Sunday: Panthers, Oles bust a bubble

Thanks to Matt St. Amour, Middlebury likely made the NESCAC a four-bid conference for the NCAA Tournament.
File photo by Will Costello photography
St. Olaf coach Dan Kosmoski is all sorts of fired up about this souvenir he gets to take home from the MIAC final.
Photo by Caleb Williams, 
More photos from this game.

Middlebury continued its run through the NESCAC tournament, putting itself in the tournament and busting someone else's hopes for at-large bid, while St. Olaf did the same in winning the MIAC automatic bid.

In the NESCAC tournament finale, Middlebury edged No. 13 Amherst 81-79 to grab the conference’s automatic bid. The teams traded leads 23 times, the last one coming on Matt St. Amour’s layup with a minute to play, putting the Panthers up one. Middlebury extended the lead to four on free throws so Amherst’s three-pointer at the buzzer still left the team formerly known as the Lord Jeffs a point short.

St. Amour finished with 22 points for Middlebury (17-10) while Michael Riopel scored 17 off the bench for Amherst (22-5). Amherst will claim an at-large bid along, with Trinity (Conn.) and likely Tufts, so Middlebury’s win makes the NESCAC a four-bid league and busts someone else’s bubble.

St. Thomas had no answer for Ben Figini as the St. Olaf center shot 10-for-13 from the floor en route to 20 points in a 72-66 win vs. the Tommies in the MIAC men's basketball final. Austin Majeskie added 11 points and six blocked shots as the Oles (18-9) played their way in, put St. Thomas in Pool C for an at-large bid and popped another team's bubble Sunday afternoon.

Lancaster rendered moot all the discussion about whether the NCAA selection committee would really leave a 26-1 team out of the tournament when the Chargers ran past SUNYIT 97-71. The Chargers (27-0) shot 55 percent and hit 12 3-pointers, seven of them from Bryce Williams. He had 30 points and four other Chargers also scored double figures. Lancaster Bible becomes the first team to enter the NCAA tournament with a perfect record since St. Thomas did it in 2009. The Tommies eventually lost to Washington U. in the Elite 8.

Mike Connelly's 3-pointer with 19 seconds left lifted Pitt-Greensburg over Hilbert 76-74 and into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. Texas Lutheran defeated Colorado College 80-77 in the SCAC tournament championship as the Bulldogs' reserves outscored the Tigers' 20-9.

Joey Flannery and Isaiah Nelson combined for 28 points in the second half and Babson rallied past MIT 81-69 in the NEWMAC title game. Those two finished with 44 points and Nick Comenale added 18 more for the Beavers (21-5). The Engineers from MIT (20-7) slide into the at-large pool, along with the other set of Engineers from WPI.

Women: Feeling Sluggish

Ashley Holmes scored 18 points in UC Santa Cruz's win over Salem College.
File photo by UC Santa Cruz athletics 

Break out the funny stories about UC Santa Cruz's mascot. The Banana Slugs defeated Salem 73-57 to capture the GSAC's automatic bid and secure their first trip to the NCAA women's basketball tournament. UC Santa Cruz flipped a 10-point deficit to a six-point advantage with a 24-8 second quarter and never looked back.

The GSAC is a collection of Division III independents spanning from Massachusetts to the Michigan Upper Peninsula to the San Francisco Bay Area. It does not play regular season games, with the entire conference riding on this three-day tournament, but it does receive an automatic bid.

Birmingham-Southern will also be a first-time participant in the women's tournament after the Panthers defeated Millsaps 52-42 in the SAA title game. Jasmynn Batts scored 20 points in 37 minutes for the Panthers (24-3).

Lynchburg will make its NCAA tournament debut since the Hornets defeated Guilford 62-55 in the ODAC tournament final.

No. 4 Amherst avenged its only loss of the regular season by beating No. 5 Tufts 50-49 in the NESCAC tournament title game. Meredith Doswell’s three pointer with 1:55 to play gave Amherst (26-1) a 48-47 lead and, after a Tufts turnover, Hannah Hackley’s layup pushed Amherst’s advantage to three. Michela North answered with a layup to pull Tufts (23-3) within one and Amherst missed a layup on its next possession. The Jumbos got two shots to win the game, but missed both.

Both teams were locks to make the NCAA Tournament anyway, but the win enhances Amherst’s chance to host games the second weekend of the tournament.