Texas Wesleyan University’s men’s basketball team will play the Life University Runnin’ Eagles for the NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
The Rams (28-7) advanced to the championship by defeating William Penn University’s Statesmen 83-82 Monday night in overtime. Life University (26-10) beat Louisiana State University of Alexandria 65-63 on Monday.
Tuesday’s game starts at 7 p.m. and can be viewed on ESPN 3. A bus taking Wesleyan fans to the game in Kansas City left the campus Tuesday morning; the plan is to see the game and drive back afterward, said sophomore computer science major Cameron Bennett, who is also a member of Ram Squad.
Rams senior guard Dion Rogers made the game-winning three from the corner with only seconds left on the clock.
“I can’t even explain how I felt!” Rogers wrote in a text. “As soon as I made the shot, I thought that there was still a good amount of time left for them to get a shot off so I was ready to play defense again. Haha, everything finally hit me when my teammates picked me up and started celebrating.”
Wesleyan had a difficult time against William Penn, only taking the lead three times, including Rogers’ winning shot. Rogers said William Penn’s defense was a key factor in Monday night’s hard-fought game.
“Oh yeah, there was a ton of pressure tonight,” he wrote. “Because they were a pretty good defensive team. But we fought harder than they did in the end and survived a tough game! Yeah, we started breaking a little bit, but we got it together and played hard to finish out with a win.”
Though William Penn put some pressure on him, Rogers said he’s feeling confident about the championship game.
“[For] tomorrow’s game, I feel confident!” he wrote. “I am a little bit excited because it’s literally the last game of my college career – so I have to give it my all!”
Head coach Brennen Singleton wrote in an email that the Rams were happy after Monday’s victory, and were getting some rest for the final challenge.
“[We] feel good and [we’re getting] some rest,” Shingleton wrote in an email.
Shingleton said he has overall happy with the Rams’ effort on Monday.
“I’m proud of the guys, they show their toughness, willingness to continue to lay and more importantly, their unwillingness to quit,” he wrote.
Senior guard Najeal Young, the game’s lead scorer with 21 points, said he had trouble in the first half, but got it together by the second.
“Personally, I struggled early in the game,” he said. “I couldn’t buy a basket. I kind of let my fatigue get the best of me. But toward the middle of the second half, I decided I wasn’t going to allow for excuses – I decided I wasn’t going to let fatigue be the reason why we lose or make excuses for myself. I found it and picked it up better in the next half.”
Despite the worthy opponent the Statesmen proved to be, Young said the only pressure he felt was from himself.
“No . . . I didn’t really feel any pressure,” Young said. “I don’t know, I guess it depends, it’s the final four games, so it’s the pressure to win, but the pressure came from myself to just want to perform and want to perform and want to win games for my team. So it’s pressure that I didn’t want to let my teammates down.”
Like Rogers, Young is excited rather than nervous to be in the championship game, and has no doubt that the Rams will win.
“I’d be a fool to say no – yes, we’re going to win,” he said. “I feel like we’re the best team in the country, and by team, I mean team. Our guys love each other, our guys stick together, our guys have been battle tested. Our guys have been through it all. So, we are the best team in the country. I’m excited, man. It’s been long time coming. Coming from where I come from, going through the [tribulations] that I been through. Tomorrow’s game is going to be a game that’s going to be played with a lot of emotion. And man, I need it.”
Senior guard Trevon Jeffery gave the Rams seven rebounds, one turnover, three steals, and one basket.
Jeffery, like Rogers and Young, said he has no worries.
“[I’m] real confident,” Jeffery said. “We just believe in each other, like, more and more after every game. I believe we’re together than we’ve been all year right now. Honestly, I’m just ready to play. We one step closer – just one more. One step closer to what we’ve been working for all year. We never didn’t think that we wasn’t gone be here. That’s what we’ve been fighting for all year. To get here, but not only to get here, but to get here and win.”
Also like Young and Rogers, Jeffery said it was William Penn’s defense that gave Wesleyan a run for their money.
“Defense. Boxing out, boxing out and letting them our possession,” he said. “I did alright. I didn’t do my best [but] we won, so ya know, you can’t really complain.”
There are about 30 people on the bus bound for Kansas City, Bennett said, adding that he’s excited to see the Rams compete in their final game of the season. He also said he’s been watching a few Life University games to see how they would stack up against Wesleyan, and thinks the Rams will win easily.
“Honestly, I’m pretty excited,” Bennett said. I’m seeing all this people and everybody has this kind of mentality, we can’t wait to go see our basketball team. I’ve been checking other games to see the competition, what we’re stacked up against [and we got it from here].”