15 Game winning streak; 33 wins most for program;
Lost in the semifinals – Final Four
33-4, 23-3 heart
Photos: Bob Barns and Nancy Detweiler
The William Penn men’s basketball squad stamped their tickets to the NAIA Division I National Basketball Championship in early March with a 112 to 100 win over Mount Mercy. The Statesmen were crowned with their sixth conference title win (MCC-4, HAAC-2) post game and stamped their ticket to nationals. Marking the seventh nationals appearance, but mere second in Division I.
Going into the National Championship on an 11 game win streak, the Statesmen were fired up to have another shot at a national title for the program. The first program to face the wrath of the Statesmen was the Wolf Pack from Loyola in New Orleans, LA. With a cumulative effort from Torren Jones and Charles Knowles, the duo rallied 47 points alone. The Statesmen saw no contest from the Wolf Pack and led scoring for both halves, ending the game 100 to 78 and moved onto the next round.
With the win over Loyola, the squad was onto the Sweet Sixteen where their opponent was 15th ranked Georgetown from Kentucky. During the men’s basketball team’s last appearance at nationals, they faced Georgetown in the third round; but fell short during the second half in a 39 to 58 scoring run. Statesmen lost to the Tigers 99-80 in the 2016 NAIA Division I Championship. A loss was not the fate for the squad this year. The team took a lead in the first half by putting up 43 points to Georgetown’s 36. Jones led the scoring this game with 36 points and 11 rebounds.
Back in the Elite 8 was a familiar place for many of the players. Facing the number six ranked Langston Lions from Oklahoma. Many knew this was not the end of the road for them. Throughout the game, Penn battled a variety of adversity including frivolous fouls and free-throw shooting trouble. The men’s team racked up 33 fouls to Langston’s 17. At one point in the first half, the Statesmen were behind 18 points and struggled to get on the refs good side it seemed. At one point, Kevin Smith, Senior, was spotted yelling at his teammates on the bench, “I was telling everyone the game is not over.” A quick scoring run by Smith late in the first half left the Statesmen on a positive note heading into halftime only down 9 points.
Coming out during the second half swinging at the Lions, Penn went on a scoring streak. He went on to play arguably one of the best games in his career at William Penn. With the home Penn fan and part of the Penn Zone behind them, the squad stepped up and went on a scoring run in the second half finishing with 52 points compared to Langston’s 39. The second half won the game for the Statesmen. Even though it seemed like things were going wrong, the squad rallied together. “I had to put the team on my back and set the tempo for my teammates as one of the captains,” Smith stated, “I wasn’t ready to go home.” The Statesmen prevailed that game, wrapped up an 84-80 win over the Langston Lions, received the Duer bracket crown and proceeded to the Final Four.
The Final Four bracket brought a multitude of challenges for the squad. Their opponent was 10th ranked Texas Wesleyan University, who previously squared up against Cumberlands (KY), The Master’s (CA) and Dalton State (GA). Penn needed to bring their A-game to put some pressure back on Texas Wesleyan. And the Statesmen delivered putting 40 points on the board and went into halftime with a ten point lead. After half, Penn struggled to find the net. Giving up that ten point lead and sending a nail-biter of a game into overtime. Scoring efforts from the trifecta seniors of Torren Jones (19 pts.), Kevin Smith (16 pts.) and Jarvis Haywood (22pts.) was shortcoming to the five key players TWU brought onto the court.
Overtime was a back and forth battle. With a missed free throw from Lionel Ellison, TWU rebounded the ball and made what would be the game winning bucket with around 10 seconds on the clock. The Statesmen gained possession again with mere seconds on the clock. Haywood launched the buzz-beater aloft but came up short. The Statesmen squad’s stunning season concluded with a heartbreaking overtime loss to Texas Wesleyan University 82-83.
This year was one for the record book for the program, William Penn ranked number one in five different Division I categories: scoring offence per game (92.270), total rebounds per game (46.811), total rebound margin (12.432), total scoring offense (3414) and total rebound offense (1732). Winning the Heart of America Athletic Conference Championship title added another conference laurel to the Statesmen’s arsenal; marking six total crowns while under the coaching of John Henry (2006, 2007, 2008, 2013, 2016, 2017). The team’s 33 wins for the complete season is another record for the program in and of itself.
With the conclusion of the men’s basketball season, the squad will lose eight highlight seniors for the program:
Congratulations again to the William Penn Men’s Basketball Program and the coaching staff for an excellent season!