Double-Overtime Thriller Keeps William Penn in Tourney
Point Lookout, Mo.–Arguably the best battle in NAIA Division II National Championships history, the Statesmen men’s basketball team survived to advance past #6 seed Dordt 118-116 in double-overtime early Friday morning.
The contest, which was scheduled to start at 9:15 p.m., finally got underway well after 10 due to late earlier matchups. It ended after midnight (12:25 roughly) with the girl no one thought was good enough or pretty enough still walking tall with her majestic horses, fairy godmother, and fancy glass slipper. Cinderella will play again, but may need a long ice bath.
The underdog’s road continues less than 24 hours from now in a saecond-round matchup against #11 seed St. Thomas (Fla.) Friday at 9:15 p.m. The Bobcats (25-7) also won in amazing fashion, beating Union (Ky.) 75-72 on a buzzer-beating three-pointer. After losing its first three games in Keeter Gymnasium, WPU is now 5-4 all-time in Point Lookout.
Statesmen advancement seemed very likely as #27 seed William Penn (23-9) was ahead 96-89 with 59 seconds left, but the Defenders (28-6) found a way to make a late run and force overtime.
Rewind a bit to see how the teams got to extra play. The navy and gold scored the evening’s first points, but in a game that featured ten ties and 20 lead changes, nothing was settled until 50 minutes of game time expired. The lower seed went ahead for a very long time on two free throws by Tyler Stahle (So., Bountiful, Utah, Business Management) that made it 21-20 with 10:06 left in the first half. Highlighted by a 14-3 edge in made charity-stripe tries, WPU led 49-38 at intermission.
The advantage ballooned to as much as 14 at 55-41 with 17:29 left in regulation, but the Defenders did not enter with 28 wins by luck. The Great Plains Athletic Conference regular season champions pulled to within five (63-58) with 11:59 on the clock and then against at 66-61 just 1:54 later.
William Penn fortunately had an answer to every DC run, giving the numerous Statesmen faithful plenty of reason to believe the upset was in the stars. The Dordt crowd, easily the biggest outside of that from host College of the Ozarks, willed their team to an improbable comeback though. Down seven with just inside of one minute to go, the Defenders scored six straight and ten of the last 13 to knot things up at 99.
Kelly Madison (Jr., Des Moines, Iowa, Physical Education) paced all weary players with 38 points on 12-for-23 shooting (5-for-11 3-PT), but could not hit a trifecta as time ran out in regulation.
By all rights, Madison’s missed shot should have been the final nail in WPU’s coffin. A slightly vertically-challenged squad to begin with, the Statesmen ran into early foul trouble and actually lost post players Erik McGee (Jr., Oskaloosa, Iowa, Elementary Education) and Roberts Baltruns (So., Riga, Latvia, Business Management) to foul-outs with seven and two minutes to go, respectively. That left William Penn with only seven players available on its roster. Things looked bleak to be optimistic.
With Keeter Gymnasium booming behind its fanbase, Dordt was in the driver’s seat as the first overtime session began. WPU drew first blood, though, on a Madison layup, but then five unanswered came from DC. But then, one by one, the top Defender scorers picked up their last fouls and the balance of power swayed back to even. Dordt was whistled for 33 fouls, the third-most in tournament history.
Still in the rearview by three at 108-105, the Statesmen scored the last three points in a quiet last 2:10 of play. Despite many chances, neither side tallied a point in the final 1:23, including a missed three-pointer by DC’s Bryan Sumner as time expired.
Survival was the key for the Statesmen in the first overtime, but with Dordt having just one player left in double figures and WPU’s proverbial cupboards stocked full of scoring threats in Madison, Stahle, and Alec Schwab (Jr., Peru, Ill., Business Management), the once bleak outlook changed dramatically to very sunny for the second OT.
The navy and gold again broke through first, but the programs exchange blows the rest of the way with both going up by only one each time. That was until Madison drained his fifth and final long bomb with 35 ticks remaining to change the score to 118-116.
DC still had a chance to tie or take the lead, but Stahle recorded a huge steal and was consequently fouled with 13 seconds left. He could have potentially iced the contest on the other end, but failed to hit either free attempt.
The Defenders dashed down the court for their last opportunity, but a misfired shot by GPAC Player of the Year Kyle Lindbergh fortunately would not fall. The ball was tipped out to Madison and he pulled away from the field to run out the clock. William Penn coaches and players rushed the floor and hugs and high fives were shared with anyone in arm’s reach, both on the hardwood and in the stands.
“That was the greatest display of desire and teamwork I have ever seen, and the greatest game I have ever been a part of,” Head Coach John Henry said.
Heroes were everywhere Thursday-Friday, not just in the form of #23 (Madison). Schwab tallied a silent 27 points with most of his tally coming at the stripe as he was 17-for-19. WPU finished 39-for-56 overall at the line. The junior snatched up five steals as well.
Blake Walker (Sr., Rose Garden, Physical Education) also had a contribution that flew under the radar, finishing with his second career triple-double of ten points, a team-best 11 rebounds, and ten assists.
Stahle added 17 off the bench, while Baltruns had nine. Logan Alexander (So., Eddyville, Iowa, Undecided) and Jesse Utt (Fr., Cowgill, Mo., Industrial Technology), on his 19th birthday no less, each produced seven points. McGee put up five in addition to two blocks.
The heave-em-up-from-wherever Statesmen were forced by DC into a different offensive scheme, trying only 26 three-pointers (11 makes for a 42.3% clip). Dordt, a squad not as likely to go with a perimeter approach, actually gave it a try quite a few more times, going 13-for-36 overall.
William Penn owned a 43.6%-39.4% shooting edge, but had to overcome four fewer rebounds (60-56), including ten less on the offensive glass (27-17). The navy and gold also committed four more turnovers (18-14), but all was accounted for with 14 more successful free tosses (39-25).
The game featured ten top-five single-game performances, including most combined points (234). Madison’s 38 points were the most so far this tourney and were also the most in WPU nationals’ history. Schwab’s 17 free throws were the third-most all-time and his 19 tries were the fourth-most ever.