Basketball earns conference championship

Chris Ferguson, Campus Carrier Asst. Sports Editor

Men’s basketball made history this weekend by winning the conference tournament, earning the program’s first Southern Athletic Association (SAA) title. These games produced a series of firsts, not only for the program, but also for the SAA. Berry became the first program to win an SAA title as a No. 8 seed. This was also the Viking’s first time in the SAA championship game and will mark the first time the team will participate in the NCAA Division III tournament. 

Going into conference playoffs, the Vikings bore an 8-17 record which is well below average. Because of this, it came as a complete shock to the conference when they bested Centre College in the first round of playoffs. Centre, who was the No. 1 seed, expected an easy victory from the Vikings. However, both teams battled back and forth with 16 changes in the lead, and neither team was able to lead by more than 10 at any point in the game. The Vikings were able to secure the victory in a close 97-93 win. This victory was what the Vikings needed to prove that they could best anyone in the SAA. 

Centre has been a problematic opponent for the Vikings in the past, but Senior Caleb Johnson thinks it was ultimately a new mindset that allowed them to come away with the win. 

“We’ve struggled with Centre and we have never beaten them, at least in my four years here,” Johnson said. “We had to be the aggressor and win all of the loose ball and hustle plays. The defense was definitely the key to that victory. We stuck with the game plan and came away with the win.” 

After their win against Centre, the Vikings faced Birmingham-Southern College which resulted in a sound victory. The team once again scored in the 90 range in a 95-76 blowout. This game proved to be a strong collective team effort, as six of Berry’s athletes scored in the double digits. 

The Vikings progressed to the conference championship in a tough matchup against Hendrix College. However, the team was able to successfully clutch the SAA title in an 88-78 victory, with a jaw-dropping performance from Johnson. He scored a staggering 45 points, which was over half of the Viking’s final score. Johnson’s execution not only in this game, but the other two playoff games as well, resulted in his selection as the SAA tournament MVP. His achievement was a first for the team and will go down in program history, along with the team’s overall performance in the playoffs. 

This victory was especially meaningful to the seniors because they realize how far they have come. Being able to leave a legacy at Berry is what many of our teams strive to achieve, and this group of seniors were able to do that. 

“Just being able to look back over the last four years with those five guys is just incredible,” Johnson said. “We haven’t once had a very good year, and we didn’t finish with a very good record this year. Being able to overcome adversity, strengthen that bond with these guys and being able to establish a culture at Berry for basketball is something to be remembered for.” 

Although the conference playoffs were a historical achievement for the Vikings, their season is not over yet. The team will go on to play Emory University in the first round of the NCAA Division III playoffs. Ranked No. 7 in the nation, the Eagles will prove to be one of the toughest competitors the Vikings will play. Despite this, the Vikings have already played Emory earlier in the season and fell short of victory by only six points in a 109-103 loss. Based on how the team is playing now, compared to earlier in the season, the Vikings may very well find themselves progressing further into the tournament.

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