Maryville College's Randy Lambert earned his 700th career victory on Friday night in a thrilling come-from-behind victory, as the Scots advance to the USA South Championship game, 70-66.
Maryville took a slim lead, 66-64, with 52 seconds remaining in regulation, as Emier Bowman blocked a huge trey. Colt Nokes and Dante Hoppa combined on a driving lay-up swat, as the Scots rode out the clock for the four-point victory.
That victory was a milestone one for Lambert. The basketball court inside Boydson Baird Gymnasium already bears his name and signature, but on Friday, the legend grew once more.
The 38-year coach became only the eighth coach in Division III men's basketball to reach the 700-win plateau, as he is currently ranked fourth in the country among active head coaches across all NCAA divisions in career victories.
"I wish my Mom and Dad could have been here to share with me," Lambert said. "They invested so much in my life, and they enjoyed the coaching aspects of it. I really miss them. Honestly, I'm just so thankful that we are playing in the finals tomorrow. You know, the 700 was kind of a benchmark."
He said that benchmark was one of his goals for his career, after the coach won 500 in a sweep of the Great South Athletic Conference Tournament in 2007 and his 600th in a game against LaGrange in 2012.
"I didn't know if I was ever going to make it or not," Lambert said with a laugh. "I guess you could say by the grace of God, we got there."
Getting there was historic, as well, as he becomes only the fourth coach in the NCAA record books to reach the feat at his alma mater.
In Lambert's 38 seasons, he has compiled a 700-316 record, while recording his 1,000th coached game earlier this year.
"I think it just speaks volumes about our program and what we've been able to accomplish over the years," Lambert said. "My name goes after 700 wins, but there's been a lot of people – from assistant coaches, to players, to administrators, to staff members – that have made a contribution along the way. It means a lot to me, but I hope that we can win this game tomorrow to give these guys an opportunity to play in the national tournament."
Lambert's celebration was short-lived, as the Scots now focus on the USA South Tournament Championship.
Maryville faces Covenant College in an all-Western Division final. The Georgian Scots knocked off the top-seeded Eastern Division N.C. Wesleyan College Battling Bishops on a last-second shot, 81-80, earlier today.
Tipoff for the championship game is slated for 6 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 24.
During Friday night's game against the Monarchs, Maryville used a dominant performance from Nokes and sophomore Malcolm Walker.
Nokes tallied a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Walker added 12 points and four boards off the bench. The sophomore also took four charges in the ball game to change momentum.
After going to the locker room knotted at 31-all for the half, Maryville came out sluggish. The Scots gave up an early rally, as Methodist went on a 13-4 run. The Monarchs would get their biggest lead of the game – 11 points – at the 14:33 mark, 44-35.
"That game was just a grind. That's all you can say – it was a grind," Lambert said. "Didn't our second group – what we call our second group – come in and really make the difference in that game? When our leading players are struggling a little bit and felt the pressure of this game, the young kids just came in and really did a beautiful, beautiful job."
The Scots would pull to within two, 46-44, before a Jackson Whitley 3-pointer would extend the lead again. Nokes would notch the old-fashioned trey, before a pair of Daquan Summers charity tosses tied the game at 49-all with 10:06 remaining.
Following a Monarch lay-up, J.R. Sanders would use a driving, jump-back jumper and a pair of free-throws to give Maryville its first lead in 12:32.
The Scots would not relinquish that advantage back to Methodist, as the Monarchs could only tie it twice over the final 9:16. Free-throws kept Maryville in contention, as they earned the win, 70-66.
Maryville went 15-for-15 in the second half at the charity stripe, as they took advantage of 21 Methodist turnovers. The Scots tallied just five miscues for the game, outscoring the Monarchs 23-4 in points off turnovers.
The Orange and Garnet also held a big lead, 29-4, in points off the bench as the difference.
Maryville (21-6) was led by Nokes and Walker. Hoppa added 11 points, four rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal, as Calvin Songster had 10 points, four boards and three assists. Sanders had eight points off the bench, shooting 6-of-6 from the free-throw line to add to a trio of assists. Emanuelle Garcia had seven points off the bench, as Emier Bowman and Kaleb Estes had three and four points each. Summers had two points, two boards, an assist and a steal.
MC shot just 36.4 percent (24-of-66) from the field, as they connected on just four treys at a 26.7 percent clip. However, an 18-of-21 (85.7 percent) performance at the free-throw line helped cover the gap.
Methodist (18-9) shot 29-of-57 (50.9 percent) from the floor, while going 5-of-14 (25.7 percent) from beyond the arc. They shot only four charity tosses in the game, while outrebounding Maryville, 39-33.
The Monarchs were led by Troynell Reese's 22 points and eight boards, as Jackson Whitley added a double-double 16 points and 12 boards. Davion Ayabarreno had 15 points, as Rae Hall added seven assists.
"I'm so excited about this team," Lambert said of the Scots. "Hopefully, we can take care of business tomorrow and get win No. 22. I'm looking forward to it."