BLOOMINGTON, Minn. -- "March Madness" arrived early in 2017.
Thursday's two MIAC Men's Basketball Playoff semifinals were a pair of down-to-the-wire thrillers, as just six total points separated the two winners and two losers. In St. Paul, Minn., No. 4 Saint John's got a game-winning 16-footer from Garrett Goetz with just two seconds left to stun No. 1-seeded St. Thomas, 80-78 (Box Score), while No. 2-seeded Bethel used a late burst to create just enough separation from No. 3 Carleton to hang on for a 57-53 (Box Score) win in Arden Hills, Minn.
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The two results send the Royals and Johnnies to Saturday's prime-time Playoff championship game, which will tip off at 7 p.m. on Bethel's home court in Arden Hills. No matter the result, one of the two will end a long MIAC Playoff drought. This is Bethel's second trip to the title game in three years, after losing to St. Thomas by just three points in 2015, and the Royals also reached the final 2009. Their only title came in 1991 in the old four-team format. Saint John's last won a MIAC Playoff title in 2001 and is back in the championship game for the first time since 2006-07. The Johnnies will try to win their sixth MIAC Playoff crown (1985, 1986, 1988, 2000, 2001).
The St. Paul semifinal was another unforgettable chapter in the SJU-UST rivalry that came down to the final seconds. Saint John's Patrick Strom hit a three to put his team up 74-72 with 2:30 to play, and then each team's star guard took over. The Tommies' Grant Shaeffer and SJU's David Stokman twice traded baskets, with Stokman's runner in the lane with 35 seconds left putting the Johnnies up two with 35 seconds to play. Shaeffer charged back down court, drew a foul and made the two free throws to tie it again and set up Goetz's game winner from just beyond the free throw line. St. Thomas' attempt to loft in a pass to half court was tipped away and Saint John's celebrated its win and its spot in Saturday's final.
The thrilling conclusion was a fitting way for the hard-fought, high-scoring game to end. St. Thomas opened the night with an 8-0 run, but Saint John's rallied and eventually built a 37-30 lead, and took a 43-39 lead into the locker room. The Johnnies stretched it to double digits with an 8-0 run to open the second half but Michael Hannon answered with a pair of threes, only to see SJU go on another 8-0 run to make it 59-45. St. Thomas responded with a 10-0 answer and finally tied it at 63-63 to set up the exciting final moments.
Stokman led SJU with 23 points on 8-of-11 shooting. Tyler Weiss was 6-for-8 from the floor for 16 points and Patrick Strom added 15 points and six rebounds for a Johnnie team that shot .519 from the floor (27-for-52). Hannon had the hot hand for St. Thomas, going 5-for-9 from three en route to 22 points off the bench, and Shaeffer scored 21 with seven assists in the loss. Tommy Anderson added 11 points and Jordan Burich grabbed nine boards and blocked two shots.
The other semifinal pitted a pair of red-hot teams in the midst of historic runs. The Royals were taking the court for the first time since clinching a share of their first-ever MIAC championship the previous Wednesday, and Carleton came in fresh off a 63-66 quarterfinal win over No. 6 Augsburg as one of the nation's hottest teams, winners of 14-straight.
The game was a close one throughout with 13 ties and seven lead changes. It was tied 29-29 at the half, and was knotted at 46-46 with eight minutes left when Bethel went on its run. The Royals clamped down on defense and held the Knights scoreless for six minutes while going on a 10-0 run to take control into the game's final minutes. Carleton made things interesting by closing the game on a 7-1 run, aided by six straight Bethel misses from the line, but the Knights couldn't connect down four in the final seconds and the Royals persevered.
For the Royals, Granger Kingland certainly didn't play like a rookie in his MIAC Playoff debut, as he led Bethel with 15 points, including 4-of-7 shooting from three, and seven rebounds. Derek Magnuson added 12 points and Trevor Hall scored 10 for the Royals, who hung on despite shooting .355 from the floor, .273 from three and .556 from the line, but were plus-10 in the turnover column. Kevin Grow led the Knights with 13 points, eight boards and three blocked shots while shooting 6-for-9 from the floor. Beau Smit added 12 points, Kent Hanson had 10 points and eight boards and Freddie Gillespie pulled down 10 boards.
The tournament champion will receive the MIAC Playoff championship plaque as well as the conference's automatic bid to the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. The NCAA will announce the national tournament field on Feb. 27 at 11:30 a.m. with a live online selection show. There will be a new MIAC Playoff victor, as defending champ St. Olaf just missed returning to the postseason.
The MIAC has a home page dedicated to the 2017 MIAC Men's Basketball Playoffs, containing schedules, links and information on each of the six teams in the field. Throughout the tournament, the page will be updated with scores, stats, updated schedules and more. Fans can also follow the action on the MIAC Scoreboard or on the free MIAC mobile app. Connect throughout the Playoffs on social media through the MIAC's Facebook, Instagram or Twitter accounts, using the hashtag #MIACMBB.
2017 MIAC MEN'S BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS
Quarterfinals | Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017 | 7 p.m. |
No. 3 Carleton 66, No. 6 Augsburg 63 | Box Score | Recap | D3photography.com Gallery |
No. 4 Saint John's 86, No. 5 Hamline 58 | Box Score | Recap |
Semifinals | Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 | 7 p.m. |
No. 4 Saint John's 80, No. 1 St. Thomas 78 | Box Score |
No. 2 Bethel 57, No. 3 Carleton 53 | Box Score |
Championship | Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017 | 7 p.m. |
No. 4 Saint John's at No. 2 Bethel | Arden Hills, Minn. |