KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–For the first time in 44 years, Oklahoma Baptist University has won the NAIA men’s basketball championship.
After topping Azusa Pacific 84-83 in Kansas City, Mo., Bison head coach Doug Tolin and his team held the championship banner at midcourt March 24 in a scene OBU hadn’t celebrated since Al Tucker and coach Bob Bass defeated Georgia Southern in 1966.
After falling behind for the fourth time in as many games, OBU got the big basket and a big defensive stop for the win. The Bison trailed by five points with 90 seconds left in the game, but tournament MVP Nate Brumfield scored in the paint to make it 83-80 with 1:22 to go. Azusa Pacific missed the front end of a one-and-one and Brumfield got the rebound, then Kevin Swinton was fouled with 42 seconds to play.
Swinton, who was in pain throughout the game after an injury, was unable to go the free throw line, so Tolin selected A.J. Hawkins to step in. Hawkins made the first free throw and missed the second, but the rebound went off the hand of an APU player and Brumfield chased it down in the corner, flung it out to Hawkins who smoothly dropped in a three-point shot for an 84-83 lead with 40 seconds on the clock.
“I think Nate came from the other side of the lane to get that rebound,” Tolin said. “Last night he made the game-winning shot [against Robert Morris in an 81-79 victory] and tonight he goes and gets the rebound and makes the pass to A.J. to win it. Last night, A.J. got the ball to him for the game-winner and tonight it was the other way around. That’s what good teams do.”
A pass out of bounds gave the ball back to OBU, but the Bison would miss two free throws to give APU one more chance. APU’s Dominique Johnson missed near the free throw line and Marshall Johnson got the offensive rebound but the game clock ticked down to zero with the ball still in his hands. His late shot went through the net and forced a quick look at the replay that delayed the celebration for just a few anxious seconds.
Azusa shot 54 percent from the field in the first half and hit five of nine three-pointers to get out to a 47-40 lead after the Cougars had led by as many as eight in the half.
The Bison scored the first nine points of the second half as Garrett Steinmetz drained a three-pointer, Brumfield scored down low, Hawkins scored and Steinmetz got a steal and two free throws for a 49-47 OBU lead.
There were nine lead changes from there. OBU didn’t slow down the shooting percentage of APU, which shot 56 percent in the second half, but the Bison forced seven second-half turnovers and shot 63 percent from the field in the second stanza.
“We told them at the locker room that ‘Hey, this isn’t as bad as it has been and we haven’t even played well,'” Tolin said. “We got fired up and got out to a quick start in the second half and it was back and forth after that.”
Hawkins led the Bison with 21 points, including a seven-of-seven performance from the field in the second half. Swinton added 19, Brumfield 15, Steinmetz 14 and Tim Bowman 10.
Swinton and Hawkins joined Brumfield on the All-Tournament Team.
The game was the last for seniors Brumfield, Hawkins, Steinmetz, Tyler Parker and Mirko Vojinovic and a new standard for Jerrod Tillmon, Emmanuel Wilson, Tim Bowman, Heath McKay, Hayden Blessing, Jake Duvall and Danny Derry as well as coaches Kyle Tolin and Justin Williams.
The win gives OBU its first NAIA championship in men’s basketball since Al Tucker led the Bison to the 1966 crown in the middle of a three-year run of championship game appearances.
The celebration, in addition to photos and hugs, included a raucous round of the OBU cheer “Ka-Rip” by the 250-plus students and staff from OBU who made the trip. It also included a call to Tolin from Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry.
The win also comes at a time for the Tolin family when something glorious was much-needed. His daughter Christie lost a son just days before he was to be born between the conference and national tournaments. The tragedy isn’t offset by the championship, Tolin said.
“It’s been very deep valleys and very high peaks,” the coach said. “It’s been a hard week or two. It was good that Christie got to be here and [her husband] Gavin was able to make it.”
The banner heading back to Shawnee joins another 2010 NAIA championship banner bound for OBU’s Noble Complex, as the Lady Bison track team won the national indoor championship earlier in March.
Adapted from a report by the Oklahoma Baptist University’s sports information office.