Midway through the basketball season, MidAmerica Nazarene University men's coach Rocky Lamar saw a change in his team.
The Pioneers forged an early 9-7 record, but they won 17 of their next 20 games. That stretch included a 10-game winning streak that took them to the semifinals of the NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament for the first time since 2009.
MidAmerica Nazarene’s season ended Monday night with a 76-72 loss to Vanguard.
“We played Central Methodist 11 games ago, and we’re down 16 with nine to go and something clicked on,” Lamar said. “The next thing you know they’re guarding people and thinking, ‘This is the only chance we have.’ They played every game like this was their season, and the seniors were incredible.”
The Pioneers finished the season with a 26-11 record, which included a 12-6 ledger in conference play. They also won the Heart of America Athletic Conference Tournament before advancing to the NAIA Tournament for the third straight season. The team ranked first in Division I for total assists, defensive rebounds per game, field goal percentage and total rebound offense.
Senior Luke Thomas, who attended Raymore Peculiar High School, led Division I with 13.5 rebounds per game and 10.5 defensive rebounds, and junior Nick Syrie paced the nation with 8.5 assists per game.
“They really started guarding people,” Lamar said. “Defensively we’ve come so far, and it’s been a pleasure to watch them grow as a basketball team.”