By Alan Grosbach | NAIA Staff
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – (Box score) Sixth-seeded Vanguard’s (Calif.) prolific offense was on display Monday night, as the Lions raced past St. Gregory’s (Okla.), 108-88, in the semifinals of the 2014 Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship at Municipal Auditorium. The Lions will play the winner of No 8 Emmanuel (Ga.) and MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.) at 7:02 p.m. CDT on Tuesday in a game that will air nationally on ESPN3. Click here on information to access to ESPN3.
Vanguard (31-6), which prior to 2014 had never won a game in one previous trip to the national championship, will make its first-ever appearance in the banner game. The Golden State Athletic Conference Tournament champions also extended their winning streak to eight games.
“Our guys are happy to be here, but I think they’re also happy to be playing one more game together,” said Vanguard head coach Rhett Soliday. “We’re just going to let it rip and see what happens. We know there will be some uncharacteristic mistakes, kind of like there were tonight, but once the guys settle down, they’ll adjust.”
Preston Wynne led Vanguard with a season and tournament-high 42 points on 14-for-19 (73.6 percent) shooting, including six 3-pointers. Through four games at the national championship, the senior guard is averaging 28.3 points per game – nine points above his season average entering the event. Wynne also tied for a team-high with four assists, while grabbing four rebounds. The scoring effort was the most since a 43-point performance by PJ Meyers of Life (Ga.) in 2012.
“He’s really special,” said Rhett when asked about Wynne. “He can really score in every way and with his range, he really makes it difficult for other teams to guard him. Our guys are probably the only ones who weren’t surprised by some of the shots he made tonight.”
Wynne scored 17 of the Lions’ first 25 points, as Vanguard used five 3-point plays en route to a 25-16 lead only 7:30 into the first half. St. Gregory’s (24-10), which received its first eight points from Jaron Vierra, cut the deficit to 28-26 with an 8-2 run that was capped by a Brock Vorwald layup.
The Lions turned the game back in their favor on another Wynne 3-pointer, which sparked a 9-2 stretch for Vanguard. The Cavaliers closed to 44-41 with 2:21 to play in the half, but were outscored 9-2 to end the period.
Vanguard ended the first period shooting 58.1 percent (18-of-31) from the field, 63.6 percent (7-for-11) and 83.3 percent (10-of-12) at the free throw line. The Cavaliers held a 21-13 advantage in rebounding, but were hampered by 10 turnovers.
Vanguard opened the second half with six of its first eight baskets coming from long range, capped by a contested 3-pointer by DeAngelo Jones, to extend its lead out to a then-game-high 75-58. St. Gregory’s came as close as nine points twice over the final 10 minutes of the game, but failed to get any closer.
The Lions outscored the Cavaliers, 18-7, over the course of the final four minutes to earn the 20-point victory.
As a team, Vanguard ended the game shooting 59.3 percent (35-of-59), including a tournament-high 14 3-pointers.
Joining Wynne in double-digits was Chris Gorman with 22 points and Jones with 17 points. The trio of Wynne, Gorman and Jones ended the game a combined 12-for-20 (60.0 percent) from 3-point range.
Marty Wilkerson led the way for St. Gregory’s with 20 points and five assists, while Vierra added 16 points. Tilford Thornton also registered 15 points on the night.
“This has been a great experience for us – especially our four seniors,” said St. Gregory’s head coach John Martin. “Even though we hadn’t been here in a while, we didn’t want to stay just a day or two. We wanted to be playing Tuesday, and we almost got there. These guys played their hearts out here late in the season, and I am proud of them. I think this experience can be a great stepping stone for the years to come.”
St. Gregory’s, which like Vanguard was making its first-ever appearance in the Fab Four and prior to 2014 had never won a game at the national championship. The Cavaliers end the year with a 24-10 record.
Vanguard– Vanguard is now 4-1 all-time at the National Championship …The Golden State Athletic Conference (GSAC) sends a team to the title game for the seventh time in the last 12 years, joining Concordia (Calif.) (2003, 2004, 2007, 2012) and Azusa Pacific (Calif.) (2005, 2010) - the conference is 2-4 in the title game during that stretch with Concordia winning it all in 2003 and 2012. … The Lions are the second-straight No. 6 seed to advance to the title game after SAGU (Texas) appeared in the 2013 finale … Preston Wynne scored 27 points in the first half, the most points scored by an individual player in the first half of a game at this year's tournament … The 42 points by Wynne were the most by an individual player in this year's tournament and was the second 40-point game this year (40, Monty Wilson, Georgetown (Ky.) vs. Vanguard) … Vanguard led at the half by 10 points and averaged a 10-point margin in each of its four games in this year's tournament.
St. Gregory’s– St. Gregory’s falls to 3-2 all-time in the National Championship after losing its first round game in its only previous appearance in 2000 … The Cavaliers reached the Fab Four as an unseeded team, marking the ninth time in the last 10 seasons an unseeded team made the semifinals (2012 was the exception) … The Sooner Athletic Conference placed a team in the Fab Four for the third-straight season and the fourth time in the last five seasons … St. Gregory's had held its first three tournament opponents to 24.6 percent shooting (14 of 57) from three-point range, but allowed Vanguard to shoot 63.6 percent (14 of 22) … The 53 points matched the most points the Cavaliers have allowed in the first half this season (Wayland Baptist (Texas) on Jan. 30) … St. Gregory's trailed at the half for the first time in this year's tournament