Najeal Young celebrates with Texas Wesleyan teammates after their victory Tuesday for the NAIA championship. Josh Lacy Texas Wesleyan
Najeal Young celebrates with Texas Wesleyan teammates after their victory Tuesday for the NAIA championship. Josh Lacy Texas Wesleyan

Men's Basketball

Texas Wesleyan captures 2nd NAIA men’s basketball title

By John Henry

Special to the Star-Telegram

March 21, 2017 10:24 PM

UPDATED March 21, 2017 11:20 PM

Texas Wesleyan is returning to Fort Worth with the school’s second national championship in basketball.

Tournament MVP Dion Rogers poured in a game-high 28 points and Ryan Harris 21 for the Rams, who were the fresher, more aggressive team in a convincing 86-76 victory over Life (Ga.) in the 80th NAIA Division I national championship game on Tuesday at the Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo.

Naiel Smith added 17 points and six assists, while forward Najeal Young contributed with a double-double, 10 points and 11 rebounds for the Rams, who won their second national crown in 11 seasons.

“I’m just so happy for my team,” Rogers said. “This was our goal. We went through some ups and downs, but we got through it and got it done.

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“We’re so excited right now … and happy for Coach Shingleton. We play for each other. That’s what makes us a great team is we play for each other and not as an individual.”

The victory marked Texas Wesleyan’s 26th national championship, including six in men’s golf. The now-fabled table tennis program has 18.

To win the title, Wesleyan had to win five times in six days.

Unlike the semifinal victory that required Rogers’ last-second theatrics in overtime, in the fifth and crowning triumph, Wesleyan took control using its defense to turn the screws on the Running Eagles.

We’re so excited right now … and happy for Coach Shingleton. We play for each other. That’s what makes us a great team is we play for each other and not as an individual.

Texas Wesleyan player and tournament MVP Dion Rogers

Wesleyan (29-7) scored 17 points off 13 Life turnovers. It was a stunning reversal from a semifinal victory on Monday over the tournament’s No. 1 seed, LSU Alexandria, when the Running Eagles turned the ball over only three times.

Up two, the Rams went on a 10-0 run to close the first half, started by Rogers’ basket in the lane and capped by Smith’s tip-in and, moments later, his free throw. Harris mixed in a 3-pointer during the stretch.

Life (26-11), seeking to become the first team with double-digit losses to win the championship since John Brown University in 2005, tried to creep back in the game, but never got within arm’s length, getting as close as five but no more.

Coming out of a timeout at 11:02 of the second half, the Rams promptly reasserted themselves with another 10-0 run that put them up 15 and had them thinking about championship bling.

I’m ecstatic for our guys. The guys did it the right way. We never cheated practice, never cheated each other. They handled themselves well on and off the court. They played the game the right way.

Texas Wesleyan coach Brennen Shingleton

“That’s what won us the tournament … we were a top-notch defensive team,” Wesleyan coach Brennen Shingleton said. “It changed the pulse of the entire tournament.”

Wesleyan received an automatic bid to the tournament as the Sooner Athletic Conference regular-season champion.

The Rams opened the tournament last Wednesday with a victory over Cumberlands (Ky.), the school’s first in the national tournament since 2010. Victories over The Masters (Calif.) and Dalton State (Ga.) propelled the Rams into the Fab Four.

In the semifinals, the Rams erased a 16-point victory, and when Rogers’ hit a baseline jumper with 2.3 seconds left to beat William Penn, Wesleyan had a feeling this just might be their year.

“I’m ecstatic for our guys,” said Shingleton, a two-time conference coach of the year who was an assistant on Wesleyan’s title team in 2006. “The guys did it the right way.

“We never cheated practice, never cheated each other. They handled themselves well on and off the court. They played the game the right way.”

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