A-Sun Basketball Championships to Open at Mercer on Wednesday
MACON, Ga. – The 2011 General Shale Brick Atlantic Sun Conference basketball championships will get underway Wednesday (March 2) at Mercer University’s University Center. The event – being hosted by Mercer for the second-straight year – features eight men’s and eight women’s teams, each vying for the A-Sun’s automatic bid to their respective NCAA national tournament.
The 2011 General Shale Brick Atlantic Sun Men’s Basketball Championship begins at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday from Mercer University’s University Center with top-seeded Belmont eyeing a return trip to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008. The Bruins face Kennesaw State, the No. 8 seed, who in the same position a year ago, took down No. 1 Lipscomb.
Three of the four quarterfinal games feature matchups that took place in the final weekend of play and two, Belmont against Kennesaw State and Lipscomb versus Mercer represent back-to-back meetings. ETSU and Campbell met on Thursday in the Buccaneers’ regular-season finale; Campbell closed out its season two days later against USC Upstate.
Despite being picked third in the preseason polls, Belmont rolled through A-Sun competition to claim its fourth regular-season title since 2006. The Bruins utilized the nation’s top bench to set a program record for wins at the Division-I level. Their bench leads the nation in points, rebounds, assists, steals and 3-point field goals per game. No team’s bench in the country has finished a season leading the nation in scoring, rebounding and assists dating back to 1996-97. Belmont’s domination in league games also merited historical perspective. In conference play, the Bruins owned a scoring margin of 20.9 points per game, the widest margin of any school in any conference over a full season since Duke’s scoring margin in ACC games in 1998-99 finished at 24.3 points per game.
Kennesaw State made its first appearance at the A-Sun Championship a memorable one as the Owls knocked off top-seeded Lipscomb in the quarterfinals - the first win by the No. 8 seed against the No. 1 seed in 10 years. Sophomores Markeith Cummings and LaDaris Green pace the Owls. Cummings topped all in scoring in A-Sun play while Green led in rebounding.
Wednesday’s second quarterfinal sets up ETSU, the two-time A-Sun Champion, facing seventh-seeded Campbell at 9 p.m. Prior to 2008, no Atlantic Sun program successfully won three A-Sun Men’s Basketball Championship titles. This year, ETSU has a chance to join Belmont (2006-08) in this exclusive company. Only six programs in the country (Duke, ACC; Temple, A-10; Siena, MAAC; Morgan State, MEAC; Northern Iowa, MVC and Robert Morris, NEC) join ETSU in winning its league’s conference tournament each of the previous two seasons. The Buccaneers earned the No. 2 seed for the 2011 Championship, the same seed they held when they won the 2009 event. Second seeds have won five of the past seven titles, all involving a defeat of the top seed in the title game.
Campbell enters the A-Sun Championship leading the league in blocked shots per game at 5.03. The Camels have already set a school record for rejections in a season with 151. Eric Griffin ranks second in the league in blocks and Marvelle Harris enters the week in fifth. With 59 blocks, Griffin already owns the school record for rejections in a year.
For the second-straight A-Sun Men’s Championship, the conference’s two Jacksonville-based members, UNF and Jacksonville meet in a quarterfinal clash at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday. UNF completed its most successful A-Sun campaign, posting a 10-10 record. Jacksonville, who had to replace All-Atlantic Sun performers Ben Smith and Lehmon Colbert, won 19 games during the regular season, including twice on the road at SEC schools, Auburn and nationally-ranked Florida. Jacksonville has controlled the series, winning 13 of the 14 all-time contests. The Dolphins won the two meetings this year in the waning seconds. Delwan Graham made two free throws with less than one second left for a 64-63 win at UNF. At home, Russell Powell’s floater with 4.7 seconds left lifted JU to a 71-69 win.
Quarterfinal play concludes with Lipscomb taking on the host, Mercer at 9 p.m. on Thursday. The Bisons and Bears met on the same floor on Saturday with the Bears pulling out a 68-67 victory. Despite earning only the fourth seed, the Bisons own the only victory by an A-Sun school against Belmont. At home in late-January, the Bisons stormed back from an 18-point hole then stormed the Allen Arena floor following a 73-64 win.
After making a run to the title game in 2010 that featured wins against co-regular-season champions Belmont and Jacksonville, Mercer entered 2010-11 knowing it had to replace third double-digit scorers James Florence, Daniel Emerson and E.J. Kusnyer. After a series of agonizing losses, the Bears had to overcome the mid-season losses of seniors Jeff Smith and Brandon Moore. The Bears rallied, winning seven of nine after the injury to Smith, included that run was a five-game win streak following Moore’s injury. Brian Mills established career-best scoring efforts three times during season and after never reaching 20 points in a game his first three years in Macon, he has totaled 20 points 10 times this season.
In its first year in Macon, Ga., the men’s title game between ETSU and Mercer played to a sold-out University Center. Only four title games in the country played on a campus site featured a sold out crowd. Despite the home-court advantage, ETSU extended the host-school drought to nine years. No host has won the A-Sun men’s tournament title since Georgia State capped a 28-4 season by defeating Troy, 79-55, at the GSU Sports Arena.
The 2011 General Shale Brick Atlantic Sun Basketball Championships women’s bracket gets underway on Wednesday as top-seeded ETSU takes on Lipscomb at noon, while No. 2 seed Stetson faces Kennesaw State at 6:30 p.m. Day two of quarterfinals games begin on Thursday as River City rivals, UNF and Jacksonville square off in opening game and Campbell and Belmont conclude the women's action for the night at 6:30 p.m.
CHAMPIONSHIP NOTES: Lady Bucs Shoot At Four-Peat
After taking the past three Atlantic Sun Conference Women’s Basketball Championships, ETSU enters the 2011 edition as the top-seed in the tournament and a chance to tie Florida International (1992-95) for most consecutive championships at four after posting a 15-5 conference mark. With the past four top-seeds earning the A-Sun Championships, ETSU has more than history on its side with seniors Tara Davis and Latisha Belcher leading the way for the Bucs. Davis posted 11 20-point games this season, second in the conference, en route to averaging 15.3 points per outing, while adding 4.7 rebounds and 2.1 steals. Belcher finished the season strong with four double-doubles in February to finish A-Sun play averaging 8.4 points and 8.3 boards per league contest.
Stetson Quartet Search for A-Sun Title
Four Hatters enter the Atlantic Sun Championship averaging double-digit in points led by sophomore Victoria McGowan (14.1), while seniors Tierra Brown (13.5), Jessica Conner (11.1) and Natasha Graboski (10.2) add their offensive game as well. All four players averaged more points in conference play, where the Hatters went 13-7 to propel themselves to the two-seed. Coach Lynn Bria’s team comes in hot to the tournament winning six of their last seven games to secure the most successful season for the Hatters in the past decade.
UNF Seeks Revenge for 2010 Final
Last season, the Ospreys charged to the A-Sun Championship Finals as the seven seed in the tournament before ETSU posted a one-point victory against UNF. Coach Mary Tappemeyer and the Ospreys started their run by upsetting two seed and host Mercer before downing River City rival, Jacksonville, in the semifinals. With a potential rematch with ETSU in the semifinals, Brittany Kirkland and UNF first must survive a showdown with the Dolphins, who UNF swept in the regular season.
Deep Camels Scoring Attack Looks for March Success
For the second-straight season, Campbell enters the tournament as the three seed after a 12-8 A-Sun season, which included a seven-game winning streak in the month of January. Sophomore guard Tonisha Baker is the only Camel to average double figures in points at 11.9, but she is supported by six players that average at least five points per game. Campbell wrapped up the regular season in impressive fashion scoring victories against ETSU and USC Upstate by an average of 15.5 points.
Bruins Enter Championship with New Head Coach
First-year head coach Brittney Ezell guided Belmont to victories in the final two regular season games against Kennesaw State and Mercer to clinch the six seed. Ezell succeeded the two-time A-Sun Coach of the Year Tony Cross, who led the Bruins program for 25 years, after his retirement last season. Cross didn’t leave the cupboard bare as junior post player Haley Nelson picked up team-highs in points and rebounds in the final two games of the season. Nelson, who has missed seven games this season, averaged 13.4 points and 8.1 rebounds for the Bruins, while freshman Molly Ernst and senior Shaunda Strayhorn added 10.1 and 8.2 to the Belmont offensive attack.
Dolphins Must Snap Losing Streak to Continue Winning Streak
For six-straight years now the Jacksonville Dolphins and head coach Jill Dunn appear in the A-Sun Basketball Championship and picked up first-round victories in the past four tournaments including a six-point victory over third-seeded Campbell last year. As the five-seed, Jacksonville must snap a four-game losing streak to rivals, UNF, when they square off on Thursday. Five players average at least eight points per outing for the Dolphins led by senior Taneskei Richardson’s 11.4 average and GiGi Thomas’ 10.4.
Owls Ready for Round Two
After making their debut in the A-Sun Championship last season and bowing out in the quarterfinals, Kennesaw State returns as the seven seed looking to earn their first A-Sun Championship game win. Angie Smith, Sametria Gideon and Ashley Holliday lead the Owls’ attack with all three averaging double digits in conference games. A rebounding machine, the six-foot Gideon registered two 20-rebound games this season, while Smith and Holliday attacked from the perimeter where the duo combined to hit 93 trifectas on the season.
Lady Bisons Return to the Tournament
Lipscomb and Head Coach Frank Bennett missed out on the A-Sun Championship last year, but snuck into this year’s field as the eight seed. Jenna Bartsokas and Anna Bowers shoulder most of the scoring responsibilities for the Lady Bisons as the duo combine to average 27.8 points per game and tallied game-highs for points in 24 of the 29 games. However, the recent surge of Valerie Bronson gives Lipscomb potential for a run in their comeback appearance.
The Atlantic Sun Conference is an 11-member league committed to Building Winners for Life. The A-Sun stands for achievement with integrity in both the academic and athletic arenas, with a focus on the balance between the two for our student-athletes. Headquartered in Macon, Ga., the A-Sun boasts five of the top eight media markets in the Southeast. The A-Sun includes a blend of the most prestigious and dynamic private and public institutions in the region: Belmont University, Campbell University, East Tennessee State University, Florida Gulf Coast University, Jacksonville University, Kennesaw State University, Lipscomb University, Mercer University, University of North Florida, University of South Carolina Upstate and Stetson University.