during the third year of this new website. For those of you who have requested an “Around the Rim” column, I plan to write one in a couple of weeks after a well-deserved vacation in Chile. Check in periodically under the FEATURES tab for that. And until we cross paths again, God bless!