StMU Men's Hoops defends Heartland Conference Tournament crown - Mar 10, 2013
FORT SMITH, Ark. Students in the Arkansas-Fort Smith's cheering section spent better parts of Saturday night heckling St. Mary's Moses Sundufu (6'1''-G).
"We want Moses!" they chanted.
Well, they got him.
The St. Mary's senior guard erupted for a career-high 25 points in the Heartland Conference Tournament title game, leading the No. 2 seed Rattlers to their second-consecutive postseason championship in a 85-76 victory over top-seeded Arkansas-Fort Smith on the Lions' home floor.
Sundufu (Sr., Hopkins, Minn.) was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, while fellow sharpshooter Daryell Taylor (Sr., Houston) made the All-Tournament Team after scoring 25 points and averaging 23.5 for the tournament as the Rattlers (21-7) clinched an automatic berth to go dancing in the NCAA Division II tournament.
"That's how fans are," said Sundufu, who shot 3 for 5 from downtown and slashed to the basket with ease in the second half. "Fans like to find someone to pick on, and it was me tonight. I tried to stay focused.
"I was just trying not to lose, basically."
The scenes that took place afterward were those of a team that had collectively accomplished that very feat.
The players cut down pieces of the net; Kevin Kotzur (6'8''-F/C) (Sr., La Vernia, Texas), the league's Player of the Year, held on tightly to the championship plaque; head coach Jim Zeleznak was doused with water in a locker-room celebration; and Taylor's celebratory scream seemingly wouldn't end.
St. Mary's will move on to play in next week's NCAA Division II South Central Regional, likely to be hosted by Metro State in Denver. Official pairings, dates and times will be released by the NCAA during its Selection Show on Sunday night.
Overcoming a four-point halftime deficit, St. Mary's took control of the game midway through the second half, leading by as many as 11 at the 9:53 mark.
Arkansas-Fort Smith (16-12) sliced that deficit to four, 77-73, with 2:34 remaining, sending the crowd of 1,221 into a frenzy. But the Rattlers yielded just three points the rest of the way to take control of the game and the conference title.
"It feels good," Sundufu said. "Really good."
Kotzur recorded his 17th double-double of the season with 15 points and 12 rebounds, picking up career rebound No. 1,000 in the process. Point guard Christian Bower (5'11''-G) (Jr., Chandler, Ariz.) added six points, while Brad Hubenak (6'5''-F) (Sr., Kennedale, Texas) and Bryce Smith (5'11''-PG) (RS-Fr., Corpus Christi, Texas) chipped in five apiece.
The win marked the red-hot Rattlers' ninth in their last 10 games.
Afterward, the focus quickly turned to what lies ahead: regionals. Players and coaches took turns talking about the unfinished business that remains, reminding each other that this wasn't their ultimate goal.
Still, they couldn't help but enjoy the moment.
Long after the game had ended, Joe Monroe (RS-So., San Antonio) sat alone in the visitors' locker room, staring blankly at the ground. Assistant coach Bubba Meyer passed by and asked if everything was OK.
"We won," he said, looking up briefly. "We won."
Courtesy of Heartland
Heartland Conf. Tournament Final: UA Fort Smith - St. Mary's 76-85
Heartland Conf. Tournament Semifinals:
UA Fort Smith - Texas A&M International 63-60
St. Mary's - Newman 93-79
|All-Heartland Conf. 1st Team 2012-2013|
Player of the Year: Kevin Kotzur (6'8''-F/C) of St.Mary's, TX
All-Tournament MVP: Moses Sundufu (6'1''-G) of St.Mary's, TX
Defensive Player of the Year: Dijon Farr (6'7''-G-91) of Ark.-Fort Smith
Freshman of the Year: Jonathan Perry (6'4''-G) of Dallas Baptist
Newcomer of the Year: Matthew Culliver (6'1''-G) of Texas A&M Int.
Coach of the Year: Mark Potter of Newman
C: Will Reinke (6'10'') of Oklah.Christian
F/C: Kevin Kotzur (6'8'') of St.Mary's, TX
G: Shamar Acuay (6'0''-87) of Newman
F: Nick Fox (6'8''-90) of Dallas Baptist
PF: Djordje Stojanovic (6'8'') of Ark.-Fort Smith
: Takoby Jackson () of McMurry
G: Jake Toupal (6'3'') of Ark.-Fort Smith
G/F: Shimeek Johnson (6'7''-90) of St.Edward's
G: Matthew Culliver (6'1'') of Texas A&M Int.
PG: Darrell Traylor (5'10''-91) of Newman
Jonathan Perry (6'4''-G) of Dallas Baptist
Darrell Traylor (5'10''-PG-91) of Newman
Dijon Farr (6'7''-G-91) of Ark.-Fort Smith
Marquis Cuyler (6'5''-F) of Newman
Moses Sundufu (6'1''-G) of St.Mary's, TX
Xavier Martin (6'0''-PG-91) of Texas-PB
Johnel Gray (6'3''-G/F) of Texas A&M Int.
Kendre Talley () of Oklah. Panhandle St.