CIRCLEVILLE — Ohio Christian University defeated Arlington Baptist College 91-69 on Saturday afternoon to claim their second consecutive NCCAA National Championship. OCU has now won 41 straight games in their NCCAA Division, dating back to March of 2012.
When it came to playing second-seeded Arlington Baptist for a national championship on Saturday, Ohio Christian junior guard Wesley Russell (JR/Dublin, OH) looked at the matchup as a numbers game.
"With Arlington and us playing our third game in three days, this is where depth really becomes a big factor," he said. "We have 10 players who could start, while Arlington only plays seven-to-eight guys. We felt like we could dictate a fast tempo, break them down and wear them out in the second half to where they were taking bad shots and doing things they probably normally don't do."
And the plan worked to perfection, as the Trailblazers gradually pulled away in the second half on their way to a 91-69 win and their second straight National Christian College Athletic Association Division II national championship.
"We felt like Arlington Baptist didn't have the numbers that we did, so we were determined to pick them up full-court, pressure them and try to wear them down by the second half," OCU coach Tony Stockman said. "Even if we were losing at halftime, we were still going to stay with our game plan, and our guys did an excellent job of executing what we wanted."
Russell, who was named tournament MVP following the game, led all scorers with 27 points, and also added nine rebounds and six assists. Ernie McCoy (SR/Columbus, OH), who joined Russell on the all-tournament team, tallied 18 points and five assists, Nic Baker (FR/Hilliard, OH) drained four three-pointers to finish with 12 points and Evan Mills (JR/Pickerington, OH) added nine.
"Wesley showed the type of big-time player he is by the plays he made on both ends of the floor," Stockman said. "He also made sure our guys stayed extremely focused on the defensive end."
"Ernie has been a huge spark and has played tremendously throughout the whole tournament."
Ohio Christian had six players log at least 18 minutes against Arlington Baptist and 10 play at least 10 minutes. Russell was the only Trailblazer who approached 30 minutes of playing time, falling 19 seconds short of the mark.
Arlington Baptist had four players play at least 31 minutes and five who played at least 28 minutes.
Stockman appreciates the sacrifices in playing time some of his players make for the Trailblazers to have the kind of depth it takes to win a national championship.
"We have guys who don't start for us that could go someplace else and score 30 points a game," Stockman said. "Ernie McCoy was the only player on the NCCAA honorable mention team to come off the bench."
"We have guys who deserve more minutes, even our guys who lead us in minutes, like Wesley, but they have accepted their roles and made sacrifices because they know it will make us a better team. I can only imagine what a player like Wesley or some of our other guys would do if they played 35 minutes or more a game, but they have their eyes set on winning the big prize, and their sacrifices made it happen."
The top-seeded Trailblazers shot 36 of 63 (57.1 percent) for the game, including 11 of 24 (45.8 percent) from the three-point line. The second-seeded Patriots shot 13 of 30 (43.3 percent) in the first half, but saw their numbers decrease some to 10 of 30 (33.3 percent) in the second half. Arlington Baptist was just 6 of 21 (28.6 percent) from three-point range for the game.
Ohio Christian (25-10) went on a 9-2 run late in the first half to take its biggest lead of the half at 42-29. Danny Schrock (SO/Sugarcreek, OH) started the run by taking a feed from Evin Bartlett (SO/Huber Heights, OH) and draining a three-pointer. Russell had a putback during the run and the Trailblazers also scored transition baskets from Christian Mathias (FR/Nigeria) and McCoy.
The Trailblazers led 46-36 at halftime and kept a double-digit lead for nearly the entire second half. A basket by Russell pushed the OCU advantage to 73-58 with 8:20 left.
Stockman was concerned about the Patriots (19-12) ability to score in the paint and rebound coming into the national title game. The Trailblazers stepped up to outrebound the Patriots 37-25, and limited Arlington Baptist to seven offensive rebounds.
"We did a nice job of using our athleticism to make it a fast tempo game, and our length to hit the glass hard," said McCoy, the lone senior on the OCU roster.
Jeremiah Ford, a 6-foot-2 senior forward for the Patriots, had 16 of his team-high 20 points in the first half. After making 5 of 6 first half shots, he only 1 of 6 in the second half.
Josh Green tallied 16 points and Patrick Howard added 11 points and five rebounds for the Patriots, who lost to the Trailblazers in the national title game for the second straight season.
"We gave Arlington a lot of respect, because we felt there were some folks who were underestimating them," Russell said. "We made defense our top priority."
"We had a problem stopping Ford from getting to the basket in the first half, but we did a better job of breaking down on him in the second half, keeping him out of the paint and tiring them down since they don't substitute much. Great teams find a way to win."
Stockman believes the way his team matured over the course of the season led the Trailblazers to repeat as national champions. The second-year coach and Ohio State graduate believes that process began during a mid-November game against Marietta College.
"We had a lot of guys back from last year's team, but we also had some new guys and it was really like two separate groups early on this season," he said. "At Marietta College, we were down by 15 points at halftime and we talked to the guys about coming together and playing together as a team if we wanted to have success. We made a big comeback in the second half and even though we lost (84-83), that game really got us going."
The Trailblazers won 23 of their final 30 games after the loss to Marietta College, ended by cutting down the nets following the national championship win against the Patriots.
"We were blessed enough to be healthy, and we continued to get better on and off the court," Stockman said. "We became one team and one family, and that started with building our faith and our relationship with God. Once that happens, everything starts to come together."
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