Southern Indiana University claimed the Great Lakes Valley Conference title Sunday, defeating Northern Kentucky University 60-56. It was the third GLVC Tournament Championship in the program's history.
In its last season as a member of the GLVC, the Norse hoped to go out on a high note with a fourth Championship trophy. However, SIU had other plans and rallied from a halftime deficit to improve its season 24-6.
Within the first 30 seconds of the game, Screaming Eagles forward Isaac McClure buried a jump shot, giving SIU the lead. McClure ended the game with 20 points, eight rebounds, three steals and one assist and was one of three players to score in double figures.
Eshaunte Jones picked where he left off in the semifinals, also burying a jump shot and starting a 7-0 run for NKU.
For the entire first half, it seemed like it would be NKU's game to lose. The only area the Screaming Eagles dominated the Norse was at the free throw line. SIU made 75 percent from the free throw line, to NKU's 33.3 percent.
Jon Van Hoose led NKU in scoring with 18 points, all of them coming from behind the arc. Van Hoose also recorded three rebounds, one assist and one steal.
Chad Jackson and DeAndre Nealy posted strong defense for the Norse, each with six rebounds. Nealy also led the Norse in blocks, with three. At the break, the Norse led the Screaming Eagles, 27-17.
The wheels fell off for the Norse in the second half, however, as the Screaming Eagles elevated their game offensively and defensively.The Norse committed 17 turnovers overall and 12 of them came in the second half.
“We made too many turnovers in the second half, and they made us pay for it,” NKU head coach Dave Bezold said in an article on the NKU website. "You aren't going to beat a team as good as Southern Indiana with that many turnovers, and they led to several easy baskets in transition that really turned the game around.” Bezold said.
Lawrence Thomas scored 16 points for SIU and led the team in assists, with three. Kenyon Smith matched McClure in rebounds and had one assist. In the last four seconds of the game, Brandon Hogg sealed the victory, making one of two free throws. Hogg scored 14 points overall.
The NCAA Division II Tournament begins next Saturday and NKU has received an at-large berth into the Tournament. Pairings and times will be announced at 10:30 p.m. Sunday night at ncaa.com.
Monica Fritsch is a correspondent for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.