Men's Basketball Crowned MCC Tournament Champion
Men's Basketball Crowned MCC Tournament Champion
Vindication never felt this good, and after being chosen sixth in the preseason polls, doubters have turned into believers.
The third-seeded Ashford University men's basketball program stunned top-seeded and 13th-ranked Iowa Wesleyan College to become Midwest Collegiate Conference Tournament champions on Sunday night in Ruble Arena, 84-81.
Junior guard Jonathan Wyatt of Chicago, ripped seven threes on his way to a new career-high 29 points, junior post players Peter Tanzillo of Kewanee, Ill., and Matthias Burns of Chicago, each had double-doubles to dominate the interior and the Saints (23-10, 11-5 MCC) reached the pinnacle of the conference tourney for the second time in school history.
The Saints enjoyed the historic moment to the fullest, drenching first-year Head Coach Oliver Drake in a post locker-room celebration, cutting down the nets and posing for endless pictures with the new banner that is soon to be suspended from the rafters in Kehl Arena.
"Obviously, we have a great group of guys at Ashford who have bought into everything we teach them and it was a moment we'll never forget," Drake said afterwards. "We all worked together and the five guys we put on the floor work as a single unit. It's not about what we can't do, but what we can do, and that was obvious tonight."
The Saints turned back the clock on the 13th-ranked Tigers (23-5, 13-3 MCC) and earned the program's second-ever automatic bid into the NAIA National Championships beginning March 9 in Point Lookout, Mo., featuring a 32-team field with 20 automatic bids and 12 at-large selections.
Ashford also won the MCC Tournament in 2001-02 in the same Ruble Arena against the same Iowa Wesleyan program. The Saints handed the Tigers two of their five total losses during the season, including a 14-point home win earlier this month when IWC was a fresh-ranked No. 12.
The Saints' faithful, including the student-dubbed "Dog Pound," traveled in full force and depending on who you asked, it was debatable as to which team ultimately had the coveted home-court advantage. Three fan buses packed with supporters made the trek from Clinton and the Saints' followers roared to life on nearly every possession.
"Tonight is a very proud moment for Ashford University," Drake added. "Our fans were outstanding tonight and we had so much support down here. We're just really happy that we can bring home the 2011 MCC Championship."
Ashford gave the crowd plenty to cheer for early on, opening with a 7-0 run. The Saints led by 11 following a layup from Burns at the 7:38 mark in the first half, but the Tigers countered with an 18-6 run to grab their first lead under two minutes before the break.
Wyatt, the conference's leading three-point shooter during the regular season, had the answer for nearly every Iowa Wesleyan counterattack and bounced back after a 1-for-10 shooting slump against Clarke University in the semifinals. He opened both halves with treys and made six consecutive free throws inside two minutes left in regulation.
But Iowa Wesleyan made the proverbial late push and whittled a 10-point deficit into a 76-76 tie with 1:36 to play inside a four-minute span, capped by a three from University of Nevada transfer Shakka Eke.
Wyatt made it a two-possession game with two more free throws with 23 seconds left, but IWC's Nate Fuqua drained a three to make it a one-point game again with eight ticks on the clock. AU's Marin Backo of Zagreb, Croatia, banked his first free throw in and swished the second as the Tigers' hopes were dashed.
Tanzillo and Burns used a variety of pump fakes to keep the Iowa Wesleyan defense off balance and had their way around the rim, combining for 35 points on 14-of-21 shooting (6-of-7 by Burns).
Tanzillo asserted himself early and had three straight layups in a key second-half stretch while finishing with a personal-best 23 points. It also marked his eighth straight double-figure performance.
"I think we sent a pretty strong message and that is not to be underestimated," Tanzillo said. "We're turning doubters into believers, one game at a time. The key tonight was staying grounded fundamentally; a little shot fake went a long way."
Burns grabbed 14 rebounds and Tanzillo hauled in 10. Junior guard Javier Valdez of Maturin, Venezuela, was also one rebound shy of a double-double, ending with 13 points and nine boards.
The Saints made all 10 of their free throws in the second half when the Ruble Arena crowd was at its loudest.
IWC's Fuqua followed a 43-point, 15-rebound effort in the semifinals against St. Ambrose University by leading his team in the scoring column with a game-high 31.
The Saints will now await notification of their opening-round opponent for the NAIA National Championships during a selection process. The bracket announcement will be aired online in a half-hour show courtesy of Victory Sports Network (www.victorysportsnetwork.com) on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
About Ashford University
Founded in 1918, Ashford University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (www.ncahlc.org). The University offers graduate and undergraduate degree programs online and at its Clinton, Iowa, campus. The University is known for its high quality yet highly affordable online and on-campus programs. For more information, please visit www.ashford.edu or call Shari Rodriguez, associate vice president of Public Relations, at 858.513.9240 x2513.