Mocs Outlast Alabama-Huntsville, Win South Region Title and Advances to Elite Eight
LAKELAND - Florida Southern used a career-high 31 points from senior guard Seth Evans, but it was a tip-in by sophomore guard Cameron Vines that tied the game at 88 with 35 seconds left that helped the No. 1 seed and eighth-ranked Moccasins to a 90-88 victory over No. 2 seed and ninth-ranked Alabama-Huntsville here Tuesday night in the championship game of the NCAA Division II South Regional Tournament in front of a season-high crowd of 2,377 at Jenkins Field House.
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On UAH's next possesion, the Chargers were holding for a last shot, but the Mocs' defense forced a turnover on shot clock violation with a little over two seconds left. On the ensuing inbounds play, UAH's Jaime Smith was called for a holding foul on junior guard Dominic Lane (St. Petersburg, Fla.) following a turnover by the Chargers on a shot clock violation. Lane proceeded to hit two free throws to give the Mocs its two-point cushion. On the ensuing inbounds play, UAH's Zane Campbell caught the ball near the top of the key, but Evans forced him to turn the ball over as the buzzer sounded to seal the victory and advance FSC to next week's NCAA Division II Elite Eight at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Ky., where they will face the West Region champion in one of four national quarterfinals on Thursday, March 28.
"What an unbelievable game. It was one of the better college basketball games this season at any level," Mocs head coach Linc Darner said. "Both teams just continued to make big shot after big shot. It was a back-and-forth game.
"It was a great game between two really good teams."
The region title for the Mocs was the ninth in the program's history and first since 2000 when FSC also advanced to the Elite Eight in Louisville. UAH was the two-time defending South Regional champs. In addition, the Mocs become the first Sunshine State Conference school to make the Elite Eight since 2005 when Lynn claimed the South Region title and advanced to the national semifinals.
"This feels really good. I'm really proud of our team and my teammates for the way we fought back tonight," said sophomore guard Kevin Capers, who was one of two Mocs named to the South Regional All-Tournament Team.
With the win, FSC improves to 27-5 overall, while UAH ends its season with a 25-6 record.
UAH, who was playing in its third straight regional final, jumped out to a 23-18 lead midway through the first half and led by 11 points at 40-20 following two free throws by Connor Blasi with 5:53 left in the opening half.
It was at that point the Mocs began its comeback as they closed the half on a 15-2 run capped by a dunk from junior forward Lamar McKnight (Cleveland, Ohio) with 1:29 left to go into halftime with a 44-42 lead. The run was keyed by three-pointers from Evans and Vines and capped by back-to-back dunks.
"I thought we wore them down a little bit in the first half and were able to get into them," said Darner, who is now 6-5 in NCAA Tournament games as FSC's coach. "That run at the end of the half was big for us."
Evans, who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the South Regional after averaging 23.7 points per game and shooting 53 percent from the field and 52 percent from long distance, scored 17 of his 31 points in the first half. While Evans scored 17 points in the first half, Wayne Dedrick (19) and Zane Campbell (10) combined for 29 of UAH's 42 points in the opening half.
"This the most exciting I've ever felt. I'm really happy and I can't wait to enjoy this moment with my teammates," Evans said.
In the Tuesday's win, Evans hit eight 3-pointers to establish a new single-season FSC record for made three-pointers. He has now hit 108 treys in 32 games this season, which bettered the old single-season mark of 106 set by Tim Gatz in 1994-95.
Along with Evans, Vines finished with 15 points and seven rebounds off the bench, while Lane and McKnight added 10 points in the win. Capers finished with nine points, five assists and three steals off the bench and senior forward Jon Gardner (Anderson, Ind.) grabbed a career-high seven boards.
"I thought Jon and Jay (Hubble) came in tonight and gave us some quality, quality minutes," said Darner, who is now 156-65 as the Mocs coach.
The Mocs led grew to as much as six points two times in the opening eight minutes of the second half, before UAH used a 10-3 run to turn a 59-53 deficit into a 63-62 lead following a trey by Dedrick, who finished with a career-high 27 points in the loss.
Following UAH's run, Evans came right back and give the Mocs a 65-63 lead on a trey with 9:41 left in the game. Lane would push the Mocs lead to 68-64 after a trey with 8:35 left. UAH would pull within 68-67 following a 3-pointer by Andrew Donovon with 8:12 remaining.
Both teams combined to hit 14 treys in the second half as they finished the game with a combined 24 on the night. The Mocs finished 14-for-37 (38 percent) from the 3-point line, while UAH was 10-for-26 (39 percent) from downtown for the game.
FSC would eventually push its lead to 74-69 following another basket by Lane with 6:40 remaining in the contest. UAH, though, would erase that lead in a span of nearly two minutes, including tying the game at 76 on a trey by Campbell with 4:33 left.
Campbell, who earned a spot on the All-Tournament Team, finished Tuesday's game with 24 points and 12 rebounds in his final collegiate game.
The two teams would trade 3-pointers on two consecutive possessions to tie the game at 82 with 3:15 remaining, before Smith, who also was on the All-Tournament Team, scored on a lay-up with 2:46 left to give UAH an 84-82 edge. That lead grew to 86-83 after two Xavier Baldwin free throws with 2:24 left, before Evans scored a basket with two minutes remaining to pull the Mocs within a point at 86-85.
Smith close out his college career with 13 points and seven assists and Ronnie Mack added 10 points for the Chargers.
For the game, the Mocs shot 43 percent from the field and 75 percent at the foul line, while UAH shot 50 percent from the floor and 77 percent from the line. The Chargers held a 39-38 edge on the glass, but committed 12 turnovers that led to 21 FSC points. The Mocs had just seven turnovers, including just three in the second half.
"Florida Southern has a great team and I want to wish them the best of luck at the Elite Eight," UAH head coach Lenny Acuff said in the postgame press conference after the game.
The other member of the All-Tournament Team was Benedict center Marcus Goode, who averaged 26 points and 15 rebounds in two tournament games.