On Pi Day, Lancaster Bible instead put the icing on the cake for its season, defeating Hillsdale Baptist, 78-65 to earn the program's first-ever NCCAA Division II national championship.
The National Christian College Athletic Association is a group comprised of schools which are members of other associations, or schools which are in transition between associations, or not otherwise affiliated at all. The Chargers, who entered the 10-team tournament with a 25-3 record, were seeded second. North Central (Minn.), which entered the tournament at 12-13, was the No. 7 seed and lost to 10th-seeded Manhattan Christian (Kan.) before winning a consolation game.
The win caps an amazing season that saw the Chargers finish with a 28-3 record, the best finish of any team in the history of Lancaster Bible athletics. It was also the 400th in the men's basketball's 43-year history. Over the past two seasons, the Chargers are 50-12, meaning that one-eighth of the program's wins have come in the past two seasons.
On Saturday, Lancaster Bible controlled play from the opening tip and put together one of the best halves the team has played all season long. Senior Albert Suniga drained a 3-pointer to give Lancaster Bible 12-5 lead just 3:46 into the game. Fellow senior Naheer Mirza hit a bucket a few possessions later to increase the lead to 14-5 and Hillsdale Baptist called timeout.
The Chargers ability to get to the basket not only created easy buckets and offensive chances, but caused the Saints to foul and the Chargers went to the free throw line 11 times in the first half. After struggling from the free throw line two weeks ago during the North Eastern Athletic Conference playoffs, the Chargers put on a free throw shooting clinic on Saturday as they made all 11 of their attempts in the first half and finished the game, 15-of-16 from the charity stripe.
A 6-0 run by the Chargers midway through the first half increased their lead to 28-11 with 9:36 to play in the opening half and though Hillsdale Baptist used a late run to cut the deficit to 12 at one point, Lancaster Bible recovered and entered halftime with a 45-30 lead. In the first half, the Chargers shot 16-of-26 (61.5 percent) from the floor and outrebounded Hillsdale Baptist, 21-9.
The Saints would not go away quietly and opened the second half on a 16-9 run to cut their deficit to 54-46 with 14:46 to play. Lancaster Bible would not be stopped and showed just why they won 28 games this season and after clamping down on defense, Dondre Perry hit a 3-pointer to give the Chargers a 65-50 lead with 10:19 left.
Lancaster Bible maintained that lead for several minutes before Hillsdale Baptist reduced it to nine a few more times, but junior Jordan Mellinger was big down the stretch and knocked down two free throws and converted a layup in the final minute to put the game away and give Lancaster Bible its first ever national championship in any sport.
"This is really, really special for our team, our school and the Lancaster Bible community," coach Marshall Tague said. "Not only did this team regroup from a tough loss in the NEAC final, but pulled together to accomplish something very important to us. We finished business that we set out to do a year ago. I'm very proud of this group of men that represent our basketball program, our athletic department, our school and most importantly Jesus in a manner that we can all be proud of."
The Northwestern (Minn.) women's basketball team, which lost in the UMAC final, is the No. 5 seed in the NCCAA women's Division I bracket. Three Division III teams took part in the NCCAA women's Division II bracket, whith No. 2 seed Lancaster Bible (24-6) falling in the semifinals and winning the third-place game. Sixth-seeded North Central (Minn.) won the fifth-place game to finish 10-18, while Maranatha Baptist (5-21) won the seventh-place game.