The appetizer for the Final Four is set.
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Saint Peter’s advanced to the CIT championship, which will be played just ahead of those slightly more visible games this weekend. The teams will meet on Friday in Corpus Christi.
Here’s how they got there.
Texas A&M-CC 79, UMBC 61
There were plenty of firsts in the Islanders’ win in Baltimore.
The longest postseason run in program history got longer. Texas A&M-CC won first round games in the 2014 and 2015 CIT, but that was it. The Islanders have now doubled that win total in this year’s tournament, reaching their first postseason final.
The program record book looks different now too.
Senior big man Rashawn Thomas became the first player to score 2,000 points in an Islander uniform after a 23-point effort. He also helped limit the Terriers to just one offensive rebound amid a strong Islanders’ defensive performance.
This was especially the case in the second half, where Texas A&M-CC outscored UMBC 50-27 to overcome a five-point half time deficit. The Terriers had led by as much as 10 points in the first half before the Islanders’ caught fire.
Most of this explosion came from the three-point line, as the Islanders nailed eight triples after the break. Freshman Kareem South had four of these three-pointers en route to a 20-point night. This was just two points off his career high.
After playing their first road game of the tournament, the Islanders will host the final on Friday night. A win would not only net the program its first postseason championship, but also tie the highest win total (25) in Willis Wilson’s six-year tenure. He talked about the importance of the win with the Corpus Christi Caller-Times after the game.
“It’s just a statement of how far we’ve come as a basketball program, to be able to win in the postseason and playing March 31,” Wilson said. “You can go a whole career as a coach and a player and not have that opportunity. To be one of the few teams still playing this late in the year, it’s a validation of sorts.”
The Terriers had their worst offensive output of the season (0.79 points per possession), but shouldn’t hang their heads.
Ryan Odom engineered a dramatic turn around in his first year in charge. UMBC finishes the season with 21 wins, after winning just seven games last season. The program also won its first postseason game since the 1980 Division II NCAA Tournament in the first round, and added two more while advancing to the semifinals.
Leading scorer Jairus Lyles missed the game with an injury, but should be back next season along with most of the Terriers’ rotation. This includes fellow guards K.J. Maura and Rodney Elliot, who should form one of the best back courts in the America East.
Saint Peter’s 77, Furman 51
There would be no such comeback in the second semifinal.
Saint Peter’s went up big early and ran away with a 26-point home win. Furman struggled massively from the beginning, missing its first ten shots. The Peacocks lead ballooned to 34-8 with under four minutes to go before the break.
They would keep the Paladins at bay in the second half, and were led by a season-high 18 points from junior Nnamdi Enechionyia. Senior Quadir Welton led a dominant performance on the glass with 16 of Saint Peter’s 38 rebounds.
The Peacocks, who finished second in the MAAC, advance to the first postseason championship game in program history. Their longest run to this point was to the semifinals of the 1968 NIT, where they lost to Kansas.
Furman ends a successful 23-12 campaign that saw the Paladins win a share of the SoCon regular season crown. This vaulted Niko Medved to Drake, and the Paladins were led by interim coach Bob Richey in the semifinal loss.