The TLU men's basketball team celebrates with the SCAC Championship trophy after downing Schreiner 83-70 in Sunday's tournament final at the Robertson Center in Georgetown.
TLU shooting guard Jordan Kouremetis averaged 21.3 points in three SCAC tournament games and poured in 28 in Sunday's title clincher against Schreiner to earn his second SCAC Tournament MVP award in three seasons.
(Georgetown) – The Texas Lutheran Bulldogs are headed to the NCAA Division III Men's Basketball Championship for a third consecutive year after defeating Schreiner on Sunday 83-70 in the SCAC Men's Basketball Championship title game.
In Southwestern University's Robertson Center, SCAC Tournament Most Valuable Player Jordan Kouremetis hit six three-pointers and scored a game-high 28 to lead the Bulldogs.
Kouremetis, also the 2015 SCAC Tournament MVP, joined fellow senior starters Sterling Holmes and Zach Behr as three-time champs in the SCAC.
Kouremetis, Holmes and Behr each were named to the SCAC All-Tournament Team for a second straight year. Holmes and Kouremetis have earned All-Tournament status in each of the last three years.
The Bulldogs accomplished this year's feat with a new coach - longtime Converse Judson head coach Mike Wacker, who succeeded Jimmy Smith after Smith departed for an assistant coaching position at Sam Houston State at the end of the 2015-16 season. Smith guided TLU to the first two SCAC titles - in 2014-15 and 2015-16 - and the two NCAA tournament appearances in those seasons.
"Well I am just so proud of our entire team," said Wacker. "To do something like a winning a conference championship in a league as tough as this is truly something special. And for these three (Kouremetis, Behr and Holmes) guys and Matt Gauna to do it for a third year in a row is just magical."
Wacker admitted the coaching transition offered some growing pains during the year.
"They won the last two, and it was a challenge for me at first to get use to these guys and for them to get use to me because I'm a lot different," said Wacker. "But the bottom line is that it is about players, and these guys and our entire team played together. And now they are champions."
TLU had to win three times in the SCAC Tournament (something it did not have to do in the two previous championships) to punch its ticket to the NCAA tournament. The Bulldogs regular-season record and performance did not warrant at-large consideration, so the only route to the NCAA tournament came via winning the conference tournament.
Byes into the SCAC semifinal are awarded to the top two seeds, so the Bulldogs needed three wins to reach the NCAA post-season. The Bulldogs, as the No. 3 seed, defeated No. 6 seed Centenary (La.) on Friday 88-85 and then dispatched No. 2 seed Colorado College 73-65 on Saturday in the SCAC semifinal.
"The thing that is remarkable about these young competitors is that they focus on the task at hand," said Wacker. "They make sure they understand what they have to do at that moment. They go onto the next play, and they just play the right way. They compete as hard as they can on both ends and in transition, and their leadership and work ethic and preparation is always focused. They set the standard and culture for our program, and it is our job to continue."
In the final against Schreiner, the Bulldogs jumped out to a 16-point lead with 2:38 to play in the first half. Schreiner made a run at the end of the half to make it a 43-35 lead at the break. The Bulldogs hit six of their first 11 three-point attempts.
The score was tied three times in the second half, and the Bulldogs held a one-point lead with 5:33 remaining in the game. Kouremetis then put TLU up four with a three and added another three 90 seconds later to give TLU a five-point advantage.
The lead rose to 10 after a Blake Ray layup, a Holmes free throw and two Alex Cage free throws. Saturday night's hero, Behr, only scored seven points Sunday, but five came in a quick stretch in the final 2:16 with a baseline jumper and a long-distance three-pointer.
Just as he had done the night before in a close game against Colorado College, Behr's long three at the 1:14 mark essentially put the game away for the Bulldogs.
Holmes finished with 18 points, seven assists and six rebounds, and Harris Jowell contributed 10 points, three rebounds and a block.
"It's a great feeling knowing that we put in the work so that in crunch time we can finish the game," said Holmes. "We can rely on great teammates like Jordan and Zach that come up with great plays. It's unbelievable to see them work. All credit to them."
TLU shot 51 percent from the field, 45.5 percent from the arc, and 92 percent (23-of-25) at the free throw line.
Schreiner was held to 41.1 percent shooting overall and to 6-for-17 (35.3 percent) from the three-point line.
TLU gave up 14 offensive rebounds but was out-rebounded only by three, 32-29.
Keenan Gumbs led the Mountaineers (15-12) with 21 points.
Schreiner won the SCAC regular-season championship but lost all three meetings to TLU in 2016-17.
TLU's three conference tournament titles in a row are a school record. Kouremetis, who scored 23 points in the quarterfinals against Centenary and 13 in the semifinals against Colorado College, is the first Bulldog to claim two tournament MVP awards.
Holmes and Behr joined Kouremetis on the All-Tournament Team. In Saturday’s semifinal win, Behr outscored Colorado College 12-3 by himself over a three-minute span late in the game to turn a one-point TLU lead into a 10-point margin with just over a minute remaining. On five consecutive possessions, Behr hit two driving layups, two deep threes, and two free throws. He finished with 22 points.
TLU (19-9) will face Emory (18-7) on Friday at 5 p.m. in a four-team NCAA Division III tournament pod hosted by Hardin Simmons in Abilene. The game will air live on KWED and Seguintoday.com, with pre-game coverage at 4:45.