FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – With the regular season officially in the rearview mirror, the excitement is set to ramp up for both the NSU men’s and women’s basketball programs on Tuesday with the start of the Sunshine State Conference Tournament. Head coach LeAnn Freeland-Curry and the fifth-seeded women’s team will head to Saint Leo for its quarterfinal contest, while the second-seeded men will welcome Rollins to the Rick Case Arena. Both ball games will tip off at 7 p.m. ET.
The NSU men will hope to find their footing back on their home floor following an up-and-down, 2-3 finish to the regular season. The Sharks dropped their regular season finale this past Saturday at Embry-Riddle, yet return to the Rick Case Arena on Tuesday, a place head coach Jim Crutchfield and company have compiled a record of 14-2 in 2019-20. Still, NSU must be weary of its opponent, as the Tars accounted for one of those two home defeats, an 86-85 decision back on Dec. 14, 2019. The Sharks were without SSC Freshman of the Year candidate RJ Sunahara in the season’s first meeting. The forward’s presence was certainly felt the second time around, though, with Sunahara posting 25 points and eight rebounds in an 89-85 victory in early February.
Mikkel Kolstad and Mark Matthews have found success against Rollins’ well-known zone defense, combining for 45.5 points on 58.6 percent shooting in the two previous ball games.
Rollins’ Jakobi Bonner drained the go-ahead bucket with three seconds remaining to upset the Sharks in December, and has continued to lead the Tars’ offense throughout the season, averaging a team-high 18.3 points per game. Bonner has topped 20 points in each of the last four contests, and has scored in double-digits in all but one game during his senior campaign.
The women, meanwhile, enter tournament play on a high note after collecting season sweeps of both Barry and Embry-Riddle a week ago to lock up the No. 5 seed. The Sharks dominated ERAU in the paint, as senior forwards Maria Bardeeva and Jordan Tully combined for 36 points on 15-of-22 shooting in the eventual 67-54 victory. The duo will once again be counted on come Tuesday, especially to neutralize Saint Leo’s Alani Gallagher, who tallied 19 points and 14 boards – both game-highs – in the Lions’ 82-72 win over the Sharks on Feb. 1. The NSU defense held Gallagher scoreless in 21 minutes in the season’s first meeting, one in which the Sharks edged Saint Leo 70-67 thanks to a Sarah Kelly buzzer-beater.
Absent in the previous two matchups with the Lions, Freeland-Curry has earned solid minutes from junior Annie Santucci since expanding her role. During the past five games, Santucci has averaged 9.4 points on 47.4 percent from beyond the arc, and is someone that may prove to be a bit of an x-factor if the Sharks are to make a run this week.
For the men, a win would send either No. 3 seed Palm Beach Atlantic or No. 6 seed Saint Leo to Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, with the women lined up to face either top-seeded Tampa on the road Thursday or No. 8 seed Embry-Riddle at home.
For complete coverage of Tuesday’s action, visit NSUSharks.com or follow both teams on Twitter @NSU_MBasketball and @NSU_Basketball.