Men's basketball wins NCAA Atlantic Region championship
Indiana, Pa. -- The Mercyhurst men's basketball team defeated fifth-ranked West Liberty, 82-70, in the NCAA Tournament Atlantic Region Final to advance to the Elite Eight.
Patrick Smith was named Region Tournament MVP. He finished with 16 points and 17 rebounds against WLU. Four other Lakers finished in double digits with Nelson Maxwell tying Smith with 16. Derrick Ellis Jr. and Jason Massey both had 13 points a piece, while Nicholas Lang put in 12.
For West Liberty (28-5), Will Yoakum led the team with 13 points.
Early in the first half, both teams exchanged baskets early before MU would go on a mini 5-0 run to give the Lakers an early 10-5 lead. The Hill Toppers showed why they are the number one scoring team in Division II, by cutting the lead back to one after a 6-0 run with Yahel Hill, topping it off with a three pointer, making it 14-13 Lakers. Nicholas Lang would answer the Hill three with one of his own, to push the lead back up to four.
WLU would not go away tying the game at 20 all. Just under the ten minute mark of the first half, Mercyhurst would have its lead tied three different times before eventually pushing it to five off of a Kordell Holness-Lightbody and one. West Liberty would charge back and eventually take the lead going into the half, 39-38.
Right out of the half, Derrick Ellis Jr. and Nelson Maxwell would lead the charge for MU off an Ellis Jr. and one, and a Maxwell three pointer, making it 44-39 Lakers. This would be the start of a 12-0 run by MU to take the lead 50-39, with 16:00 to go in regulation. Ellis Jr. led the Laker run with five points.
With just over 13 minutes to go in the game, West Liberty would cut the deficit to single digits (7) before a huge Maxwell three pointer, pushing the lead back up to double-digits. A few possessions later, the Swiss-army knife, Patrick Smith, would match Maxwell's three with one of his own, making it 63-50 Lakers. Massey would then give Mercyhurst (26-7) its largest lead of the game (15) off a made layup.
Coming down the stretch, WLU cut the Laker lead to eight. Though, Ellis Jr. would have another answer, finishing strong in the paint, pushing it back to 10. With stellar defense nearing the end of the game, MU was able to hold off the number one scoring offense and for the first time, advance to the NCAA Division Two Elite Eight.
Mercyhurst outshot West Liberty shooting 41.9 percent from the field, compared to the Hill Toppers 35.2, MU also outrebounded WLU 47-35 and led in second chance points (14-8).
This win also ties the Lakers most wins in a season, dating back to the 1977-78 season going 26-3.
Next Up: The Lakers will travel to Evansville, Indiana, to meet the other seven finalists in the NCAA tournament. Their first game will be on March 27th.