Playing their strengths
Metro State, Drury both have the goods to win it all
ATLANTA -- Two teams, one trophy.
What happens next for Drury and Metro State is anybody’s guess, and that’s the way it should be. All that’s at stake is the little matter of an NCAA Division II men’s basketball national championship.
This is how they’ll stack up.
Both teams experienced disappointment last season, for drastically different reasons. Metro State made it to the quarterfinals of the DII tournament and was leading its quarter-final game against Montevello by six points with just two minutes to go.
Metro State lost, and it prickled. Dropping that game became a rallying cry this season for head coach Derrick Clark and his nine returning players.
“The way we lost the game was very bothering to myself and my team,” Clark said. “It was a motivating factor. We had this thing about trying to preserve the win instead of attacking and staying aggressive. We made a pact that we would never play that way again in that kind of situation. We always used that failure as motivation.”
Drury, on the other hand, didn’t make it to the DII tournament at all last year. Winding up at 17-11, head coach Steve Hesser took solace in the fact that the Panthers took wins in four of its last five games, including one that went into double overtime.
“We finished the year last year really well, and we had a good spring, a good summer and a good fall,” Hesser said. “I felt very good about our guys. Obviously, I didn’t know we’d get to this point.”
Everything that Drury and Metro State have prepared for this year will all come down to game time on Sunday. What will it take for them to make it over that one final hurdle and carry the DII national championship trophy back to campus?
Hesser considers senior guards Alex Hall and Brandon Lockhart to be the backbone of his ball club. Hall popped in a team-high average of 20.3 per game this season, while Lockhart chipped in 12.5.
“We’ve got to get down and we’ve got to guard them,” Hesser said. “We’ve got to make them make shots on us, and then we’ve got to limit them to one shot. Obviously, on the other end, we’ve got to make some buckets ourselves.”
All Clark wants is more of the same out his squad.
“We don’t need to change a whole lot at this time of year when you’re playing the last game,” Clark said. “Here’s my message to our guys, ‘Just be the same guys you’ve been.’ We have great balance. We have five starters scoring in double digits. That’s unique. We just have to be really good at the stuff we’ve been doing one more time. We’re not going to change a whole lot of stuff.”
Although all five starters can score and score often, Clark says that the true strength of the Roadrunners is its defense.
“The best thing we do is we defend,” he said. “We’re a pressing team and we keep pressure on. We take pride in guarding people and stopping them. We get out and we transition offensively. We have three guys on the perimeter that are point guards. I would tell you those two things.”
That’s how Hesser and Clark see their own teams. How do they see each other?
Clark wasn’t able to focus on Drury’s semifinal game as much as he would’ve liked, but he does know all about Hall and Lockhart.
“They’re very talented,” Clark said. “I’m telling you they have really good perimeter players. They don’t beat themselves. They’re well coached. It’s going to be a challenge.”
Metro State’s scoring prowess has also not escaped Hesser. That’s the kind of thing that sort of speaks for itself.
“They’re solid at all five positions, on the perimeter and they have two big ones inside. I don’t know that you can focus on one aspect. I think you just need to be solid, help each other, recover and then go block out.”
Drury has never won an NCAA DII crown, but did take home the Division I NAIA title back in 1979. Hesser wants the DII championship for his players and his school.
“It would be a great thing for our guys,” Hesser said. “We basically have the same players back from last year, with a couple of additions. Our core guys were there last year. For them and our school, it’s created a buzz around our school. It would be a very memorable event.”
Clark was an assistant coach at Metro State under Mike Dunlap, now the head coach of the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats. Dunlap led the school to DII championships in 2000 and 2002, and after assistant stints at Colorado and Air Force, Clark was named Metro State’s head coach in 2010.
To be able to duplicate his mentor’s feat and bring a national championship back to Colorado would be huge for Clark.
“It’s something I can’t put into words and how much it would mean to me,” he said. “To see Mike Dunlap do this thing for so many years and see how he handled it, I’d be a fool if I didn’t learn in that situation. But now all of a sudden, I have a chance to put my legacy on the program as well. I love this place backwards and forwards. There can only be one standing at the end of the season, and to do that being a third-year head coach would be invaluable in terms of the feeling.”