Mitch Cole

Berry men’s basketball coach Mitch Cole and the Vikings will host Sewanee in the first round of the SAA tournament Sunday at the Cage Center.

While their paths will have different starting points, the Berry basketball teams’ goals are the same — a Southern Athletic Association championship.

On Sunday, the third-seeded Berry men will open play at the Cage Center against Sewanee, while the sixth-seeded women will travel to face Centre.

The men’s game, set to tip off at 3 p.m., is the first SAA tournament game to be played in the Cage Center.

Berry men’s head coach Mitch Cole hopes the home crowd will give the Vikings an edge against the Visiting Tigers.

“The stakes are a little higher for this game,” Cole said. “We’re going to have to come out with great intensity and hopefully the crowd will give us a little more energy.”

The Vikings (17-8) split against Sewanee (12-13) during the regular season, losing the most recent matchup 63-53. Berry and Sewanee also met in last year’s SAA tournament, with the Tigers winning 70-63 en route to its first conference championship since 1998.

Cole said his team’s resiliency has been a highlight of an up-and-down season.

“We’ve had a few injuries in inopportune times this year,” Cole said. “But I’ve been really proud of the way we’ve been able to come back from difficulty and the guys just keep fighting. That’s all you can ask for. We want to try to be playing at our peak this time of year.”

The women’s team will tip off against Centre (15-10) in Danville, Kentucky, on Sunday at 1 p.m. as Berry (12-13) tries to move on in a season that saw them struggle with injuries.

“Everything comes down to the tournament,” senior guard Eveline Parsons said. “Regular season records don’t matter at all anymore. At this point in the year, the toughest team will be the one that comes out on top. I believe our team has that toughness.”

Despite a sub-.500 season, Berry head coach Thomas Johnson is confident in his team’s ability to find success in the tournament.

“The conference tournament starts a new season for each team in the conference where we all have a 0-0 record,” Johnson said. “We’re excited about the opportunity to compete for a conference championship and are playing a team that we are familiar with and have had great success against in the past.”

Berry was swept by Centre in the regular season, with the Colonels winning 77-61 in Danville on Jan. 10 and then squeaking out a 49-44 win at Berry two weeks ago.

The two programs met in the last two SAA quarterfinals, with Berry winning 61-41 in 2018, and Centre eliminating the Vikings last year, 57-44.

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