Rollins basketball sets sights on Division II national championship

By Austin Lyon, Spectrum Sports
Last Updated: Monday, March 20, 2017

Rollins forward Jeff Merton isn’t a big fan of cold weather.

But for Division II basketball teams, the freezing temperatures of South Dakota are paradise.

“I’ve only seen snow about one time so I’m pretty nervous about how cold it’s going to be,” said Merton, a Naples native.

Merton and the Tars packed their winter clothing for a trip to Sioux Falls, S.D., the host for this week’s Elite Eight.

Rollins is the eighth seed and will meet top seed Fairmont State Wednesday afternoon at 1.

The Tars were 8-8 midway through the season but caught fire down the stretch. They won the Sunshine State Conference tournament on a game winning three-pointer in the closing seconds. That victory earned them a spot in the NCAA tourney.  

As the seventh seed in the South Region, Rollins knocked off second seed Valdosta State, third seed Delta State then top seed Alabama-Huntsville to reach the Elite Eight for the second time in program history.

“This team is a fun team, they just don’t want to lose,” said Tom Klusman, now in his 37th season as the Tars head coach. “They keep fighting. They have done things as the year has gone on that they weren’t doing earlier.”

The focus is on winning a national title, but Klusman wants to make sure his players appreciate the experience.

“They’ve got a big banquet, they’ve got us taking our team to an elementary school, doing a community service,” Klusman said. “It’s going to be a great time and we’re going to enjoy every step of the way.”

The other Elite Eight appearance for Rollins came in 2004, when the Tars lost to Metro State 88-54.

“This is awesome, I mean, being one of 8 teams playing in division-2 right now is very humbling and it’s exciting right now,” Merton said.