Provided by Wayland Baptist University
A year after going 14-16 and two years after going just 11-19, the Wayland Baptist men's basketball team made the turn in 2014, making it as far as the SAC championship game and going to the NAIA National Tournament in Kansas City for the first time since 2008.
The Pioneers (23-11) had a 7-1 record against ranked opponents going into their game against No. 16 Georgetown (Ky.), but the defending champions outlasted WBU, taking a hard-fought game, 97-90.
"Tonight was a really good college basketball game between two really good teams," head coach Matt Garnett said. "I thought both teams played well. It was a back and forth game between two good teams."
Most of the game was close, but the majority of the drama came late, when the Pioneers refused to go down without a fight even through an "and-one" play by Georgetown's Monty Wilson that put the Tigers up 79-72 with six minutes remaining.
Wayland went on a 7-0 run over the next minute and a half to tie the game up at 79 points apiece. Two free throws from Juhreece Thompson preceded a jumper by Royal Crouch and a three by the junior from Gary, Ind. gave WBU its sixth tie of the ballgame.
Defense dominated the game over the next two minutes, but Plamen Hristov broke the scoring drought with a three-pointer to give the Pioneers an 82-79 lead.
Trenity Burdine answered the call for the Tigers, however, knocking down a three of his own, before Wilson made a layup and a free throw on Georgetown's next possession to regain the lead, 85-82.
Crouch, who sent Wilson to the line on the previous play, sank his third three-pointer of the game, tying the game up once again, 85-85, with a minute and 45 seconds left to play.
Couch's three was the last time the Pioneers would catch the Tigers, however, as Georgetown went on a 10-2 run, taking a 95-87 lead with just 11 seconds on the clock.
Georgetown went on to win the game, 97-90, but Garnett was proud of what his team gave him in their first NAIA Tournament game in six years.
"The kind of performance I saw from our guys tonight is what they've given me all year long," Garnett bragged. "They are such a resilient bunch of guys and they proved that once again. Our guys don't stop battling, and as a coach that's all you can ask for. If they had any quit in them they wouldn't have made it this far."
The Pioneers, led by Markus Monroe who had 26 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, went through ten lead changes and nine ties throughout the course of the game.
Crouch also put in a solid performance, scoring 25 points and grabbing a game-high eight rebounds. Crouch was 8-for-14 from the field, shooting a perfect 3-for-3 from beyond the arc, keeping WBU in grasps of dethroning the champs.
"Markus did a good job of staying on the attack, and when they loaded up on him he made good decisions," Garnett said. "If you got to see him play this year, you saw how good of a player and competitor that he is, and today people got to see that nationally.
"Royal just continued to come on as the year went on, and tonight he showed the level of player that he is. I'm excited that he has eligibility left."
Wilson led all scorers with 39 points, but three other Tigers, Noah Cottrill (15), Deondre McWhorter (15) and Corey Washburn (12), scored double figures Wednesday night.
Even though Garnett and his squad are disappointed after the loss, they know that they put everything they had into Wednesday's game and left it all on the court.
"All week long we talked about putting everything we had into each game that we played, and we did that tonight," he explained. "That way when it ends, you are able to look at it and know you left it all out there. There's no question that we did that.
"We can leave here disappointed, but we can also be really proud of the way we competed. With time, the accomplishments we made this year will come into perspective."
Part of the reason for Wayland's success this year was a solid group of seniors, Travis Payton, Juhreece Thompson, Barry Johnson, and Monroe, that helped lead the Pioneers back to the national tournament, and get WBU back where it belongs on the national stage.
"Travis and Markus came here three years ago, and I knew then that they could be the core to help us get back to where we needed to be," Garnett said. "Anyone who knows them knows that they've not only grown as ball players, but also as men.
"Then there's Juhreece and Barry. Juhreece really responded well tonight in the second half, which is a testament to some health issues that he's had. It's hard to keep the big fella down, and I'm proud of the way he finished out his career. And with Barry, you know you're going to get incredible competitive spirit every time he gets on the floor. He's had a really good year.
"As a coach I know that these four guys did something that can never be taken away from them. They got Wayland back to nationals.
"I wish all of these guys could play one more day. I've really enjoyed this year and I'm proud to have coached them."