By R.L. Bynum
Walker Miller helped Coach King Rice’s Monmouth team make an impressive run to the MAAC Tournament final but the Hawks were one win short of the title and an NCAA tournament berth. Miller is the only former Tar Heel to make his league tournament’s final.
Walker Kessler and Brandon Huffman are the only former UNC players who will get NCAA tournament berths.
Although Huffman’s Jacksonville State team (21–10) didn’t win the ASUN Tournament, it will get the league’s automatic NCAA berth. Bellarmine, which is ineligible to play in the NCAA tournament, won the conference’s tournament, giving the bid to the regular-season champion Gamecocks.
Monmouth came one win away from an NCAA berth for the third time in seven seasons. Miller contributed double-figure points in all three games and had a team-high 15 points and six rebounds in No. 5-seed Monmouth’s 60–54 loss Saturday afternoon to No. 2-seed St. Peter’s in Atlantic City, N.J. in the championship game.
“This hurts a lot,” Rice said. “We’ll be all right, we’ve been through this before. We have a very good program at Monmouth.”
Miller’s free throw with 1:42 left cut Monmouth’s deficit to 52–50 but St. Peter’s quickly expanded the lead and held on for the victory. Miller was 11 of 14 from the free-throw line, the most free throws in a game by a Hawk this season.
“There’s a lot of emotions in that locker room, a lot of disappointment and that is because these guys care,” Miller said. “That’s because we all put a lot of time and effort and heart and determination and sweat into this, and it’s because we all love each other, too. I’m extremely proud of what we were able to accomplish this year.”
Miller, who made the all-tournament team after making second-team all-conference, had 16 points, three rebounds, four assists, two blocks and two steals in Thursday’s 61–58 first-round win over No. 5-seed Niagara. In Friday’s 72–68 semifinal victory over No. 9-seed Rider, he had 12 points, two rebounds, three assists and one steal.
The Hawks (21–13) fell short of their first NCAA berth since 2016 and their season is over.
That was the last MAAC game for Monmouth, which plays in the CAA next season.
One of the big surprises of league tournament week was Kessler’s No. 1-seed Auburn team losing its first game at the SEC Tournament in Tampa, Fla.
The No. 4-ranked Tigers lost 66–62 Friday to No. 8-seed Texas A&M in the quarterfinals but, according to most projections, should still earn a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Kessler collected 16 points, nine rebounds, three steals and four blocks for Auburn (27–5), which has lost two of its last four games.
Garrison Brooks’ Mississippi State team, the tournament’s No. 10 seed, upset No. 7-seed South Carolina 73–51 Thursday in the second round. Brooks had nine points, five rebounds, a block and two steals in that game.
It didn’t go well for the Bulldogs (18–15) in Friday’s quarterfinals, as they lost to No. 2-seed and No. 9-ranked Tennessee 72–59. Brooks contributed six points, two 3-pointers and five rebounds in that game.
Brooks averaged 10.3 points and 6.6 rebounds this season for Mississippi State, which still hopes for some sort of postseason berth. Brooks had five or more rebounds in 25 of 33 games.
Seventh Woods’ Morgan State team, the No. 4 seed in the MEAC Tournament in Norfolk, Va., beat No. 5-seed South Carolina State in Thursday’s quarterfinals 80–77 but lost to top seed Norfolk State 72–63 in Friday’s semifinals.
Woods was scoreless with a rebound, an assist and a steal against South Carolina State and contributed two points, three rebounds, a block and a steal against Norfolk State.
The Bears finished 13–14.
Jeremiah Francis’ New Mexico team, the No. 9 seed at the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas, lost 79–72 in the first round to No. 8-seed Nevada. Francis was scoreless in two minutes. The Lobos finished 13–19, with Francis only playing in 12 games, with a season-highs of 29 minutes and six points on Nov. 22 in a win over Western New Mexico.
How the seven former Tar Heels did
Garrison Brooks, Mississippi State center
SEC Tournament in Tampa, Fla., as No. 10 seed
73–51 Thursday win vs. No. 7-seed South Carolina in second round — Started; 31 minutes, 9 points, 4–8 FG, 0–1 3FG, 1–1 FT, 5 rebounds, 1 block, 2 steals
72–59 Friday quarterfinals loss vs. No. 2-seed Tennessee — Started;31 minutes, 6 points, 2–7 FG, 2–4 3FG, 5 rebounds, 1 turnover
Season statistics — 33 games, 34 starts, 10.3 points, 45.8 FG%, 33.3% 3FG%, 69.2% FT%, 6.6 rebounds; season totals of 26 assists, 27 blocks, 12 steals
Up next — The 18–15 Bulldogs hope for some sort of postseason berth
Jeremiah Francis, New Mexico guard
Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas as No. 9 seed
79–72 Wednesday loss vs. No. 8 Nevada in first round — 2 minutes, 0 points, 0–1 FG
Season statistics — 12 games, 1 start, 1.7 points, 34.6% FG, 2–10 3FG; season totals of 10 rebounds, 16 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal
Up next — Season over with a 13–19 record
Brandon Huffman, Jacksonville State forward/center
Season statistics — 30 games, 30 starts, 9.2 points, 65.5 FG%, 0–1 3FG, 55.0 FT%, 5.9 rebounds; season totals of 6 assists, 31 blocks and 11 steals
Up next — Earned an NCAA Tournament berth as the regular-season ASUN champion since Bellarmine, which won the league’s tournament, isn’t eligible for an NCAA bid
Walker Kessler, Auburn forward/center
SEC Tournament in Tampa, Fla., as No. 1 seed
67–62 Friday loss vs. No. 8 Texas A&M in quarterfinals — Started; 31 minutes, 16 points, 6–8 FG, 0–2 3FG, 4–6FT, 9 rebounds, 3 steals, 1 assist, 4 blocks
Season statistics — 32 games, 32 starts, 11.7 points, 62.5 FG%, 20.4% 3FG, 60.2 FT%, 8.2 rebounds; season totals of 29 assists, 144 blocks, 36 steals
Up next — Awaits NCAA Tournament assignment, likely as a No. 2 seed
Walker Miller, Monmouth forward
MAAC Tournament in Atlantic City, N.J., as No. 4 seed
61–58 Thursday win vs. No. 5 Niagara in quarterfinals — Started; 35 minutes, 17 points, 7–15 FG, 3–4 3FG, 0–2 FT, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 turnover, 2 blocks, 2 steals
72–68 Friday win vs. No. 9 Rider in semifinals — Started; 31 minutes, 12 points, 5–11 FG, 0–2 3FG, 2–2 FT, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal
60–54 Saturday loss vs. No. 2 St. Peter’s in final — Started; 35 minutes, 15 points, 2–12 FG, 0–3 3FG, 11–13 FT, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 turnover, 2 blocks, 1 steal, -5
Season statistics — 34 games, 34 starts, 14.6 points, 46.2 FG%, 30.6 3FG%, 71.9 FT%, 5.8 rebounds; season totals of 45 assists, 32 blocks, 27 steals
Up next — The Hawks’ season is over.
Andrew Platek, Siena guard
Out for the season after having surgery to repair a full tear in the Achilles tendon in his left leg
Season statistics — 5 games, 3 starts, 9.0 points, 40.9 FG%, 31.3 3FG%, 4–4 FT, 3.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists
Seventh Woods, Morgan State guard
MEAC Tournament in Norfolk, Va., as No. 4 seed
80–77 Thursday quarterfinals win vs. No. 5-seed South Carolina State — Started; 15 minutes, 0 points, 0–1 FG, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 foul, 1 steal
72–63 Friday semifinals loss vs. No. 1-seed Norfolk State — Started; 14 minutes, 2 points, 0–3 FG, 0–2 3FG, 2–2 FT, 3 rebounds, 1 turnover, 1 block, 1 steal
Season statistics — 21 games, 17 starts, 4.5 points, 40.7 FG%, 17.6 3FG%, 66.7 FT, 2.0 rebounds; season total of 45 assists, 13 steals, 6 blocks
Up next — 7 p.m. Wednesday at Youngstown State in The Basketball Classic