Thunder Handle Bears in Sectional Semifinals
Sunday, March 10, 2024

ANGOLA – The Trine University men's basketball team continued their NCAA Tournament run with a Sectional Semifinal victory over Washington University (WashU) out of St. Louis, Missouri and the University Athletic Association (UAA).

The #13 Thunder (26-4) will now face the #11 University of Wisconsin-Platteville Pioneers (26-4) in the Sectional Finals on Saturday, March 9 at 7:30 p.m. The winner of that contest will punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament Championship Semifinal weekend in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

The game will be a rematch from when Platteville competed at the MTI Center in late December. The Thunder came away with an 80-68 victory over the Pioneers in that game. Head Coach Brooks Miller gave a preview of what's to come tomorrow, "They're a well-coached team, a physical team with good shot makers and they have a mental advantage over us right now that we're going to have to overcome in the next game after coming out on top over them earlier this season."

Trine was led by Aidan Smylie and Cortez Garland, who combined for 45 points on the night. It is a new career-high for the junior Smylie with 23 points in total and he was 4-for-5 from beyond the arc. As a team, the Thunder were red hot from beyond the arc. The end game total was 10-for-15 (66.7%) which is the most efficient shooting performance from three in program history.

"Good players make plays," Garland said during postgame media availability. "Today was just one of those days where we had to make plays and it ended up being from three."

The Bears (20-8) began the game with a pair of made field goals, but a three-point make by Emmanuel Megnanglo sparked a run of seven straight points for the home team. Cortez Garland buried a three as well during a total scoring spree of 16-2 to go up double figures. Three-point shooting by WashU kept them in it early at 18-14 at the under-12 media timeout.

Smylie and Fred Garland added on to the barrage from distance and a steal and slam by Smylie put the MTI Center into a frenzy at 28-21. As the seconds began to tick down in the first half, Drew Moore was true from deep to help extend the lead to ten at halftime, 38-28. The Thunder were an even 50.0% (16-for-32) from the field in the first 20 minutes and 6-of-8 (75.0%) from downtown.

Smylie had this to say postgame of the team's success from deep, "I think we did a good job of finding each other. A lot of our threes were wide open off a pass or late in the shot clock."

A 6-2 run in the first four minutes of the second half allowed Trine to continue right where they left off. Cortez Garland found his rhythm on offense and rattled off eight straight Thunder points himself to widen the gap to 52-36.

In the middle stages of the second half, it was the hot hand of Smylie that put the game out of reach. He would score seven points in less than one minute of court time just before the halfway points and bury a pair of three's to balloon the lead to 25 at 69-44 with seven minutes and change remaining. He would get a tip-in layup on a missed free throw as well to keep the Bears in check.

An and-one by Moore in the closing minutes of the game allowed for Trine to give the reserve players some time on the court in March. A group consisting of Cameron Awls, Ryan Preston, Jayce Cusack, Evan Lumbrezer and Logan McKenzie would seal the deal in an 86-65 winner.

Despite losing the rebound battle (38-31) and second chance points (21-8), the Thunder dominated on the fats break (20-2) and points off of WashU's 17 turnovers (24-9). The defense held the Bears in check to 36.9% (24-of-65) from the field.