HARROGATE, Tenn. -- The No. 1 nationally-ranked Railsplitters (32-2) claimed their spot in the 2016 NCAA Division II Elite Eight with an 103-80 win over the Lenoir-Rhyne Bears (21-10) in the championship game of the Southeast Regional in front of a raucous crowd of more than 4,000 spectators at Tex Turner Arena on Tuesday night, March 15.
With the win, Lincoln Memorial collects its 22nd straight victory, matching the school and South Atlantic Conference record for the longest winning streak, and punches a ticket to the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight for the first time in program history. It will be LMU's deepest postseason run since the 1976-77 team finished fourth in the NAIA national tournament. It also completes the Railsplitters' nearly flawless run through the Southeast Regional in which they won by 27, 28 and 23 points. The Elite Eight is being held at Dr. Pepper Arena in Frisco, Texas from March 23-26 (Wednesday thru Saturday).
"Our guys were awesome," LMU head coach Josh Schertz (pictured, right) said. "I'm so lucky to be able to coach this group. It's remarkable. Their ability to rise to the occasion and play their best when their best is needed is unbelievable. It was a total team effort. I love these guys and I'm just incredibly lucky to be their coach." Senior Jalen Steele, a native of Knoxville, Tenn., scored a game-high 27 points on 8-of-16 shooting with five three-pointers, with 21 of his points coming in the first half. At the conclusion of the game, Steele was selected as the Southeast Regional Most Valuable Player, and the Mississippi State transfer was immediately overcome by emotion.
"The year that I was sitting out I put in a lot of work," said Steele (pictured, left). "I just laid back and let everything flow and let God take care of everything. And it all worked out. I got to a good school with a great coach and with some great players. It just hit me all at once. It feels great."
Lincoln Memorial shot 53.3 percent from the field, converting 32 of its 60 shot attempts, including 8-for-18 from three-point range. The Railsplitters also went 31-for-39 at the charity stripe to help seal the game late.
Photos by Jamie H. Vaught