Flagler basketball enjoying best season ever, heading to Elite Eight

Flagler men's basketball, led by head coach Chad Warner (center) will play in the Elite Eight for the first time in school history after beating Alabama-Huntsville Tuesday night. (Flagler Athletics, 2021 Flagler Athletics)

For the first time in school history, Flagler is going to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight after an 89-75 win over Alabama-Huntsville.

The Saints were led by Jaizec Lottie, who scored a game-high 35 points while making a school-record 10 three-pointers in the win. Flager is 17-2 on the season and has won 15 straight games heading into the Elite Eight in Evansville.

“It’s been overwhelming,” head coach Chad Warner said.

Warner’s team, like others, had to navigate through the pandemic. Warner missed three games after contracting COVID-19. But the need to be flexible actually helped the Saints this year. The Peach Belt Conference pushed all conference games until after January 1 which opened up some dates for Flagler to add teams. They wound up adding six games against Division I teams, including regular-season games against Florida International, Central Michigan and UNF. All games the school was paid to play.

“We ended up going 2-1 against Division I teams, and it really jumpstarted our confidence,” Warner said. “I think just gave us poise and presence and allowed us to play in big games and gave us a belief. Not to mention (for a) Division II program, that money is tremendous for us.”

Warner took over four years ago as the team was making the transition to Division II from NAIA. He had led a similar transition at Shorter College in Rome, Georgia and he knows what it would take to win at Flagler.

“I knew we had some work but I was drawn to Flagler, by the people from day one. And I just believe, I believe you can build it anywhere I really do. You know, as long as there aren’t people who are adamantly trying to stop you. But I just had a great belief in the people, obviously, the beauty of the community was is overwhelming as well.”

The Saints are the three seed in the Elite Eight and will face Truman at 9:45 p.m. on Wednesday, March 24 in Evansville, Ind.

Warner has seen the support for Flagler’s team increase and he’s expecting that to continue.

“It’s just such a team game,” Warner said. “Life, I’m talking about and community. And to think about four years ago, when we were hired, what we were sort of tasked with to see, literally, I mean, to 300, people travel from Flagler was was pretty special.”

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Cole joined News4Jax full-time in January 2017, but he has been a part of the team since he began filling in as a sports anchor in 2005.