Kevin Capers battled through sickness as he led BR-1 Florida Southern (36-1) to their second D2 Men’s Basketball National Championship with a 77-62 win over BR-10 Indiana (Pa.) (31-7) inside the Ford Center in Evansville, Ind. Saturday.
Capers capped off his Elite Eight Most Outstanding Player performance as he scored a game-high 24 points, including three three-pointers in the first eight minutes as the Mocs led from wire-to-wire.
“My team and my coaches pushed me,” Capers said. “[Head coach Linc Darner] kept checking on me ‘Are you good? Are you good?’”
Capers also received some encouragement from teammate Bubby Johnson.
“During every timeout, [Johnson] kept telling me, ‘C’mon man, all we need is twenty minutes from you.”
The Mocs got that from their senior consensus All-American and then some.
Just as they did two nights before against BR-2 Bellarmine, the Mocs came out on fire from beyond the arc, hitting four three-pointers to take an early 12-4 lead over IUP at the first media timeout.
The Mocs continued to kill IUP from beyond the arc, hitting 8-of-14 from beyond the arc in the first half.
“We played defense the way we played defense all year,” said IUP’s Devante Chance. “Our main priority on defense was to make them take tough twos and they came out of the game knocking out some tough threes.”
The Crimson Hawks looked to have caught a break as Capers drew his second foul with 10:58 left and Florida Southern leading 21-10.
“It actually was good as I had a lot of time to rest,” Capers quipped.
Darner was concerned, given how he was already down to an eight-man rotation.
“With the lead, I didn’t want to put Kevin back in to get his third foul,” Capers said. “If they had made a run, I would’ve put him back in.”
IUP managed to chip away at the lead before halftime. Shawn Dyer hit a three to cut the Florida Southern lead to 35-28, only to see Stephen Battle answer with a jumper to give the Mocs a 37-28 lead at the break.
Florida Southern picked up where they left off to start the second half, opening the frame on an 11-2 run to take a 48-33 lead with 17:18 left. Capers added a pair of threes in the frame’s first three minutes.
IUP tried to battle back, as they cut the lead to 57-50 with less than 10 minutes to play. Yet, as was the case in the first half, for IUP run, the Mocs seemed to have an answer.
A 17-7 run over the succeeding eight minutes iced the game for Florida Southern, as IUP had no answer for Capers or Dylan Travis, who scored 13 of his 18 points during the Mocs’ game-clinching run as they took a 74-57 lead at the game’s final media timeout with 2:02 left.
“The rim got bigger for them and they grew confidence,” said IUP head coach Joe Lombardi. “We had to play on our heels the rest of the night. You can do that once in a while, but you shouldn’t make a habit out of it.”
Chance led IUP with 17 points, while Shawn Dyer added 16. Both players were named to the All-Tournament Team, along with Bellarmine’s Jake Thelen.
For IUP, the game marked the end of the collegiate careers of Chance, Dyer and Jeremy Jeffers. Lombardi, though, focused on the Crimson Hawks’ effort throughout the entire season.
“They gave in to the process, they gave love and commitment to each other,” Lombardi said of his squad. “That’s the beuaty of athletics. That’s the beauty of competition and I’m proud of these guys. I couldn’t have expected any more out of them.”
The Mocs, meanwhile, expressed joy as the five senior starters finished their careers with a national title.
“I can’t be prouder to be their coach and I’m going to miss these five guys,” Darner said. “They’ve won a lot of games for Florida Southern and have helped us get back to where we want to be at.”
For the players, the feeling was mutual.
“We’ve been talking all year about how we wanted to get [Darner] a ring,” Florida Southern senior Tyler Kelly said. “We’ve won conference championships, but we don’t get rings for those … I’ve been extremely blessed to play with [Capers] and to be able to play with all these guys. We really are a family.”
The Mocs’ two four-year seniors, Capers and Kelly, finished their career with a 108-22 record, the winningest groups of seniors in Florida Southern history.
“To win as many games as we did is a blessing.”
And Capers, Kelly and the rest of the Florida Southern College Moccasins also have a ring to show for it.
NOTES: Florida Southern assistant coach Ben Swank is the son of Edinboro women’s basketball coach Stan Swank. The proud father was in attendance in Evansville. … With his 24 points in the Mocs win, Capers finished his career with 2,319 points, second all-time in school history behind John Ebeling’s 2,514 career points. Ebeling played for the Mocs from 1979 t0 1982 and was on the Mocs’ 1981 national championship team. … Florida Southern is 112-45 all-time in postseason play, including a 44-30 record in the NCAA tournament. … Florida Southern’s 29th NCAA Tournament appearance is third most in D2 history, behind Kentucky Wesleyan (37) and Philadelphia (34).