Saturday, March 21, was a red-letter day for Colorado Christian University Men's Basketball. Authors of a perfect ending to a less-than-perfect season, the Cougars pulled off history at the 2015 NCCAA National Tournament. In the tournament's title game for the first time in program history, the blue and gold upended Dallas Baptist University 77-71 to earn the National Christian College Athletic Association championship.
"This season was full of ups and downs," explained CCU junior Wayne McCullough, "but we stayed together through it all. At the end we were so blessed to play for the win in the NCCAA National Championship!"
Though the 2015 season held both memorable moments and frustrating missteps, it was the final weeks that mattered most for the CCU squad. After falling in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Tournament, the Cougars set their sights on the NCCAA post-season.
Colorado Christian cruised through the Central Region Tournament, beating opponents Central Christian and Dallas Baptist. Ironically, after playing them once in November, CCU would face DBU's Patriots in both the regional and national finals.
On their way to the NCCAA title game, the fourth-seeded Cougars picked up quarterfinal and semifinal wins – their third and fourth-straight victories – over Cincinnati Christian and Lee University.
Though their well of momentum by Saturday afternoon was great, Colorado Christian took some time to gather steam against the Patriots. In a struggle to get shots to fall, CCU chased Dallas Baptist through the first half. DBU looked strong in the paint, and extended an opening period lead upwards of nine points as the halftime break approached.
Fortunately, CCU's best was still in front of them. Throughout the final 20, the opposing NCAA II squads battled for control, trading leads and tie scores 15 times. The later the game got, however, the better the Cougars looked. On their way to a fiery 54% second half clip, Christian pulled away late – pushing a lead that grew to 12 with 1:39 left. They trailed by one at the half, but outscored the Patriots 46-39 in the closing period on the way to the 77-71 win.
"DBU is a tremendous team led by a great coach," remarked CCU Head Coach Kevin Lubbers. "We just tried to do what we have done all year and keep it simple. Our guys stepped up and just made the right plays when we needed them."
Indeed, though the Patriots played a stout defensive game, Colorado Christian withstood the DBU pressure by spreading the floor and finding hot touches in the hands of Zach McLemore and Wayne McCullough. McLemore and McCullough combined for 31 points – 18 of them from three. NCCAA All American Michael Brown added 11, while senior Tyler Shields pitched in with 12 in addition to six boards.
"This was a special week for our team, and in particular our seniors," reflected Lubbers. "I am privileged and grateful to have been able to be a part of their lives and this season. Our assistant coaches did a phenomenal job again today, and our guys put forth a tremendous effort after a long trip. This was a great way to end the year and I am really proud of all of the guys and everything that has gone into this season."
The NCCAA title marks the third for Colorado Christian University, and just the first for CCU Basketball. No doubt the trip and the ending will remain a special memory for the players and coaches in blue and gold.
"I've been here for three years and could not be happier about my team and specifically the seniors we had this year," concluded McCullough. "I love each and every one of my teammates, and I will always remember this moment!"