KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Dion Rogers scored 28 points, Ryan Harris added 21 and Texas Wesleyan defeated Life University 86-76 on Tuesday night to win its second NAIA championship.
Naiel Smith had 17 points and six assists and Najeal Young had 10 with 11 rebounds for the third-seeded Rams (29-7), who also won the championship in 2006. Rogers, who went 11 of 13 from the foul line and grabbed eight rebounds, received the Chuck Taylor Award as the tournament MVP.
Rogers opened the game with a 3-pointer, followed with a steal and Texas Wesleyan, from Fort Worth, and the Sooner Athletic Conference, grabbed two offensive rebounds before Young scored and the Rams never trailed. It was 35-23 at the half.
The Running Eagles (26-11) out of Marietta, Georgia, and the Mid-South Conference, closed within 49-44 on a 3-point by Jonathan Beausejour with 11:02 to play. The Rams responded with 10 straight points, the last four by Smith and the lead remained in double figures.
Life, shooting for its fourth title but first since 2000, was led by Dalarian Williams with 25 points and Zach Landis with 21 and 11 rebounds. The Running Eagles knocked off top-seeded and unbeaten LSU-Alexandria 65-63 in the semifinals to reach its fifth championship game.
Notes from Texas Wesleyan University:
Dion Rogers finished his two-year career at 19th on Texas Wesleyan’s all-time scoring list with 1,074 career points.
– The Rams, in their 15th NAIA National Tournament appearance now hold an all-time tournament record of 18-13. The team’s tournament history dates back to the 4th NAIB Tournament in 1940 when they reached the quarterfinals. The Rams have also made appearances in 1941, 1942, 1943, 1947, 1948, 1983, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2016. They have advanced to the round of 16, 9 times, the quarterfinals 4 times, semifinals twice, championship game twice, and won two titles in 2006, and 2017.
– The Rams won the title in 2006 with a 67-65 victory over Oklahoma City on a buzzer-beating three-point shot from senior guard Ben Hunt.
– The Rams had never before faced any of their five opponents in the NAIA National Tournament: University of the Cumberlands, The Master’s University, Dalton State College, William Penn University, and Life University.