BACK-TO-BACK: Maryville claims USA South Title; earns automatic NCAA bid, 79-67 over Methodist

BACK-TO-BACK: Maryville claims USA South Title; earns automatic NCAA bid, 79-67 over Methodist

Randy Lambert's final season will continue, as the legendary head coach led his Scots to back-to-back USA South Athletic Conference Tournament Championships with a 79-67 win over Methodist University.

The Scots earn the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament with the championship – the program's 20th overall.

"It's very special," Lambert said of going out with a championship. "I'm really proud of the guys. It's a true team. It's a bunch of young men that have elected to buy in into what we try to do as a Maryville College basketball team. They've listened and responded in a very positive way. When you work as hard as they have, good things happen. I'm so proud of this group. It's nice to finish [the career] with a 20-win season and a conference championship, but I'm very happy for these young men."

Saturday's net-cutting victory gives Lambert his 20th NCAA bid in his career and his 12th conference championship overall. The Scots registered his 20th overall 20-plus win season with their semifinal win yesterday.

"He's a senior, and we're all seniors," MC forward Dante Hoppa said. "We're all going out at the same time. Obviously, it means a lot to do it back-to-back. If you look through sports history, it's hard for a team to repeat back-to-back in anything. For us to do that and come together and do what we did, it's very impressive. I hope we keep it going. I love that we won this conference tournament, but I'm looking forward to seeing where we go on selection day. Hopefully, we can win an NCAA Tournament game or two."

Maryville College will learn its destination in the NCAA postseason on Monday, Feb. 25. A time will be released later this week.

The championship marks back-to-back crowns for the Scots within the USA South, as this senior class will advance to their second-straight NCAA Tournament.

"For the program, I mean that's just what we do," senior Calvin Songster said. "If you look at the history of what Randy Lambert has done here, I hate to say it, but that's a common thing. For me and my teammates, it means that we created a legacy of our own. One championship is one thing, but now, we went back-to-back and got two in four years. We created a legacy for ourselves. That's what it means to me."

However, that legacy didn't come easy.

MC gave up a 15-point lead in the second half, as Methodist cut the lead to just two down the stretch.

For the second game in a row, the Scots rallied late to hold on for the championship.

Maryville held a 20-point lead over Averett in the semifinals on Friday night, as the Cougars shrank that advantage to four late in the game.

"They've shown over the season that we're very resilient," Lambert said. "We've had a lot of tough times, and we've had a lot of things to overcome as a team. They've always responded in a very positive way. I was very happy that we played two exceptional first halves in both of our games, because we needed a little bit of cushion. The credit goes to our opponents, both Averett and Methodist. Both teams did not quit, and they made sure we had to work to get the victory."

Songster and Hoppa earned All-Tournament honors for the Scots, as MC's Emier Bowman was named the league's Most Valuable Player.

"Just coming into today, they kind of gave me a challenge," Bowman said. "I think I responded well to the challenge. Them giving me the momentum to get this, it was just big for us as a unit."

Bowman amassed 21 points per game over the three-game tournament, including a 23-point performance in the championship bout. He had 10 total rebounds, eight blocks and five assists over that span.

Maryville College (21-7) and Methodist University (15-13) battled to a 9-9 tie early on with Bowman bucketing eight of the Scots' first nine points.

MC pulled to a 19-15 lead, before Maryville's Trevor Gaines-Perry extended it to the largest lead of the game thus far, 23-15. Gaines-Perry blocked Dante Burden's shot, as he managed a pair of free throws on the other end. Not 30 seconds later, the sophomore bucketed a lay-in for the eight-point margin.

A Hoppa lay-up at 6:07 gave the Scots a 10-point lead, 29-19, before Maryville took a 41-26 lead to the locker room.

The Scots shot 50 percent from both the floor and beyond the arc in the first half, as they allowed just two turnovers. Methodist was held to a 32.2 percent effort, the Monarchs going 0-of-7 from long range.

In all, nine different Scots tallied first-half points, as Bowman led the way with 10.

With just under 15 minutes left, Maryville held a 14-point lead. Methodist used a 12-2 run over the next 5 minutes, cutting the Scots lead to four, 54-50.

MC rallied for a 5-0 run to extend it back to a nine-point game on a trio of points from Bowman.

Methodist followed three different Monarchs for a 7-0 rally, cutting Maryville's lead to just two with 5:46 left.

That's when the Scots' heroics started.

Hoppa scored a jumper to make it a four-point lead, before Malik Edwards was called for an intentional foul. Songster bucketed the free throws in place of Joshua Brooks and Bowman added a pair to make it a nine-point game again.

Nick Clifton scored the next seven points for Maryville, extending the lead to a 12-point margin at the 1:27 mark – sending Lambert into a dancing frenzy.

Maryville sank their free-throws down the stretch, giving the Scots the 79-67 victory.

Bowman finished the day with 23 points on 10-of-11 shooting, while Hoppa added 13 points and a team-leading nine rebounds. Songster added 10 points and five assists, as Clifton had nine points, five boards and three blocks.

Brooks (seven), Emanuelle Garcia (six), Kaleb Estes (five), Gaines-Perry (four), and Chris Watson (two) all found the scoring column, as Estes tallied four assists.

For Methodist, it was Kaymon Mitchell who had 19 points and eight boards, while Burden and Garren Dearman added 13 and 12 points each.