Benedictine College couldn’t imagine a better way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Ravens’ NAIA men’s basketball championship than to return to the national tournament this year.
And maybe even win it.
Benedictine — then St. Benedict’s of Atchison, Kan. — won the 30th NAIA championship in 1967 by defeating Oklahoma Baptist 71-65 for the school’s second national title.
On Thursday night, Benedictine, 21-10, opens play in the 80th NAIA Tournament with a first-round game against The Master’s (Calif.), 26-4, at 7:30 at Municipal Auditorium.
Already this year, the school has commemorated the golden anniversary by inducting the championship team into the college’s Hall of Fame and is making renovations to the gym this spring and summer in honor of the ’67 Ravens.
“As far back as August … while we were doing some things for the ’67 team, we thought, “If we can get back there and win some games, how cool would that be to have it be during the 50th anniversary?’” Benedictine coach Ryan Moody said.
“Guys like Darryl Jones and Jack Dugan and Joe Brickner are still involved in the program and with the school. So they are clearly the bar that we’re trying to get to.”
In the ’67 final, the Ravens faced defending champion Oklahoma Baptist and future NBA first-round pick Al Tucker, who had led the Bisons to three straight title games. Tucker, still the NAIA Tournament’s second all-time leading scorer, poured in 47 points, but Benedictine’s attack, led by Jones’ 14 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists and Bill Wewers’ 18 points enabled Benedictine to give legendary coach Ralph Nolan his first title since 1954.
“It’s a little different now than then,” Moody said of the ’67 team. “ … They were the No. 1 seed.”
This year’s Ravens are led by 6-foot guard Andre Yates, a transfer from Cleveland State, who averaged 18.3 points per game. Senior forward Jake Schannuth averages 10.8 points and 5.1 rebounds.
Benedictine, which went 1-2 in the 2014 and 2015 NAIA Tournaments, was an at-large team this year after finishing second in the Heart of America Athletic Conference regular season. But the Ravens lost four of their last five games, including a first-round loss to Graceland (Iowa) in the first round of the conference tournament when Yates was out because of an injury.
“Andre is a game-changer on both ends of the court,” Moody said. “He’s an (NCAA) Division I athlete who can defend and has a lot of speed, and offensively, he can score at all three levels: he can get to the rim, he can play in the midrange, and he can shoot threes.”
Moody is looking forward to facing a fresh opponent in The Masters, which won the Golden State Athletic Conference tournament.
“We like playing people from out of the area,” said Moody, who played at Benedictine during 1992-96. “One of the fun parts about the national tournament is playing a team from California you have never seen.
“Our league season was 26 games, a double-round robin of 14 teams. You get tired and worn out watching the same teams over and over. It’s kind of exciting to get ready for somebody different.”