The Statesmen finished first place in the Gulf South Conference during the regular season and advanced to the semifinals of the GSC Basketball Tournament in Birmingham, Ala. With a 24-6 record, the Statesmen ended a string of two straight losing seasons but, more importantly, advanced to the NCAA Division II South Region Men’s Basketball Tournament for the first time since 2009.
The Statesmen will begin their path for a national championship on Saturday when they take on the Barry College University Buccaneers at 11 p.m. CST/12 p.m. EST at Florida Southern University in Lakeland, Fla. in the first round of the south region tournament.
Statesmen head coach Jim Boone said the chance to play in the regional is a symbol of the year they’ve had thus far.
“We are very fortunate that we’ve had such a great year that we’ve earned our way into the NCAA Tournament the hard way,” Boone said. “We’ve won the regular season in our league and won enough games in non-league play to garner such a reputation and power ranking to put ourselves in the tournament. We are really pleased to have the opportunity.”
Defense has been strength for the Statesmen as they are 11th in the nation in scoring defense by yielding just 65.2 points per game. DSU is also eighth nationally in field goal percentage defense as opponents are shooting just 39.2 percent against the team.
“Our team is set up for postseason play,” Boone said. “We are a team that prides itself in defense, getting the ball inside and taking care of the basketball. Those are the things that win in the postseason.”
One thing that concerned Boone about his team in its 67-64 loss to Christian Brothers was the way the team handled the basketball.
“We did not handle the ball particularly well against Christian Brothers, and we did not handle the ball particularly well in our last regular season game,” Boone said. “That’s something we’ve really worked on here in the last couple of days of practice and that’s something we’ll continue to work on. It is of the greatest importance that you take care of the basketball, particularly in postseason play.”
The Statesmen will take on a Barry team that is 19-8. The Buccaneers are a very good offensive team as they are scoring an average of 81.7 points per game and shooting 47 percent from the floor and 37.8 percent from 3-point land. Barry has five players averaging in double figures in points a game.
“They are a very well coached team,” Boone said. “I’ve known their coach (Butch Estes) for 30 years, and he does an outstanding job. They are a team that wants to run and get up and down the floor. They’re athletic and outstanding at attacking the basket. On defense, we have to get back and make them play against five set up defenders and not three or four guys trying to transition into guarding them.”
Boone said Barry’s defense is very aggressive.
“Defensively, because of their athleticism and quickness, they like to pressure the basketball, get in the passing lanes and create turnovers,” Boone said. “We’ve got to make sure we get what we want and do a good job of controlling tempo. We’ve got to get the ball inside and get to the foul line.”
If DSU wins on Saturday, the Statesmen will play the winner of the Saint Leo-West Alabama game on Sunday at 4 p.m. CST/5 p.m. EST in the semifinals. The region championship game will be played on Tuesday 6 p.m. CST/7 p.m. EST.