Bet you didn’t realize it, but a basketball team from Missouri just won a national title and it wasn’t the Billikens or Mizzou. It was the Panthers of Drury Missouri in Springfield.
The tiny little school, some 202 miles down I-44 from St. Louis, nestled in the foot hills of the Ozarks in Springfield came from 12 down at half to defeat Metro State University of Denver Roadrunners 74-73 to earn the Division II title. Drury is better known for academics and women’s swimming than hoops these days.
Now, once a coach told me, no kid ever woke up in the morning, dreaming of playing Division II basketball. But don’t tell that to Lindenwood or UMSL.
A title is a title is a title. It took a hoop junkie like me to watch the game.
The two schools played in spacious Philips Arena before 7,763 fans, the largest Division II crowd since the 1971 Final 4 title game. The Division II final 4 drew over 14,000 over two days in Atlanta. Not bad for Division II. The students were passionate about their teams.
And even better, the young men got to showcase their talents nationally on CBS Sports. The championship game wound up a little after 5 p.m. locally.
Players played just as hard as if it was Michigan and Louisville in tonight’s final match. More on that in a moment.
There was a St. Louis connection. Drury has three players from the area. Lonnie Boga played for McCluer and transferred to Springfield from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Brandon Lockhart played for Chaminade and Josh Buie played high school for O’Fallon, Illinois.
This was a nice championship for long-time coach Steve Hesser who has a record now of 165-71 at Drury, almost a .700 winning percentage. He made his mark, first playing then coaching in Oklahoma.
As the message on the floor in Atlanta says: “The Road Ends Here.”
Big Blue & Ville
Michigan and Louisville will battle it out tonight for all the marbles. Anyone who predicted that is fudging the truth. My brackets were in shambles midway through day one of the tournament.
Michigan looked atrocious, coming down the stretch Saturday night against Syracuse. They couldn’t shoot a free throw into the ocean. But what the heck, sometimes lucky is better than good.
I was kind of rooting for Wichita State. It was nice to see the Valley drubbing some of those big boy teams. And besides, Louisville was also a Valley team, just like the Billikens were years ago.
So here’s my prediction. Louisville wins the game, playing on emotion for their wounded teammate. So much for predictions. That means the Wolverines will be drinking from the Holy Grail, sometime before the bewitching hour of midnight in Hot-Lanta.