PLYMOUTH, N.H. - For the second time in school history and the first time in eight years, the Plymouth State University men's basketball team will compete in the NCAA Division III National Championship Tournament.
The Panthers received an at-large berth in the 48-team field Sunday night as it was announced by the NCAA over the internet. The team watched the official selection show as a group, and pandemonium broke out when Plymouth State hit the screen.
PSU was also granted a home game in the first round, and will host Castleton State College (Vt.) Thursday at 7:00 p.m. at Foley Gymnasium. The two teams met earlier this season in Plymouth, with the Panthers capturing a 90-66 victory. The winner of Thursday's game moves on to the Second Round on Saturday, where it will travel to Amherst College (Mass.) for a 7 p.m. tip-off.
While Plymouth State is the host institution, the tournament is run by official NCAA guidelines, which includes an admission charge. Tickets are $4 for general admission, and $3 for senior citizens, students, and children over two years old.
Led by fifth-year head coach John Scheinman, the Panthers were selected with a 23-5 overall record. PSU has set a new program standard for victories in a season, surpassing the 22-8 record put up by the 1998-99 team. The only other Plymouth State team to advance to the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament was the 1995-96 unit, which lost at Williams in the first round.
Guided by third-year coach Ted Shipley, Castleton State will bring a 16-12 overall record to Plymouth for Thursday's game. The Spartans were 13-5 in the North Atlantic Conference during the regular season, and defeated Maine Maritime and Husson in the NAC Tournament before falling to Lasell in last Saturday's championship game.
"It was just like you see on TV," said Scheinman of Sunday night's discovery that his team had made the NCAA's. "We're all huddled around the screen, and there's total silence and tension. People were starting to get nervous because we were in the bottom of the bracket, and they went through a lot of teams before they got to us. Then all of a sudden, Bang! Complete jubilation!"
Plymouth State was one of six at-large selections in the country that came from what the NCAA calls Pool C (usually conference runners-up). Those six schools, which also included Amherst, Brockport (N.Y.), Trinity (Conn.) Wittenberg (Ohio) and Randolph-Macon (Va.), were picked due to their strong records and in part because of the strength of their schedules.
"We are very, very happy, and very satisfied," added Scheinman, who has led PSU to back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time in school history. "We thought we deserved to be in the tournament. We have the 23rd best record in the country. I'm happy the national committee is giving New England its due as a strong region. A lot of that is due to Williams winning the championship last season and being a power again this year."
After finishing the Little East Conference regular season with an 11-3 mark, PSU advanced to the LEC Championship game with victories last week over Southern Maine and UMass Dartmouth, but was denied the title by archrival Keene State last Saturday, 79-67. The Panthers are ranked fourth in the nation in field goal defense, 10th in scoring, and 33rd in rebounding margin.
Plymouth State is led by a pair of All-Little East Conference First Team selections - junior guard Nick Pelotte (Bingham, Maine) and junior forward Anthony Oglesby (Brooklyn, N.Y.) - and one of the top rookies in the LEC, freshman Andreas Pope (Brooklyn, N.Y.). The Panthers also rely on the strong play and leadership of its three senior starters and tri-captains - guard Mike Loughlin (Manchester, N.H./West), forward J.J. Truman (Enfield, N.H.), and center Ryan Chicoine (Gorham, Maine).
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