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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla.—Mental toughness was going to be the key if the Southeastern men’s basketball team was to win the Sun Conference Tournament title.
Three road games turned into three wins, as the Fire defeated second-seeded Keiser 87-80 in overtime to claim the championship for the first time in program history.
The game was everything you would expect a championship game to look like, with all but the final six seconds played within a 5-point span.
“We told our team earlier in the year we needed to experience a lot of adversity to win in these tough moments,” said coach R-Jay Barsh. “Guys stepped up tonight, made free throws, followed the game plan, and didn’t get too crazy in moments we lost the ball.”
Two Ryan Atkins free throws with 4:08 left gave SEU one of those five-point advantages, but Keiser came back with baskets on its next two possessions to tie the game at 68. The Seahawks held a 70-68 advantage with 1:46 to play in regulation.
Keiser had a chance to make it a two-possession game with 45 seconds left, but were unable to convert its shot. Atkins converted a layup with 16 seconds left to tie the game at 70, but missed the potential go-ahead free throw. The Fire then survived a pair of game-winning shot attempts to head to the extra session.
SEU committed offensive fouls on its first two possessions in overtime, but only trailed by two as a result. Atkins’ 3-pointer with 3:47 to play gave SEU the lead back, and Grant Bryant stretched it back to five after a KU turnover.
During overtime, Atkins scored nine points, and went a perfect 6-of-6 at the free throw line. The Miami native was named the tournament’s most valuable player, finishing the championship game with 30 points, four assists, and six rebounds.
The Fire converted just one of its first seven shots, but only trailed 7-3 with 17:24 to go. It was the SEU defense that helped get it back into the game, forcing 12 first half turnovers, and taking a 34-32 lead to the locker room.
“We got three stops in a row six times In the first half, we got stops, but didn’t convert. When you get stops, it still helps you control the tempo and control the pace.”
Grant Bryant joined Atkins on the All-Tournament team, scoring 18 points, and pulling down 13 rebounds. CJ Reese and Josiah Barsh were also in double figures, scoring 10 and 14, respectively.
With the win, the Fire claimed The Sun Conference’s second automatic bid to the NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball National Championship tournament in Sioux Falls, S.D. March 7 through 13.