Shooting for greatness: UMSL Tritons capture first-ever GLVC tourney win
The end came swiftly. Swish!
The University of Missouri–St. Louis Tritons men’s basketball team closed its most successful season in 21 years with a 72-70 loss at the hands of Northern Kentucky University (Highland Heights).
The Tritons had little more than a second left following their opponents game-winning basket. With the length of the basketball court to cover, a desperate heave from beyond half court fell harmlessly short of the basket.
And so ended a tightly fought semifinal battle at the 2012 Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament in Springfield, Ill. UMSL got off to a good start, leading by 12 points six minutes into the game and by three at the end of the first half. The game was tied five times in the second half, and the Tritons led by three with 25 seconds left before two late baskets by NKU.
“That was a pretty heart-wrenching ending,” says UMSL head coach Steve Tappmeyer. “The team was playing very well, and they truly had given it their all. That was a tough locker room to walk into. The guys put so much into this season.”
What a season it was. The Tritons went 19-9, their highest win total since the 1990-91 team went 22-6. The season included a 10-game winning streak, the second longest in program history, trailing only the school-best 13 straight wins strung together by the 1971-72 squad.
And the Tritons notched three victories over GLVC West Division favorite Drury University (Springfield, Mo.). The third win came in the conference tournament quarterfinals and was the Tritons’ first-ever win in the GLVC postseason tournament since UMSL joined the conference in 1996.
After losing three of its first four games this season, the team really came together, Tappmeyer says.
“Drury University was one of the favorites in our division, and we won [at Drury on Dec. 1] by 17,” he says. “The team really showed some sparks of being a good team. It showed we could play with the good teams.”
The 78-61 win at Drury was the second of the team’s 10 consecutive wins. Zach Redel, a senior majoring in business administration and a student in the Pierre Laclede Honors College, echoes Tappmeyer’s assessment.
“It was during the winning streak that the team really started to click,” says Redel, a 6’7” center and sometime starter. “We went into the season with high hopes, and during the winning streak guys really started to believe in what we were doing.”
What they were doing was learning Tappmeyer’s way of doing things. A defense-oriented coach, he came to UMSL two years ago after a stellar 21-year career at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville.
The most successful coach in NMSU history, Tappmeyer directed the Bearcats to 10 NCAA Tournament berths and three regular season and four conference tournament championships. He came to UMSL with an overall record of 408-208 for a winning percentage of .662.
Tappmeyer says he focuses on the long run.
“I look to build a program,” he says. “I want to put together a foundation that will serve that program, a top program, not just a team that will win in a particular season.”
After going 35-19 in his first two seasons at UMSL, Tappmeyer appears well on his way to building that program.
“Coach Tappmeyer is building a foundation for his coaching philosophy to become successful,” says Lori Flanagan, director of athletics at UMSL. “He is an educator of the game of basketball, chooses people of good character to represent him, his program, our department and the institution, and instills core values in his players. He also has put together a strong core of coaches and support staff, which works extremely hard and are all going in the same direction.”
Joseph Martinich is a professor of logistics and operations management at UMSL. He’s also a fan of the Tritons and the faculty representative for the Department of Athletics. Martinich says that Tappmeyer teaches his players every aspect of the game and possesses a level temperament.
“He doesn’t yell, doesn’t blame players for failures, provides a very calming, steady presence during the excitement of a game and instills confidence in his players,” Martinich says. “He’s been in almost every situation, and the players believe he knows what to do to win.”
Along with winning comes postseason recognition. Tritons senior guard Troy Long, who led the team in scoring and assists with 16.6 points per game and 3.1 assists per game, was named to the GLVC All-Conference First Team.
“Troy is very deserving of this honor,” Tappmeyer says. “He’s just an excellent player and teammate. He’s a great leader, on and off the court.”
Junior guard Joshua McCoy and junior forward Charlie Woods were selected to the conference’s second team. Senior guard Justin Hightower was named to the All-Defensive Team.
Long and Tappmeyer have both been honored by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. Long was named Second Team All-Midwest Region, while Tappmeyer was recognized as Midwest District Co-Coach of the Year and GLVC Co-Coach of the Year.
“It’s always pleasing to have an honor like this, since it’s voted on by your peers, but I think it’s more of a staff honor than an individual honor,” Tappmeyer says. “We have an outstanding staff, from the coaches on down to the student assistants, we’ve been very blessed with the people we have to help support the team.”
No team members appreciate that support more than the graduating class. Tritons senior Redel says it best: “It’s really nice to go out a winner.”
This story was originally published in the spring 2012 issue of UMSL Magazine.
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