Lincoln Memorial’s Josh Schertz has a head start on Lenoir-Rhyne’s Ryan Odom, but the two men’s basketball coaches have brought their teams to the same historic place Tuesday night – an NCAA Division II regional final and a chance to play in the Elite Eight.
The teams meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Harrogate, Tenn., with No. 1-ranked Lincoln Memorial (31-2) enjoying homecourt advantage over Lenoir-Rhyne (21-9).
Schertz came to Lincoln Memorial in 2008 and turned the school into a basketball power. The Railsplitters have six straight 20-victory seasons and are in the NCAA tournament for the fifth straight year. Schertz, a former assistant to Bart Lundy at Queens and High Point, has been South Atlantic Conference coach of the year three times.
Odom is in his first season at Lenoir-Rhyne, after five campaigns as an assistant with the Charlotte 49ers – a stint that included serving as interim head coach for the latter part of last season. He has made a quick turnaround of a program that had a 6-16 record last season.
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But this is the first time either school has reached a regional final.
Both teams are South Atlantic Conference members, and Lincoln Memorial has won 12 straight over the Bears. But Lenoir-Rhyne has given the Railsplitters fits this season.
Lincoln Memorial won a wild 123-122 four-overtime decision Dec. 2 in Hickory and then overcame an 18-point deficit Jan. 29 at home against the Bears and won 86-75.
“That opening game was a real thriller,” Schertz said. “LR has outstanding personnel, and they provide us with a lot of problems.”
Odom said the Railsplitters have a program that teams can measure themselves against.
“They have a great program and they’ve had an unbelievable season,” he said.
The Bears feature Keenan Palmore, a 6-foot-2 senior transfer from Old Dominion who was named Monday as NCAA Southeast Region Player of the Year. He led the SAC in scoring (21.9 points a game), rebounds (9.2) and assists (6.4). Palmore scored 31 points in the second game against Lincoln Memorial after being held to 14 in the first contest.
The Railsplitters answer with a pair of All-Southeast first-teamers in 6-2 senior Gerel Simmons and 6-3 junior Luquon Choice. But it was another player, 6-5 sophomore Dorian Pinson, who carried Lincoln Memorial in the four-overtime game, with 29 points and 20 rebounds.