Barry University, the 19th-ranked team in the nation in NCAA Division II men’s basketball, has reached the Elite Eight for the first time in school history and has set a school record for wins.
But the Bucs (26-6) now face their biggest challenge, playing No. 1 Lincoln Memorial (32-2), a powerhouse team from Harrogate, Tennessee. Lincoln has won 22 games in a row, dominating its regional with victory margins of 27, 28 and 23 points.
Barry and Lincoln will play Wednesday at 1 p.m. in Frisco, Texas, and the Bucs have no intention of backing down.
“We’re a confident team,” Barry coach Butch Estes said. “We’ve improved defensively, which helps, and we’re playing well overall.”
Barry and Lincoln have an interesting connection. Lincoln coach Josh Schertz and Barry assistant Justin Furr are close friends and speak at least once a week. In fact, Schertz was at Furr’s wedding.
Schertz surely knows all about Barry’s 6-5, 220-pound senior wing Yunio Barrueta, who has a chance to be named first-team All-America this season.
Barrueta has already been invited to the national dunk contest March 31 in Houston as part of the Division I Final Four festivities. He will dunk against Division I athletes in a contest that will be televised live by ESPN at 9 p.m.
Meanwhile, Lincoln is led by 6-3 senior guard Jalen Steele, a Mississippi State transfer who was the MVP of the Southeast Regional. Gerel Simmons, a 6-2 senior guard, averages a team-high 20.6 points for the season.
The women’s basketball team (24-7) earned its fourth consecutive NCAA Division II postseason appearance but lost in the Round of 32.
“It was disappointing,” said NSU coach LeAnn Freeland, who had led NSU to three Elite Eight appearances in a row prior to this season. “We were hopeful we could make another run. But we ran into a hot Benedict team (69-57 loss), and it was not one of our better nights.”
Looking ahead to next season, the Sharks lose four seniors, including starters Monaye Merritt, Molly Blomer and Ida Krogh as well as key reserve Alexis Murphy.
Blomer and Murphy are the first players in NSU history to make four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.
NSU next season will rely on senior forward Kayla Wright and senior guard Taylor Buie. They were the team’s leading scorers, Wright at 16.2 and Buie at 13.3.
Wright, who made 57.5 percent of her shots from the floor but averaged just 18.9 minutes, made first-team All-South Region and was the Sunshine State Conference Player of the Year.
Freeland believed Wright was more productive in shorter minutes. Meanwhile, Buie, in her first year back from ACL knee surgery, was the focus of most defenses.
The Bobcats, who recently finished their men’s basketball year with an 18-10 record after getting knocked out in the Sun Conference semifinals, are set to return a solid nucleus next season.
Michael Walker, a 6-4 guard who made first team All-Conference after leading the team with a 16.1 scoring average, will be a senior next season. Raheem Bowman, a 6-11 center, was just named the league’s Freshman of the Year.
The Bobcats will also have three players who averaged between 9.7 and 10.8 points this season: 6-3 rising senior guard Armand Shoon, 6-4 rising junior guard Tim Sada and 5-7 rising junior point guard Mikon Hewitt.
Bobcats coach Patrick Gayle said Walker is his best defender, Sada is his best perimeter shooter and Bowman has the potential to be a “very rich” man.
“He is 40 pounds away from having a great pro career, and he has three years to get there,” Gayle said of the 320-pounder. “When we got him, he was at 360 pounds.”
Shoon, who had a 27-point game this past season, is expected to go from sixth man to starter.