The last Sunday before the biggest Sunday of them all wasn’t without its own drama.
Three teams punched tickets to the Big Dance, with Bradley staging the biggest comeback in Missouri Valley Tournament history to sneak past Northern Iowa. For the Braves, it’s their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since Patrick O’Bryant helped slay Kansas and Pitt en route to the Sweet 16 in 2006. That a 9-9 Valley team — and not presumptively-still-magical Loyola Chicago or upstart Drake — snatched the auto bid was fitting after an unpredictable season within the league.
Elsewhere, the NMTC happily lost a member, as Gardner Webb went on the road and beat Radford in the Big South final. As we point out in our game recap, the Runnin’ Bulldogs will be the fifth different team to represent the Big South in the last five seasons, and had to get through the tournament’s top two seeds to earn that right.
In the other high stakes game, Liberty won its highly anticipated rubber match against Lipscomb to grab the ASUN’s auto bid in its first year in the league. You can read all about that game — and its tense final few minutes — here.
To the rest of the action:
Southern Conference Semifinals
No. 22 Wofford 81, ETSU 72
UNC Greensboro 66, Furman 62
The SoCon’s power four didn’t disappoint getting to the semifinals, and then doubled down by producing a pair of largely competitive games. Fletcher Magee chucked in 26 points in the Terriers win, while Francisco Alonso scored 19 points in leading the Spartans to their second straight league tournament title game. Bubble teams everywhere will be cheering for Wofford with a clear-as-day bid thief in UNCG in the picture. That may be hard watching for those teams, as the Terriers slapped dominant wins on the Spartans in both of their meetings this season.
Iona 73, Siena 57
Monmouth 73, Canisius 59
Iona won yet again in Albany, knocking out home tenant Siena. Gaels guard E.J. Crawford talked to the Times Union about feeling comfortable in the Saints’ digs, where his team will play for its fourth straight NCAA Tournament bid.
“I mean, I love playing up here,’’ said Iona junior guard E.J. Crawford, who had 16 points. “I’ve got two rings and I’m in for a third one.”
In the other semifinal, Monmouth ran away late to etch another moment ints recovery from an 0-12 start. Of all the consternation with the Hawks at-large quality teams of the King Rice era, it would be quite the story if this was the one to finally get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006.
Summit League Tournament Quarterfinals
North Dakota State 86, Oral Roberts 73
Fort Wayne 96, South Dakota 70
The sun did rise over a Daum-less Summit, and it saw a Dakota school advance to the semifinals. Behind 25 points from Tyson Ward, the Bison blitzed past Oral Roberts in the second half to ensure the Sanford Center retained some local flavor into the next round. John Konchar helped Fort Wayne surge into the semfinals with a triple double (18 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) in any easy win over South Dakota. Is it finally time for the star whose been under-appreciated on the national scale to have his moment?
Patriot League Semifinals
Colgate 80, Navy 70
Bucknell 97, Lehigh 75
The top two seeds held serve, as Colgate and Bucknell will meet in the championship on Wednesday. The Bison blew open their game against Lehigh with a 52-point second half, and got 25 points from senior shooting guard Kimbal Mackenzie. It’s the third year in the row they’ve advanced to the Patriot League final. For its part, Colgate was able to fend off Navy behind 22 points from Rapolas Ivanauskas, and are seeking its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1996.
Hofstra 76, James Madison 67
Delaware 85, William & Mary 79
Northeastern 80, UNC Wilmington 59
Charleston 73, Drexel 61
Delaware — which overcame a 14-point halftime deficit — was the lone lower-seeded team to win on Sunday, as chalk held elsewhere in Charleston. The fifth-seeded Blue Hens now get Justin Wright-Foreman and Hofstra, which swept them in the regular season. All eyes will be on Charleston and Northeastern, which split their pair of games. Neither team was challenged that much in their respective quarterfinal, with Grant Riller scoring 24 points for the Cougars, and Jordan Roland leading the way with 21 points for the Huskies. Vasa Pusica leading the potent Northeastern attack against Charleston’s star power and defensive DNA makes for one compelling semifinal.