FOND DU LAC, Wis. (SabreAthletics.com) – For the first time since 2001, the Marian University men's basketball team is headed back to the NCAA Division III National Tournament after securing the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference's automatic qualifying bid with a 65-61 victory over visiting and seventh-seeded Edgewood College in the league tournament championship game, this evening, March 1.
In front of a packed crowd at the Sadoff, it came down to the wire. The top-seeded Sabres (22-6) led by just two points with under a minute left. Then, Mike Keller made it 64-60 with 27 seconds remaining following a diving layup off an Alex Stecker assist. Time expired and the Marian faithful rushed the floor in celebration of Marian's first return trip to the big dance in more than a decade.
Sophomore guard Drew Binversie led all Marian scorers with 18 points on 6-for-10 shooting, while adding a team-high seven rebounds. Senior Jeff Harris chipped in 12 points, while freshman Josh Creed contributed 10 points off the bench.
The Eagles (13-15) came in as the seventh seed, but gave the Sabres fits offensively. Contrary to the back-to-back 20-point victories for Marian in the first two tournament games, this one was tight the whole way. A lot of the credit is due to Edgewood's inside game, led by Justin Williams' 19-point effort off the bench.
It was from the perimeter that the Eagles did most of their damage early on, connecting on their first three long balls to take an 11-6 lead out of the gate.
Creed came off the bench and made his presence known immediately after scoring five straight points to tie the game at 14-14 with 13:26 left in the first half. Harris then knocked down a three, followed by a Cody Veleke layup and the Sabres suddenly had a five-point advantage.
With 52 seconds left in the half, Marian stretched its lead to nine-points – its largest of the game – on an Alex Stecker three-pointer to make it 34-25. But, Dylan Rusch answered back right before halftime to make it 34-28 at the break.
Edgewood continued its comeback in the second half as Joe Klocek connected from three-point range, followed by a Williams jumper and Rusch old-fashioned three-point play, which gave the Eagles a 36-35 lead at the 16:23 mark.
Creed and Binversie brought the Sabres back in front with a run that stretched the lead to three points and, despite several attempts at cutting the deficit to one or two points, the Sabres never looked back.
Marian overcame a difficult shooting night with the win as it went just 42.9 percent (21-for-49) from the field, including 5-for-14 from downtown and 18-for-25 from the free throw line. The difference was on the glass as the Sabres out-rebounded the Eagles, 33-25, including hauling in 11 offensive rebounds.
The Sabres proved very opportunistic as well, turning 15 Edgewood miscues into 20 points en route to the narrow victory.
Marian won't find out its first round opponent until the bracket is announced on NCAA.com Monday, March 3.
(78-79), (79-80), (80-81), (82-83), (83-84),
(87-88), (89-90), (90-91), (98-99), (99-00),
NCAA Tournaments (2)