Kansas City, Mo.–The basketball gods evened the score in the most cruel way imaginable Monday as the William Penn men’s basketball team gave up a large lead and eventually fell 83-82 in overtime to Texas Wesleyan in the semifinals of the NAIA Division I National Championships.
Duer bracket champion WPU (33-4), which overcame an 18-point deficit two nights earlier to reach the semifinals, itself fell victim to a double-digit comeback Monday. The program, which also saw the only other remaining top seed LSU Alexandria be eliminated by Life in the night’s first contest, came one win shy of reaching its second-ever national title game. The team’s 33 wins are the second-most in program history; many other records and superlatives will also define the season.
The Statesmen went to overtime for the third time this year (entered 2-0) and first time in the postseason since the 2013-2014 year (also won), but Monday did not continue the theme of happy endings.
William Penn led by three at 82-79 with 19.7 seconds left in the extra session, but the Rams (28-7), winners of the Liston bracket, scored a quick layup and took advantage of a missed free throw by Lionel Ellison (Sr., New Orleans, La., Kinesiology). TWU then sprinted down the court and Dion Rogers knocked the eventual game winner with two seconds left. Unfortunately, the navy and gold failed to get off an answer before the buzzer sounded and its campaign suffered an abrupt conclusion.
The Statesmen, who outshot the Rams 47.7%-34.6%, were on fire throughout the first half (51.6%, led 40-30 at intermission) and also for a few minutes of the second stanza as they built a 51-35 edge with 16:22 left in regulation. The 16-point edge seemed fairly safe, but Texas Wesleyan was not going to be an easy out and rallied all the way back with a 22-6 run to knot the game at 57-57 with 9:29 remaining.
The advantage switched hands seven times (also six ties) in the game, mostly during the waning minutes. Down 72-68 with 3:13 on the clock, William Penn closed on a 7-3 run to force OT. Ellison hit a trifecta at the top of the key to tie the score at 75-75, and neither side could add another point in the final minute.
The Statesmen scored first in additional play on a Jarvis Haywood (Sr., Charlotte, N.C., Business Management) three-pointer, one of four for him. The Rams then matched them at 78-78, but for all but two seconds of the overtime, WPU was on top.
Trying to preserve his team’s 80-79 edge in the final minute, Kevin Smith (Sr., Baltimore, Md., Physical Education) notched his third steal of the night and was fouled with 20 seconds remaining. The senior connected on both throws to extend the margin. Unfortunately, as already told above, the Rams had the last say, taking Statesmen Nation across the spectrum of emotions in mere seconds.
Torren Jones (Sr., Chandler, Ariz., Sociology), who finished with one last massive double-double (his 28th of the season) of 19 points and 18 rebounds, was double and triple-teamed by Ram defenders all night, so his teammates were needed to pick up some slack.
Haywood was one who took on the challenge, guiding WPU with 22 points (12 in first half) on 9-for-14 shooting.
Smith matched Jones with a double-double of 16 points and 10 assists in addition to six rebounds and the trio of thefts. Fellow point guard Ellison also had a stout stat line with nine points, seven assists, and four steals.
The huge shooting edge unfortunately could not lift the Statesmen as rebounding and turnovers doomed the squad. WPU was outrebounded 48-44, including a 17-6 mark in offensive boards that resulted in TWU holding a 13-2 advantage in second-chance points. The navy and gold also committed 22 turnovers (16 for the Rams); the two situations led to Texas Wesleyan taking 13 more shots than WPU.
Foul trouble was again a thorn in William Penn’s side, but not near as bad as in its quarterfinal game. The Statesmen were whistled for eight more infractions, leading TWU to go 20-for-27 at the charity stripe, while William Penn was just 11-for-15. Jones fouled out in the last few two minutes of overtime.
Both teams hit nine long balls.
“We had three goals this year–to win the regular season conference title, the conference tournament title, and the national title,” Head Coach John Henry said. “To have achieved two of those and to have reached the national semifinals is a tremendous accomplishment. We are all heartbroken over this loss, but one day we will recognize what we did this year.”
The loss ends the collegiate careers of Ellison, Kordario Fleming (Sr., Memphis, Tenn., Physical Education), Haywood, Jones, Knowles, Postell, Smith, and Rufus Williams (Sr., Tuscaloosa, Ala., Physical Education).
Story provided by Wade Steinlage