BETHANY - After capturing its second consecutive and 14th Presidents' Athletic Conference championship overall Saturday, the Bethany College men's basketball team learned Monday it will open the 2012 NCAA Tournament on Thursday at St. Mary's (Md.) College. Game time for Thursday will be announced later.
The winner of the Bethany/St. Mary's tilt will advance to play at Virginia Wesleyan on Saturday. The Marlins (25-3), who won the Old Dominion Athletic Conference, earned one of two byes into the second round of the Tournament.
The Bison repeated as PAC champions with a hard-fought 58-53 victory against Thomas More on Saturday night before a boisterous home crowd. Despite not scoring a field goal in the final 10 minutes, Bethany earned the crown at the foul line, going 23-for-30, including 6-for-6 in the final 37 seconds. Junior Reece Mabery, who made the final four from the line, finished with a game-high 16 points and sophomore Leslie Addy scored a career-high 15 points.
This marks the second straight and eighth overall NCAA appearance for the Bison. Last season, Bethany went to Wooster and played Manchester (Ind.) College in the opening round. After falling behind 15-0 to open the game, Bethany whittled the deficit to single digits, but the comeback fell short in a 70-58 setback. The Bison are aiming to win their first NCAA Tournament game since 2001 when they knocked off Pitt-Bradford on the road, 110-98, in the opening round before falling to eventual national champion Otterbein in the second round.
This will be the first meeting between Bethany and St. Mary's, but the teams do have one common opponent this season. The Bison won at Frostburg State 74-73 on Dec. 12 thanks to a free throw from junior Nick Wilcox with 3 second to play. Frostburg State and St. Mary's are both in the Capital Athletic Conference (CAC), so they squared off three times this season. The first came in the Pride of Baltimore Tournament in November and SMC won that matchup 62-57.
The first conference game between the schools came Jan. 14 and Frostburg claimed an 85-72 victory on its home floor. Then in the regular-season finale, St. Mary's won by a 95-81 count, which helped the Seahawks clinch the top seed in the CAC Tournament. In the conference playoffs, the Seahawks were upset in the opening round by eventual champion York (Pa.) College 61-58.
Due to that loss, St. Mary's, which finished 19-7, had to earn an at-large bid to the Tournament. It is making a third straight trip to the NCAAs and is looking to make another deep run. Two years ago, SMC advanced to the Sweet Sixteen and last year, the Seahawks scored victories Medger Evers, Randolph-Macon and Buffalo State before losing to Middlebury in the Elite Eight.