Boy, did the University of Saint Francis men’s basketball ever make some noise. Cinderella never made more noise than the Cougars did in winning their first NAIA National Championship.
And Fort Wayne turned out with numbers to welcome the champions back on Wednesday, March 17 after a 10-plus hour bus trip back from Branson, Missouri, where the team ‘camped’ for 10 days while knocking off the No. 18, No. 2, No. 10, No. 6 and No. 1 teams in NAIA Division II enroute to the title.
“In my wildest imagination, I felt that we could make some noise,” Rekeweg said pausing for a moment before returning to his duties as facilitator for the youth tournament. “Maybe even get to the final four.”
But what about winning the whole NAIA National Championship Tournament? What about becoming the first collegiate team in Fort Wayne to bring home a national championship? As the 15th-seeded/ranked team? Only one team seeded lower had ever won the whole thing before.
“I felt good about our chances to make some noise,” Rekeweg said with emphasis. “We had played well to beat Goshen in the first game of the Mid-Central College Conference Tournament 85-78. Even though we lost at Indiana Wesleyan, I felt we played well for much of that game. And we were the healthiest we had been for quite some time.”
At least until the tournament started.
And the Cougars did it, holding off top-ranked Walsh University 67-66 to clinch USF’s first national title on Tuesday, March 16 at Point Lookout, Mo., in Keeter Gymnasium, home of the College of the Ozarks.
“Unbelievable,” is the word that Rekeweg, his assistant coaches Chad LaCross and Gay Martin has used often in the days since the Cougars did it. “I am so proud of the way these guys pulled together and overcame so many different obstacles.”
Rekeweg himself battled bronchitis and laryngitis, and it’s a wonder any of the players could hear his instructions and advice while they were out on the floor.
The Cougars persevered through injuries and aches and pains, soreness and travel to get to short shoot-arounds. They did it defeating teams who had just been in the tournament a year ago and were more experienced than USF, who had taller posts or guards who could fire in 3’s from the 25-30 foot range. They beat the team with the 2010 NAIA Division II player and coach of the year in Oklahoma Wesleyan to get to the final game.
Nice fit. 2010 NAIA National Championship CHAMPIONS!
What a sweet fit for the University of Saint Francis after the Cougars withstood the final salvos from 3-point range and the paint to hold off top-ranked Walsh University 67-66 on Tuesday night at Keeter Gymnasium on the College of the Ozarks campus. That glass slipper fits just great after the 15th-ranked Cougars won this grueling 5-game test of mind over body, mind over injuries, mind over fatigue, mind over extremely opposition just as determined to win as you are.
Wear that Cinderella glass slipper well because you earned it defeating the 18th-ranked team, the 2nd-ranked team, the 10th-ranked team, the 6th-ranked team and the No. 1 team enroute to the NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball National Championship game.
Junior DeJovaun Sawyer-Davis scored 22 points for USF (28-9) and was named the tournament MVP after scoring 114 points in five games. Junior Ferdinand Morales-Soto earned the tournament ‘Hustle’ award. And Sawyer-Davis, Morales-Soto, Qadr Owens and Matt Edmonds were named to the All-Championship team.
Oh yeah, USF coach Jeff Rekeweg was named Rawlings NAIA Coach of the Year.
Edmonds finished with a tournament high for him, 14 rebounds. Owens scored 11 points and Morales-Soto added 10 points and a team-leading seven rebounds.
‘Q’ scored what proved to be the winning basket with 39 seconds on an incredible sequence where Sawyer-Davis pushed the rebound off the Walsh backboard. Owens corralled the ball and tipped it to Morales-Soto on the right side of the court near mid-court.
“I just took off on the left side yellin’ Ferdie, Ferdie, Ferdie, and he turned around and hit me with a good pass, and I just laid it up,” and in, Owens recalled. “I didn’t even think about what happened or missin’. We didn’t want to lose comin’ this far.”
Morales-Soto had a chance to open up a hair of breathing room with a 1-and-1 free-throw opportunity at 14 seconds, but he left the first shot short. Brandon Speck missed a shot and Sawyer-Davis secured the rebound. With 1.5 seconds left, he missed the front of the bonus opportunity and Austin Leisure fouled the Walsh rebounder. The Cavaliers were not in the bonus, so they took the ball out of bounds. After each team called a timeout, Walsh appeared ready to try the play that got them the game-winning shot on Monday night against Bellevue (Neb.)
“With the good coachin’ staff we’ve got, they recognized what they were gonna do on that last play, and I saw they were gonna try to pass it to Ricky (Jackson), so I left my man, grabbed it with one hand, but lost it as Ricky pulled me down. Matt grabbed it and took off and time expired. I just fell and gave God all the praise. It hasn’t sunk in yet.”
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