March 10, 2013

Shot heard round the NAIA sends William Penn to semis

William Penn University

POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. — While Ollie’s long heave from the corner in the classic sports movie “Hoosiers” resulted in foul shots that won the game for tiny Milan High School, James Devlin actually made his buzzer beater to lift the Statesmen men’s basketball team to a 67-66 quarterfinal win over No. 25 seed Midland (Neb.) at the NAIA Division II National Championships Saturday.

Just as Ollie and Milan High made their mark in hardwood lore, Devlin also etched his initials in William Penn cager history by helping the top-seeded Statesmen (33-1) to their first appearance in the national semifinals, aka the NAIA’s Final Four.  They will face No. 20 seed Grace (Ind.) in Monday’s semis (6 p.m. tip-off).

Trailing 66-65 with just over seven seconds left on the clock, William Penn coach John Henry put the ball in the hands of his best playmaker, Brandon Beasley. The senior quickly drove the length of the floor and pulled up for an open mid-range jumper down the right baseline.

The shot sailed long over the rim, but Devlin was able to track it down on the weak side. Although time was running out, he still had the sense to square up from just inside the arc and fired a shot that found nothing but net.  Pandemonium ensued for the Statesmen and their fan base as William Penn will continue its spectacular season at least one more game.

It was so far from easy for the Statesmen, though, as they were outshot 39.7 percent to 35.7 percent by the Warriors (21-13). None of the seven William Penn players who attempted a field goal were above 50 percent for the contest, but all that matters in postseason play is that you advance to the next game.

In a matchup that featured 16 lead changes and eight ties, it appeared neither squad had it in them to win Saturday. The Statesmen, who in the first half both led by as much as seven but also trailed by as much as eight, were up 38-36 at halftime.

Midland regained the edge by six points in the second stanza, but the remainder of the afternoon was see-saw battle. William Penn eventually gained a four-point margin at 63-59 with 3:34 left, but the Warriors, previous winners over No. 8 Eastern Oregon and  No. 23 York (Neb.), scored seven of the next nine points to go ahead by one at the 1:55 mark.

Both teams failed to produce points in their next three possessions, including three missed free throws by Midland’s James Parrott (game-high 20 points, 2-of-6 FT), setting up Devlin’s heroics. The senior was just 2-of-7 from the field for six points.

For the second day in a row, Keith Steffeck guided his squad by scoring 19 points on 7-of-15 shooting. While his teammates struggled from deep to the tune of 33.3 percent, Taylor Stoutner had a solid 6-of-14 three-point performance for 18 points.

Little went right for Beasley on the offensive end (5-of-20 for 12 points), but he found other ways to contribute, including corralling a career-high 23 rebounds.  The tally is the second-most in school history, behind only Ted Burson’s 31 against Parsons during the 1962-63 campaign. The senior had nearly half of his team’s 48 boards, while Midland was limited to just 31 rebounds.

Blake Walker and Kevin Fay both matched Devlin with six points, and Walker and Beasley both posted three assists.

William Penn finished with 13 turnovers, while the Warriors were a bit better with seven giveaways.

“This was a wild, wild finish with James hitting the shot heard around the world,” Henry said. “This is a dream come true that William Penn is in the Final Four. This is such an emotional time for everyone.”

“There have been so many games this year that we were supposed to lose, but we keep on finding a way to win,” Henry added. “I am just so proud and happy for this team right now.”

On a bittersweet sidenote, Ross Howe collapsed during a first-half timeout and was taken to the local hospital for evaluations. As of late Saturday night, the junior was in stable condition and in good spirits.