KANSAS CITY, Mo. –Oklahoma Baptist University (25-7), ranked 10th in the final NAIA National Top 25 Coaches' poll and seeded number 10 among the 32 tournament entrants, prevailed 83-73 over Arizona Christian University (20-10), ranked 19th in the final NAIA National Top 25, in a first-round game at the 76th Buffalo Funds NAIA Men's Basketball Championships, Thursday, March 14, in Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo.
While Arizona Christian, directed by first-year head coach Jeff Rutter, was one of six schools playing their first NAIA Tournament games, Oklahoma Baptist University, was playing in its record 26th tournament and its 81st NAIA Tournament game and has won a record 59 of those games with a record seven appearances in the NAIA Championship game and nine appearances in the Final Four. The Bison won NAIA national championships in 1966 and 2010, and placed second in 1965, 1967, 1993, 1997, and 2002.
Oklahoma Baptist moves into the second round against either California State University-San Marcos (23-6) or MidAmerican Nazarene University (24-9) which was scheduled to play Thursday evening.
With 20 wins this season, the 2012-13 squad is the third Arizona Christian basketball team ever to win 20 or more games in a season. The 1996-97 team went 21-8 and won the NCCAA Division 2-A National Championship under the direction of Coach Steve Morley, and the 1985-86 team recorded a 21-9 mark under the direction of former NBA player and Coach Paul Westphal. Arizona Christian also received its first-ever national NAIA and NCCA rankings this season and finished third in the GSAC regular-season standings (8-6) and second in the GSAC Tournament in its first year of membership.
Offensively, Oklahoma Baptist got off to a fast start, making 13 of their first 17 shots (.765) in the first 10 minutes of the game and held a 14-point lead, 32-18. The Bison continued to add to its lead in the first half and grew the lead to as many as 18, 50-32, with 2:29 left before intermission. Arizona Christian made a run right before half, and closed on a 6-0 run to pull within 12 points, 50-38, at halftime. Defensively, Oklahoma Baptist stole the ball from the Firestorm nine times in the first half and scored 21 points off 17 first-half turnovers by Arizona Christian.
The Bison made 19 of 35 field goals (.543), 4 of 12 three-pointers (.333) and 8 of 11 free throws (.727) and committed just 4 turnovers in the first half, while Arizona Christian made 14 of 24 shots (.583), 7 of 15 three-pointers (.467) and 3 of just 4 first-half free throws (.750).
Junior guard Talib Uqdah (Detroit, Mich./Westview H.S., Avondale, Ariz./Chandler-Gilbert CC) led Arizona Christian with 9 points in the first half with 2 three-pointers, and junior All-GSAC guard Charles King (Houston, Tex./Stephen F. Austin H.S./Phoenix College) added 8 points and 2 three-pointers. Guard David Johnson led all scorers with 13 first-half points with one three-pointer, 4-4 from the free throw line, 5 rebounds and 2 steals, and reserve guard Kameron Price contributed 9 first-half points and 2 three-pointers.
"Having 17 turnovers and getting into such foul trouble in the first half is just too much to give away to a team as good as Oklahoma Baptist," commented Coach Rutter. "We're excited for the future of our program, and we've made great strides this year. Making the NAIA Championship tournament is a building block toward where we want Arizona Christian's program to go. We are working on becoming an elite team at the NAIA level."
King's basket and free throw brought the Firestorm back to within nine points, at 50-41, early in the second half, but the Bison answered with an 11-4 run to push its lead back to 17 points, 61-44, with 14:45 left in the game. A pesky Firestorm squad sliced Oklahoma Baptist's lead to eight points, 70-62, with 6:37 left, but drew no closer the rest of the game. Oklahoma Baptist regained three 14-point leads during the final 4:47.
The Firestorm struggled from behind the arc in its first national championship appearance, making just 2-of-14 from long range in the second half (.143) and 9-of-29 for the game (.310), much lower than their season's three-point percentage of .386.
Uqdah, who averaged a team-high 20.6 points per game with 45 three-pointers in 11 games this season, finished with 18 points, 4 three-pointers, 3 rebounds and 3 assists, and King, who averaged 14.7 points with a team-best 56 three-pointers this season, totaled 15 points against Oklahoma Baptist, with 2 three-pointers, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and one steal and made all 5 of his free throws. Senior guard A.J. Koch (Tucson, Ariz./Flowing Wells H.S.) contributed 10 points, with one three-pointer and 5-of-6 free throws and had 3 rebounds and two assists. Koch finished his four-year career ranked eighth in Arizona Christian history with 1269 points in 111 career games (11.43 ppg).
Off the Arizona Christian bench, junior guard Mason Jones (Huntington Beach, Calif./Ocean View H.S./Eastern Oregon Univ.) tossed in 10 points and hit 2 three-pointers, and forward Mike Navar (Chino, Calif./Chino Hills H.S.) added 8 points, 4 rebounds and one blocked shot. Freshman forward Jackson Helms (Murrieta, Calif./Murrieta Valley H.S.) finished with 6 points, a team-best 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals, and junior All-GSAC forward Jordan Block (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./Claremont H.S./Pasadena City College), who averaged 14.9 points and 6.6 rebounds this season, added 6 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists.
The Bison were led by senior guard David Johnson with 18 points, 2 three-pointers, and 7 rebounds, and 6-7 senior forward Clinton Houston with 17 points, including a career-high 9-of-11 free throws, 6 rebounds and 2 assists. 6-7 senior forward Marques Anderson finished with 13 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists, and guard Kendall Parks scored 10 points and had 3 rebounds and 2 steals. Price finished with 9 points and 2 three-pointers, all in the first half, 2 rebounds and 3 steals, and reserve guard Desmond Griffin added 8 points and 2 steals.
The Firestorm made 24-of-52 field goals (.462) for the game, 9-of-29 three-point tries (.310) and 16-of-21 free throws (.762), out-rebounded the Bison, 37-29, and stole the ball six times, but Arizona Christian committed a season-high 24 turnovers, three more than its previous high. Oklahoma Baptist, which committed 12 turnovers and stole the ball from Arizona Christian nine times, made 28-of-56 shots (.500), 5-of-15 three-pointers (.333) and 22-of-33 free throws (.667). Oklahoma Baptist enjoyed a 20-point margin in points in the paint, 38-18, and scored 25 points as a direct result of Arizona Christian turnovers.