Tuesday night was a moment New Jersey Institute of Technology awaited for 10 years. Unfortunately for the Highlanders, it didn’t last nearly as long as they hoped.
Ever since NJIT started its move to NCAA Division I in 2006, the school waited for a conference to take it in, offering the opportunity to compete for an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. It happened prior to this year as the Atlantic Sun invited the Highlanders, and Tuesday night marked the start of the program’s first-ever conference tournament with an NCAA bid on the line.
Despite being the A-Sun’s No. 2 seed, NJIT’s stay was a short one. Seventh-seeded Stetson played the part of March Madness party crasher, with league Freshman of the Year Derick Newton posting a serious double-double (28 points, 11 rebounds) as the Hatters went on to a surprisingly easy 82-67 win on the road.
The Highlanders’ postseason run was ruined by a horrid night from behind the arc-NJIT hit just 2 of 26 from three-point range. A team that went into its final regular season game with a chance at the league title now has seen its NCAA tourney chances end just two games later.
Stetson, meanwhile, now has a real opportunity to get to the A-Sun tourney final, as they will now get sixth-seeded Lipscomb in the semifinals. The Bisons upset No. 3 Jacksonville 93-90 in overtime.
As much as they’re upsets by seeding and conference regular season records, they’re not all that stunning in an Atlantic Sun season that has had room for just about anyone to beat anyone else. Stetson (now 11-21) knocked off regular season champion North Florida plus Florida Gulf Coast for its last two wins, while Lipscomb (12-20 overall) also defeated UNF and in fact had at least one win against each of the top four teams in the league.
In the other two quarterfinals, top seed North Florida ran away from South Carolina Upstate 92-69 and fourth-seeded FGCU topped Kennesaw State 74-64. Stetson’s win also now puts the A-Sun into a possibly funky position, as the Hatters are ineligible for the NCAA Tournament due to Academic Progress Rate sanctions. If they win in the semifinals, then the league’s automatic bid could go to either of two teams, neither of them Stetson. The winner of that UNF/FGCU semi would clinch the NCAA bid if it beats the Hatters, but if Stetson wins the conference tourney then the auto bid reverts to the regular season champion, which would be North Florida.
- The other conference tourney in action Tuesday was the Patriot League, where No. 7 Navy topped Lafayette 78-70 and No. 9 Holy Cross pulled the mild upset over 8 seed Loyola (Md.) 72-67.
- Among regular season results: debate the importance of this all one wants because of the heavily unbalanced schedules, but a Big Ten title is a big deal for anyone, and Indiana clinched the regular season title with an 81-78 win at Iowa.
- Oklahoma edged Baylor 73-71, but took a circuitous path to do so. The Sooners blew a 26-point lead, but rallied in the final minutes after the Bears briefly took a one-point lead late.
- Dayton got on track-barely. The Flyers trailed much of the way but rallied to nip Richmond 85-84 as Scoochie Smith scored a career-high 26 points. Still, this team does not look anything like it did earlier this year. Steve McElvene played just two minutes and has six points over the last three games, and the bench hasn’t been nearly as strong as it was earlier.
- Kentucky won at Florida 88-79, despite eight dunks by the Gators’ John Egbunu. Vanderbilt also stayed hot, routing Tennessee 86-69.
- Arkansas-Little Rock is now 27-3 after an 89-80 win over Arkansas State. Win or lose the Sun Belt tourney, the Trojans deserve an NCAA bid.
- Saint Mary’s survived some scary moments against a good Grand Canyon team but won 73-64, and with the Gaels got a very nice boost in their power rankings and added another top 100 win. It included a little risk, but overall a brilliant scheduling coup for SMC.
- Akron wrapped up the MAC East Division by drilling 20 three-pointers in a 91-76 win over Ohio. Meanwhile, the West is now a dead heat after Central Michigan won at Ball State 65-57, leaving both tied for first with one game to play.
- More conference awards went out Wednesday. Among some big ones: Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet was named winner of the Missouri Valley Conference Larry Bird Player of the Year Trophy for the second time in three years. VanVleet, Ron Baker, Evan Wessel and the rest of the seniors on this year’s Shockers team will be remembered for a long, long time.
- Sacred Heart sophomore guard Cane Broome was the unanimous choice as the Northeast Conference’s top player, becoming just the second player in league history to win the award as a sophomore (Myron Walker of Robert Morris was the first after the 1991-92 season). Guard Stephen Croone of Furman was named the Player of the Year in the Southern Conference by both coaches and media, a worthwhile cap for a player who will finish his career as a three-time first-team all-conference pick. BYU’s Kyle Collinsworth was a mildly surprising choice as the WCC Player of the Year, as the man with 11 career triple-doubles won it over Gonzaga’s Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer.
- More awards released later in the afternoon were from the Big South, Horizon League and Ohio Valley. John Brown of High Point won the Big South’s biggest award for the second time and is the first in league history to be named first-team all-conference four straight years. Oakland’s Kahlil Felder won the Horizon’s top honor, not surprising at all for a player who is a legitimate candidate for All-American recognition. In the OVC, Belmont forward Evan Bradds is the Player of the Year and one of 10 players to receive first team honors, as the league increased its first team from five players to 10 this year.
- More conference tournament action opens in the America East, NEC and OVC. Top seed Stony Brook opens against Maryland-Baltimore County in the A-East; No. 1 seed Wagner has a scary opener in the NEC against defending champion Robert Morris, and the 5/8 and 4/7 games open the OVC, including No. 5 Tennessee Tech vs. No. 8 Austin Peay and No. 6 Murray State hosting 7 seed Eastern Illinois.
- Maybe the biggest non-league tourney game of the night is in the Atlantic 10. St. Bonaventure hosts Saint Joseph’s, with the Bonnies looking to sweep the season series vs. the Hawks. A very interesting note is that this game is being played in Rochester, N.Y., two hours away from the Bonnies’ campus.
- Also in the A-10, VCU has a big game at home against Davidson (7 p.m. EST, CBSSN), a win that may not be flashy but would definitely help the power ratings.
- Texas Tech is probably in good shape for the NCAA Tournament, but could about lock up a spot if it found a way to win at West Virginia (7 p.m., ESPNU).
- Notre Dame has looked shaky of late, but the Irish can right that with a home date with top-10 Miami (Fla.) (7 p.m., ESPN2).
- Big opportunity for Butler, which hosts Seton Hall (8:30 p.m., FS1). A season sweep of the Pirates would be a significant chip for the selection committee. Also in the Big East, it may be Creighton’s last stand for an at-large bid, and it’s a tough assignment at Providence (9 p.m., CBSSN).
- This is a big weekend for Oregon State. It’s not an easy one, but it’s more manageable than might’ve looked a month ago, as both Los Angeles schools are sliding. The Beavers are at USC (11 p.m., FS1) and look to sweep the Trojans this year.
- Finally, another chance to check out the Mountain West’s second-place team in Fresno State, which hosts Colorado State (11 p.m., CBSSN).
Have a wonderful Wednesday.