Even as his team accepted the championship plaque and prepared for the ceremonial process of cutting down the nets, Mike MacDonald remained surprised. This Medaille men's basketball team wasn't supposed to win a championship this year. Not with this group of athletes who spent the majority of their collegiate careers as backups and role players.
But something clicked with this group, a team chemistry that was greater than the statistics predicted. And Saturday afternoon, it was the Mavericks who earned their third NCAA Division III tournament berth with a 65-52 win over Penn State Behrend in the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference championship game at the Sullivan Center.
"This is still unexpected," MacDonald said of the championship. "This is a group that is just so unselfish. They don't care who scores. They just want to win. It's an unbelievable group to be around and I'm humbled to coached them. I keep saying that, but I am. I'm humbled to coach this group."
It was a close game for the first 10 minutes until the Mavs (25-2) went on an 11-3 run to take a 31-19 lead. Behrend (16-11) made some plays and cut the lead to six, 36-30, at halftime, but Medaille scored quickly to start the second half, regained a double-digit lead, and held on to win thanks in part to key defense from senior Angel Flores and key buckets from senior Phil Maiarana (St. Joe's).
"The team chemistry is unbelievable," said Maiarana, who had 17 points. "The chemistry is huge because even if someone gets beat, we're able to pick each other and recover. It really helps to be such a tight group."
The Division III bracket will be announced on Monday with the first-round games scheduled to begin on March 1 at campus sites.
Meanwhile, Daemen picked up the America Mideast Conference championship with a 76-49 win over Wilberforce. With the win the Wildcats earned the automatic berth to the NAIA Division II national tournament -- it's first postseason bid since 2006.
Jim Regan (Nichols) led Daemen with 15 points and seven rebounds while Casey Sheehan added 15 points and seven assists.
Daemen is now 20-10 overall, its first 20-win season since 2008-09.
They learn their postseason bracket on Wednesday when the NAIA's 32-team field is announced. The entire D-II tournament takes place from March 7-13 at Point Lookout, Mo.