LAKELAND, Fla. -- Delta State is running on two mottos right now: "Survive & Advance" and "Grit & Grind." Both sayings tell the story of the Statesmen's run in the 2014 NCAA Division II South Region tournament. After playing a "Grit & Grind" game against No. 2 seed Saint Leo, No. 3 seed DSU survives 70-61 and advances to the championship game of the regional tournament.
The game started off like a normal matchup between two talented teams in the postseason, tied 2-2 just a few minutes in, but at the 16:35 mark in the first half, Delta State's Willie Readus got into foul trouble and he sat on the bench for the remainder of the half. The Statesmen didn't let that affect them and Zelvin Smith, Jr. came into the game to contribute four points and three rebounds in the first half.
For about six minutes, Saint Leo controlled the tempo and the scoreboard, getting out to a seven-point lead with 12 minutes still to play in the opening half. Alister Chisholm came off the bench for Delta State, helping out at a key time. With 10 minutes to go, Chisholm grabbed back-to-back offensive rebounds, then scored on the second put back to tie the game 13-13. Jack Madgen followed that with a 3-pointer and the Statesmen took a three-point lead.
The Lions had an answer and took control back, though Delta tied it up again a few times, until there were just two minutes to play in the first half. Freshman Devin Schmidt hit two free throws, tying the game again at 27-27, then he scored a layup to give DSU the lead with one minute to go. Saint Leo hit a jumper to make it a time game once again, but Schmidt raced down the court and hit a jumper with 43 seconds on the clock. The Statesmen defense held strong and at halftime, Delta State led Saint Leo 31-29.
In just the first half, the score was tied eight times and the lead changed four times. Schmidt scored 13 points and pulled down seven rebounds while Madgen had six points in the half on two 3-pointers. Delta shot 44 percent from the field and made all shots at the foul line.
Readus was back in the lineup when the second half started. Right away, he hit the front end of two free throws. Mike Washington followed that with a score in the paint and early on, the Statesmen had a five-point lead. The Lions didn't back down. At the 17:26 mark, Saint Leo's Jerrel Harris, who had 27 points on the night, hit a shot that put his team in the lead by one. Cornel Knight responded with a shot of his own for DSU, but Harris scored again, putting the Lions back on top.
With 16:21 still on the clock, Schmidt went to the line for two free shots. After nailing both, the Statesmen had the lead 38-37. From that point on, Delta outlasted Saint Leo. The Lions couldn't tie the score again, for the remainder of the game, and never led on the again.
Readus came through with a few big plays after that point in the second half. He helped DSU keep the momentum with about 12 minutes left by hitting a jumper and drawing a foul. Readus completed the three-point play and the Statesmen led 47-41 then.
Delta State played its "Grit & Grind" game for the rest of the half. Washington and Schmidt scored back-to-back with about eight minutes to play, putting the Statesmen up 56-49. Michael Weems then hit a key 3-pointer with five minutes left that gave DSU an eight-point lead -- and all the momentum. Schmidt added a layup about 10 seconds later that put Delta on top by 10, 61-51.
DSU never led by more than 10, and Saint Leo brought it to a five-point game off a 3-pointer with 2:37 on the clock, but a shot by Madgen, who was in foul trouble, pretty much sealed the win for the Statesmen.
Knight, Washington and Schmidt finished out the game at the foul line.
The Statesmen shot 48 percent from the field and 75 percent at the charity stripe. The defense held the Lions to 37 percent shooting, including 15 percent from 3-point range. DSU outrebounded Saint Leo 39-26.
Schmidt led Delta with a double-double of 22 points and 11 rebounds. Readus played just 17 minutes of the game but scored 11 points and pulled down six rebounds. Washington and Madgen finished with nine points each. Knight and Smith had six each. Chisholm contributed four points and Weems had three, off that one key shot from beyond the arc.