Trailblazers advance to NJCAA Division I tournament Elite Eight - External Relations
Trailblazers advance to NJCAA Division I tournament Elite Eight
March 20, 2019 / Trailblazers advance to NJCAA Division I tournament
HUTCHINSON, Kan. – The comment “Let’s finish this” could be heard
repeatedly from those sitting on the Vincennes University team bench
during the closing minutes of the Trailblazers’ second-round game
against Moberly Area in the NJCAA Division I Men’s Basketball
Championship on Wednesday.
The third-seeded Trailblazers got the job done. Their solid finish
produced an 81-74 victory over the No. 14 seed Moberly Area at the
Hutchinson Sports Arena.
With the win, VU advances to the quarterfinal round on Thursday
against the No. 6 seed Odessa (28-6). Tip-off is at 9 p.m. EDT. If the
Trailblazers win, they’ll reach the Final Four for the second
To keep their chances alive, VU had to dig deep in the second half
against Moberly Area.
“Once we got back in to our flow and started working as a team, we
were able to pull this one out,” VU freshman Chuka Mekkam said.
The first half belonged to the Trailblazers, who now have a 31-2
overall record. They were not only ahead 41-29 at halftime, but they
also held Division I’s leading scorer Alonzo Verge to just nine
first-half points. Verge entered the contest averaging nearly 31 points.
Verge and the Greyhounds started closing in on the Trailblazers as
the second half progressed. Verge would finish with 34 points.
With 15 minutes remaining, VU sophomore George Dixon put the Blazers
ahead 49-39 with a free throw. VU took a 55-45 lead when freshman
Kevin Osawe tossed in a layup at the 12:17 mark.
The Greyhounds scored the next eight points to get within 55-53 of
“There are going to be runs and we allowed the run to go on too long
in the second half,” VU Men’s Basketball Coach Todd Franklin said.
“The first 13 minutes of the second half, we let them try to win the game.”
Sophomore Kevin Kangu’s layup with 9:13 to go extended VU’s lead to 57-53.
Verge hit a jump shot and Markelo Sullivan knocked down a 3-pointer,
and Moberly Area went ahead 58-57.
It was an exciting fight to the finish.
Moberly Area maintained a 68-67 edge with 4:10 remaining. Lony
Francis Jr. tied it at 68-all with a free throw.
Verge made a layup that put Moberly Area in front 70-68 with 3:24 left.
Francis hit a layup and tied the score at 70-all at the 2:43 mark.
Then the Trailblazers took charge of the scoreboard. Osawe’s shot
made it 72-70 with 2:26 on the clock.
Kangu buried a 3-pointer and VU was up 75-70 with 1 ½ minutes remaining.
Freshman Colton Sandage sank two free throws and VU led 77-70 with
34.5 seconds to go.
Osawe made back-to-back free throws for a 79-72 lead with 27.8 seconds.
In the final 11 seconds, Kangu converted two of four foul shots.
Franlin praised Kangu and Mekkam for their performances.
“Chuka (Mekkam) and (Kevin) Kangu were in the position that they had
to step up, which was huge,” Franklin said. “Keith (Clemons) was
struggling a little bit and struggling a little bit with Verge. Verge
is hard to guard out there. Chuk came in there and stabilized that
from a defensive standpoint.
“Then we weren’t being aggressive enough. We got tentative and Kangu
made three or four strong takes to the basket. He made a big 3 late
which was huge. He may have missed that and we still would have
probably won. We wouldn’t have won had he not been aggressive earlier.
He made those big takes to the basket that we had been needing someone
to do. That was the big thing.
“We weren’t going to be in a good position to win if we didn’t find
somebody to slow down and somebody to get more aggressive going to the
basket once we broke that pressure. If Chuka and Kangu don’t step up,
then we don’t win. We didn’t change anything we were trying to do
defensively or offensively when those guys came in. We felt like we
were trying to do the right thing. It was finding the guys who were
going to do it. It wasn’t a lot of X’s and O’s. It was the right Jimmy
or Joe, and in this case we found the right Kevin and Chuka.”
Five VU players finished in double figures. Osawe poured in 17
points. Francis contributed 17 points and 13 rebounds. Freshman Craig
Porter scored 12 points. Sandage tallied 11 points and hit three
3-pointers. Kangu scored 10 points.
“We went to Kevin Osawe late and we stretched the floor to open it
up,” Franklin said. “We went a little smaller.
“They were going small, stretching us and making it a tough on one
end. We usually punish you on the other end inside, but we weren’t
really doing that like we needed to. So their quicker, smaller guys
were having an advantage over us. Finally, I decided we are going to
match it and spread it. I thought that helped us down the stretch. We
were able to open up the floor a little bit more with that lineup.”
The Trailblazers win over Moberly Area earned Franklin his 599th
career win. His record over 22 years is 599-138.
Franklin will go for win No. 600 against Odessa. Odessa made it to
the quarterfinals by beating No. 11 seed Pearl River.
It is going to take another team effort from VU to keep its national
championship hopes alive.
“We are excited about advancing,” Kangu said. “We got a good team win.”