Mishawaka, IN - The Bethel College men's basketball team was picked seventh in pre-season League play, did not even qualify for last year's Crossroads League tournament, but fought off the Taylor Trojans to claim the 2013 Crossroads League Tournament Championship 68-65. The tournament crown is Bethel's seventh Crossroads League championship in school history.
The contest began with neither team able to build much of an advantage as there were four ties in the first six minutes. A Casey Coon's three-point basket at the 2:45 mark would help Taylor claim a seven-point lead (29-22). However, the Pilots ended the half with a critical 10-2 run featuring five straight points from Matt Schauss to take a 32-31 lead at the break. Schauss would lead Bethel with ten points at intermission. The Pilots shot 43 percent in the opening stanza (13-30) while the Trojans shot 38.5 percent on 10 of 26 from the field.
The second stanza began with Taylor's Ben Raichel connecting on a three-point basket to jump in front 34-32. But with the score tied at 34-34, the Pilots used an 11-2 run, capped off by a Zach Miller three-point basket, to take a 45-36 lead with 14:39 left to play.
Once again, the Trojans rallied with another pair of long-range jumpers courtesy of Raichel to trim the deficit to just three (45-42). But Bethel answered the challenge with a big 8-1 spurt to build the margin to 53-43 with 8:03 left in regulation. Over the next 7:09, the Pilots were able to use the clock to their advantage and retain a nine point lead (63-54) with only 0:54 left on the clock. But that's when the Trojans came alive. Taylor went on a huge surge to draw to within just three point (63-60) with 0:37 yet to play.
The Pilots would turn the ball over on their next possession and with 0:25 left to play Trojan senior Casey Coons was fouled while shooting a three-pointer and a chance to tie the ballgame. Coons made the first, but missed the second. He would connect on his third toss to bring Taylor to within one (63-62).
Bethel's Jordan Bowerman was fouled on the initial inbounds and knocked in two charity tosses to bring BC's lead to three (65-62) with 17 seconds remaining.
Coons would come up empty on a perimeter shot with 0:08 seconds left and it would be quickly rebounded by Michael Mislan who was fouled and knocked down two free throws to increase the Pilot lead to five (67-62).
Coons would then pull up from 30 feet and connect on a huge three-pointer to draw the deficit back to two points (65-62) with 0:03 seconds to play.
A quick TU foul sent Matt Schauss to the free throw line and the sophomore guard went 1-2 from the stripe to give the Trojans a chance to tie, but a last second half court shot from Taylor missed the mark and the Pilots were champions.
Bethel was led by Matt Schauss who scored 20 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and passed out three assists. Michael Mislan and Ryan Benner each added 11 for Bethel. Mislan also hauled in seven rebounds. BC received great minutes from junior Darrell Hopkins who was a huge defensive presence while also adding six points, a block, and one steal on the night
With the Crossroads League tournament win, the Pilots receive the second automatic bid for the NAIA DII National Championship, hosted by the College of the Ozarks, in Point Lookout, Missouri on March 6-12.
"We really went back to basics after last season's final game," stated head coach Mike Lightfoot. "We had many weaknesses and had to work on them immediately to get back to where we wanted to be. The sacrifices each player and coach made in the off-season was incredible and it's nice to see their efforts pay off. We still have a long ways to go and our guys are hungry about the upcoming opportunities."