Scots and Lady Scots win GSAC, slip on dancin’ shoes
For the first time since 2009-10, the Scots and Lady Scots are both headed to The Dance.
With an announcement show on Monday afternoon, both teams found they would be gaining bids to the national tournament after sweeping the Great South Athletic Conference (GSAC) tournament.
The Lady Scots will travel to Crestview Hills, Ky., and the men will grab a bus ride to Wooster, Ohio.
The Lady Scots (21-6) took the GSAC crown, earning them an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. With a 69-56 victory over the Panthers of LaGrange, the Scots could then set their sights on bigger things, especially with the roll they’ve been on.
“I was pleased with how we’ve played from New Year’s on,” said Darrin Travillian, head coach of the Lady Scots. “We’ve played really well defensively. Offensively, there was more continuity to what we were doing. As we closed out the season, we were really starting to gain momentum and starting to play pretty well.”
Since the Christmas break, Maryville has put together a string of 11-straight victories, while winning 16 of their last 18 overall.
Junior Janell Menard has been one of the main contributors to this hot streak, and named the MVP of the GSAC tournament.
“Friday, [Menard] had early foul trouble and sat the first half of the game,” Travillian said. “We were up 27-21 at the half, and you’re looking at it saying, ‘Wow, what a tight game,’ and on the other hand, you’re saying, ‘Janell hasn’t played.’ She came out of the gates the second half, hit the first three shots and never looked back. She carried that momentum into Saturday’s game.”
Menard managed to turn that momentum into a game-leading 22 points, while grabbing three steals and three assists. Kiera Payne added eight points and 12 boards, and Lauren Burnett and Tayler Smith added 16 and 10, respectively.
“[Menard] was clearly the MVP of the tournament, there’s no doubt about that,” Travillian said. “She’s a kid who, in my mind, is as good as—if not better than—the people who got conference player of the year the past two years.”
She and the rest of the Lady Scots will have to prove just how good they are, as they drew Illinois Wesleyan (22-5) in the opening round of the national tournament.
“In terms of Illinois Wesleyan, I know about as much as anybody, which is that they were a Final Four team a year ago,” Travillian said of his opponent. “Now, I’m going to kind of scramble for film and piece together a game plan in the next two days.”
Wesleyan is currently the No. 17 team in the nation, and they come into the tournament winning 19 of their last 20 contests, including the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin title.
Shooting at a 44 percent-clip, the Titans average 78.9 points per game. Wesleyan also knocks down 35 percent of their shots from behind the arc.
Olivia Lett is the main part of the Titans’ offensive attack. Lett averages 21.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, leading the team in both categories. The 6-foot senior guard also holds a team-leading 27 blocks and 48 steals and was named the CCIW player of the year.
However, Travillian and the Lady Scots know the venue, having played at Thomas More during a Thanksgiving tournament.
“I feel good about the venue,” said the coach. “We actually played there two years ago in the NCAA tournament. It’s a good gym to play in, and it’s a good backdrop; really nice tournament arena. It gets really loud in there, so that part of it will be fun.”
Maryville’s men also took the GSAC crown, defeating LaGrange 75-73 in the tournament championship. However, without an automatic bid on the men’s side, they would have to rely on a Pool B nomination.
With a hard-fought win over the Panthers, the Scots (18-9) have high hopes, especially after seeing multiple players step-up.
“We had several people step up and have good performances,” said head coach Randy Lambert. “Milton Stanley proved that he was the player of the year in our league. He hit some big shots down the stretch on Saturday. Craig Raye and Jethro Griffin came in and made some big shots. Maverick Willett, tournament MVP, played his best basketball of his career. It was good. I thought our team played well. I was very pleased.”
Almost the opposite could be said about their seeding in the NCAA tournament. Gaining a bid against the College of Wooster (24-4)—the 2011 national runner-up, the Maryville College Scots face a tall task.
However, that hasn’t deterred Lambert’s optimism.
“We’re just glad we’re in,” Lambert said. “A month ago, we were worried about winning our next game and competing for a conference championship. This team has made some great strides over the last two weeks, and I think they’re finally learning how to adjust to a college game, our young kids, in particular.”
The road will be tough, as they take on head coach Steve Moore, whose team has won 12 of its last 13.
As though facing a team that is averaging 74.8 points per game weren’t hard enough, the Scots will have to take on Wooster on their own court.
“Home teams have such a great advantage in the national tournament,” Lambert said. “Not to say that we can’t go in there and beat them, but it’ll be a tough game. There place seats 3,500 people, and they’ll pack it out. It’ll be a rowdy environment. I think it’s a great experience for our guys.”