By Dylan Bestler
The St. Thomas Aquinas men’s basketball team advanced to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Division II tournament on March 15th with a 69-66 win over Saint Rose. Even though they lost to Northwest Missouri State 79-70 in the next round, this was a historic achievement for the program. This was the first time the team has advanced as far as the Elite Eight since they became a Division II program. Northwest Missouri State went on to win the NCAA Division II bracket. Having won by only nine points, it was the closest game Northwest Missouri played in past the Elite Eight.
“Very proud of the guys,” head coach Tobin Anderson said after the game. “Proud of what we accomplished, proud to be here in this environment and this is going to help us moving forward.”
The defending East Coast Conference champions began their season losing only two players from the last year. So right from the start, the Spartans knew it was going to be a successful season.
“It’s definitely an advantage because of the chemistry,” said junior guard from North Carolina, Shaquille McFarlan. “We all know each other’s games; we all know what we can do and what we are capable of.”
The Spartans had the best record at the end of the season going 28-6 overall, 15-3 in the conference. In the finals, STAC defeated Molloy College 97-86 in overtime, earning them an automatic spot in the NCAA Division II tournament.
STAC defeated Saint Anselm, Merrimack and Saint Rose to advance to the Elite Eight in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. St. Thomas Aquinas College, with only 2,800 students, had the smallest enrollment number out of all Elite Eight teams.
“It’s great for us as St. Thomas Aquinas to be on this stage,” Anderson said. “And now it’s a matter of trying to take the program forward and get a little bit better.”
STAC wasn’t always known for its success in basketball. The Spartans had a losing record from the 2009-2010 season up until the 2012-2013 season.
“Coming in our first year we went one game above .500 and every year we progressed,” recalls senior guard from Uniondale, NY Aaron Cust. “Shoutout to the coach, he’s a great coach. All the guys follow what he says and as you can see it works. Every year we get better and better. It’s just great to be a part of this team.”
Cust is only one of two senior graduating this year, so the Spartans will be returning a majority of the team including ECC player of the year and 1st team All-American, Justin Reyes. The Spartans from little St. Thomas Aquinas College in Sparkill, NY will look to return to the Elite Eight next year and perhaps go even further.