For the first time in seven years, the East Regional Champion won its first game at the Elite-8. Here’s how it happened:
ST. ANSELM 91 NOVA SOUTHEASTERN 81
Freshly-minted All-American Tim Guers lived up to the billing, racking up 31 points (6-10 from deep), five rebounds and seven assists as fifth-seeded St. Anselm knocked off fourth-seeded Nova Southeastern (FL) in the opening game of this year’s Elite-8 in Evansville, Indiana, earning its first-ever trip to the national semifinals. The #20 Hawks trailed only once on the afternoon (5-3) before building a 45-30 lead they would never relinquish. A 15-4 run by the #5 Sharks slashed the advantage to four before Guers banked in a 35-footer at the buzzer, giving his team a 52-45 edge at intermission. The game remained fairly close for the first seven-plus minutes of the second period before St. A’s embarked on an 18-5 run to open up its largest lead – 80-61 – following another Guers triple with 7:43 to play. Nova – which was making its first-ever Elite-8 appearance – countered with a 15-5 surge to come within single digits (85-76) following a Mark Matthews free throw with 2:57 left. That's when Guers put the hammer down, scoring a lay-up and draining two free throws to put the Hawks in control down the stretch; the lead remaining in double figures the rest of the way. Chris Paul (7-9 FG, 11 rebounds, four assists) and Cody Ball (six boards) each netted 16 points for the winners, who also received solid outings from Danny Evans (10 points in 18 minutes) and Gustav Suhr-Jessen (nine points, 11 rebounds, four helpers). Matthews – the nation’s second-leading offensive rebounder – led five Sharks in double figures, matching Guers with 31 points (14-22 FG) while snatching 13 caroms and picking up four steals during his 40-minute stint in defeat. St. Anselm – which had been to the Elite-8 one other time in 2000 – used the 3-point arc as a big weapon, connecting on 16 of 36 from downtown, compared to 16 of 30 inside the arc (NSU was 7-27 from long range) while accounting for 22 of the game’s 30 assists. The last time an East Region team had won an Elite-8 game was on March 21, 2012 in Northern Kentucky when Stonehill rallied to shock #3 West Liberty (WV), 91-90. In an odd twist, that Hilltoppers team was also coached by current Nova Southeastern mentor Jim Crutchfield. The Hawks - who had faced the Sharks only once before (a 103-89 win in Florida on December 30, 1999) - will now try to knock off the nation’s only remaining undefeated team – top-seeded and #1-ranked Northwest Missouri State (35-0) – in Thursday night’s first national semi. A win would also make St. Anselm the first East representative to reach the national championship game since Bryant fell to Virginia Union in 2005 at Ralph Engelstad Arena in North Dakota.