PREVIEW: NCAA Division II East Region Championship - Saint Anselm vs. Saint Thomas Aquinas

PREVIEW: NCAA Division II East Region Championship - Saint Anselm vs. Saint Thomas Aquinas
MANCHESTER, N.H. - The nationally-ranked and top-seeded Saint Anselm College men's basketball team (24-5) will play for the NCAA Division II Men's Basketball East Region Championship title on Tuesday, battling the sixth-seeded Spartans from Saint Thomas Aquinas College (25-6) in Stoutenburgh Gymnasium at 7 p.m.
The Hawks posted a First Round victory over Molloy on Saturday before holding on for a one-point victory against New Haven on Sunday. Saint Thomas Aquinas overcame two double-digit deficits, rallying to down Le Moyne and Dominican on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
Saint Thomas Aquinas, the regional champions in 2017, have advanced to the East Coast Conference playoffs in five of the past six seasons. In their program's Division II era of play, the Spartans own a dominant 15-5 record in postseason play.
Saint Anselm will look to win its second-ever East Region title, having last claimed that honor in the 1999-00 season. In total, the Hawks have played in six East Region championship games, most recently in the 2016 season.
As the top-ranked team in the East Region to conclude the season, the Hawks were awarded the privilege to host the eight-team tournament in Stoutenburgh Gymnasium for the first time in program history. The Hawks are in the midst of their seventh consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
The Elite Eight will be held in Evansville, Ind. beginning on Mar. 27.
LAST TIME OUT: Saint Anselm held on for a 70-69 victory over the University of New Haven on Sunday in the semifinal round of the NCAA Division II East Region Championship.
Senior Cody Ball (Londonderry, N.H.) logged all 40 minutes for the Hawks, scoring a team-best 16 points and passing the 1,400 mark for his career. He also played in his 120th career game on the Hilltop, matching 1996 graduate Brendan McCarthy's all-time team record set from 1992-96. Senior Tim Guers (Langhorne, Pa.) also did not come off the court, scoring 14 points and handing out seven assists alongside five rebounds. Sophomore Gustav Suhr-Jessen (Virum, Denmark) scored 15 points and tallied five rebounds.
Guers recorded his 500th career assist in the victory and finished the game with exactly 234 career three-point baskets, finding his way on the program's top-10 list by matching the three-point production of Chris Conroy '05 and John Freiermuth '92 for ninth place all-time. He also exited play with 787 career rebounds, passing John O'Connell '96 to rank seventh all-time.
With Saint Anselm ahead by eight points with 6:37 to go in regulation time, the Chargers used a 13-to-6 scoring run across the game's next 5:31 to trim the Hawks lead to one point, 68-67. With 36 seconds left, sophomore Chris Paul (Highland Mills, N.Y.) made a layup in the paint to recreate a three-point lead but New Haven was not going away quietly.
After two missed free throws by Saint Anselm, Quashawn Lane missed a layup and the ball went out of bounds off of a Hawks student-athlete. Roy Kane, Jr. had another crack at the basket, missing a jumper in the paint and, after yet another missed shot, had a chance for the game-winning bucket with 1.6 seconds left. Guers threw up a key block on defense, locking down the victory.
LAST TIME OUT vs. SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS: Saint Anselm saw its 2016-17 season come to an end following a 91-72 setback to Saint Thomas Aquinas College in an NCAA East Regional Quarterfinal matchup held at Ted Grant Court in Syracuse, N.Y.
Ball scored a team-high 17 points to go with two rebounds and three assists, while Chris Braley '17 notched his 10th double-double of the season with 16 points and 11 rebounds in the defeat. Guers added 14 points, four rebounds and three assists, with Harrison Taggart '17 joining them in double-figures with 10 points. Taylor Fortin '18 chipped in four points, five rebounds and five assists for the Hawks.
Down in the game by a 12-9 deficit at the 17:02 mark, the Spartans used an 18-4 run over the next eight minutes to grab a 30-13 lead and 9:11 to play in the opening half.
Saint Anselm shot 44.3% (27-of-61) from the field, 25.8% (8-of-31) from beyond the arc and 71.4% (10-of-14) from the free throw line in the setback. St. Thomas Aquinas knocked down 49.3% (34-of-69) of their attempts from the floor, 47.8% (11-of-23) of their triples and 80% (12-of-15) of their free throws in the win. The Spartans held a 39-35 edge in rebounds, while forcing 15 Saint Anselm turnovers and committing only nine in the game.
  • Saint Anselm enters the contest ranked 20th in NCAA Division II by the National Association of Basketball Coaches in its most recent poll. In the D2SIDA National Media Poll, the Hawks jumped to 11th in the country despite a loss to Southern Conn. St. in the opening round of the conference playoffs.
  • When playing at home in Stoutenburgh Gymnasium this year, the Hawks are a dominant 12-2, shooting just shy of 50% from the floor (421-for-843, .499) while limiting opponents to just over 40% (368-for-911). Since the start of the 2012-13 season, Saint Anselm is 81-17 when playing on its home court.
  • The Hawks had won 18 consecutive home games between this season and last prior to losing to Le Moyne, 69-65, on Jan. 26. The most recent home loss came to Southern Conn. St. in the NE10 Quarterfinals on Mar. 3.
  • Saint Anselm has never hosted an NCAA Division II East Region Championship at home in Stoutenburgh Gymnasium. In year's past, the Hawks have hosted the championship at Southern New Hampshire University.
  • Guers, a two-time Northeast-10 Player of the Year recipient, has scored at least 20 points in all but two of his last 15 games played.
  • With 2,257 career points, Guers is fourth in all-time Northeast-10 history in point scoring and recently passed Mario Elie from American Int'l who notched 2,124 points from 1981-85.
  • Saint Anselm enters the contest ranked fifth nationally in defensive rebounds per game (29.86) and 20th in scoring margin (11.3). Within the NE10, the Hawks lead all member institutions in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.31), field goal percentage defense (41.2), free throws made (450), rebound margin (4.7), scoring margin (11.3), scoring offense (83.4), total rebounds (1,125), total rebounds per game (38.79) and won-lost percentage (82.8).
  • Guers' 37.9 minutes per game stands as the second-most minutes played in the NE10 and, entering Tuesday's game, he was ranked 11th in NCAA Division II in minutes played.
  • Saint Anselm has overcome a deficit in 21 of its 29 games on the season and has rebounded from a double-digit deficit on four occasions, winning each of those contests. The Hawks largest comeback of the year came against Jefferson, trailing by 15 points and winning in overtime by a 79-75 margin in the season's third game.
  • Saint Anselm won its first 10 games to begin the season, setting a program record with its best-ever start.
  • The Hawks are shooting at a 40.1% clip from beyond the arc (258-for-644), the ninth-best figure in team history since the implementation of the three-point basket in 1986.
  • Guers was tabbed as the Northeast-10 Conference Player of the Year for the second consecutive season in early March. He became only the seventh student-athlete in league history to earn Player of the Year honors twice and the first since the 2012-13 season. Additionally, Guers is one of only 14 student-athletes in conference history to earn three career First Team All-Conference selections.
  • Head CoachKeith Dickson was tabbed as the NE10's top coach for the fifth time in his 33-year career on the Hilltop in the league's major award announcement in early March. Dickson has guided the Hawks to a 24-5 record to date and was recently awarded its ninth conference regular season championship with an 18-3 mark versus league opponents. Saint Anselm also picked up its highest-ever national ranking earlier in the season (No. 4).
  • With a 641-333 overall record entering his next game, Dickson is only three victories away from setting the all-time Northeast-10 record for coaching victories since the formation of the NE10 in 1980. He previously was named the league's Coach of the Year in 1989-90, 1994-95, 1995-96 and 2012-13.
  • Ball was voted to the league's Second Team in 2018-19 after picking up Third Team All-NE10 honors as a junior. Averaging a career-high 5.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game to date, Ball ranks fifth in the NE10 in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.92) and sixth in three-point field goal percentage (41.3%). He is averaging 13.6 points per game to date.
  • Paul earned Honorable Mention distinction following the season after drawing All-Rookie Team praise last year. Averaging a career-high 14.3 points per game through 29 games, Paul is shooting exactly 50% from the floor (157-for-314) while securing 6.1 rebounds per contest. 
  • Saint Thomas Aquinas, the sixth seed coming into Tuesday's game, enters play with a 25-6 overall record after downing Le Moyne in the East Region quarterfinals and Dominican (N.Y.) in overtime on Sunday in the semifinals.
  • The Spartans overcame a 19-point deficit, stunning Le Moyne in the late stages of Saturday's quarterfinal game. Against the Chargers from Dominican, Saint Thomas Aquinas overcme a 12 point deficit to earn the overtime victory as Louis Griffith hit a clutch three-point shot with six seconds left to send the game to extra time.
  • The Spartans have advanced to the East Coast Conference finals in five of the past six seasons, winning the first three postseason championships in team history.
  • Saint Thomas Aquinas is in its fourth-straight NCAA tournament, winning the East Region as recently as 2017.
  • In their seven previous East Region championship games over the past four seasons, the Spartans have been the lower seed entering five of them. STAC's record in those contests stands at 4-1.
  • Freshman Demetre Roberts was named the ECC Rookie of the Year after ranking fourth in the conference in steals (47) and assists (93). He also was the league's second-best free throw shooter, converting at an 85.1 clip and trailing only his teammate, Kameron Murrell (87.7%).
  • Freshman Osbel Caraballo picked up First Team All-Conference honors after averaging 6.8 rebounds per game and 2.55 of those coming on the offensive glass, per game. He is one of three student-athletes on the STAC roster to have at least 200 rebounds on the season.
  • Sekou Cisse is 10th in the ECC in defensive rebounds per game (4.79), earning Third Team All-ECC honors following the regular season of play.
  • Saint Anselm is making its 22nd appearance in the NCAA Division II Championship this season and owns an overall record of 16-24 (.400).
  • The Hawks earned their first-ever NCAA postseason victory in 1960, defeating Le Moyne by a 108-75 margin in the First Round before falling to Saint Michael's in the regional championship, 99-95.
  • Saint Anselm has made it to the regional title game in 1990, 1996, 2000, 2014, 2016 and this season (2019), claiming its lone East Region Championship in 2000 after beating Adelphi, 76-72.
  • STAC has made four-straight NCAA postseasons, winning the East Region in 2017. Last season, the Spartans were ousted in the regional quarterfinal by a 91-78 margin to Bloomfield. 
  • The Hawks own a 5-1 record all-time against Saint Thomas Aquinas, winning the first five meetings beffore falling to the Spartans in the NCAA Tournament on Mar. 11, 2017.
  • In that contest, the Spartans handed the Hawks a 91-72 defeat to wrap up Saint Anselm's 2016-17 season.