March 22, 2019 / Trailblazers to play for national basketball championship on national television Saturday
HUTCHINSON, Kan. – The Vincennes University men’s basketball team is one victory away from finishing the 2018-19 season as the national champion and the Trailblazers will attempt to win the program’s fourth title in program history in front of a national television audience.
The Trailblazers will play in the title game of the NJCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship against Ranger (Texas) on Saturday at 2 p.m. EDT. An 85-67 victory against 2018 national champion South Plains (Texas) in the semifinal round on Friday got them there.
“This is a great win for Vincennes University,” VU Men’s Basketball Coach Todd Franklin said.
Third-seed VU (33-2) takes on the No. 8 seed Ranger (31-3) at Hutchinson Sports Arena. CBS Sports Network is airing the contest. WVUB 91.1 FM will also broadcast the game.
“We worked hard for this,” VU sophomore Lony Francis, Jr. said. “We worked all year for this. A lot of working. A lot of sweat.”
It has been 33 years since the Trailblazers played for a national title.
“This feels amazing,” VU sophomore Keith Clemons said. “Last year we lost in the semifinals, so it feels good to get the win and get to the championship game.”
The Trailblazers won national championships in 1965, 1970 and 1972.
The last time VU played in the national game was in 1986 when it finished as runner-up to San Jacinto (Texas).
A commanding second-half performance against second-seeded South Plains helped carry the Trailblazers to the title game.
It took another team effort on both ends of the court. Four players scored in double figures. Freshman Kevin Osawe poured in 22 points and collected eight rebounds. Clemons followed with 19 points. Sophomore George Dixon added 14 points and snagged five steals. Francis contributed 10.
“Clemons was tremendous,” Franklin said. “George Dixon was tremendous. Lony struggled at times and got in a little foul trouble, but he made some big plays in the second half when we put him back in there.”
In the first half, big man Gaige Prim fueled South Plains. The 6-foot-9 sophomore scored 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds before halftime.
Yet VU still control the scoreboard and took a 38-31 lead into the locker room.
The Trailblazers stayed with their game plan as to how to guard Prim in the second half. Prim was whistled for his fourth foul with 14 minutes, 5 seconds left in the second half and VU up 48-47. He headed to the bench and South Plains coach Steve Green received a technical foul for his reaction to Prim’s fourth foul.
That’s when the Trailblazers delivered the knockout punch. With Prim on the bench, VU unleashed a 10-1 run.
The run began with Clemons hitting both technical foul free throws for a 50-47 lead. It ended with freshman Kevin Osawe draining a 3-pointer that put the Trailblazers ahead 58-48 at the 12:22 mark. The 10-point margin was the first double-digit lead of the game.
VU kept rolling from there and led by as many as 20 points.
Prim, who finished with 29 points and 15 rebounds, fouled out with 3:57 left.
“George took him on, stood up strong and made it tough on him,” Franklin said.
“We wanted to wear him down. We had to chop down a big tree. That was the plan. As long as we could be even or ahead or close that’s what we were going to keep doing. I thought we wore him down and he got a little frustrated, and they finally called a couple of fouls on him.
“He had 18 the first half, but we were going to make him keep going. We didn’t think that we would be able to do it all night. We didn’t let the other guys get in a rhythm and it worked out for us.”
The Trailblazers are hoping they cap the season by hoisting the championship trophy and cutting down the net.
“It’s a great thing for junior college basketball to be on national television,” Franklin said. “We’re going to give it everything we’ve got. We’ve got to make a quick turnaround. I’m going to get on the video and try to get ready for a tremendously coached team by Billy Gillispie. Ranger is really good and really sound. It will be another big challenge.”
Vincennes University Newsroom
Vincennes University Trailblazer Athletics
MARCIA MARTINEZ, Sports Information Director & University Life Reporter
812-888-4164 office, 314-599-1519 cell, VUNews@vinu.edu, email@example.com
VINCENNES UNIVERSITY, Department of University Relations, www.vinu.edu/newsroom