The Nova Southeastern University Sharks have been bitten by March Madness Fever, and – so far – it’s been a memorable affliction.
NSU’s men’s basketball program, which had never made it to the tournament before this weekend, is now four wins away from an NCAA Division II national championship after defeating West Alabama 89-80 on Sunday night.
The fifth-ranked Sharks (28-3) will host No. 22 Lynn University (25-6) on Tuesday night, and the winner will advance to Evansville, Indiana, where the Elite Eight will congregate.
West Alabama never had much of a chance on Sunday in a game that was never really close, and losing coach Allen Sharpe had praise for NSU’s pressure defense, which forced 20 turnovers.
“Nova has a unique style that is hard to play against,” Sharpe said of the system brought in last season by NSU coach Jim Crutchfield. “I don’t know if you have enough days to prepare for their press. It’s hard to simulate. You try to explain to your players what’s coming, but it’s hard.”
Mark Matthews led NSU with a career-high and game-high 32 points, making 13-of-15 shots from the floor and grabbing a game-high nine rebounds.
Matthews, who was also 6-for-6 on free throws, said his defense led to offense.
“I was more engaged in the press,” said Matthews, who made first-team All-Sunshine State Conference this season but was held to 13 points in NSU’s win over Miles College on Saturday. “When I’m engaged on both sides of the ball, my game is better.”
NSU, which shot 54.3 percent from the floor, also got 16 points from point guard David Dennis and 12 from wing Mikkel Kolstad.
“That’s what makes us different and special,” Dennis said. “Every guy on the floor is a really good scorer.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ NSU played without starter Connor Zinaich, who led the Sharks with 25 points on Saturday but is out with two broken hands. He suffered the injury late in Saturday’s game.
▪ NSU will now face a Lynn team it has beaten twice this season without defeat. NSU beat Lynn 87-85 on Jan. 16 and 89-85 on Feb. 20. Matthews averaged 25.0 points in those two games had a game-winning put-back with 0.5 seconds left to win the first contest.
Lynn’s Jamal Palmer averaged 28.0 points in those two games. But Darius Moore, who helped beat Florida Southern on Sunday by making 9-of-10 shots, including 4-of-4 on three-pointers, also did damage to NSU. In their first meeting, he scored 28 points on 10-for-13 shooting, including 8-of-9 on three-pointers.
▪ NSU’s women’s team is also four wins away from a national championship.
Christen Prasse, a 5-9 senior from Naperville, Illinois, scored a career-high and NSU-record 39 points on Saturday to lead the Sharks to an 87-78 win over West Florida in a game played at Lakeland. Prasse made 13-of-16 shots from the floor, including 9-of-10 on three-pointers.
Her nine three-pointers tied an NCAA record for a tournament game.