KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It took nine years, but Concordia (Calif.) University finally made it back to the top in NAIA Division I men’s basketball.
Refusing to wilt after an early 15-point deficit, the fourth-seeded Eagles knocked off second-seeded Oklahoma Baptist 72-69 on Tuesday to claim their second national title. Concordia had taken out top-seeded Shorter (Ga.) University on Monday before roaring back from a 16-1 deficit in the title game.
“The plane ride home is going to be amazing,” said 6-foot-10 center Tommy Granado, who led the Eagles with 16 points and six rebounds. “I don’t think I’m going to get any sleep.”
The Eagles (31-7) never showed any signs of panic after everything went wrong for them in the opening four minutes. Concordia last won the title in 2003 when it defeated Mountain State (W.Va.) in the championship game. Oklahoma Baptist (32-5) was ledby Emmanuel Wilson’s 16 points. Marques Johnson chipped in 15 points and a team-high 10 rebounds.
“We always talk about poise and defense,” Granado said. “As long as we kept our poise and weren’t rattled by it, we knew we could come back.”
The Eagles caught up quickly thanks to intense defense that led to a flurry of Oklahoma Baptist turnovers. Twelve of the Bison’s 15 turnovers came in the first half and Concordia, with Granado doing the bulk of the offensive work, took a 33-31 lead at the break.
That set up a hectic second half in which the Eagles managed to get some breathing room when Cameron Gliddon hit consecutive 3-pointers to turn a 51-48 Concordia lead into a nine-point margin.
The Bison battled back down the stretch and had a chance to tie on the final possession. But Wilson and Heath McKay each missed a potential tying 3-pointer and the Eagles celebrated wildly before cutting down the nets.
“After taking out Shorter, we knew we could do it,” Granado said.
The Eagles had four men in double figures. Point guard Donnell Phifer finished with 14 points, including a critical drive that made it 69-64 with 2:10 remaining and stunted OBU’s momentum.
Concordia coach Ken Ammann gathered his team around when it was 16-1 and reminded everyone there was still 36 minutes to go.
“We had a lot of time left and we just said we wanted to chip away and see where we were at halftime,” Ammann said. “We hang our hat on defense and we wanted to focus on that.”
The Eagles led by six with 2:36 remaining, but Oklahoma Baptist had a final charge and two chances to send the game into overtime.
“They’re so tough,” Ammann said. “I thought they were going to make one of those 3s. I debated fouling with a three-point lead, but we’ve trusted our defense all year long.”
Oklahoma Baptist was forced to play without 6-6 senior forward DeAngelo McIntosh, the Bison’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer. McIntosh suffered a ruptured patellar tendon in Monday’s semifinal.
Oklahoma Baptist scored nine points on its opening three possessions, but couldn’t keep up the pace.
“You don’t continue to make all your shots and we got a little frantic with the ball,” Oklahoma Baptist coach Doug Tolin said. “They got back in it awfully quick.”
Wilson, the NAIA men’s Player of the Year, thought he was fouled on his final three-point miss and McKay fell to the floor and covered his face when he got the second opportunity and saw his shot bounce off the rim as the horn sounded.
“It feels like a dream,” Granado said. “Winning this championship is the culmination of a lot of effort and hard work.”
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