Kansas City, Mo.–The Statesmen men’s basketball team had tremendous contributions from several of its top talents, eventually wearing down #8 seed Loyola (La.) for a 100-78 first-round victory at the NAIA Division I National Championships Wednesday.
Top-seeded William Penn (31-3), of the Duer bracket, won its opener for the fourth Championships trip in a row and will now face #4 seed Georgetown (Ky.) Friday at 2:15 p.m. (CST) in the second round. The contest will be a rematch of last year’s national quarterfinal in which the Statesmen fell 99-80.
The Wolf Pack (22-10) did not make life easy, especially in the early going, as the lower seeds fought the navy and gold to eight ties and four lead changes.
WPU were still down 22-20, but a pair of three-pointers by Jeremy Postell (Sr., Atlanta, Ga., Sociology) highlighted eight straight by the Statesmen and they never trailed again.
LU cut the margin to three on two more occasions before William Penn settled on a 42-36 halftime edge.
A spirited pep talk was likely given at halftime as WPU flew out of the locker room on a 17-4 run. The Wolf Pack produced a pair of mini streaks in attempts to make a game of it, but the eventual victors, who shot 56.1% in the second stanza, kept the advantage in double digits the remainder of the game to advance to Friday.
At contest’s end, WPU outshot Loyola 45.3%-41.8%, but was dominant on the glass with a 56-31 mark. The Statesmen managed 28 offensive rebounds, leading to a 25-7 edge in second-chance points.
Both sides suffered through some first-game jitters as William Penn committed 20 turnovers and LU had 21; at the final buzzer, the Statesmen were outscored 23-17 in points off mistakes.
Heart of America Athletic Conference Player of the Year Torren Jones (Sr., Chandler, Ariz., Sociology) started his NAIA POY campaigning by controlling the interior with a massive double-double of 24 points and 21 rebounds (season high). He hauled in eight offensive boards. It was his 25th double-double of the season.
Charles Knowles (Sr., Chicago, Ill., Physical Education) was just one behind Jones in the scoring column, going 7-for-10 (7-for-7 FT) en route to 23 points. As a team, WPU was strong at the stripe with a 16-for-19 performance.
Postell hit half of WPU’s six three-pointers as part of a nine-point night, while Kordario Fleming (Sr., Memphis, Tenn., Physical Education) and Dashawn Benson (Jr., Uniondale, N.Y., Sociology) also came off the bench with nine points apiece. Fleming also blocked three shots, while all seven of Benson’s rebounds came on offense.
Lionel Ellison (Sr., New Orleans, La., Kinesiology) matched the trio with nine points, but was truly spectacular on the defensive end. The senior tied a school single-game record with eight steals.
Brandon Trotter (Jr., Louisville, Ky., Kinesiology) was the fifth cager to tally nine points. Kevin Smith (Sr., Baltimore, Md., Physical Education) added six points and also dished out six assists Wednesday.
“The first game of this tourney is always the toughest because of nerves and distractions,” Head Coach John Henry said. “Our rebounding was the biggest difference. Torren was a beast!”
“We have been here since Monday, so I think with the build-up we were a little rusty and a little sloppy, but we got it going in the second half,” Henry added. “It was a great team win; the guys did a great job executing the scouting report, and we got a lot of guys into the game.”
Story provided by Wade Steinlage