Simmons leads Lin­coln Me­mo­rial to NCAA Divi­sion II fi­nals

North Point grad­u­ate con­cludes se­nior sea­son with Rail­split­ters

Maryland Independent - - Sports - By TED BLACK tblack@somd­ Twit­ter: tblack­somds1

Although his se­nior sea­son at Lin­coln Me­mo­rial Univer­sity did not end with a vic­tory, North Point High School grad­u­ate Gerel Simmons en­joyed a stel­lar fi­nal sea­son with the Rail­split­ters who suf­fered a 90-81 set­back to Au­gus­tana in the NCAA Divi­sion II na­tional cham­pi­onship game in Texas.

Simmons started nearly ev­ery game for the 34-3 Lin­coln Me­mo­rial (Tenn.) squad, av­er­ag­ing 20.9 points, 4.2 re­bounds, 3.1 as­sists and 1.5 steals per con­test for the Rail­split­ters. He scored 35 points in Lin­coln Me­mo­rial’s 103-102 vic­tory over West Lib­erty (W.Va.) in the na­tional semi­fi­nals be­fore record­ing 21 in the loss to Au­gus­tana (S.D.). He boasted a sea­son-high 37 points in the Rail­split­ters 98-82 win over Car­son-New­man (Tenn.) last Novem­ber.

“This sea­son re­ally was a dream sea­son for me and for all of my team­mates at Lin­coln Me­mo­rial,” said Simmons, who was se­lected as a Divi­sion II Bulletin All-Amer­i­can. “It didn’t end the way we wanted it to end, but we left it all out on the court in the cham­pi­onship game. We fell be­hind and started to come back, but they stayed ahead.”

Simmons, who is on tar­get to earn his bach­e­lor’s de­gree in crim­i­nal jus­tice in May, knew the 2015-16 Rail­split­ters squad could make a deep post­sea­son run when they trav­eled to Queens (N.C.) and pre­vailed 92-66 on a night when the North Point alum scored 26 points, grabbed five re­bounds and added four as­sists. At the time both teams were ranked in the Divi­sion II top 10 and Queens was three spots higher in the poll.

“We knew from the be­gin­ning of the sea­son that this team could do well,” Simmons said. “But when we went to Queens and beat them at their place by over 20 points that’s when we knew that we could be some­thing spe­cial. At the time they were ranked seventh and we were tenth and we went into their place and han­dled them pretty good.”

Lin­coln Me­mo­rial’s con­vinc­ing tally over Queens in Char­lotte came just past the mid­way point of an even­tual 23-game win streak that would even­tu­ally cat­a­pult the Rail­split­ters to the South Atlantic Con­fer­ence tour­na­ment ti­tle and the NCAA Divi­sion II South­east Re­gional tour­na­ment that Lin­coln Me­mo­rial hosted. Dur­ing the streak, the Rail­split­ters won 21 games by 10 points or more, 11 of them by at least 20 points.

Lin­coln Me­mo­rial be­gan the SAC tour­na­ment with a 101-75 vic­tory over Tus­cu­lum (Tenn.), de­feated New­berry (S.C.) 105-81 and then downed Win­gate (N.C.), 95-83, as Simmons scored 27 points against Tus­cu­lum and then 19 points in each of the other two vic­to­ries.

But as well as the Rail­split­ters played in the SAC tour­na­ment they were even bet­ter in the South­east Re­gional, post­ing vic­to­ries over Lan­der (S.C.), Queens and Lenoir-Rhyne (N.C.) by an av­er­age of 26 points. Those lop­sided vic­to­ries and pro­longed win­ning streak earned them the No. 1 over­all seed in the NCAA Divi­sion II Elite Eight in Frisco, Texas.

“We re­ally didn’t think of our­selves as the top seed,” Simmons re­called. “We came into it think­ing that we were the eighth seed and that we had some­thing to prove.”

Simmons scored 16 points in the Rail­split­ters’ 93-75 vic­tory over Barry (Fla.) in the na­tional quar­ter­fi­nals, then tal­lied 35 points on 13 of 21 (62 per­cent) shoot­ing from the field, in­clud­ing a quar­tet of three-point­ers as Lin­coln Me­mo­rial forged a dra­matic 103-102 vic­tory over West Lib­erty in a na­tional semi­fi­nal.

“That was a great game,” Simmons re­called. “The at­mos­phere was great and the game went back and forth. Both teams played re­ally well. It just came down to who could ex­e­cute on the last cou­ple of pos­ses­sions. It was def­i­nitely a game that I will never for­get.”

Lin­coln Me­mo­rial’s 23game win streak and bid for a Divi­sion II na­tional ti­tle came to an end in the cham­pi­onship game, how­ever, as the Rail­split­ters were up­ended 90-81 by Au­gus­tana in front of a bois­ter­ous crowd in­side the Dr. Pep­per Arena and a na­tional tele­vi­sion au­di­ence.

“They re­ally brought a crowd,” Simmons said. “We had a good cheer­ing sec­tion there, too. Plus, I heard there were about two mil­lion peo­ple watch­ing on na­tional tele­vi­sion. They got the lead and each time we came back they seemed to have an an­swer for us. We left it all out on the court. It wasn’t the way that I wanted to end my col­lege ca­reer, but it was great to be there.”

Simmons said he is con­sid­er­ing play­ing in Europe this sum­mer and is in the process of find­ing an agent. When his bas­ket­ball play­ing ca­reer con­cludes, Simmons ex­pects to land a full-time job in law en­force­ment, per­haps as a United States Mar­shal.

In the mean­time, he could have two Rail­split­ters head­ing over­seas with him, Jalen Steele and Cur­tis McMillion.

“Gerel is a great kid from a good fam­ily, so I know he will be able to make us all here at Lin­coln Me­mo­rial proud no mat­ter what he does,” Rail­split­ters as­sis­tant men’s bas­ket­ball coach Davis Fisher said. “He’s al­ways in a good mood. We had great chem­istry on the team and he was a big part of it. He should do well over­seas. We are likely go­ing to have Jalen and Cur­tis also go­ing over there to play. It’s a whole dif­fer­ent world over there, so hope­fully they’ll sur­round them­selves with peo­ple they can trust.”

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