It’s a historic day for the LaGrange College Panthers.
For the first time ever, a LaGrange College men’s basketball team is set to appear in an NCAA tournament game.
Today at 7 p.m., Centre (Ky.) will host LaGrange College in the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament.
The winner of today’s game will advance to the second round to face Emory University on Saturday in Atlanta.
The Panthers (18-10) earned their tournament bid by winning the USA South tournament, while the Colonels (23-4) secured an at-large bid.
The Colonels won the Southern Athletic Association’s regular-season and tournament championships, but the conference doesn’t have an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Both teams are hot.
The Panthers have won six of their past seven games, and that included three straight wins in the conference tournament.
The Colonels, meanwhile, have won 18 of their past 19 games, and they’ve risen to 19th in the most recent D3hoops.com poll.
The Panthers have reached this point in the third season under head coach Kendal Wallace and assistant head coach David McGreal.
The Panthers went 12-15 in Wallace’s first season, they were 12-12 last season, and everything has fallen into place this season.
“We’re excited,” McGreal said. “It’s been a wild ride these three years. We’ve pushed through. We’ve faced some adversity. But these guys have stuck together. When it came time to be a team, they jelled.”
Nick Mitchell, who was the MVP of the conference tournament, said the players on this team have formed a close bond, and that has translated into success on the court.
“I feel like these are my brothers. It’s my family,” Mitchell said. “To be here with them, it’s the best feeling in the world. I’ve never felt anything with a team like this before. It’s because we’re so close. It’s the best feeling in the world.”
If the Panthers are going to keep their season going beyond today, they’ll have to find a way to get past a strong Centre team that is 12-0 on its home floor.
The Colonels, who average 76 points per game, get most of their scoring out of four players.
Senior guard Donovan Whiteside leads the team with 13 points per game, and Josh Karsner and Blake Scinta both score 12 points a game.
Collin Lopez is also scoring in double figures with 11 points per game.
The Colonels are coached by Greg Mason, who has accumulated a stellar 270-106 career record that includes six NCAA tournament appearances.
The Panthers, meanwhile, have been a much more prolific team offensively than the Colonels.
The Panthers average 89 points per game, and all five of their starters are averaging in double figures, including senior post player Patrick Dugger, who leads the way with 17 points per game.