Guilford to First Host Opening-Round NCAA Tournament Games

Quakers to host St. Mary’s (Md.), Averett and Widener March 7-8 in the Ragan-Brown Field House

GUILFORD’S INVITATION: The Guilford College men’s basketball team (24-4, 16-2 Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC)) has received its second straight berth in the NCAA playoffs. The Quakers, who earned the ODAC’s automatic bid by winning the league tournament March 2, hosts a four-team regional tourney in the Ragan-Brown Field House March 7-8. Averett University (14-14) plays Widener University (22-5) Friday at 6:00 p.m. followed by Guilford versus St. Mary’s College of Maryland (17-11) at 8:00 p.m. The winners of both games will meet Saturday at 7:00 p.m. in the second round. All first- and second-games will be played in the Ragan-Brown Field House.

Guilford is one of two ODAC teams in the field, joining defending national runner-up and 2006 national champion Virginia Wesleyan College. The ODAC has sent at least two teams to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in 18 of the last 21 years.

TICKET INFORMATION: Admission is $6 for adults and $3 for senior citizens and students of the participating schools (with ID). Children under two years old will be admitted free.

SERIES RESULTS: The Quakers face St. Mary’s, of St. Mary’s City, Md., for the first time in the school’s recorded basketball history. The Seahawks won the 2008 Capital Athletic Conference title this year. Guilford is 8-4 against Averett, the 2008 USA South Athletic Conference champions. The Quakers defeated the Cougars, of nearby Danville, Va., 82-63, Jan. 2, 2008 in Greensboro. Guilford and Widener have no recorded hardwood meetings, despite their long basketball histories. The Chester, Pa., school captured the Commonwealth Conference’s automatic bid.

GUILFORD VS. 2008 NCAA PLAYOFF FIELD: The Quakers faced two other NCAA playoff teams this winter, Virginia Wesleyan College and Averett. The Quakers have a 3-0 record against Virginia Wesleyan and won the Jan. 2 meeting with Averett in Greensboro.

GUILFORD IN NCAA PLAYOFFS: The Quakers are making their second appearance in the NCAA playoffs where they have a 3-1 record. Guilford reached the 2007 NCAA Tournament quarterfinals with wins over Manhattanville College (101-81), Johns Hopkins University (80-73) and Lincoln (Pa.) University (129-128, 3OT). Virginia Wesleyan ended the Quakers’ season with an 81-71 decision in Virginia Beach, Va.

Before joining the NCAA Division III ranks in 1991, Guilford competed in the NAIA and posted an 8-8 record in seven national tournament appearances. Led by future NBA players M.L. Carr ‘73, World B. Free ’76 and Greg Jackson ‘74, the Quakers won the 1973 NAIA men’s basketball championship. Guilford placed fourth in the 1970 NAIA Tournament.

THE 2008 NCAA PLAYOFFS: The Division III championship provides for a 59-team field. The NCAA granted 38 conference champions automatic qualification for the 2008 championship. Four independent teams and 17 other at-large teams from the remaining independent teams and automatic qualifying conferences who did not receive their conference automatic qualification were selected with specific selection criteria approved by the Division III Championships Committee. Five two-team, first-round games will be conducted Thursday, March 6 with the winners advancing to play five teams that received first-round byes Saturday, March 8. Eleven sites will host four teams for first- and second-round competition Friday-Saturday, March 7-8. Second-round winners advance to one of four sectional-round sites March 14-15. Winners of the four sectional games move on to the finals March 21 and 22. All games, except the finals, will be played on the campuses of competing institutions. The finals will be conducted at the Salem Civic Center in Salem, Va.

GUILFORD LEADERS: Coach Tom Palombo’s Quakers enter the tournament on a 16-game winning streak, their longest since the 1969-70 club won a school-record 29 consecutive contests. Guilford claimed its first ODAC title March 2 with a 91-80 overtime win over Virginia Wesleyan in the league tournament final. Guilford’s 24-4 record is the best 28-game standard since 1974-75. The Quakers set a school record with 16 ODAC wins and earned their first number-one seed for the eight team league tourney. Palombo, who took Defiance to the NCAA Division III men’s basketball playoffs in 1999 and 2001, is making his fourth NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament appearance.

Senior Ben Strong (Chapel Hill, N.C./Chapel Hill), who last week became the fifth two-time Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) Player of the Year, leads the way for Guilford. The 6-11, 220-pound center has been integral to the Quakers’ success. The reigning national player of the year and 2008 Jostens Trophy finalist has a school-record five ODAC Men’s Basketball Player of the Week awards this season, which gives him 13 weekly honors in his career. Strong leads the ODAC and ranked fourth in NCAA Division III as of March 2 with 25.4 points per game. He also tops the conference and ranks 12th nationally with 10.9 rebounds per contest. His league-leading 2.21 blocks per game stands 18th in the country. He has a career-high 21 double-doubles this season and has led Guilford’s scorers in all but two games this season. Strong has eight 30-point games this season and has climbed past the likes of former NBA stars M.L. Carr ’73 and World B. Free ’76 into second place on the Quakers’ career scoring list with 2,206 points. He has 22 20-point games this year and averaged 25.9 points and 10.1 rebounds in 18 ODAC contests.

With Strong patrolling the paint, sophomore shooting guard Clay Henson (Glen Alpine, N.C./Freedom) has provided valuable minutes on the perimeter. The Quakers’ top three-point shooter, Henson averages a career-high 13.1 points and 3.3 assists per game. He has the ODAC’s third-best assist-to-turnover ratio (1.90) and stands among the league leaders in assists and three-pointers. Henson averaged 10.3 points and just under four assists per game at the ODAC Tournament to earn all-tournament honors. His 64 trifectas stand second only to Tim Beckwith’s ’90 school-record 73 treys set in 1988-89. Henson tied the school standard with nine three-pointers in the Quakers’ victory over Averett earlier this year.

Senior forward Eric Belkoski (Rockingham, N.C./Richmond Senior) has made steady improvement in each of his four seasons and earned honorable mention all-league recognition this year. With additional offensive and defensive responsibilities on the perimeter in his senior campaign, Belkoski ranks third on the team in scoring (10.4 ppg.) and rebounding (5.0 rpg.). He has scored in double figures 17 times with three double-doubles. The three-year starter matched his career best with a team-high 21 points in the Quakers’ regular-season finale, a 122-104 win over visiting Emory & Henry College.

After scoring in double figures five times in his first 25 games, senior point guard Caleb Kimbrough (Carrboro, N.C./Chapel Hill) has scored 10 or more points in his last four outings. He tallied 14.3 points and 4.0 assists per game in the Quakers’ three ODAC Tournament wins en route to all-tournament honors. Kimbrough has started on the point for all four years and holds the Quakers’ Division III school record with 107 career starting assignments. He also stands among the school’s career leaders in assists and steals. His 81.7 free-throw percentage ranks third in the league this week. On Monday he received the English Athletic Leadership Award, Guilford’s highest athletic honor. Kimbrough averages 8.1 points and 3.9 assists per game this year.