Dalton State defeated Westmont 71-53 in the 78th NAIA Tournament national championship game. Not bad for a program in its second year.
The Roadrunners of Dalton, Ga., re-introduced men’s basketball along with several other sports in 2013 after a 35-year absence, and the school savored its first national title in any sport.
The hugs started with the mass substitutions in the final seconds and continued with a midcourt celebration with players and cheerleaders moments after the final buzzer. The championship T-shirts were passed out, photos with trophies snapped and the nets were cut.
The triumph didn’t come without some tense moments. The Roadrunners, 32-4, saw a 16-point halftime whittled to 50-44 with 6 minutes remaining.
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But Roadrunners point guard Sean Tate hit his first shot of the game, a straight-ahead three-pointer, and Anthony Hilliard followed with a drive in transition to restore a double-digit lead.
Dalton State’s top weapon throughout the evening was Jordan Bowling, who finished with 18 points, a definitive response to his two-point effort in Monday’s semifinal victory. Bowling was named the tournament’s most valuable player.
“I felt like I let my team down,” Bowling said. “I had to come out and prove it tonight. I just happened to score. My main focus was playing defense.”
Westmont also was bidding for its first championship in its 18th appearance at the national tournament. The Warriors of Santa Barbara, Calif., 25-11, made the most of their stay _ a first title game appearance _ after a scary arrival. The team’s connecting flight blew a tire shortly after takeoff and had to return to the Denver airport.
Westmont, which got 17 from Cory Blau, couldn’t overcome a poor shooting game, 18 of 60 (30 percent), including six of 32 on threes.
Dalton finished fast Tuesday. Then again, everything about the program has moved rapidly over the past few years.
When basketball was previous played at the school located between Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tenn., Dalton was a junior college, and among its players then was Tony Ingle.
In 2012, Ingle was hired to restore the program, and it was the perfect fit.
Ingle knew the territory and understood the history. His goal was to win early and often. To do that, he needed talent immediately and mostly mined community colleges.
The team’s top three scorers started at two-year schools. The Roadrunners’ top big man, LaDaris Green, transferred from Savannah State, a Division I program where Ingle served as head coach from 2000-2011, and won the NCAA Division II title in 2004.
It hurt that Dalton was unable to compete for a conference or NAIA title in its first year under organization rules, but when the team compiled a 26-4 record, Ingle knew he had a special group returning for this season.
“They trusted us,” Ingle said. “I sold them on the idea that winners are known for what they give and champions are known for what they give up.”
There isn’t much Ingle, who has coached at the NCAA, NAIA, junior college and high school level in Georgia, hasn’t accomplished in the game. He even has a winless season on his resume.
That happened at Brigham Young. Ingle was serving as an assistant in 1996-97 when the head coach was fired. He coached the final 19 games, losing them all, prompting a “knock knock” joke from is son, Israel, that Ingle uses on the motivational speaking circuit.
“That was a long time ago,” Ingle said.
And there are plenty of new happy memories for the coach and the second-year program.
To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BlairKerkhoff.
Britton Williams, Westmont
Daniel Carlin, Westmont
Jordan Bowling, Dalton State
Preston Earle, Dalton State
Matt Green, Hope International
Kenny Morgan, Hope Inernational
Julian Camper, Cal State San Marcos
Semar Farris, Mid-America Christian
Kenny Manigault, Pikeville
Shondel Stewart, Talladega
▪ MVP: Bowling
▪ Charles Stevenson Hustle Award: Williams
▪ Dr. James Naismith/Emil S. Liston Sportsmanship Award: Westmont
▪ Charles A. Krigel Sportsmanship Award: John Moore, Westmont
▪ NAIA Player of the year: Manigault
▪ NAIA Coach of the year: Tony Ingle, Dalton State
▪ Frank Cramer Award: Lowell Pitzer, American Midwest Conference
▪ Chuck Walden Memorial Trophy (to honorary coaches of championship team): Kansas Gas Service.