Heart-Breaking End to Run as WPU Falls in Quarters
Point Lookout, Mo.–In front of some of the proudest fans in the NAIA, the Statesmen men’s basketball team fought extremely hard but still saw the clock strike midnight on its Cinderella postseason run in a 79-78 loss to #19 seed Robert Morris (Ill.) in the quarterfinals of the NAIA Division II National Championships Saturday.
William Penn (24-10) went toe-to-toe with the Eagles (26-9), but failed to take advantage of a trio of opportunities in the final seconds.
Down 76-70 with 4:16 on the clock, the navy and gold slowly chipped away at the deficit, getting within one (79-78) at the 1:22 mark on a jumper by Alec Schwab (Jr., Peru, Ill., Business Management). Unfortunately, those were the final points scored by either squad.
#27 seed William Penn denied RMU three times in the last 60 seconds, including twice in one set. Finally getting the ball back with 11 seconds left on a Schwab rebound, the charity stripe became the Statesmen’s worst enemy.
Kelly Madison (Jr., Des Moines, Iowa, Physical Education) was fouled on his way to the basket with six ticks remaining, but could not cash in on either attempt. The Eagles, who advance to face Midland (Neb.) in one of Monday’s semifinals, were awarded possession after the ball was batted around and eventually went off a WPU player.
RMU’s Demarko Nash tried to push the advantage to at least two, but he also came up short, and another Schwab board gave William Penn new life. The Statesmen coaching staff called a timeout to set up one last play.
Coming from the sideline, the inbounds pass was a tight one into Blake Walker (Sr., Rose Garden, Physical Education). Nash sought to draw a charge by stepping in front of Walker, but fortunately was unsuccessful and was whistled for a block with three seconds left.
With his team already in the double bonus, Walker had two tosses, but could not find the bottom of the netting on either. The sphere bounded around, eventually going off an Eagle with only 0.3 seconds still to go. An inbounds pass from the baseline was tipped, though, never allowing for a possible game-winning shot. William Penn’s lone senior, Walker ends his career having played in three national tournaments (6-3 record).
WPU held a 46.7%-43.1% shooting edge, but could not get past a rough night at the line (11-for-25) and a -13 rebounding margin (50-37). The Eagles were monstrous on the offensive glass with 22 caroms (13 for WPU), leading to a 15-6 advantage in second-chance points.
Closely resembling their second-round win, the Statesmen were in full control early on with the game’s first eight points and went up by as much as nine twice. Robert Morris stormed back with eight straight and took its first lead at 30-29. The navy and gold took the edge back, and despite three ties, were ahead 38-35 at intermission.
Fighting off three more ties and one lead change, WPU was still on top 57-55 at the 11:44 mark, but a three-pointer by Nash gave the Eagles the lead for good. While RMU extended the margin to seven with 6:32 remaining, the Statesmen were always within striking distance.
Unfortunately, 11 three-pointers and two more points (13-11) on points off turnovers were too little in the end. William Penn committed 11 mistakes, while Robert Morris had 12 errors.
Madison had 38 points on Thursday and Schwab put up 42 on Friday, but no ridiculous scoring outputs were to be had Saturday. Madison still managed to lead all players with 24 points, while Schwab was right behind him with 22. Each player also stole three passes.
Roberts Baltruns (So., Riga, Latvia, Business Management) also reached double figures with 12, while Walker just missed the mark with nine in addition to nine rebounds and six assists.
Erik McGee (Jr., Oskaloosa, Iowa, Elementary Education) corralled ten rebounds and blocked two shots to pace the navy and gold.
“These kids are the true meaning of team,” Head Coach John Henry said. “We gave it all we had and are proud of the results. This was a special season with a special group of young men.”