By Eric Montgomery | NAIA Media Coordinator
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – (Box Score) Most Valuable Player Dion Rogers scored a game-high 28 points to lead No. 3-seeded Texas Wesleyan to an 86-76 win over third-seeded Life (Ga.) Tuesday evening in the championship game of the 2017 Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship at Municipal Auditorium.
Texas Wesleyan (29-7) won its second national championship in program history, also capturing the 2006 crown with a 67-65 win over Oklahoma City in that season’s championship game. Life (26-11) fell short of its fourth title in program history, claiming the red banner in 1997, 1999 and 2000.
Rogers led all scorers with 28 points to earn Most Valuable Player honors for the championship, while also dishing out eight assists. Ryan Harris tallied 21 points and seven rebounds, Naiel Smith added 17 points, six assists and four rebounds, and Najeal Young posted 11 points and 10 rebounds.
“I can’t explain the way I feel right now, I’m just so happy for our team,” said Rogers. “This was our goal going into the year. It’s a long season and we had a lot to accomplish on the way here. We had ups and downs, but we got through everything and reached our goal.”
The defense of the Rams set the tone in the first half, limiting the Eagles to 28.6 percent shooting (8 of 28) that included a 3-of-15 clip from three-point range. Texas Wesleyan also forced nine turnovers that turned into 11 points, while posting a 21-19 rebounding advantage.
Texas Wesleyan (29-7) took control of the first half over the final 4:03 before intermission, scoring the final 10 points to take a 35-23 advantage into the break. Following a jumper by Rogers, Harris converted a steal by Smith for a field goal before draining a three-pointer. Smith, who assisted on the Harris trey, finished the scoring for the half with a put-back and a single free throw.
A three-pointer by Jonathan Beausejour brought Life as close as it would come in the second half, closing the gap to 49-44 with 11:02 remaining. However, Texas Wesleyan answered with 10-straight points to reclaim the double-digit advantage that remained intact for the remainder of the contest.
“We’ve got senior leadership and we’re tough,” said Texas Wesleyan head coach Brennen Shingleton. “It’s almost as if we got in better shape as we went along. We never lost touch with who we are, and we just stayed the course.”
The Rams dominated the second half at the free throw line, converting 25 of 30 attempts (.833). Rogers and Harris each knocked down 11 of 13 from the charity stripe, while Life made 17 of 22 (.773) in the entire contest. Though the Eagles managed to force 10 turnovers in the second half that turned into 18 points, the free throw discrepancy was too much to overcome.
“I think there was one team that was ready for the importance and the challenge of this moment and there was one team that wasn’t,” said Life head coach Keith Adkins. “I think Texas Wesleyan was that team who was ready. They were aggressive throughout the game. We just were not ready for it. We had our spurts to get back into it, but ultimately this was Texas Wesleyan’s night and you have to give them all the credit.”
Dalarian Williams tallied 25 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals for Life. Zach Landis added 21 points, 11 rebounds and three steals for the Eagles.
Texas Wesleyan – The Rams were making their 15th appearance in the NAIA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship...Texas Wesleyan is now 18-13 all-time in the national tournament... Thursday's opening-round win over Cumberlands (Ky.) was the Rams' first victory in the national championship since 2010, when they beat Central Methodist (Mo.) in the first round...The Rams were one of four Sooner Athletic Conference teams in this year's national championship, having earned an automatic bid by winning the conference's regular-season championship with a 13-5 record...Texas Wesleyan is now 11-3 versus 2017 national championship qualifiers...Texas Wesleyan finished its season with a five-game winning streak and a run of 10 victories in 11 games dating back to a 1-3 skid in early February...Texas Wesleyan won all five of its games in the 2017 national championship by 10 points or less...Texas Wesleyan's 41 free throw attempts were the most by a team in a single game in the 2017 national championship and the Rams' 32 makes is the second-highest total for a team in a single game... The 13 free throw attempts and 11 makes by Dion Rogers and Ryan Harris were each tied for the second-most by an individual player in a game in this season’s championship.
Life – The Eagles opening-round victory against Martin Methodist (Tenn.) last Wednesday snapped a string of seven first-round losses dating back to 2001...The Eagles were making their 16th appearance at the NAIA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship, including their seventh in the last nine years...Life is now 26-13 all-time in the national championship... Head coach Keith Adkins is the first head coach in the tournament's 80-year history to make consecutive NAIA Fab Four appearances with different teams… He directed Campbellsville (Ky.) to the Fab Four in 2016…It's his third overall appearance, also coaching Campbellsville in 2008...Life was one of four Mid-South Conference teams in the 2017 event and one of three - along with Georgetown (Ky.) and Pikeville (Ky.) - to advance to at least the second round...Mid-South Conference teams finished 7-4 in the 2017 national championship...The Eagles had a run of 16 straight wins snapped with the loss, dating back to a 71-68 loss to Cumberland (Tenn.) on Jan. 26...Life finished the season 10-5 against 2017 national championship qualifiers...Life's 23 first-half points was the third-lowest scoring half in the last 11 championship games...The loss snapped a string of three straight two-point victories for the Eagles...Life's 36.2 field goal percentage on 25-for-69 shooting was the lowest by a team in a championship game since Westmont (Calif.) made just 18-of-60 shots (30 percent) in a 71-53 loss to Dalton State (Ga.) in 2015.
General Notes: - The 2017 championship was the ninth-straight season there has been a new national champion without a team going back-to-back … The last team to repeat its title was Oklahoma City in 2007-08 … This was only the fifth double-digit win in the title game since the event moved back to Kansas City in 2002 … Texas Wesleyan becomes the 16th program to win two or more national titles with its win … Life finishes the season earning its second all-time runner-up finish … This marks the second-consecutive year the Sooner Athletic Conference has been represented in the national championship as last year ended with Mid-America Christian (Okla.) earning the red banner … Life was the second-straight team to play in the title game out of the Mid-South Conference … 18 national titles were represented through the 32 qualifiers with Oklahoma City boasting a tournament-high of six titles … Forty-eight states have won at least one national title with Oklahoma winning a nation-high 12 in the history of the championship … The attendance for the 2017 event hit 39,093 throughout the week – the most since 2010
Michael Harris, Langston (Okla.)
Jonathan Beausejour, Life (Ga.)
Dalarian Williams, Life (Ga.)
Brandon Moss, LSU Alexandria (La.)
Brian Sylvester, LSU Alexandria (La.)
Ryan Harris, Texas Wesleyan
Dion Rogers, Texas Wesleyan
Najeal Young, Texas Wesleyan
Charles Knowles, William Penn (Iowa)
Torren Jones, William Penn (Iowa)
Chuck Taylor Most Valuable Player Award: Dion Rogers, Texas Wesleyan
Charles Stevenson Hustle Award: Jonathan Beausejour, Life (Ga.)
Dr. James Naismith-Emil S. Liston Sportsmanship Award: Biola (Calif.)
Charles A. Krigel Award*: Dr. Dave Holmquist, Biola (Calif.)
Chuck Walden Memorial Trophy (given to Honorary Coaches of championship team): Dan Gassel, Helms Briscoe
Frank Cramer Award^: Randy Covitz, Kansas City Star
2016 - 17 NAIA Division I Men's Basketball Player of the Year: Dalarian Williams, Life (Ga.)
2016 - 17 NAIA Division I Men's Basketball Coach of the Year: Brennen Shingleton, Texas Wesleyan
* given to coach of the team that best exhibits respect, civility, integrity and fair play, the qualities that define sportsmanship
^ presented annually to the person or persons who has done the most for the basketball tournament during a period of years