Life (Ga.) University played in the first early-morning game of the 80th NAIA Tournament. And, thanks to a pair of defensive plays by senior forward Jonathan Beausejour, the Running Eagles will play in the prime-time finale.
Beausejour blocked a shot by LSU Alexandria’s Jordin Williams with 6.2 seconds left and ripped the ball from the grasp of the Generals’ Brandon Moss in front of the basket as the horn sounded, enabling the Running Eagles to stun the unbeaten and top-seeded Generals 65-63 in the opening semifinal Monday night at Municipal Auditorium.
Life, 26-10, advanced to Tuesday night’s 7 p.m. championship game against the winner of the late semifinal between Texas Wesleyan and William Penn (Iowa).
LSU Alexandria, 34-1, was bidding to become just the third unbeaten team in history to win an NAIA Tournament and the first No. 1 seed to win the title since 2004.
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“Unbelievable season,” LSU Alexandria coach Larry Cordaro said. “I know it didn’t end like we wanted it to. We took another step forward, but fell to a team that’s already won three national championships and is led by a coach who has been doing this probably since I was in junior high.”
Life, a three-time champion in 1997, 1999 and 2000 — all when the tournament was based in Oklahoma — before shutting down the program for a few years, will try to become the second school to win four titles. Oklahoma City has won six.
“This says a lot of our character, and says a lot about our resolve, when you can beat good teams when you don’t play well,” said Life coach Keith Adkins, “and I don’t think we played that well.
“I don’t think they played great; there were a lot of jitters, both teams were tight, but we came up with some plays when we needed to, and that’s what we’ve done for about two months now.”
No plays were bigger than the stops by Beausejour, one of two Life seniors who have played in the national tournament, a first-round loss in 2014.
“We were just trying to hold on,” Beausejour said. “In this tournament, all the games are going to be close. Whoever is going to make plays at the end, is going to win the game.
“This was great, but it doesn’t mean anything if we don’t get this championship (on Tuesday).”
Despite a lackluster start, LSU Alexandria led 28-18 with 5:40 left in the first half before the Running Eagles closed out the half on a 7-0 run on two baskets by Dalarian Williams and a deep three-pointer by Ivan Benkovich, drawing Life within 28-25.
In the second half, guard Mike Miller resumed a three-point barrage in the second half to keep his team engaged in a game that saw the lead change 13 times.
Miller finished with 17 points, including five of nine from three-point range, while Dalarian Williams scored 14, and Beausejour added 13.
Life’s appearance in the championship game will be a first for Adkins, who guided Campbellsville (Ky.) University for 16 seasons, twice reaching the semifinals, including last year, when his Tigers lost to eventual champion Mid-America Christian. He’s the first NAIA coach to reach consecutive final fours with two different schools.
Texas Wesleyan 83, William Penn 82 (OT): Dion Rogers banked in a driving shot with 2.3 seconds left, and the Rams advanced to the title game for the first time since winning the NAIA championship in 2006.
The Rams, 29-7, trailed by as many as 16 points early in the second half before staging their comeback. Najeal Young led the Rams with 21 points.
William Penn, 33-4, of the Heart of America Athletic Conference, was led by Jarvis Haywood’s 22 points.