Men’s College Basketball: St. Xavier has CCAC title, takes aim at nationals
By Steve Millar For Sun-Times Media March 6, 2014 8:34PM
Updated: April 8, 2014 6:19AM
For St. Xavier, there couldn’t have been a more perfect way to enter the NAIA Division II National Tournament.
The Cougars will take plenty of momentum into the 32-team event after knocking off defending national champion and top-ranked Cardinal Stritch (Wis.) 85-74 in Saturday’s Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference championship game in Milwaukee.
It’s St. Xavier’s first CCAC tournament title since 2010.
“It means a great deal, especially to get a win like this at this time of the season,” St. Xavier coach Tom O’Malley said. “We went through a little lull, we lost a couple of games (to Stritch on Feb. 1 and Robert Morris on Feb. 12) but we came back strong in the conference tournament.”
Jack Krieger poured in 25 points to lead the Cougars (29-4) while Brad Karp added 19 and Michael Simpson 17.
The win broke a three-game losing streak to Stritch, including two regular-season losses this season and a defeat in last year’s CCAC title game.
“Both times we played them this year, we played well in stretches, but we couldn’t finish it off,” O’Malley said. “(Saturday), we played with a lot of energy in the first half; we got up by 16 at halftime. They came out and hit some threes in the second half, but we settled down on defense and pulled it out.”
The loss snapped an 18-game winning streak for Stritch and was its first home loss of the season.
St. Xavier received the No. 7 national seed for the national tournament in Point Lookout, Mo., and will meet Cincinnati Christian in a first-round game at 10:15 a.m. Wednesday.
Karp led the conference in scoring (25.9 ppg) and was third in rebounding (8.2 rpg), but Stritch’s Derek Semenas was named CCAC Player of the Year.
“I was definitely surprised,” O’Malley said. “Semenas was close in scoring (24.2 ppg) but no in rebounding (5.5) or anywhere else. I guess coaches just voted for the top player on the team that was in first place (in the regular season).”
Karp earned First-Team All-Conference recognition while Krieger and Simpson were named to the second team.
Trinity Christian guard Jared Jones, who led the team in scoring at 17.3 points per game, was named the CCAC Freshman of the Year.
The team was also honored with the league’s Champions of Character Team Award for sportsmanship.
South Suburban will look to punch its ticket to NJCAA Division II National Tournament when it meets Triton in the Region IV-B championship at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Elgin Community College.
The Bulldogs beat Triton 80-74 on Jan. 4.
Lewis, meanwhile, will take on Southern Indiana in a Great Lakes Valley Conference quarterfinal at noon Friday in Evansville, Ind.