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Women's basketball team earns third straight NCAA tournament bid before event is canceled

March 13, 2020

For a third straight year, the University of North Georgia (UNG) women's basketball team earned a spot in March Madness, before the NCAA Division II tournament was canceled on March 12.

The Nighthawks had earned the No. 2 seed in the Southeast Regional, which had been set to be played at Lander University in Greenwood, South Carolina.

UNG (26-5) is ranked No. 18 nationally after wins against Augusta University and Clayton State in the PBC tournament, followed by a 76-62 championship game loss to Lander. The Nighthawks won at least one game in their previous three NCAA tournament trips, including an Elite Eight appearance in 2019 and a Sweet 16 run in 2018.

Head coach Buffie Burson, in her 26th season leading the program, was proud of her team's season. 

"There are some games this season we probably shouldn't have won," Burson said. "But just the fact our leaders knew how to win and they refused to lose got us to 26 wins."

UNG junior forward Julianne Sutton earned PBC Player of the Year and first-team all-conference honors. Sutton averaged 18.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, with a team-high 27 blocks and 74 assists, good for third on the team.

Junior guard Abbie Franklin was a second-team all-conference selection, while junior guard Kara Groover received the Elite 15 Award, given to the student-athlete competing in each PBC championship who has the highest overall cumulative GPA. Sutton and Groover also earned all-PBC tournament honors. Sutton, Franklin and Groover are UNG's captains.

UNG has no seniors this season. But this year's junior class has been part of 85 victories, including five wins in the NCAA tournament, in what is easily the best three-year run in UNG's 15 seasons in NCAA Division II.

"Coach is one of the best in the business," Sutton said. "She knows her stuff."

Franklin said Burson knows how to motivate her players.

"We know how hard she works for us," Franklin said. "She puts her heart and soul into us, and we try to do the same for her and give her all we have."

The UNG men's basketball team finished 14-15 overall and 9-11 in PBC regular-season play, an improvement of three wins on both counts from 2019, and reached the PBC tournament this season under the direction of first-year head coach Dan Evans.

Senior guard Ephraim Tshimanga was named third-team all-conference and PBC Defensive Player of the Year, while redshirt freshman K.J. Jenkins was PBC Freshman of the Year.

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