The St. Thomas Aquinas Spartans’ men’s basketball team made some waves around these parts in the preseason of 2015-16, when they demolished St. John’s, 90-58. Although it was an exhibition, the drubbing turned plenty of heads, and the Spartans went on to a 27-5 record, East Coast Conference Championship and NCAA Division II East Region Semifinals, where they fell in heartbreaker to St. Anselm (N.H.).
This year, Head Coach Tobin Anderson‘s charges have been even even better, advancing to the NCAA Division II “Elite Eight” in Sioux Falls, S.D., after winning the East Regional Championship with a thrilling, 69-66 triumph over St. Rose (N.Y.) last Wednesday in Syracuse. The Spartans, seeded at No. 5 in the East Regional, upended three schools from the Northeast 10 Conference en route to the title and will take on Northwest Missouri State (32-1) on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Sanford Pentagon.
Winners of nine straight and 18 of 19, STAC (28-5) earned its first ever Elite Eight, where they will be seeded No. 7 and a decided underdog against the mighty Bearcats, from Maryville, Mo., ranked No. 1 in the final NABC poll and making their fourth Elite Eight appearance.
STAC is led by two-time ECC Player of the Year Justin Reyes, who averages 20.4 ppg and 9.5 rpg. Selected First Team All-American by the Basketball Times and Second Team by the Division II Conference Commissioners, Reyes had 26 points and 13 rebounds in STAC’s win over St. Rose, earning the Most Outstanding Player for the Regional. The junior is supported by four others who average in double figures in scoring, including Chaz Watler (14.7 ppg), soph Jonathan Lawton (13.7), senior Aaron Cust (10.4) and junior Shaquille McFarlan (10.0).
Anderson is in his fourth year at the helm in Sparkill, with an impressive 91-35 mark and four straight appearances in the ECC Championship Game.