William Penn Rallies to Reach Fab Four
Kansas City, Mo.–Defying all odds, the Statesmen men’s basketball team overcame incredible obstacles to erase an 18-point first-half deficit and defeat #6 seed Langston 84-80 in the quarterfinals of the NAIA Division I National Championships Saturday.
Despite being whistled for 33 fouls (just 17 for its foe), which resulted in a 40-11 discrepancy in free throws, top-seeded WPU (33-3) won the Duer bracket to advance to the NAIA’s ‘Fab Four’ for the second time in school history (also in 2012-2013 as a member of D-II). William Penn started its NAIA national tournament experience with three consecutive losses, but since then (beginning in 2012-2013) has owned an 11-4 mark.
William Penn will now face Texas Wesleyan Monday at 8 p.m. in the national semifinals. The Rams claimed the Liston bracket crown by knocking off #1 seed Dalton State (Ga.) 82-73. It will be the first ever meeting between the two programs.
William Penn started a bit slow Saturday, trailing 15-8 at the 12:58 mark, but responded with a mini run to close within two at 16-14. Unfortunately, the wheels came off the bus right after that. To say the next five-plus minutes of action were painful is an understatement as the Lions (24-10) tallied 16 points in a row for a seemingly-insurmountable 32-14 advantage with 5:49 to go until the break.
The Statesmen finally ended their drought with a pair of free throws by Torren Jones (Sr., Chandler, Ariz., Sociology), his first points of the game. The senior entered Saturday’s quarterfinal averaging 30 points and 16 rebounds, but LU neutralized him in the first 20 minutes.
Jones added four more points before being sidelined for the rest of the stanza with his third foul. Though they were starting to find the bottom of the net, the Statesmen still remained 16 points back of Langston at 39-23 with 3:49 on the clock. Fortunately, WPU, helped by bench points from Corbin Medley (Jr., Rogersville, Mo., General Accounting) (banked-in three-pointer) and Elijah Williams (Jr., Chicago, Ill., Physical Education) (two free throws) was able to trim the LU lead to 41-32 at the break.
Charles Knowles (Sr., Chicago, Ill., Physical Education) was his team’s best asset in the opening half with 13 points. William Penn ‘earned’ 17 first-half fouls and the Lions were more than happy to take advantage with a 16-for-19 effort. The Statesmen were truly fortunate to be within single digits as they were also outshot 52.2%-30.6%.
Despite suffering through its worst half of the campaign, WPU entered the latter period within striking distance. Langston kept the navy and gold at bay for a bit longer, still ahead 51-42 at the 15:10 mark, but then Kevin Smith (Sr., Baltimore, Md., Physical Education) went to work.
The senior, who was held scoreless in the opening half, finally broke through with six points in the early going of the second half. He then played arguably the best ball of his Statesmen career, scoring nine points as part of an 11-0 run which gave William Penn its first lead since it was 8-6. During the run, Smith hit a trifecta, stole the ball from LU three times, and capped those thefts with baskets on the other end.
Now up 53-51 with 12:37 on the clock, the Statesmen had outscored Langston 30-12 over the span of just over 11 minutes.
The Lions weathered the storm for a few seconds, knotting the contest at 53-53, but a long ball from Lionel Ellison (Sr., New Orleans, La., Kinesiology) and a three-point play by Jeremy Postell (Sr., Atlanta, Ga., Sociology) put WPU ahead for good.
The victors extended the edge to nine points, but Langston was not ready to surrender just yet, pulling to within three at 71-68 with 7:06 remaining. The Statesmen, headlined by Jones, were too strong though. He tallied six points during his squad’s deciding 9-1 run that gave William Penn an 80-69 advantage with 4:16 to go.
The Lions, coupled with WPU’s foul trouble (Smith and Ellison both fouled out), made things very interesting down the stretch, narrowing the margin to 84-80 with 1:14 left, but the Statesmen came up with a trio of stops in the waning seconds to clinch the win.
William Penn came up just shy in the shooting column, 42.0%-41.8%, but remedied that with a gaudy 52-24 edge in rebounding. The Statesmen, paced by Jones’ six offensive boards, dominated their own glass to the tune of 25-5 which gave the winners a 28-6 edge in second-chance points (19-6 in second half).
The navy and gold also had to battle past ball control issues (23 turnovers) that resulted in the Lions outscoring them 25-18.
The biggest adversity, though, came at the charity stripe as Langston finished 33-for-40. William Penn fortunately did not waste its limited chances, knocking down all 11 of its throws.
Jones, who was restricted to five first-half points, found ways to get on the board after intermission and finished with yet another double-double of 22 points (7-for-12 FG, 8-for-8 FT) and 16 rebounds.
Smith and Knowles were both 7-for-15 from the field (one three-pointer each) as each player tallied 15 points. Smith also guided WPU with four steals.
Postell was next with nine points (two trifectas), while Jarvis Haywood (Sr., Charlotte, N.C., Business Management) ended up with eight points (he fouled out as well).
Ellison added six points and five assists, while Kordario Fleming (Sr., Memphis, Tenn., Physical Education) played big on the defensive end with three blocks.
“I am so proud of these guys for overcoming the adversity they faced,” Head Coach John Henry said. “We were forced very deep into their bench, but everybody stepped up. As weird as it sounds, our foul trouble actually helped us out as we were able to sub in fresh guys and then put our starters back in with fresh legs and I think that eventually wore them down.”
“Our crowd was fantastic today and never gave up on us,” Henry added. “They deserve so much credit for helping us get this win.”