With just over two weeks left in the season Lions head coach Jordan Nowell put out a challenge to his team, win six games in a row. The Lions started by winning their last two regular season games, which won them the NIAC Conference regular season title. They then won their next two games in the NIAC Conference tournament, which won them their first NIAC Conference Tournament Championship. Four games down, with two left if all goes according to plan, heading into the North Central Region tournament. If the Lions could win those two games like Coach Nowell challenged them to, they would be headed back to the NCCAA National Tournament for the first time since 2006. First up for the #2 seeded Lions were the #3 seed Faith Baptist Bible College. The two teams faced each other earlier in February, with the Lions winning that match up 78 to 69.
The Lions came out with a lot of energy, taking an early 12 to 4 lead just five minutes into the game. Faith Baptist would fight back and get as close as 3 points but the Lions would push the lead back to 10 points with 3 minutes left in the first half 38 to 28. The Lions would take only a 5 point lead in to halftime 39 to 34. The Lions biggest lead in the first half was 10 points. The Lions were led by Mikey Rosario at halftime with 10 points and junior guard David Rohrbach added 8 points off the bench. Faith Baptist was led by Dathan Marshall’s 15 first half points.
The Lions would do their best to not let Faith back into the game, including holding their largest lead of the game 15 points, 64 to 49 with just under 10 minutes to play. However, Faith had different plans as they would fight all the way back to within 5 points with 5 minutes left. They were within 1 point with 3 minutes left and then they took their first lead of the game 65 to 67 with just over 2 minutes to play. The Lions would then get the lead back after a pair of Nick Lentz free throws 68 to 67 with 2:13 left in the game. The Lions ended the game after giving Faith the lead with a 10 – 0 run and held on to win 75 to 67. The Lions were led by junior guard Mikey Rosario, who finished with 23 points (10 of 20 from the field), 5 assists and 4 steals. Joining him in double figures was freshmen forward Barry Bighorn who added 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3 steals. Junior guard David Rohrbach added 11 points going 3 for 5 on 3’s off the bench.
The win moved the Lions to the Regional Championship game and one game away from a trip to Nationals. Standing in their way was regional rival North Central University. The two teams faced each other earlier in the season during the A/G Classic, with North Central winning at home 101 to 73.
The Lions had different plans for this match up, after giving North Central an early 3 points lead 5 to 2, just over two minutes into the game the Lions battled to capture the lead and would not give it up again in the first half. The Lions would hold a 7 point lead 28 to 21 with 6 minutes to play and eventually would push the lead to 10 points, which would be their biggest of the first half. They would take a 39 to 31 lead into the break. Leading the North Central Rams at half was Andrew Berndt with 11 first half points. Leading the Lions at halftime was AJ Anthony with 12 points and 4 assists and Mikey Rosario with 10 points.
The Lions would continue to work hard on both ends in the second half as they would push their 7 point halftime lead to 13 points just 5 minutes into the second half leading 48 to 35. The Rams would use a 14 to 3 run to get within two points 51 to 49 with just over 11 minutes to play in the game. However the Lions would use a 12 to 4 run to get a 10 point lead 63 to 53 with just over five and a half minutes to play. Some big shots and free throws by North Central’s Nathan Roeder would keep the Rams close, but the Lions would play keep-a-way and make some free throws down the stretch to hold on to win by five 83 to 78. The Ram’s were led by an outstanding game by their junior captain Nathan Roeder who finished with 43 points on 10 of 24 shooting and 20 of 21 from the free throw line. Joining Roeder in double figures for the Rams was Andrew Berndt who finished with 18 points. Leading the Lions in the win was junior guard Mikey Rosario with 28 points on 7 of 21 shooting and 14 of 16 from the free throw line and 7 rebounds. Joining Mikey was sophomore guard AJ Anthony who had 21 points on 10 of 19 shooting, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Senior Alan Usher came up big for the Lions off the bench with 9 points and 6 rebounds and junior forward Cameron Martell added 8 points, 9 rebounds and 4 steals off the bench.
After the game three Lions were recognized for the season achievements, Senior Alan Usher was named “All Region Honorable Mention”, freshman Barry Bighorn was named “Second Team All Region” and junior Mikey Rosario was named “First Team All Region”. Coach Jordan Nowell was named North Central Region Coach of the Year.
The win is the sixth in a row for the Lions, helping the Lions record to 17 and 15 and advancing the Lions to the NCCAA DII National Tournament, for the first time since 2006. The National Tournament is being held at Central Bible College in Springfield, Missouri, March 6th through March 10th. The Lions first game will be 4pm on Tuesday, March 6th against Grace University (Nebraska).
For more information about NCCAA DII National Tournament please visit http://thenccaa.org/d2mensbasketchamp.htm and for live streaming of the games and tournament updates please visit http://www.cbcag.edu/nationals .