Broncos Win NCAA Division II Basketball Title
Greg Kamansky gathered his thoughts, waited a moment and said the word that was unspoken for so long, but so true and on the minds of Cal Poly Pomona fans and supporters Saturday afternoon.
"Redemption," the Cal Poly Pomona Broncos men's basketball coach exclaimed after his team defeated No. 2 Indiana University of Pennsylvania 65-53 for the NCAA Division II NCAA Championship before a crowd of 3,672 fans at the MassMutual Center.
It was one year ago that the Broncos lost in the NCAA title game, losing on a last-second, desperation 3-pointer from Findley's Tyler Evans in overtime.
There would be little doubt about this contest on a chilly day in New England as the Broncos were out to claim their first NCAA championship and the 14th NCAA title in school history.
CPP, which finished the season 28-6, took control from the outset as it scored the game's first eight points and never trailed against a team that entered play on a 15-game winning streak. For the game, the Broncos held IUP to its lowest scoring effort on the season and 25 points below its season average.
The Broncos became the first unranked team to win the championship since North Alabama in 1979. They also became just the third school in history to lose a national title and win the following year.
"I am so proud of our team's effort today because it took our best game of the year to defeat a team that presents so many weapons,'' Kamansky said. "That we held them to 53 points and stopped their big guns speaks volumes about our guys.
"But it's more than just defense. We hit shots during the entire Elite Eight and we showed improvement from the foul line the last two games. It takes a team to win here and I can't say enough about how they mesh together and play unselfishly.''
Junior Donnelle Booker scored a game-high 13 points and Tournament MVP Austin Swift and All Elite Eight choice Dahir Nasser each had 12. Junior Tobias Jahn scored 10 points off the bench with three rebounds. It was Jahn's second straight double-figure effort in the tourney.
"Usually you can find one or two weaknesses out there,'' Kamansky said about IUP. "They have size, athleticism, and they can drive and they can shoot. It was tough finding a weakness on them. We knew they were explosive. (We couldn't) let them get on any runs, which was easier said than done. I don't believe they went on any type of run that influenced the game."
The Broncos took command on 15-of-28 shooting from the floor in the opening half and fired in five 3-pointers to lead 35-25 at the break. Defensively, CPP was outstanding as it held IUP to only six first-half field goals.
"That's our mentality to come out blazing,'' Nasser said. "We want to win games. Our plan was definitely to lock down on their three-point shooters. We had to get up on their shooters."
Swift had eight first-half points and Nasser had six as CPP five of nine from the 3-point arc to extend the lead through most of the opening 20 minutes in double digits.
"I remember last year how Findlay came out in the first half," Swift said. "They gave it to us. We were down by a lot. We had the experience from last year knowing how to prepare for games. We had the intensity. We jumped out on them early. We just put our foot to the throttle and came out with the win."
Booker's 3-pointer pushed CPP ahead to its largest lead in the first half (14 points) with 7:29 remaining and CPP up 27-13.
Crimson Hawks coach Joe Lombardi gave credit to CPP's strength on defense - Kamansky's patented match-up zone.
"It was a combination of zone and man principles,'' Lombardi said. "We don't really see anything like that all year. There was a learning curve we had to go through. We practiced yesterday. We spent 20 minutes on it. It took us awhile to figure it out. I am not talking about the players. I'm talking about me as a coach. They're long and they play hard. They didn't give us a lot of easy buckets. They did a good job in the second half. We dug ourselves into some holes we couldn't get through."
The Broncos took its largest lead of the game at 51-34 when Swift canned two free throws with 11:13 left. Over the next 10 minutes, CPP led by double digits until IUP made a threat in the final moments.
A Dwayne Fells free throw put the Broncos up 59-48 with 1:37 left. The Crimson Hawks responded with a layup from Ashton Smith and to cut the lead inside 10 at 1:24. After a turnover from CPP's Mark Rutledge, IUP couldn't answer as it picked two fouls on the next possession.
Rutledge buried a pair of free throws and CPP led again by double digits at 61-50 with 53 seconds left.
IUP set up on offense and Julian Sanders fired an errant 3-point effort, but was fouled by Swift, who picked up his fifth foul.
Sanders hit all three free throws, and CPP led 61-53 with 42 seconds remaining.
But the threat ended on the next play as Booker was on the receiving end of a baseball pass. He caught the ball on the break and threw down a dunk and CPP led 63-53 with 40 seconds left.
"The biggest thing about Donnelle is he can play with anybody,'' Kamansky said. " In our regional games he was fantastic. The first couple of games he had a bit of stage fright. Last night I told him to unleash it. He was at ease today. You can tell by the way he played."
The victory added two more season records to the list the Broncos added this year. They will finish as the NCAA's top scoring defense at 56.2 points a game and rank among the top 10 in field goal percentage at 50.4 percent.
Darryl Webb led the Crimson Tide with 12 points and Akida McClain with 10.
BRONCO NOTES: The Broncos' 53.2 percent FGs marked the fifth straight NCAA game they shot above the 50-percent mark... During the 10-year Kamansky era, the Broncos are 104-9 when they fire at least 50 percent from the floor... The victory improved CPP to 100-17 when they hold a team to 60 or fewer points... Tournament MVP Austin Swift averaged 17.6 points during CPP's six-game NCAA ride and 15.6 points during the Elite Eight... The Broncos own a two-year record of 53-14 - the best two-year ride in school history... The 28-6 record is CPP's single-best record of all-time; it's the most wins in a year and ties for the fewest losses (23-6 - 1963-64)... Darryl Webb of IUP and Taylor Witt and Matt Schneck of St. Cloud State also were named to the All-Tournament team.
(Photo: The Broncos celebrate the university's first NCAA Division II tournament championship in men's basketball. Photo courtesy of Richard Orr.)