DANVILLE, Ky. — A lot of things had never happened prior to the opening round of the Southern Athletic Association (SAA) men's basketball tournament this afternoon. The Vikings had never beaten the Centre College Colonels in tournament play, a No. 8 seed had never beaten a No. 1 seed in the tournament, and Centre's Alumni Gymnasium never felt more like home for the Berry men's basketball team.
Snapping a nine-game winning streak for Centre, the Vikings executed a 97-93 upset over the top-seeded Colonels in dramatic fashion to advance to the SAA semifinals for just the second time in program history. The contest saw 16 lead changes, and no team was able to lead by more than 10 at any point.
"For us it was a matter of staying the course and sticking to the plan," head coach Jeff Rogers said. "We didn't feel like they could score enough jump shots to beat us if we forced them to shoot the three."
The Colonels held a narrow 44-42 advantage at the half, with most of their damage coming from beyond the arc. Centre shot 64.3-percent in the opening period from three, as Perry Ayers led the Colonels with 17, but Elijah Hirsh matched the Centre attack blow-for-blow to the tune of 16 first-half points.
Halftime adjustments limited Centre to just a pair of three-point baskets in the second half, but the main difference would be seen at the free-throw line. Berry shot 70.8-percent (17-24) at the charity stripe while Centre, the league's top free-throw shooting squad, shot just 64.3-percent (9-14). Myles Moore also erupted for 16 of his 19 points in the second half, shooting 6-for-7 from the field and sinking all four of his free-throw attempts.
Hirsh tied his career-high with 26 points on 11-for-13 shooting before fouling out late in the game. He also recorded his 12th double-double of the year, grabbing 10 rebounds. Caleb Johnson followed with 21 points on 6-for-14 shooting, hitting 7-for-10 at the free-throw line.
"Across the board, I felt our guys played with toughness and grit that we've had in spurts all season," Rogers said. "Our decisions making and effort was really good, which meant our execution was going to be really good. We've got six seniors on the team, and their celebration lasted the duration of our meeting in the locker room, but now we're focused on the next one. Our goal is to win the thing."
- Elijah Hirsh: 26 PTS, 11-for-13 FG, 10 REB, 2 STL
- Caleb Johnson: 21 PTS, 6-for-14 FG, 7-for-10 FT, 3 REB, 2 AST
- Myles Moore: 19 PTS, 7-for-10 FG, 4-for-4 FT, 3 REB
- McCarty Forte: 11 PTS, 3-for-10 FG, 4-for-4 FT
- Perry Ayers: 31 PTS, 10-for-15 FG, 4-for-5 3PT, 5 AST
- Tucker Sine: 16 PTS, 6-for-14 FG, 4-for-9 3PT, 6 REB
- Jacob Bates: 16 PTS, 5-for-11 FG, 8 REB
- This is the first time Berry has ever beaten Centre in the SAA tournament
- A No. 8 seed had previously never upset the No. 1 seed
- Elijah Hirsh's 26 points tied a career-high. He also ranks amongst the top in NCAA Divisiion III with 12 double-doubles this year.
Berry will face Birmingham-Southern tomorrow at 4:00 p.m. in Danville in the semifinals.
Head Coach Jeff Rogers & Elijah Hirsh postgame interview