Not bad for a bunch of newbies.
The fifth-ranked Nova Southeastern University Sharks, playing in the Division II NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history, won their third men’s basketball game in four days, defeating Lynn 89-74 to win the South Region on Tuesday night.
When the clock read zeroes, NSU backup Lukas Landgren tossed the ball up toward the rafters, confetti rained down in the opposite direction, and fans stormed the court — complete with an inflatable shark.
With the win, the Sharks — who joined the NCAA in 2002 — advanced to the Elite Eight, held March 27-30 at the Ford Center in Evansville, Indiana.
“What we’ve accomplished here is pretty cool,” said NSU coach Jim Crutchfield, who had reached this stage numerous times in his previous stop at West Liberty University in West Virginia.
NSU senior point guard David Dennis, who earned MVP honors for this three-game tournament, led the Sharks in points (28) and assists (five). He made 13-of-21 shots from the floor, many of them difficult, twisting layups.
After the game, while many of his teammates celebrated, Dennis quietly dropped to both knees and prayed. He then charged up the stands to hug his mother and stepfather before rejoining his team.
“It was really emotional,” Dennis said. “I grew up a Christian. I pray a lot. I was just thanking God for the blessing today, allowing me and my team to play well.”
Dennis had reached the Elite Eight at West Liberty with Crutchfield. When Crutchfield was hired to try to turn around NSU prior to the 2017-2018 season, he brought Dennis with him as his point guard.
Crutchfield inherited a 6-20 team at NSU, and now he and Dennis are three wins away from what would be the first national title for each.
“It’s very different,” Dennis said. “Going to West Liberty, they were a powerhouse. They had been to seven straight Sweet 16s. I was coming in trying to not mess it up. Here, I’m trying to make something happen out of nothing.”
So far, so good as the Sharks overcame Lynn’s Jamal Palmer, who scored a game-high 29 points.
For NSU, in addition to Dennis, Mikkel Kolstad had 19 points, Mark Matthews added 18 points and a game-high 11 rebounds, and Dwayne Gibson contributed 13 points and a game-high four steals.
NSU, led just 44-39 at halftime. But the Sharks started the second half on a 13-0 run and dominated the final 20 minutes, sending Lynn (25-7) to defeat yet again. NSU went 3-0 against Lynn this season, and Dennis was a big part of that Sharks success.
“He can finish with both hands, and that makes it kind of hard,” said Lynn’s Michael Baez, who had 18 points. “He’s strong. He’s quick. It was hard to stop him.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ With 3:23 left in the game, Gibson injured his hip in a mad scramble under the basket NSU was defending. Gibson, a native of Indiana who will be going back home for the Elite Eight, said the injury was not serious.
NSU guard Eddie Puisis, injured on the same play, was carried off the court with an injury to his right foot. Gibson said he thought Puisis would be OK.
In Saturday’s first-round game, NSU lost starter Connor Zinaich (two broken hands), so depth could be an issue if Gibson or Puisis have any lingering effects.
▪ West Liberty, the former school for Dennis and Crutchfield, lost in its regional final on Tuesday night, meaning there will be no reunion.