Seth Evans scored a career-high 31 points and Dominic Lane sank two free throws with 2.3 seconds remaining in the game to lift the men’s basketball team to a 90-88 win over second-seeded Alabama Huntsville in the NCAA Division II South Region Final.
The victory, which took place in Jenkins Field House in front of a season-high crowd of 2,377, earned the Mocs their ninth NCAA Regional Championship, and the program’s first under head coach Linc Darner. The win, the Mocs’ eighth in a row, also sends them to Louisville, Ky. for the Division II Elite 8.
With the top-seeded Mocs trailing 88-85, and only 46.6 seconds remaining in the contest, sophomore guard Kevin Capers went to the line for two free throws. Capers made the first before UAH rebounded his miss on the second attempt to set up a wild finish.
The Mocs quickly trapped off of the Chargers’ rebound. The defensive pressure caused a loose ball, which Evans was able to tip in the direction of Lane as he cut toward the basket. Lane would miss the layup, but sophomore guard Cameron Vines was there for the put-back to even the score at 88 with 37.3 seconds remaining.
“We wanted to get a trap there,” Darner said. “And we got it but we wanted to get it off of the make, but it worked out to our advantage.“
The Mocs defense would step up again as they forced UAH into a shot clock violation on their final possession, not even allowing the Chargers to get a shot off.
“I think they were trying to hold it as long as possible so we didn’t get a chance,” Darner said. “They were going to shoot it at the last minute so we wouldn’t get a chance to score and we played really good defense there at the end.”
The defensive stand set up a controversial ending to an extremely competitive game. With only 2.3 seconds left in the game, the Chargers were called for a foul as the Mocs attempted to inbound the ball from the other side of half court. The foul sent Lane to the line for two free throws.
Lane calmly sank both as the raucous Jenkins Field House crowd erupted.
“We executed our play,” Darner said. “I don’t know if it was a foul there or not but they called it, and Dom [Lane] stepped up and hit two huge free throws for us.”
The frantic finish came after the two teams exchanged blows the entire night. UAH was able to create a little separation in the first half as they held a 40-29 lead with 6:14 left before the break. The 11-point lead was the largest of the game for either team.
The Mocs, like they have done all season long, put together a huge run, outscoring UAH 15-2 in the final minutes of the half. The run, punctuated by a one-handed fast-break slam by Lamar McKnight, sent the Mocs into halftime with a 44-42 advantage.
“I thought we were wearing them down at that time. They looked a little tired,” Darner said. “We just went straight man to man and that’s when we made our run.”
In the second half, the two teams went back and forth, changing leads eight times before all was said and done. Evans hit eight three-pointers on the night on his way to the tournament Most Outstanding Player award. Vines chipped in 15 points for the Mocs while Wayne Dedrick and Zane Campbell combined for 51 points for the Chargers.
“That’s the craziest game I’ve ever been involved in,” Evans said.
Darner believes that’s the best game college basketball fans have been treated to all year.
“I don’t know if you’ll see a better college basketball game than you saw here tonight, no matter what level,” Darner said.“It was an unbelievable game.”
And while the quarterfinals still await March 28, the Mocs didn’t miss the opportunity to enjoy this victory.
“This has been the best year I’ve ever had in my life…” Evans said. “I can’t wait to go and enjoy it with my teammates.”
More Photos from the NCAA Division II South Region Final: