EVANSVILLE, Ind. — With a trip to the Division II national championship game on the line, top-ranked Florida Southern used a 3-pointer from All-American guard Kevin Capers with 8.1 seconds left to post a 79-76 victory against third-ranked Bellarmine on Thursday night.
The Mocs now have advanced to their third national championship game in school history, and first since 1982.
“What an incredible shot at the end by Kevin,” Moccasins head coach Linc Darner said. “It was a huge shot and now we get to play one more game this season.”
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Capers’ trey helped the Moccasins (35-1) erase a five-point deficit with 4:19 left in the game and advance to the title game where they will meet No. 25 Indiana (Pa.) at 3 p.m. ET Saturday.
“I thought it was an unbelivable game. It was the second time we’ve played them this season and the second time the game came down to the end,” Darner added. “I thought the beginning of the game was the best 10 minutes we’ve played all season as we got up by 18 points, but we knew they’d make a run.”
Capers’ only made 3-pointer of the game was set up on Bellarmine’s previous possession by a steal by guard Tyler Kelly, who stole the ball away from Rusty Troutman with 38 seconds remaining. Troutman’s turnover was the 20th of the game for the Knights, and the Mocs scored 25 points off those turnovers.
“T.K.’s steal was huge. I was thinking that if they [Bellarmine] scored on that possession, how much time would be left on the clock,” said Darner, who is now 11-7 as FSC’s coach in the NCAA tournament. “The steal was a huge play, but once again turnovers were important as we forced 20 and only committed seven as a team. That was a big key for us in earning the win.”
Capers said that we he looking to drive on his last shot, but Bellarmine’s defense forced him to reconsider.
“In the timeout we drew up a play and I was going to drive to the basket, but [Jake] Thelen was sitting in the paint, so I backed up and had an open shot, so I took it and it felt good when it left my hands,” said Capers, who scored 17 points to extend his double-digit scoring streak to 23 consecutive games.
It appeared early on that Capers’ heroics weren’t going to be needed. The Mocs hit six consecutive 3-pointers, including five in a row from guard Dominique Williams, to turn a 7-6 deficit into a 24-9 lead with 12:16 left in the opening half.
Bellarmine (31-4) opened the second half by scoring six of the first 10 points to pull within 44-42 and tied the game at 49. The Knights eventually led 72-67 with 4:19 left in the game.
“With about 4 minutes left in the game, I turned to Coach [Ben] Swank, my assistant, and said, ‘I’m going to put my five senior starters back in at the last timeout and we’re either going to win it or lose it with them on the floor,’ ” Darner said. “I thought they did a great job with helping get us back in the game and ultimately helping us win the game.”
The Mocs began their comeback with a 3-pointer from Williams and two free throws by sophomore guard Michael Volovic tied the game at 72 with 4:05 remaining.
In addition to Capers’ 17 points, Williams led the way with a team high 22 points as he finished 8-for-12 from the field, including going 6-for-9 from the 3-point line, while Battle finished with 16 points and added five boards in the win.
The Mocs’ 10 3-pointers set a single-season record made 3-pointers with 346.