CBT's MEN's NAIA 2021-2022 Season Recap
The 2021-22 NAIA men’s basketball season was filled with individual talent. We featured some of it throughout the season here at CBT, and with the season finished, here’s a look at some of the NAIA’s statistical champions for the recently completed campaign.
-Loyola of New Orleans was the best team this season, winning its first national title in 77 years, and Myles Burns was widely acknowledged as the country’s best defender. Burns led the country with 4.1 steals per game, well ahead of any competition in that category, as Thomas (Ga.) University’s Jordan Booker finish second with 3.4 per game. If that doesn’t display his dominance, this should: Burns finished with 152 steals for the season; only two other players in the NAIA or NCAA Divisions I, II and III swiped as many as 100: Richmond’s Jacob Gilyard posted 108 thefts, and Calvin Cheek of Division III New England College logged 136 steals.
-The top rebounder in the NAIA was Olivet Nazarene (Ill.) center Alex Gross, who was about as dominant statistically as could be imagined. Gross averaged 14.1 boards a game, two more than any other player in the country, and he also was the national leader in total blocks (110) and second in blocks per game (3.2) behind only Vatangoe Donzo of Blue Mountain (Miss.) College at 3.5 per game in 23 games. Gross also ranked fifth in the country in scoring (23.8 ppg) and rounded it out by coming in eighth in assists per game (5.6).
-The nation’s leading scorer for much of the season was senior Coby Jones of Johnson (Tenn.) University, whose preparations for the 2021-22 campaign included getting married last summer to now-wife Hannah. As cool of a story as that was, Jones cooled off a touch in his last five games, and in the end the NAIA’s scoring champion was Kae’ron Baker of Louisiana Christian University, a school that didn’t even show up in the NAIA statistics at the start of the season, as the school name changed from Louisiana College in mid-November.
Baker averaged 24.6 points per game, putting up a single-game high of 41 against Texas College in January. He also nearly led the nation in two other categories, as the grad student shot 264 free throws and made 210, ranking second nationally in both categories.
-The nation’s leader in free throws made was Leondre Washington of LSU-Shreveport, who gave the state of Louisiana a 1-2 finish in the category by making 216 foul shots, including a downright divine 22 of 22 against the University of Southwest (N.M.). The player who got to the line most was Jaylon Scott; the Bethel (Kan.) University All-American who attempted 273 free throws.
-Cliché or not, it’s not much of a surprise that the nation’s best free throw shooter came from the state of Indiana. From the same city (Indianapolis) that once gave us Butler’s Darnell Archey, who made an NCAA Division I-record 85 straight free throws in the early 2000s. Marian University’s Christian Stewart led the NAIA this year in percentage, shooting a remarkable 94.3% from the stripe. Stewart made 133 of his 141 attempts, and in his five-year career, he shot 91.5% from the line, missing just 34 foul shots in 399 attempts.
-Talladega (Ala.) finished their superb season as the NAIA’s runner-up. The Tornadoes were known far more for lock-down defense (second nationally in scoring defense, fourth in field goal percentage defense) than offense, where they ranked just 110th of 233 teams in scoring. That only makes the performance of point guard Cam Potts more impressive, as the senior led the nation averaging 6.7 assists per game, including six games with 10 or more assists. He also set the pace for total assists with 213 on
-The most efficient shooter on the year was Isaiah Brooks of Faulkner (Ala.), who didn’t hoist a ton on a squad with four double-figure scorers, (his 8.2 points per game ranked fifth on the team), but converted 70.4% of the time when he did shoot. The player making the most field goals on the season was sophomore Alex Van Kalsbeek of Northwestern (Iowa), who made 325 field goals and at a nifty rate of 64.5% himself. The nation’s No. 1 volume shooter was Markelle Turner of Union (Ky.), as the two-time Appalachian Athletic Conference Player of the Year and NAIA All-American fired a nation-leading 616 shots.
-Five players made at least 100 three-pointers this season, none more than Luke Rudy of national semifinalist Thomas More (Ky.), who drained 110 triples. Rudy made at least seven threes in four different games with a high of eight against Miami-Hamilton (Ohio) on Dec. 22. Incidentally, his 3.1 threes per game ranked just 14th nationally per contest; the leader in that category was Ricardo Zambrano of Northern New Mexico, who made 3.5 threes a game in 13 games. Among players who competed in a full schedule, Trent Hilbrands of Northwestern (Iowa) sank 3.4 threes a game.
-The most prolific at attempting threes was Karmari Newman of William Penn (Iowa), who took 286 shots from beyond the arc, including a 10-for-16 performance against Indiana-South Bend in November. The player attempting the most per game was Mason Westlake of UC Merced (Calif.), who fired an incredible 9.7 shots from long range per night and tried fewer than seven threes in a game only twice.
-The NAIA’s leader in three-point percentage was Ryan Sanders of Texas College, who met the association’s modest thresholds of playing in at least 60% of his team’s games and making one three per game, hitting 17 of 27 from deep (63.8%). Among those playing a full season, Nysir Scott of Benedictine (Kan.) shot 60.8%, making 31 of 51.
-The most iron of iron men was Trey Brown of MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.), who averaged a nation-leading 38.5 minutes per game. The Pioneers played a total of 1,225 minutes in their 30 games; Brown was in for all but 70 of them, and the senior guard played the full
-Finally, when it came to fouling, no one was more “proficient” than Devin Collins of Ottawa (Ariz.). The 6-5 forward committed 106 fouls, most in the NAIA. Collins was a regular double-double threat averaging 9.0 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, and was part of a squad that finished 24-10 for the most successful season in program history. For a program record in wins and a first-ever trip to the NAIA Tournament, a few fouls was surely a small price to pay.40 (or more) minutes 14 times. For total minutes played, no one surpassed Jamestown (N.D.) guard Will Cordes, who was in for 1,295 minutes.
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