The TAMIU men's basketball team is gearing up for their second ever NCAA Tournament appearance, but it didn't come easy. In fact the teams success could very well be attributed to three straight losses to start the season.
The Dustdevils started their year with high hopes in Anaheim California taking on some of the best teams in division two from across the country. But reality hit them hard in the face as TAMIUu lost all three games in the West Coast Classic, forcing point guard Matt Culliver and the rest of the Dustdevils to get back to the grind.
"It showed us that we weren't where we thought we were at the time. That we needed more work and we needed to practice more and that it's going to take playing a 40 minute game to compete with the high level elite teams in the country." (Matt Culliver, TAMIU Point Guard)
TAMIU would blaze through the early part of their Heartland Conference schedule winning ten of their first 11 games. A late season slide would see the conference championship slip out of their grasp. That feeling from earlier in the season returned as the Dustdevils knew they needed to get back to business in the conference tournament if this season was going to be a success.
"We came together and found a way to make plays and stuck together as a core group. Buying into a system with coach Weakley and at the same time we made sure to always take care of one another."
"It's an unexplainable feeling to go to the tournament, to win the conference tournament. It's just something you don't really experience as a basketball player unless you're fortunate." (Damal Donaldson, TAMIU Center)
Despite winning three of their last four games, TAMIU was still handed a seven seed in the region, meaning not much is expected of this team and that is just fine with them.
"We want to be the underdogs, we've been the underdogs for the past two years. And we're just going to continue being the underdogs."
"I like being the underdog because no one really pays attention or cares about you. We are going to be the sleeper."
TAMIU will take on Tarelton State Saturday afternoon at 3:30 central time. Of the three teams they played in that opening tournament, two made the NCAA tourney with Minnesota State as a one seed in the Central region and Seattle-Pacific a two seed in the West.