The No. 2-ranked Cardinal Stritch University Wolves men’s basketball rode a 73-59 win over the No. 1-ranked William Penn University Statesmen to lay claim to their first-ever NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball National Championship on Tuesday night.
After the Wolves held the Statesmen scoreless on their first possession, senior Jeremy D’Amico (Geneva, Ill.) came through with a nice spin off the dribble to hit a 12-footer to give Stritch the first lead of the ball game at 2-0.
WPU answered right by, but it was D’Amico who gave the Wolves back the lead with a three-pointer along the baseline, pushing the score to 5-2.
The Statesmen battled right back into the game with a 4-0 run, however, to go up 6-5. D’Amico popped right back up for the Wolves with a jumper to retake the lead at 7-6.
After the media break, the Wolves’ defense stepped up to record a stop while Darren Moore (Chicago, Ill.) was able to extend the Stritch lead to three-points at 9-6 by converting on two free throws after a foul underneath.
While the Wolves failed on their next offensive chance, the Statesmen came back to take their second lead of the night with a five-point run to go up 11-9. However, Stritch battled right back to tie the game, 11-11, as Mike Simpson (North Chicago, Ill.) checked in and promptly drew a foul, hitting both foul shots.
With Stritch up 18-16, WPU spread the floor as their offense drained another three to take the lead at 19-18. They would extend it to 21-18 with 8:02 remaining in the first half, forcing a timeout by the Wolves.
The Wolves eventually found themselves in a tough spot down by five, but Simpson came through again on the foul line to cut the gap to three at 23-20 thanks to two more made free throws.
Free throws continued to pay dividends in the opening half as D’Amico knocked two more home to cut the deficit to just one at 25-24.
Both teams continued to battle as the Wolves had to come back from behind and did so thanks to D’Amico as he broke a 29-28 deficit with a three to turn the tide to the Wolves, 31-29 with 4:20 to play.
After a timeout on the floor and the game tied at 31-31, the Wolves came out with a 6-0 run to take a 37-31 lead with 1:05 to go in the first half. However, WPU broke right back through with five-straight to cut the Wolves’ lead to one point at 37-36, but a tough inside basket by Moore with the buzzer sounding left Stritch with a 39-36 halftime lead.
Through the first 20 minutes of play, D’Amico led the Wolves with 12 points while Stritch shot 46 percent from the floor. The Statesmen, who shot 42.8 percent from the floor, were led by Brandon Beasley (Indianapolis, Ind.) and his 13 points.
Opening the second half, the Wolves opened up on a high note as they worked the ball around the perimeter before working the shot clock down to 12 seconds and getting inside to Moore who put the ball in off of the backboard extending the lead to five at 41-36. The offense continued to work hard as the rebounding efforts allowed the Wolves to go up 45-36 with 15 minutes remaining.
After the Statesmen cut the Wolves’ lead to five points, 45-40, Stritch’s Moore went back to work as the center put the Wolves up 47-40 with a tough basket underneath.
Following the make, the defense held while the Wolves offense was able to put the ball in the hands of Simpson who promptly took over by driving through the tall defenders of WPU to put one high off the glass and in.
The Statesman came right back with five-straight, but Stritch still held the lead at 49-45 with 8:52 remaining. However, the Wolves continued to battle as five-straight by Stritch pushed them up nine points at 54-45 at the 7:06 mark.
After WPU pushed the score to 54-47, Derek Semenas (Rosendale, Wis.) had his first points of the second half with a three-pointer from the top of the key with 5:41 to play to put Stritch up 57-47.
Despite two free throws by WPU’s Beasley, the Wolves put four quick points up to go back up 61-49.
With the game at 61-51, WPU hit a three-pointer to cut the lead to seven, but Stritch’s Moore responded with a make underneath. However, the Statesmen answered with a three-pointer to cut the Wolves’ lead to 63-57 with 2:14 to go.
At the 1:38 mark, the Wolves used solid ball movement and capped the play with a basket by Nick Ford (Fond du Lac, Wis.) to go up 65-57.
On the next WPU possession, the Wolves were able to get a strong defensive rebound, but a foul by Stritch’s Smit gave the ball right back to the Statesmen underneath. However, a miss and rebound by Mike Simpson, followed up by a heads up play, the junior was able to call timeout as he was falling out of bounds with 1:04 remaining.
Beasley would cut the Wolves’ lead to six points with two free throws with 1:02 remaining, but the Stritch offense came up big with a strong press break as Moore completed the possession with his 19th point of the night.
Moore would cap his night off with a 21 point performance as the Wolves would secure their first-ever national championship by the final score of 73-59.
With the win, the No. 2-ranked Wolves improved to 35-3 on the year while dropping the No. 1-ranked Statesmen to 34-2.
“This was such an amazing night by our guys,” head coach Drew Diener said. “We came to Stritch with the goal of winning a national championship, but to do so in four years is unbelievable. We have so many unselfish guys on this team and coaching staff that really made this possible and it’s just a great feeling to have right now.”
Stritch will be hosting a championship rally on the campus at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 13.
Visit www.stritchwolves.com for more information.