March 18, 2009
POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. - (Final Bracket) Top-seeded Oklahoma Wesleyan defeats College of the Ozarks (Mo.) 60-53 to win its first ever NAIA Division II Men's Basketball Championship. They are the first top seed to win the title since Northwestern (Iowa) in 2003. The 18th annual event was held at the Keeter Gymnasium on the campus of the College of the Ozarks (Mo.).
In front of thousands of roaring fans and a capacity crowd at the Keeter Gymnasium, these two Midland Collegiate Conference rivals were meeting for the fourth time this season on the grandest stage. Ozarks was attempting to become the first unseeded team to win the national championship and the Bobcats came out fast, leading 8-5 after a Jared Howerton field goal. Oklahoma Wesleyan, however, behind a barrage of three-pointers, went on a 14-2 run to open up a 19-10 lead. Steve Briggs nailed a trio of three-pointers during the run, the second of which set a new tournament record with 23 three-pointers at the championship.
The Eagles held their biggest lead (21-11) before Ozarks began to come back behind outstanding defense. Ozarks held Oklahoma Wesleyan to just one field goal and four points over the final nine minutes and after a Colt Blair lay-up, the Bobcats took a 26-25 lead into the locker room.
Ozarks continued to lead early in the second half behind the play of Howerton and Craig Campbell, whose three-pointer with the shot clock winding down put the Bobcats up four, 41-37. Oklahoma Wesleyan kept it close behind the inside play of Sadiel Rojas who scored 10 of his 18 points in the second half.
A Murray Shaw basket put the Eagles back up one and another three-pointer by Briggs put Oklahoma Wesleyan up 44-42 with 8:30 left to play. Howerton answered right back with a three-pointer to put Ozarks back up one (45-44). Both teams were held scoreless for nearly four minutes before a basket by Mike McNeil, his first of the night, gave Oklahoma Wesleyan a 46-45 lead. Again, Ozarks answered right back with a three-pointer by Corey Stone and a lay-in by Howerton for its largest lead (50-46). The Eagles grabbed the lead for good moments later on a three-pointer by Briggs which ignited a 14-3 run to close the game.
Oklahoma Wesleyan was led in scoring by tournament most-valuable-player Steve Briggs, who scored 27 points. The junior guard totaled 147 points, 10 points shy of the tournament record. Briggs finished the championship with a tournament-record 26 three-pointers. Sadiel Rojas recorded his second double-double of the tournament with 18 points and 17 rebounds. The Eagles controlled the glass (43-33), especially in the second half (22-15).
College of the Ozarks was led by Jared Howerton with 14 points, 10 coming in the second half. He also pulled down five rebounds. Craig Campbell scored12 points off the bench and Corey Stone added 11. Ozarks shot 36% for the game, 16% (4/25) from the three-point line. The Bobcats defense held Oklahoma Wesleyan to nearly 30 points below its tournament average.
Oklahoma Wesleyan (35-2) ends the season with a school record 35 wins and closed the season with 18 straight victories.