Life 73, Oklahoma Baptist 64
TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ What top-seeded Life (Ga.) lacked in height, it made up for in speed, pressure defense and outside shooting.
The Running Eagles forced 24 turnovers and hit a dozen 3-pointers to defeat Oklahoma Baptist 73-64 Monday night for the NAIA national championship.
Oklahoma Baptist (36-4) trailed just 67-64 with 53.9 seconds to play before the Running Eagles (37-1) hit six free throws to seal their 28th straight victory.
``It’s unbelievable. I’m just out of words,″ said Don Smiley, who scored 15 points for Life. ``Everybody can shoot. I guess everybody just really wanted it.″
Smiley said the Running Eagles knew they had to apply heavy defensive pressure so that Oklahoma Baptist could not use its height advantage.
Life beat Huston-Tillotson (Texas), Brigham Young-Hawaii, Birmingham-Southern and Cumberland (Ky.) in reaching the NAIA final for the second time in four years.
Curtis Carrington scored 18 points and Anthony Maxwell 16 for Life. James Harris, who averaged 14.2 points per game during the tournament, was named the tournament’s MVP.
Third-seeded Oklahoma Baptist’s Mike Hendron tied the score at 50 with 12:55 to go. But Smiley hit a 3-pointer _ one of his four in the game _ at 12:26 to put Life in front to stay.
Life jumped out to an 8-0 lead before Lamond Ford’s bucket put Oklahoma Baptist up 12-11. There were four ties in the next five minutes as Oklahoma Baptist mostly went inside to score _ fighting off Life’s feisty full-court press _ while the Running Eagles relied on outside shooting.
Life forced 15 first-half turnovers and Tyrone Gainer’s bucket gave the Running Eagles a 26-23 lead.
``I do not know if we have ever played anyone with that style of play,″ said Oklahoma Baptist coach Bob Hoffman. ``They have no rules with that trap _ they just feel it. It is hard to gauge when they are coming and when they are not.″
With 4:37 to go before halftime and Oklahoma Baptist behind by 14, the Bison went on a furious nine-point run that was padded by five foul shots. Life led 42-37 at the break.
What Life lacked in size _ its tallest player was 6-foot-6, compared to three Oklahoma Baptist players at 6-9 _ the Running Eagles made up in speed and steals (13). The Bison beat Life on the boards, 51-27.
Eric Cardenas led Oklahoma Baptist with 14 points and 16 rebounds. Ford added 14 points, Hendron 12 and Quinn Wooldridge 10.
``I couldn’t be prouder of the bench,″ Life coach Roger Kaiser said of the group that scored 11 total points. ``We have talked about them all year long. This is something we have been planning for all season.″