CARLINVILLE, IL – The Blackburn College men’s basketball team became the first team in St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC) history to win back-to-back titles multiple times over the weekend. It’s the fifth tournament title for Blackburn, who also won in 1991, 1992, 2005, and 2021. With the victory, the Beavers earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament facing off against the #1 overall seed and defending national champions the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. The game will be played in Oshkosh, WI and will tip-off at 7:15 pm on Friday, March 4.
The Beavers completed their quest for repeat conference titles by defeating Webster University 76-56 in the championship game. Senior guard Chanz Aldridge was incredibly consistent throughout the tournament run, scoring 27, 27, and 26 points over the three contests. Originally from Hillside, IL, Aldridge was named Tournament Most Valuable Player for a second straight season and became the first player to win back-to-back Tournament MVP awards since Blackburn College’s Kevin Green pulled off the same feat 30 years before. Last season, Aldridge was also named SLIAC Player of the Year.
Like most kids who grow up with a basketball in their hands, playing in the NCAA Tournament is something Aldridge has spent most of his life dreaming about. “I give so much credit to my father. He always told me when big games are on the line, big players step up,” said Aldridge. “It really is a blessing to do it at a high level.”
Despite appearing in the conference final four each of the past five seasons, winning another title was not a foregone conclusion. The team entered SLIAC tournament play on a four-game skid and losing six of their previous seven games. Blackburn Coach Austin Kirby was asked about the team’s recent tournament play and what turned things around for the Beavers. He said, “The biggest thing was our movement. We started out 6-1 and finished 1-6 and a lot of that was stagnant movement. When we play inside out basketball we are a much better team.”
After last year’s national tournament was disrupted due to COVID, the 2021 SLIAC Basketball Coach of the Year is thrilled to get the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament. Kirby added, “Our group has been clicking lately and it has been exciting to see.”
In the championship game, Blackburn’s sophomore forward Izayah Talmadge put up a double-double with 15 points and 15 rebounds. Originally from St. Louis, MO, Talmadge earned all-tournament team honors and was named to the conference all-defensive team. First-team all-conference member Javon Stovall, a senior wing from Canton, OH, added 17 points. Senior Bryson Kirby, from Lincoln, IL, shot 50% from behind the arc for the tournament and added 10 timely rebounds in the championship game.
Blackburn will look to become the first SLIAC conference team to win an NCAA Men’s Division III Tournament game. The Beavers have made two previous appearances in the tournament, losing to Illinois Wesleyan in 2003 and Hanover in 2005.