CRESTVIEW HILLS, KY. – A trademark defensive effort enabled the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics’ No. 12-ranked Morningside College to pick up the program’s fifth straight opening-round national tournament victory Saturday, March 13.
Locked in a tense battle with Mid-South Conference tournament champion Thomas More University at TMU’s Connor Convocation Center, Sykes’ Great Plains Athletic Conference champion team held the Saints to five points in the last 5:32 of the second half en route to a 64-55 victory.
“I’m happy for our guys,” Sykes said to a post-game press conference crowd. “They’ve bought into what we want to do. Our goal is to play strong defense and be there for each other in every situation. The top priority for us, in each circumstance, is that Morningside is successful — no matter how that may occur.”
On this Saturday night south of Cincinnati, that path was produced by holding the usually long-range potency of Thomas More’s offense to only 33.3 percent (nine of 27) and 35 percent overall from the field (21 of 60). The Mustangs also managed to clear the glass to the tune of a 31-27 advantage, as the senior duo of Trey Brown (SR/Gretna, NE ) and Zach Imig (SR/Gretna, NE ) of Gretna, Neb., combined for 19.
The hosts opened on fire over the first 20 minutes. Thomas More rebounded from an early 10-2 deficit and propelled themselves to as large as a 10-point advantage before going into the locker room with a 32-24 edge thanks to a six-of-14 effort from outside the arc. Mside answered quickly to open the second half, going on a 14-4 run for a 38-36 advantage as part of their surge.
“We didn’t have the best of first halves,” Sykes noted. “You’ve got to give credit to Thomas More for some of that, as they hit some shots when we didn’t. We were able to work through some things at halftime, and our guys came out and stepped things up in the second half.”
Brown was a big lynchpin for the Maroon. He recorded his 18th double-double with 20 points, ten rebounds, and two blocked shots. Sophomore guard Will Pottebaum (SO/LeMars, IA) (LeMars, Iowa) added to the double-figure set with 13 points, seven rebounds, a steal, and an assist. Junior guard Tyler Vavrina (JR/Abie, NE) (Abie, Neb.) had a late afternoon/early evening to remember, too, as he turned in a career single-game high 11 points, which included a two-handed dunk as part of the team’s late run and hit 60 percent from outside the arc (three-of-five).
Morningside (21-5) moves on for the Final 16 March 18-23., and will play St. Francis out of Illinois at 8:00 p.m. on Friday.