EVANSVILLE, Ind. - National Champions!!
For the first time since 1981, Florida Southern cut down the nets here Saturday afternoon at the Ford Center as the top-ranked Moccasins concluded a 36-1 season by collecting a 77-62 win over Indiana (Pa.) in the 2015 NCAA Division II National Championship game.
Saturday's national championship was the first for the men's basketball team since the 1981 team defeated Mount St. Mary's 73-68 in the national title game in Springfield, Mass., and the 28th all-time national title in Florida Southern history. Prior to Saturday's FSC's most recent team national title came in 2010 as the men's golf program took home its NCAA Division II record 12th national championship.
"What an unbelievable feeling for our basketball team, our seniors, our school and our community," Moccasin head coach Linc Darner said following his team's 25th consecutive victory. "Our five senior starters really deserved this for all the hard work they've put in on their own since losing in the first round a year ago. I'm so proud of them, but the sad thing is I don't get to coach them anymore."
"The great thing is they went out on top and they deserve all the credit."
Saturday's national championship game was the final contest for FSC's six seniors, five of which started all 37 games during the championship season. The six seniors this season are forward Stephen Battle (Waldorf, Md.), guard Kevin Capers (Winter Haven, Fla.), forward Bubby Johnson (Waldorf, Md.), guard Tyler Kelly (Pickerington, Ohio), guard Tyler Logan (Landover, Md.) and forward Daniel Turner (McCordsville, Ind.).
"We've a got a great group of guys that represent Florida Southern not only on the court, but off the court and I can't be prouder to be their coach and I'm going to miss them," said Darner, who improved to 218-72 in his ninth season at the helm of the Moccasin program.
Kelly and Capers closed their career with 109 wins in four seasons and posted a 109-22 record, which is the best ever mark for a group of Moccasin four year seniors in the program's illustrious history. In addition, Kelly and Capers won three regular season Sunshine State Conference titles, four SSC Tournament titles, two South Region titles and a national championship.
"We've been talking about this all year, actually all four years, we said we wanted to get Coach Darner a ring," Kelly said, who had eight points, five rebounds and two assists in his final game. "We don't get one for a conference championship. We won, but we don't get a ring for those. We just talked about it all year. I thank God that I've been extremely blessed to play with one of my best friends in Kevin Capers and to be able to play with these guys. We really are a family."
The Mocs win was keyed by a strong defensive effort as the Mocs held IUP to a season low 31.1 percent shooting from the field and 28 percent from the 3-point line. In addition, they limited IUP's top two scorers, Devante Chance and Shawn Dyer, to a combined 8-for-19 effort from the field and 6-for-19 from the 3-point line.
"We came out and played really well. We did a great job guarding their guards," the Mocs coach added. "Their three guards went a combined 10-for-37 from the field and I thought that was the big difference in the game. We've guarded the 3-point line all season and once again today we held them to just 8-for-29 from long distance."
While IUP's offense struggled shooting the ball, FSC's offense shot 51 percent from the field and 52 percent from the 3-point line, including hitting its first six 3-pointers and tied a Division II championship game record with 13 made treys. The Mocs finished the game 13-for-25 from the 3-point line.
The Mocs got off to a hot offensively in Saturday's game, as they jumped out in front 14-4 and led 15-7 when they got back-to-back treys from junior guard Dominique Williams (Haines City, Fla.) and Capers to push its lead to 21-10. After IUP pulled within 21-12, the Mocs used a 10-5 run capped by a Williams lay-up to push out to a 31-17 lead with 5:47 left in the opening half.
IUP, though, would respond by closing the first half on an 11-6 run to drop the Mocs lead to 37-28 at the half.
"We had trouble getting going on offense today and the guys kept battling, but a lot of the credit goes to Florida Southern," IUP head coach Joe Lombardi said in the postgame press conference. "They made some really good shots. The rim got bigger for them and they grew in confidence and we had to play on our heels the rest of the night."
IUP's Jeremy Jeffers opened the second half with a trey to pull the Crimson Hawks within six points at 37-31, but the Mocs would respond with a 13-4 run keyed by nine points from Capers to push its lead to 48-33 with 17:18 left in the contest.
The Crimson Hawks, who were playing in their second ever national championship game, wouldn't go away as they scored 10 of the next 13 points to pull within 51-43 following a dunk by Tevin Hanner with 14:02 remaining.
FSC, who was playing its third-ever national championship game and first since finishing as national runner-up in 1982, used a 23-14 run over the next 11-plus minutes to push its lead out to a 17 at 74-57 following a trey from junior guard Dylan Travis (Omaha, Neb.), who scored 15 of his 18 points after halftime and earned a spot on the Division II Elite Eight All-Tournament Team.
IUP would get no closer than 13 points over the final two-and-half minutes of the game.
In addition to Travis' 18 points, the Mocs were paced offensively by Capers as the two-time All-American closed out his collegiate career by scoring 24 points to finish with 2,319 career points and he closed the year by scoring in double figures in 24 straight games. In his four-year FSC career, Capers, who was named the Tournament's Most Outstanding Player, scored at least one point in all 131 games he played, including 109 career double-digit games and 52 career games of scoring 20 or more points.
"Kevin's performance today, it was unbelievable for him to do what he did," said Darner of Capers, who came down with a stomach ailment in the early morning hours on Friday that sent him to urgent care and kept in bed most of the day. "It's amazing. Sometimes guys play their best when they're sick because maybe they concentrate a little bit more."
The other two double-digit scorers for the Mocs on Saturday were Johnson, who had 11 points and eight boards, while Battle tallied 10 points, six boards and four assists in his final collegiate game.
IUP, who closed out the season with a 31-7 record, was paced offensively by Chance, who had 17 points and added eight boards and five assists. In addition to Chance, Dyer scored 16 points and had eight boards in the loss, while Daddy Ugbede added 12 points.
The other members of the All-Tournament Team were Chance, Dyer and Bellarmine forward Jake Thelen.
The Mocs, who are the first team from the South Region to win a national title since North Alabama captured the 1991 championship trophy, were outrebounded, 42-30, but forced the Crimson Hawks into 12 turnovers that led to 19 points.
"We focused on our game plan today really well," said Johnson when asked about FSC's defensive effort on Saturday. "We did what we wanted to do going into the game and we wanted to trap some ball screens. We just bought into what coach was telling us and that's been the key all year."