The Mount Vernon Nazarene College men's basketball team closed out the season with a strong finish by winning 12 of its final 14 games as the Cougars won their first-ever National Christian College Athletic Association national title and recorded the program's fifth 20-win season in the past six years.
MVNC began the year by going 3-3 with all of the losses coming on the road. Then, the Cougars won back-to-back games over Goshen (Ind.) College and Tennessee Temple University to claim the annual Homecoming Classic title.
After a loss to perennial NCAA Division III power Wittenberg University, MVNC rattled off four straight wins to improve to 7-3 before falling to Indiana Wesleyan University 70-66 in the championship game of the annual Food for the Hungry Holiday Invitational.
The Cougars went 3-3 over their next six games to improve to 10-7 on the season. One of the victories came against eventual American Mideast Conference champion, Saint Vincent (Pa.) College, when MVNC rallied from a 24-point second-half deficit to hand the Bearcats an 83-82 defeat.
Continuing its up and down season, the Cougars split their next four games to move to 12-9 overall. The victories came against two eventual AMC Tournament teams, Point Park (Pa.) College and Ohio Dominican College.
In danger of not making the AMC Tournament for the first time ever with a 4-5 conference mark, MVNC closed out the regular season by going on an 8-1 tear to improve to 20-10. The only loss came 84-76 in the rematch at Saint Vincent, while the Cougars knocked off Urbana University twice, Tiffin University, Malone College, Roberts Wesleyan (N.Y.) College, Notre Dame College, Cedarville University, and nationally-ranked Shawnee State University.
The late season spurt not only qualified the team for the AMC Tournament, but it gave MVNC the fourth seed in the 12-team event, a first-round bye, and a home game in the quarterfinals.
In the conference tournament, the Cougars squared off against fifth-seeded Point Park after defeating the Pioneers 79-77 during the regular season. Despite a valiant effort, MVNC dropped a hard-fought 90-85 decision to bow out of the tournament.
However, the Cougars' season was not over as they shifted their focus on getting to the NCCAA National Tournament for the second time in the program's history. MVNC took care of business and earned its national tournament berth by holding off Roberts Wesleyan 99-98 in the NCCAA East Region championship game.
The victory propelled the Cougars into the NCCAA National Tournament, where MVNC finished as the national runner-up in the program's only other appearance in 1989. As the third seed in this year's eight-team event, the Cougars knocked off sixth-seeded Warner Pacific (Ore.) College 78-75 in the quarterfinals and second-seeded North Greenville (S.C.) College 75-68 in the semifinals to advance to the championship game.
In the title game, MVNC squared off with Gardner-Webb (N.C.) University, the host school and defending NCCAA national champions who compete at the NCAA Division I level. The Cougars nailed 17-of-28 three-point attempts as MVNC upset the top-seeded Runnin' Bulldogs 103-94 to claim its first national title and snap Gardner-Webb's 33-game home-winning streak.
"This team played with a lot of heart and never gave up," said MVNC head coach Scott Flemming of his team's first national title. "We knew that we would have to play a near perfect game and out-hustle them in order to have a chance. I am so proud of these guys and so pleased for our seniors to end their careers this way."
Individually, several players had outstanding seasons for the Cougars. Senior forward Kenny Chaffin became only the third player in school history to eclipse the 2,000-point mark as he finished with 2,062 points for his career. On the year, he averaged 18.9 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, while also blocking a school-record 73 shots. He was named to the AMC First Team, the NCCAA East Region First Team, the NAIA Division II Honorable Mention All-American Team, and the NCCAA All-American First Team. Chaffin was also selected as the Most Valuable Player of the NCCAA National Tournament.
Junior guard Phil Argento also had a breakout year as the sharpshooter eclipsed the 1,500-point mark already for his career. Argento averaged 18.4 points per game and nailed a team-high 126 three-pointers made. He joined Chaffin on the 10-member AMC First Team and the five-player NCCAA East Region First Team. He was also an NAIA Division II Honorable Mention All-American and an NCCAA Second Team All-American.
Seniors Lenny Foyer, Andy Gast, and Chad Vorhis also wrapped up outstanding careers for the Cougars. Foyer, a forward, is averaged 8.3 points and 5.0 rebounds, while Gast, a guard, added 7.0 points and nailed 38 treys. Vorhis, a point guard, led the team with 188 assists to go along with a 6.3 points per game scoring average.
Freshman forward Anthony Delimpo (6.0 points per game), junior forward Konrod Morris (5.5 points per game), junior guard Brad Moser (team-high 47 steals), sophomore guard Andy Dunn (54 treys), and sophomore center Matt Hilbert (2.4 points and 2.8 rebounds per game) all contributed to the team's success.
In addition to their success on the court, three players were selected to the NAIA and NCCAA Academic All-American Teams for their efforts in the classroom. Chaffin, Gast, and Foyer each compiled over a 3.50 grade point average as upperclassmen to receive these awards.
Despite losing a talented senior class to graduation that posted a 95-40 record (.704 winning percentage) and played in three national tournament (two NAIA Division II events and one NCCAA event), MVNC will return nine quality players. The Cougars have also signed two outstanding recruits to keep the winning tradition going when the 2002-2003 season rolls around.