FRISCO, Texas -- The second-seeded Augustana Vikings (34-2) opened the second half with a 19-10 run and stiff-armed the top-seeded Railsplitters (34-3) down the stretch to capture the NCAA Division II Men's Basketball National Championship with a 90-81 victory at Dr Pepper Arena in Frisco, Texas on Saturday, March 26, afternoon. Lincoln Memorial, who was the first South Atlantic Conference team ever to make an appearance in the men's basketball title game, ends its season with a 34-3 record, while Augustana captures its first-ever men's basketball championship and finishes with a 34-2 record.
Click here for Box Score The Railsplitters soared to historic heights during the 2015-16 season, resetting the program's single-season record for wins while advancing to the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight for the first time in program history, eventually carrying that memorable run into the final day of the season. But Augustana started fast, empowered by a raucous gathering of fans that made the long trip from Sioux Falls, S.D., and absorbed every one of Lincoln Memorial's comeback punches to deny Lincoln Memorial of the fitting end the season deserved. Lincoln Memorial finished 32 for 68 from the field for a 47.1 percent mark, but struggled from both the free-throw line and three-point territory. The Railsplitters went 8 for 22 from three-point range and 9 for 18 from the free-throw line, including a 7 for 15 mark in the second half, which ultimately prevented Lincoln Memorial from gaining any ground late in the contest.
Senior Gerel Simmons (pictured) of Accokeek, Md., who was selected to the Elite Eight All-Tournament team, led the Railsplitters with 21 points on 8 for 19 shooting, which he coupled with five assists and five rebounds. Senior Jalen Steele (Knoxville, Tenn.) added 15 points with four triples. Dorian Pinson (Greenville, S.C.) produced 13 points, seven rebounds and five assists in 24 minutes of action, while Emanuel Terry (Enterprise, Ala.) had 15 points on 7 of 9 shooting with seven rebounds and three blocks in 20 minutes of work. Both Pinson and Terry battled foul trouble throughout the game before fouling out late in the second half. Augustana's big three of Alex Richter, Dan Jansen and Casey Schilling carried the Vikings to the national championship, combining for 71 points and 34 rebounds. Richter - the Elite Eight Most Outstanding Player - had a game-high 26 points and six rebounds, Jansen amassed 25 points and nine rebounds, and Schilling had 20 points and 19 rebounds. The Vikings finished shooting 46.3 percent from the field and made seven of their 15 three-point attempts. Augustana was also solid at the charity stripe, going 21 for 27. The Railsplitters scored on their first possession of the game on a bucket by Terry, but Augustana would completely control the next passage of play, connecting on five of its seven shot attempts to race out to a 13-4 lead at the under-16 media timeout (14:52). Alex Richter paced that flurry by hitting his first four shots and scoring 10 quick points. Lincoln Memorial was 2 for 9 from the field over that same span. The Vikings maintained a nine-point cushion at 15-6 after Daniel Jansen rolled in a layup at the 13:34 mark, but Augustana's offense finally started to cool off after that hot start, allowing the Railsplitters to work back into the game. After Jansen's basket, the Vikings wouldn't score again until Casey Schilling made two free throws at the 9:22 mark, which ended an 8-0 LMU run and kept Augustana in front 17-14. The contest then settled into a back-and-forth rhythm, as a jumper by Simmons and a layup from Pinson put the Railsplitters in the lead for the first time since the opening minute at 18-17 with eight minutes left in the half. The Vikings quickly answered on the other end with a transition layup by Richter and a free throw from Schilling, which put Augustana back ahead 20-18 at 7:17. Jordan Spencer buried a three-pointer to break a 20-20 tie and give the Vikings a 23-20 edge at 6:17, but the Railsplitters would churn out a 10-2 flurry capped by a triple from Steele to assume their largest lead of the game at 30-25 just before the under-four media timeout. It was then Augustana's turn to answer, though, as Schilling scored back-to-back buckets and Jansen canned two free throws to power a 6-0 run that staked the Vikings to a 31-30 lead with three minutes left in the half. After that, there would be two lead changes and two ties before the half came to a close, but Augustana would make the final push. With the game knotted at 36-36, Jansen completed an old-fashioned three-point play to give the Vikings the lead, while Richter would increase it to five with a bucket in the next AU possession. Simmons drove into the paint and scored with six seconds left in the opening half, but Schilling would answer with a buzzer-beating jumper at the top of the key to send Lincoln Memorial into the break trailing 43-38. All told, the first half featured six ties and seven lead changes with neither team shooting particularly well. The Railsplitters finished 16 for 37 from the field (43.2 percent) and 4 of 12 from three-point range, while Augustana was 16 for 36 (44.4 percent). Luquon Choice (Laurens, S.C.) knocked down a three-pointer in the Railsplitters' first possession of the second half to cut the deficit to two, and Lincoln Memorial stayed within two points after Simmons hit a couple of free throws at the 18:38 mark. But back-to-back buckets by Schilling followed by a steal and layup from Spencer powered a 6-0 Augustana run, which put the Vikings ahead 51-43 and forced LMU to burn a timeout. Coming out of the timeout, the Railsplitters closed the gap to six points on a tip-in by Terry, but Augustana would go on an 11-3 run over the next three and a half minutes to take the largest lead of the game for either team at 62-48 with 13:44 left to play. After weathering that storm, the Railsplitters scored six unanswered points on baskets from Tim Pierce (Albany, Ga.), Terry and Pinson to trim the deficit to 62-54 with 12 minutes to play. The Vikings halted that flurry with a bucket from Zach Huisken, but the Railsplitters answered with a 5-0 spurt to pull within five points at 64-59 with 11:12 left. However, as they would throughout the remainder of the contest, Augustana wouldn't let the game get any closer, as Jansen scored five straight points to extend the Vikings' cushion back to double digits at 69-59 at the 10:26 mark. Steele hit a three-pointer and went one of two at the free-throw line to bring the Railsplitters' back within six points a little over a minute later, but a 9-3 Augustana run would bury Lincoln Memorial in a 78-66 hole with seven minutes left. The Railsplitters continued to fight, though, as a basket by Simmons and a layup from Choice made it an 82-77 game with a little over four minutes left. However, Richter responded on the other end by draining a corner three to extend the Vikings' advantage to 85-77. Lincoln Memorial made one last push after that, as Simmons bagged a three to make it 87-81 with two minutes to go, but Richter knocked down two free throws on the other end, while the Railsplitters would miss their last four three-point tries and two free throws over the closing stretch. Jansen then made one of his two free-throw attempts and the Vikings stole the ensuing in-bounds pass to bring the game to an end. Augustana won the rebounding battle 42-36 and scored 17 second-chance points off of 14 offensive boards. Despite being substantially outsized, the Railsplitters played the Vikings even in terms of points in the paint 42-42. The loss draws the curtain on the most remarkable season in the history of the LMU men's basketball program and quite possibly the athletic department as a whole. The Railsplitters obliterated the previous SAC and school single-season record for wins with 34, won their fourth straight South Atlantic Conference title and captured the NCAA Division II Southeast Region championship for the first time in program history.
The Railsplitters were the first men's basketball team in SAC and program history to advance to the National Championship game. Lincoln Memorial also set the SAC and program record for longest winning streak with 24-straight wins. The loss also brings the collegiate careers of Curtis McMillion(Fayetteville, N.C.), Curtis Webb (Spartanburg, S.C.), Pierce, Simmons and Steele to a close. Aside from Steele, who transferred in from Mississippi State prior to the start of this season, those departing players were a part of the two winningest seasons in SAC and program history.
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