Lincoln Memorial’s 12-point run early in the first half carried the nation’s top-ranked NCAA Division II men’s basketball team to a 103-80 regional championship victory Tuesday night over Lenoir-Rhyne.
The Railsplitters (32-2), who went 3-0 this season against the Bears this season, advance to the Elite Eight on March 23-26 in Frisco, Texas.
Lenoir-Rhyne finished 21-10 under first-year coach Ryan Odom, a former Charlotte 49ers’ assistant.
The Bears trailed 9-5 about 3 1/2 minutes into the game when the Railsplitters, playing on
their home floor as the regional’s top seed, blew out to a big lead. Lincoln Memorial led 56-40 at the half, behind 21 points from Mississippi State transfer Jalen Steele.
The Bears were down 72-46 with 14 minutes, 1 second left but battled back to within 79-65 with 9:20 remaining. Lincoln Memorial coach Josh Schertz called a timeout, and his team responded by moving the ball inside instead of taking jump shots, and the Railsplitters pulled away again.
It marks the first time Lincoln Memorial has reached the Elite Eight, although the Railsplitters have been a Division II power for several seasons. They lost in the regional semifinals the past two years.
3 who mattered
Jalen Steele: Steele paced Lincoln Memorial’s first-half surge, scoring 21 points and hitting 4-of-6 3-point field-goal attempts. He finished with 27 points.
Keenan Palmore: The Southeast Region Player of the Year was Lenoir-Rhyne’s leader, scoring 23 points in his final game. He fouled out with 3:06 left.
Emanuel Terry: A 6-foot-9 Lincoln Memorial forward, Terry hit six of seven field-goal attempts in the first half and finished with 24 points.
▪ Lincoln Memorial’s defense wreaked havoc with Lenoir-Rhyne, which averaged 92 points a game before Tuesday night. The Bears shot 40 percent from the floor, compared to 48 percent for the season.
▪ The Railsplitters shut down Lenoir-Rhyne standout forward Rob Noyes, who totaled two points and three rebounds in 20 minutes.
▪ Junior guard Darrion Evans was the Bears’ most successful shooter, hitting five of 11 from the floor.
▪ While this is Lincoln Memorial’s first trip to the Elite 8, it’s not the first time for its coach, Josh Schertz. He was associate head coach at Queens in 2003, when the Royals compiled a 29-4 record and reached Division II’s Final Four.
▪ Lincoln Memorial will be entering new territory when it travels to Frisco, Texas, this month. All of the Railsplitters’ 34 games this season have been against teams from the Carolinas, Virginia, Tennessee and Georgia.
They said it
▪ “They finished 30-3 last year but fell short (of the Elite Eight). They wanted to do better this year, and they started working last April on this season” – Schertz.