Men’s basketball wins conference, plays in NCAA championship
The men’s basketball team qualified for the NCAA Division III national championship for the third time in the past four years while also tying Franklin College for the regular season Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference title and winning the conference tournament.
The Pioneers’ 21-6 record was among its best in recent years and included a 13-3 mark in the HCAC (8-0 at home) and a 13-1 overall home record. After starting the season 5-3, Transy caught fire and had eight- and five-game winning streaks before heading into NCAA tournament play against Guilford College.
In a first-round matchup hosted by Centre College, Transy took Guilford into overtime before losing a close one, 71-67. Senior forward Joey Verax hit two clutch free throws with time expired in regulation to set up the overtime, during which the Pioneers took a 63-61 lead before falling back. Guilford went on to the Final Four and finished third in the nation.
“We knew Guilford was a tough draw, and we felt like if we could get past them, we had a legitimate chance at going far in the tournament,” said head coach Brian Lane ’90. “That was borne out by Guilford’s making the Final Four.”
To qualify for NCAA play, the Pioneers defeated Anderson University and Franklin to win the HCAC tournament, which Transy hosted. The University also hosted the women’s conference tourney, the first time one school has been the site of both men’s and women’s events.
Lane attributed the team’s success to senior leadership and strong supporting play from three juniors with considerable playing experience.
Verax led the Pioneers in scoring at 16.6 points a game and was the second leading rebounder with 5.5 a game. He also led Transy in three-point percentage at 45 percent on 46 of 102 shots and was second in overall field goal shooting at 53.8 percent. For his stellar play, Verax was named HCAC Player of the Year, the first time a men’s Transy player has received that honor. He went on to make second team All-American, as named by the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
Two other seniors played prominent roles. Guard Aaron Cash was the second leading scorer at 9.7 points per game, and forward Brock Jones was third best at 9.3. Cash was named to the All-HCAC first team.
“Seniors realize they’re down to their last few months as college basketball players, so they want to do all they can to succeed,” Lane said. “Joey, Aaron, and Brock did that by ending up as our top scorers. You don’t always get that, but it’s what you expect from seniors.”
Junior forward Blake McCowan led the team in field goal percentage at 54.4 and in rebounding with 5.6 per game. Other juniors in top roles were guard Matthew Parton, who averaged 9 points a game, and guard Tim Tierney, who averaged 8.8. McCowan was named Most Valuable Player of the HCAC tournament.
Lane was named by his fellow coaches as HCAC Coach of the Year, the third time he has been so honored.