State Colleges

Friends captures the crown

The Friends University basketball team celebrates after winning the KCAC Championship game against Bethany College Tuesday (March 2, 2010) at Friends University.
The Friends University basketball team celebrates after winning the KCAC Championship game against Bethany College Tuesday (March 2, 2010) at Friends University. The Wichita Eagle

For the first 25 minutes of Tuesday's KCAC Tournament title game, Friends played just well enough to make sure Bethany didn't turn the game into a rout.

For the last 15 minutes, the Falcons played like champions, completing the sweep of the league's regular-season and tournament titles with an 82-75 win over the Swedes in Wichita.

"When you get opportunities, in life or basketball, you need to take advantage of them," Friends coach Dale Faber said. "You look up on the walls of our gym and you see a lot of league titles but not league tournament titles, so to get this is really special."

The double titles come just one year after Friends (25-6) finished 13-17 and in a three-way tie for sixth place in the final league standings.

Now, they're headed to the NAIA Division II national tournament starting next Wednesday at Point Lookout, Mo. McPherson grabbed the KCAC's other automatic berth to the national tournament by virtue of Bethany's loss.

Chris Jackson led the Falcons with 28 points. Romar Jones — the KCAC player of the year — finished with 14 points and eight rebounds.

"Jerry West has a quote that says, 'You're not a champion until you win a championship,' " said Jones, a senior forward. "Well today, I feel like a champion."

In the first half, it was all the Falcons could do to make sure Bethany didn't run away with the game as the Swedes pushed their lead to nine with five minutes to play in the half, going up 31-22 after a jumper from Jack Sadowy.

Friends answered with back-to-back buckets from reserve center John Bridges, then ended the half on a free-throw lane leaner from Brett Steven with three seconds left that cut the lead to 43-41 going into the break.

"When a team is playing for its life like Bethany, you have to expect them to come at you like they did," Faber said. "They shot lights out, but we were able to sustain it."

Bethany started the second half with a quick burst to push its lead to 50-42 following James Schneider's fourth three of the game, but after Jackson scored a layup off a Swede turnover, Friends reeled off a 12-2 run and took its first lead of the game at 55-54 on a Mike Hyde basket with 12 minutes left.

"We've been able to make clutch plays and finish games all year long, but we just couldn't in the second half today," Bethany coach Clair Oleen said. "That was very uncharacteristic of us."

Friends let by as many as seven at 69-62 with 4:50 left, but after Bethany cut the lead to 72-71 with two minutes to go, the Falcons hit 11 of 12 free throws to end the game and seal the win.

C.J. Littlejohn led Bethany (18-13) with 15 points.

"We know what kind of a team we are and what we're capable of," Jackson said. "So when it comes down to the last 10 minutes of the game, we have a lot of confidence in each other and know we'll get the job done."

BETHANY: Goggins 9, Littlejohn 15, Honeycutt 0, Ferguson 12, Williams 10, Miller 4, Banning 0, Sadowy 11, Schneider 14, Dodson 0. Totals 25-59 18-26 75.

FRIENDS: Hull 0, Richardson 7, Heard 4, Steven 5, Jackson 28, O'Nelio 6, Jones 14, Hyde 10, Ellis 0, Bridges 8. Totals 26-61 24-30 82.

Halftime — Bethany 43, Friends 41. 3's — Bethany 7-25 (Schneider 4, Littlejohn 2, Sadowy); Friends 6-14 (Jackson 4, Steven, Richardson). Rebounds — Bethany 38 (Schneider 7); Friends 42 (Jones 8). Assists — Bethany 8 (Goggins 4); Friends 14 (Heard 4).

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