For the first time in program history, the Illinois Tech Men’s Basketball team will compete in the USCAA Division I National Championship game. The Scarlet Hawks, who were the tournament’s fourth seed, will take on #2 Concordia College Alabama on March 4 at 11:30 a.m. CST at Penn State Fayette in Uniontown, Pennsylvania.
Illinois Tech’s road to the final game has been an incredible ride. After Head Coach Todd Kelly took over a program in 2014–15 that was winless the prior season, the Scarlet Hawks won just two games in his first season and went 4–21 in 2015–16. However, with the addition of some strong talent, the improvement of last year’s core student-athletes, and even the help of Illinois Tech’s data science program, the Scarlet Hawks became a dominant force in 2016–17. The game can be seen live via the USCAA website here.
Compiling a 23–5 record, Illinois Tech defeated several strong NCAA Division III programs throughout the regular season, including an 81–77 victory in the Keating Sports Center over North Park University, who at the time of the contest was ranked ninth in the nation among Division III schools. Keating became a comfortable place for the Hawks, as the team went 11–0 at home. The team also had an eight-game winning streak through December 2016 and early January 2017. After two mid-January losses, Illinois Tech won 12 straight contests heading into the championship game.
“This season has been special because we have a great group of seniors and coaching staff,” said Kelly. “I’m so happy for each of them because their freshman year, they won zero games. To see them have the opportunity to enjoy this kind of success is amazing.”
The Scarlet Hawks had to win two games in Uniontown to advance to the National Championship. On March 1, Illinois Tech took on #5 Florida College, defeating the Falcons 63–54 behind 25 points from senior co-captain and the school’s NCAA Division III all-time leading scorer, Samuel Rarick. On March 2, the Scarlet Hawks overcame an 18-point second half deficit to force double overtime and defeated the tournament’s top seed, the University of Maine at Fort Kent, 85–84.
“All of the players believed in our vision for our program,” Kelly added. “Everybody has bought in and also believes in each other, which is a great thing.”
Illinois Tech Athletics will host a viewing party in The Bog on the university’s Mies Campus at 11 a.m. on March 4.