Graceland wins NAIA Men’s Championship with overtime buzzer-beater
Benedictine College was shocked but not shaken after their first basketball loss in four months.
The then-top-ranked Ravens’ school-record, 29-game winning streak was snapped in the finals of the Heart of America Athletic Conference Tournament, and many of the fans who packed Ralph Nolan Gymnasium in Atchison, Kan., wondered how the school’s first loss since Nov. 5 would affect the team heading into the NAIA Tournament.
Not to worry.
“Everybody asked, ‘Are they going to be OK?’’’ said Benedictine coach Ryan Moody, whose No. 3 Ravens (30-3), face Westmont (Calif.) (18-10), at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the first round of the NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament at Municipal Auditorium.
“I said, ‘Yes, we’ll be OK.’ Athletes are used to losing. What we’re not used to is winning 29 games in a row.’ We had no distractions during that run, nobody got in trouble, nobody acted cocky. The success of this team is rooted in the character of the guys. You probably hear that a lot, but this is an awesome group of young men.
“This group has been resilient. We do two things really well. We defend with passion, and we share the basketball. At times we can have guys out there who can really shoot it, and they don’t care who gets the credit.”
The Ravens began the season 1-2 and trailed Avila University at halftime in their fourth game before rallying to win, igniting the 29-game streak that that had players and coaches alike wondering just how incredulous it was.
“We said it all the time,” Moody said. “We were down 15 early in the second half at Peru (Neb.) State and found a way to win it. We’d come back to the office as a staff and look at these guys, and say, “Are we this good. What are we doing?”’
“This doesn’t happen. So for us, this is a first. Our 1967 team won a national title, but we’ve broken records. We’ve won the most games in a row in school history, we’ve won the most games in a season in school history … 24-0 in the league has never happened … we have really tried hard to enjoy the moment and not let it overcome us but have some fun with it.”
The Ravens are led by guard Thomas O’Connor, (13.5 points per game), who is one of the most prolific three-point shooters in the country; fellow all-conference selection Adam Kutney (13.2, 5.7 rebounds) of St. Thomas Aquinas High School and conference freshman of the year Eric Krus (12.2, 5.5).
“Thomas is one of the best shooters I’ve ever coached,” said Moody, in his eighth year at Benedictine. “He’s a robot. It’s the same shot every time. We’ve focused on trying to get great shots and not settle. That’s harder to execute than people think with a 30-second shot clock.”
Benedictine is making its fourth appearance in the NAIA Tournament in the past six years, but have just one win to show for it. A year ago, Graceland (Iowa) University set a high bar, by becoming the first Heart of America team to win the Division I title and also attracted the largest crowds to the auditorium since the tournament returned to Kansas City in 2002.
“They had such a great run through the conference tournament and right into the national tournament,” Moody said. “And it’s such a hard thing to do, to win five games in six days. The Benedictine community and the Atchison community are ready, they’re excited. They back us with great support and crowd-wise, I’m not worried about that.
“Playing Westmont, we’re talking about a Hall of Fame coach (John Moore) who has probably won more games than I’ll coach, and they’re a really skilled team. But in the past, we’ve been kind of happy we were there. We’re not going to take that attitude this year. We’re coming to play. We know everybody down there is good, and we’re going to be ready.”
2019 NAIA Division I men’s basketball tournament
At Municipal Auditorium
Wednesday, March 20 first-round games
No. 1 Georgetown (Ky.) vs. No. 8 Rocky Mountain (Mont.), 4:45 p.m.
No. 4 William Jessup (Calif.) vs. No. 5 LSU Shreveport, 1:15 p.m.
No. 3 Missouri Baptist vs. No. 6 Loyola (La.), 8:15 p.m.
No. 2 Wayland Baptist (Texas) vs. No. 7 Arizona Christian, 10 p.m.
No. 1 LSU Alexandria vs. No. 8 Central Baptist (Ark.), 3 p.m.
No. 4 John Brown (Ark.) vs. No. 5 Bethel (Tenn.), 9 a.m.
No. 3 Vanguard (Calif.) vs. No. 6 William Penn (Iowa), 6:30 p.m.
No. 2 Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) vs. No. 7 Campbellsville (Ky.), 10:45 a.m.
Thursday, March 21 first-round games
No. 1 Tougaloo (Miss.) vs. No. 8 Mid-American Christian (Okla.), 4 p.m.
No. 4 William Carey (Miss.) vs. No. 5 Peru State (Neb.), 5:45 p.m.
No. 3 Wiley (Texas) vs. No. 6 Cumberlands (Ky.), 10:45 a.m.
No. 2 The Master’s (Calif.) vs. No. 7 Science & Arts (Okla.), 9:15 p.m.
No. 1 Benedictine (Kan.) vs. No. 8 Westmont (Calif.), 7:30 p.m.
No. 4 Pikeville (Ky.) vs. No. 5 Talladega (Ala.), 9 a.m.
No. 3 Carroll (Mont.) vs. No. 6 St. Thomas (Texas), 12:30 p.m.
No. 2 Stillman (Ala.) vs. No. 7 Oklahoma City, 2:15 p.m.
Friday, March 22 second-round games
Naismith Bracket: noon and 4 p.m.
Liston Bracket: 10:45 a.m. and 2:15 p.m.
Cramer Bracket: 5:45 p.m. and 9:15 p.m.
Duer Bracket: 7:30 p.m. and 9 a.m.
Saturday, March 23 quarterfinals
Naismith Bracket: 5:30 p.m.
Liston Bracket: 2 p.m.
Cramer Bracket: noon
Duer Bracket: 7:30 p.m.
Monday, March 25 semifinals
Naismith vs. Cramer champion, 6 p.m.
Duer vs. Liston champion, 8 p.m.
Tuesday, March 26 championship
Semifinal winners, 8 p.m.