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Heartland Basketball Tourney

March is here and it is basketball playoff time for St. Mary’s. The men’s and women’s basketball teams will host semifinals in the Heartland Conference Championship Tournaments on Wednesday, March 5; the women tip-off at 6 p.m. and the men at 8 p.m. The second-seed Rattler women (20-6, 8-2) play third-seed Lincoln (13-14, 6-4) and the first-seed Rattler men (15-12, 8-2) play fourth-place Drury (11-16, 5-5).

In the other semifinals, the #1 Drury women (24-3, 9-1) host #4 Incarnate Word (15-11, 5-5) and #2 Rockhurst (17-10, 7-3) men host #3 Incarnate Word (19-7, 6-4). The winner of each tournament is the official conference champion and recipient of an automatic bid to the NCAA National Tournament. Additional tournament information and full conference results and statistics can be found at www.heartlandsports.org.

The St. Mary’s men’s and women’s basketball teams finished out the regular season at home on March 1 by sweeping Incarnate Word. The Rattler women (20-6, 8-2) rallied from behind for a 63-59 victory over the Crusaders (15-11, 5-5) while the St. Mary’s men (15-12, 8-2) also overcame a halftime deficit to pull out a 50-45 victory over Incarnate Word (19-7, 6-4). The victories gave Buddy’s Boys the unofficial Heartland Conference regular season title while the women’s team had clinched second place by beating St. Edward’s on Feb. 22.

The Rattler women beat Lincoln in both of their regular season matches this year, with both victories coming in overtime: 68-65 in San Antonio on Jan. 11 and 69-61 in Jefferson City on Feb. 8. St. Mary’s swept the Drury men this year, winning 73-61 in Springfield on Jan. 16 and 69-62 in San Antonio on Feb. 15. The Rattler men opened the season with a 4-9 skid but bounced back to win 11 of their last 14 games. The women’s team started off 8-4 and posted a 12-2 mark after New Year’s.

Rattlers down Crusaders to end season
The Incarnate Word Women held the momentum in the first half of last Saturday’s game, taking a 26-21 halftime lead after holding the Rattlers to only 27-percent field goal shooting, including 1 of 11 three-point attempts. As the second half opened things continued to look bad for the Rattlers as two starters, guard Neno Anguiano and post Erin Griffin, had to hit the bench after picking up their fourth fouls. The Rattlers responded by turning to their inside game and senior post Martha Brinker. Brinker scored repeatedly off shots taken in the paint while drawing fouls from the Crusader’s inside defenders, including Shamieka Buckley, who fouled out with over eight minutes left, and Blair Redmon who fouled out with just over four minutes remaining. The focus on Brinker allowed Anguiano and Griffin to quietly return to the game and finish with 32 minutes of playing time each. Brinker finished the night with a double double for the Rattlers – 26 points and 11 rebounds. The Rattlers second-half momentum swing included a 14-0 run to take a lead they never relinquished. The Rattlers’ improved to 53.6-percent shooting in the second half while holding the Crusaders to 28.6-pecent shooting; the Crusaders had shot 40.7-percent in the first. Meosha Nash, who played all 40 minutes for St. Mary’s, added 11 points while Amy Mueller led UIW with 18 points.

The men’s game was a classic St. Mary’s-UIW match up with both teams playing a swarming defense that forces the other team to use up the shot clock and that makes every possession count. The Crusaders opened with a 7-0 run but Rattlers mounted a comeback quickly tying the game before conceding a 23-21-halftime lead to UIW. The Rattlers would take their first lead with 11 minutes left in the game and the Crusaders responded by tying the game several times but were unable to regain a lead of their own. The Rattlers all but clinched the victory, and the conference top seed, with a 7-0 run with under four minutes left for a 46-39 lead. UIW battled back to a three-point deficit with six second remaining but Bryant Baker sunk two free throws for the Rattlers with three seconds left to seal the deal. “Big Game” Ben McCain, a strong contender for conference freshman of the year honors, led St. Mary’s with 15 points and sophomore Billy White added 12 points for the home team. D’ Hudson led the Crusaders with 17 points, most of which he scored in the first half.

Team Leaders
As of March 1, the Rattler women are led in scoring by Griffin (14.9), senior guard Meosha Nash (13.0), Brinker (13.1) and sophomore guard Nicole Brantley (11.3). Nash leads the team in free throw shooting, hitting 81.8 percent. Anguiano leads team in assists with 122 (4.9 per game) and Griffin is the leading rebounder with 8.9 per game. As of last week, Brinker was seventh in nation in field-goal percentage, Brantley was 16th and Nash was 30th nationally in three-point field goal percentage, and Nash was 17th and Brantley 26th in three-pointers per game. As a team the Rattlers were 12th nationally in field-goal percentage, 16th in rebound margin, 19th in three-point percentage, and 30th in three-pointers per game. The Rattlers average 73.9 point per game, an 11.9-point margin over their opponents.

As of March 1, the St. Mary’s men are led in scoring by sophomore wing Billy White (13.8), McCain (13.1) and junior post Pedro Brito (10.6); former Rattler guard Antonio Falu had a 15.2 points per game average over the first 15 games of the season. White’s 56 steals (2.2 per game) and 169 rebounds (6.5 per game) lead the team. McCain has 37 blocks on the year, a 1.4 per game mark. Junior guard Ky O’Dell is tops in assists, averaging 4.4 per game. The Rattlers are hitting 49.6 percent of their field goals and were 15th best in the nation going into the Incarnate Word game. They average 73.3 points per game, a 5.9-point margin over their opponents.

Rattlers in the Air
Rattler men’s basketball is broadcast live on the radio via KLUP AM 930 or over the Internet via www.klup.com. Marc Hoenig and Pete Hansen make the calls.

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