Three rows of individual plaques awarded to semifinalists in the NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament rested on a table outside the MidAmerica Nazarene locker room.
The Pioneers didn’t want a part of them.
That’s why MidAmerica Nazarene guard Conner Langrehr went for the win with a high-arching three-pointer with 4.2 seconds left in Monday night’s semifinal against eighth-seeded Emmanuel (Ga.) College.
But Langrehr’s shot, with the Pioneers trailing by two, caromed off the rim, and Emmanuel’s Patrick McCrary buried two free throws for a 76-72 victory, spoiling unseeded MidAmerica Nazarene’s hopes of a hometown championship.
Emmanuel, 33-3, which had not won a game in three previous trips to the tournament, advanced to the championship game at 7:05 tonight against sixth-seeded Vanguard (Cal.) University, 34-6, which defeated St. Gregory’s (Okla.) 108-88 in the other semifinal.
It will be the first time either team has played for an NAIA Division I title.
“We got a great look to win the thing,” said MidAmerica Nazarene coach Rocky Lamar, whose team finished 26-11. “I’m so proud of Conner we were really trying to go inside on it. But that’s okay, we know Conner and, man, I thought it was in when he shot it.
“It would have been the only time we led all night. I’m so proud of them. They played their hearts out.,”
Emmanuel coach TJ Rosene also thought Lengrehr’s shot had the Lions beaten.
“It looked good,” Rosene said. “He’s such a good shooter. We didn’t switch it well. He came off open. He makes that most of the time. It was a good shot, it was on. It just missed.”
Emmanuel led MidAmerica by as many as 10 points in the second half before the Pioneers staged a comeback capped by guard Nick Syrie’s drive to the basket for a 70-70 tie with 2 minutes, 21 seconds to play.
McCrary regained the lead by rebounding his own miss, and after Syrie fouled out on an offensive foul driving to the basket, Emmanuel took a 73-70 lead on a free throw by Adrian Justice with 1:48 to play.
MidAmerica’s Nate Launius cut it to 73-72 with a drive to the basket, and after McCrary made it 74-72 by making one of two free throws, it set the stage for the Pioneers’ final possession.
“MidAmerica is so tough, they played so hard, and they’re a class act,” said Rosene, whose club has won 24 of its last 25 games. “I admire Rocky Lamar and that program. His Hall of Fame speech inspired me. It inspired my wife. It’s too bad somebody had to lose. Their fans were so good. Their guys are so classy. I’m glad we won, but I’m sorry they had to lose.
“We played to win, they played to win.”
Guard Michael Stanley led the Lions with 20 points, his fourth straight game of 20-plus points in the tournament.
The Pioneers were led by Syrie, who had 18 points and seven assists. Forward Luke Thomas managed his fourth double-double of the tournament with 15 points and 17 rebounds, and he did it the hard way. He scored just 1 point in the first half, missing all five of his shots before catching fire in the second half.
MidAmerica Nazarene came out shaky, missing its first seven shots from the field.