/Men’s basketball earns trip to 7th consecutive NCAA tournament

Men’s basketball earns trip to 7th consecutive NCAA tournament

The Falcons are looking to finish their 19-9 season with a victory in Tennessee at the PBC championship. Photo courtesy of Montevallo Athletics.

Montevallo’s impressive senior night performance was followed up by an 84-67 win at Young Harris for the final regular season game. Bryant Orange had a massive night with 21 points and six rebounds, assists and steals.

The 18-8 regular season record was enough to allow the Falcons to host a Peach Belt Quarterfinal matchup against Armstrong State. In front of the Trustmark Arena crowd, where the Falcons have been the most deadly, Montevallo outlasted the Pirates 76-71 in a tight encounter. Terrell Lipkins was the star man on this occasion with 21 points, eight rebounds, six assists and three steals.

The following weekend featured the Peach Belt Semifinals hosted by Columbus State. The hosts caught the upset bug and were shocked by an impressive Augusta team, who were making a late run to try to gain an NCAA Tournament bid.

Montevallo spurned the chance to meet Augusta after a heartbreaking one point loss to Lander, who were eventual champions. Tevin Worthy and Lipkins scored 15 points each with Malik Fields and Vaughn Autry providing 12 points each from the bench, but the Falcons lost a back-and-forth nail biter by a score of 70-71. The only thing left to do was to wait to see if their season was impressive enough to gain a tournament bid.

The NCAA Southeast Region features three Peach Belt teams and will be held in Harrogate, Tennessee on the campus of Lincoln Memorial the weekend of March 12. Columbus State captured a number five seed and will play Queens.

The Falcons received a number six seed, and Lander had to settle for an eight seed and will play the hosts. Montevallo’s opponents are Wingate, with the winner facing the winner of Lenoir-Rhyne and King.  The regional final will be held on Tuesday, March 15. Outside of the dominant hosts, the southeast region looks extremely competitive. All eight teams are quite even and have similar overall records. Augusta’s late season run was not enough for them to earn a spot as the fourth Peach Belt team represented.

Montevallo’s first round opponent, the Wingate Bulldogs from North Carolina, have a 22-9 overall record.  They have played two Peach Belt teams this year, beating UNC Pembroke before losing to Augusta. They have a 2-1 record against Queens and split their two games against Lenoir-Rhyne. They have lost to the hosts, Lincoln Memorial, three times this year, including in the final of the SAC Tournament. The Bulldogs star player is junior Isiah Cureton, but they also have freshman sensation Mike Baez, who averages 13.3 points per game. Upperclassmen Xavier Griffin and Anthanee Doyle have started all 31 games this season and will look to have a big influence on the game.

Montevallo will have to be at their best this weekend in order to advance to the Elite Eight in Frisco, Texas. The Falcons have Lipkins’ 21.7 points per game and Orange’s 7.1 rebounds per game to rely on, but Montevallo will require a team effort, including a strong bench performance to knock off the other elite teams in the southeast region. Worthy, Fields and Talan Whitaker have dominated the rebounds while Autry and Logan Kelley have provided a three-point threat. However, the X-factor in the game might be junior Kevin Kelly. The junior from Houston, Texas does not fill up the stat sheet, but his effort and aggressive style of play has led to many opposing turnovers.

The team of transfer players that Danny Young has impressively put together has improved as the season has worn on and the players have grown comfortable with each other. On a good day, the Falcons look capable of beating anyone in Division II basketball, but they also have had a problem with closing out games and losing on buzzer beating shots. The Falcons are playing their best basketball at the best time, but the ultimate test will be this weekend in Tennessee.

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