They came within one game of a berth in the national championship game one year ago.
Now, just 40 minutes stand between the Shorter men’s basketball team and a national championship.
The Hawks will play for the program’s first national title today at 2 p.m. when they take the floor against Oklahoma Christian in the championship game of the NCCAA Division I Championship on the campus of Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind.
Fifth-seeded Shorter (20-11) advanced to the national championship game by winning the NCCAA’s South Region Tournament last week, defeating fourth-seeded Mid-American Christian in Wednesday’s quarterfinals and upsetting the tournament’s top seed, Fresno Pacific, in Thursday’s national semifinal.
After getting bounced in the Fab Four of the NAIA National Championship last year, the Hawks made good on their goal to get back into the national spotlight, reaching the NCCAA’s national title game amongst a field that is by far the deepest in the organization’s history.
Case in point, Shorter’s championship game opponent: Oklahoma Christian.
The Eagles (19-11) are a former NAIA power that, like the Hawks, are in transition to NCAA Division II.
Last year’s champion of the Sooner Athletic Conference – the same conference that produced Shorter’s Elite Eight opponent in last season’s NAIA Tournament, Rogers State – OCU won 17 games in its first season on the Division II level. Head coach Don Hays won his 700th career game at this year’s tournament and has over 600 wins in 29 seasons at Oklahoma Christian.
The Eagles present several challenges for the Hawks in their size, athleticism and discipline on both ends of the floor.
6-foot-10 senior center Will Reinke anchors Oklahoma Christian’s attack, averaging a team high 19 points and 10 rebounds. Reinke owns a silky smooth touch and shoots 58 percent from the floor. He also has 78 blocks on the year.
Guards Kendre Talley and Nick Tate average 11 and 10 points, respectively, for the Eagles, who have ridden an at-large bid to the NCCAA Men’s Basketball Championship all the way to the championship game – Oklahoma Christian lost to Mid-America Christian, 89-87, in the Central Region Tournament.
The Eagles beat No. 6 seed Spring Arbor (83-59) and second-seeded Cedarville (79-66) to reach tomorrow’s title game.
Shorter has been on fire in Winona Lake and enters the championship on the heels of two 100-plus point outings.
The Hawks scored 101 points in their quarterfinal win over Mid-America Christian and another 104 in the upset of Fresno Pacific. Senior forward Anthony Banks has led the way for Shorter, averaging 31 points and 13 rebounds in Shorter’s two national tournament wins, while Shorter’s other four starters – Walter Hill, Dedric Ware, Kenny Leverette and Marquise King – are also averaging double figures in Indiana.
Leverette has recorded one of two Shorter double-doubles at the tourney, Ware went for 25 in Shorter’s semifinal win, King dropped a career-high 21 on Fresno Pacific and Hill has averaged 21 in the Hawks’ two victories.