NCCAA Men's Tourney Round Up - 2 Games to Remember
After two rocky years due to the pandemic, March brought Madness again with the Division II NCCAA (National Christian College Athletic Association) national tournament — a battle where seven of the eight entries had never claimed the championship in the past.
Ozark Christian College hosted the tournament in Joplin, Mo. Here are the games to remember through the tournament's three-day span:
March 11, 2022: #4 Crown College vs #1 Great Lakes Christian College (semi-finals)
Entering the semi-final game, Great Lakes Christian College sported a 26-7 record. According to Crusaders Coach Richard Westerlund: "This year was special to win 26 games, be ranked No. 1 all year, have 3 All-Region players, 2 All Americans, National Player of the Year, National Coach of the Year, and now a Final Four appearance."
Westerlund, whose squad was the overall favorite in the tourney, added: ”We have become one of the top programs in the NCCAA; we would love to win a national title.”
Crown College (16-15) entered the tourney ranked No. 4 and without their second-leading scorer, Jacob Van Dam.
The Storm had to deal with a furious Crusaders defense (Westerlund: “We [the Crusaders] define the pace of the game by forcing over 21 turnovers a game”). Crown was also facing a zone defense, which is something the Storm had not seen much of up to this point.
However, they don’t call it March Madness for nothing. The Storm dominated the first half of the game, building a gaudy 29 point lead. But disaster struck when All-American Cade Carroll broke his wrist.
Nevertheless, the Crusaders found themselves in a Storm they couldn’t weather. Crown prevailed, 104-88.
Coach of the Storm, Luke Herbert, says "I am just thrilled with how our guys executed against a zone look that we did not see much of this year. If anything, count ourselves fortunate that we shot the ball so well and could keep control of the game after Carroll had been injured."
March 12, 2022: #4 Crown College vs #3 Campbellsville University Harrodsburg (finals)
With less than a minute left in the title game, upstart Crown College still had hopes of winning it all.
But in a moment that sealed the game, Antoine Darby snatched an inbound pass and threw down the game-deciding dunk on the other end, giving the Pioneers an 89-79 victory and their first national title.
Darby, with his stat line of 26 points, four assists, and three steals, was named tournament MVP.
"Not having Jacob Van Dam and losing Cade, even though Jacob was able to fly in for the championship game, we just did not have enough in the tank," Herbert adds. Nonetheless, the Storm has "been a consistently competitive team, and hopefully, be able to advance back to the national tournament next year."
Just five seasons ago the Pioneers were a club team. This was their first-ever trip to the national tournament. Pioneers Head Coach Austin Sparrow says, "I am glad our staff has been able to turn things around and align the teams' goals with the campus's expectations."
Moreover, it was a full-circle moment for Sparrow. "Bringing a Championship back to my hometown of Harrodsburg, KY has been an awesome experience," he says.
However, although history had just been made for the school, "our mentality is to build on this season's accomplishments and not be satisfied," Sparrow adds.
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