Men's Basketball: Panthers take on Hardin-Simmons tonight in first round of NCAA national tournament

Photo by Corey Hammett
Photo by Corey Hammett


ABILENE, Texas - LaGrange begins play tonight in the NCAA Division III National Tournament. The Panthers take on Hardin-Simmons beginning at 8:30 p.m. EST.

The Panthers (18-10) are making their fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance. They earned the bid by winning the USA South Tournament championship for the third time in the last four years with a 75-56 win over Methodist last Saturday. LaGrange is the first USA South men's basketball team to play in four straight NCAA tournaments since Christopher Newport did it from 1997-2001.

Hardin-Simmons is making its second straight trip to the national tournament. The Cowboys (22-6) won the American Southwest Conference tournament for the second year in a row. They defeated LeTourneau in the championship game 104-92. The Cowboys enter the NCAA tournament on a seven-game winning streak.

"Hardin-Simmons is a very good team and extremely well coached," said Coach Kendal Wallace. "They have seven seniors and they play extremely hard and smart, which is a respectful nod to their leader, Coach Carse."

Hardin-Simmons is averaging 88.5 points per game and has six players averging in double figures. The top five scorers are all seniors, led by forward Nathaniel Jack, who is averaging 18.3 points per game. He scored 32 points in the ASC title game.

The Panthers come into tonight's game winners of nine of their last 11 games. On Jan. 28, they were 3-5 in conference play but surged to finish 8-6, tying for second in the league standings.

"The key to our success in this tournament will be about us," Wallace pointed out. "We have gotten here by everyone of our players accepting their role and playing it their best.

"When we do that we have been successful. When we don't, we aren't. We are playing good basketball right now and doing it as a team."

The Panthers have four players in double figures. Senior Justyn Olson leads a balanced attack with 14.1 points per game. He was named to the USA South All-Tournament team after scoring 52 points in the three games.

Another senior, Drew Vanderbrook, follows Olson. Vanderbrook is averaging 12.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. He is averaging more than 16 points per game over the last 10 games.

Junior guard Alex Bonner was the USA South Tournament Most Valuable Player. He is averaging 12.7 points and a team-leading 5.8 rebounds per game. 

Sophomore guard Elijah Adedoyin is averaging 11.4 points per game. Sophomore guard Travis Thompson is averaging 8.1 points per game coming off the bench. He was named to the USA South All-Tournament team.

Tonight, the Panthers will be seeking their first NCAA win. They lost to Birmingham-Southern 93-91 last year.

Emory (18-7) and Texas Lutheran (19-9) meet in the first game today. The winners meet Saturday at 8 p.m. EST.