The Mount Vernon Nazarene College men's basketball team came out shooting Saturday night in the championship game of the 2002 National Christian College Athletic Association National Tournament against Gardner-Webb University and never stopped in shocking the NCAA Division I Runnin' Bulldogs 103-94 to earn the program's first NCCAA national title.
The win snapped a 33-game home-winning streak for top-seeded and defending NCCAA national champion Gardner-Webb, which had been the second-longest in Division I men's basketball behind Brigham Young University (38 straight). The Runnin' Bulldogs had defeated teams such as Colorado State University and Georgia Southern University at home since their last loss in the Lutz-Yelton Convocation Center in January of 2000 to Wingate University.
"This team played with a lot of heart and never gave up," said MVNC head coach Scott Flemming, who guided his team to 12 wins in its final 14 games of the season. "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."
After Gardner-Webb (23-9) took an early 7-2 lead with just over a minute gone by in the game, the Cougars (24-11) went on a 20-2 run to take a 22-9 lead with 15:07 remaining in the half. Kenny Chaffin led the charge with 11 points with a trio of three-pointers, while Phil Argento added nine points with two treys and a three-point play.
However, the Runnin' Bulldogs were not about to let their home-winning streak and national title defense go away without a fight as Gardner-Webb answered with a 30-6 run of its own to take a 39-28 lead on Josh Chiles' three-pointer at the 7:14 mark. Eli Strait led the comeback with 11 points that included three treys.
With MVNC still trailing 46-36 with 4:22 left in the half, the Cougars closed the gap to 55-52 at the break as Argento scored eight points, Chad Vorhis nailed a three-pointer, Chaffin sank two free throws, and Brad Moser beat the first-half buzzer with a trey.
Argento led MVNC with 21 points in the first half as he went 7-for-12 from the field and nailed five of his eight three-point attempts. Chaffin added 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting that included a 3-for-4 showing from long range. Lenny Foyer tallied eight first-half points, and Vorhis handed out seven assists in the first 20 minutes. The Cougars went 10-of-17 from three-point land (58.8 percent).
Strait and Jamie Roller each scored 13 points in the first half to pace Gardner-Webb. Roller also grabbed seven rebounds, and the Runnin' Bulldogs shot 51.3 percent from the field (20-for-39) in building the lead. They also out-rebounded MVNC 24-16.
A layup by Bruce Fields to start the second half gave Gardner-Webb a 57-52 lead, but two treys each by Moser and Chaffin helped the Cougars take the lead for good 61-60 with 17:35 to play.
MVNC's lead reached 12 points at 77-65 on another transition three-pointer by Moser with 12:39 remaining before the Runnin' Bulldogs could recover for one final run. Gardner-Webb did just that as James Colwell scored five points to help the Runnin' Bulldogs pull within 83-81 on a pair of free throws by Fields with 6:33 still on the clock.
Holding a slim 87-85 advantage with 3:47 to play, the Cougars turned to their defense and free throw shooting to help preserve the victory. Gardner-Webb missed 10 of its next 11 shots from the field, and MVNC went 11-of-14 at the charity stripe down the stretch to post the 103-94 victory.
Argento led the Cougars with 29 points as he nailed six three-pointers. Chaffin, the tournament's Most Valuable Player, added 28 points, nine rebounds, and three blocked shots, while Moser joined Chaffin on the All-Tournament Team and finished with 17 points as both he and Chaffin nailed five treys apiece. Vorhis posted a double-double with 13 points and a career-high 12 assists, and Foyer rounded out the double-figure scores with 12 points to go along with six rebounds. MVNC shot 53.3 percent from the field (32-for-60) for the game and 60.7 percent from outside the arc (17-of-28).
"This is just an incredible way to finish my career," said Chaffin, who passed up a full ride to Division I Western Michigan University in order to attend MVNC. "It has been an incredible four years (at MVNC) that I would not trade for anything. The relationships that I have with my teammates and coaches are something that I will always cherish."
Fields paced Gardner-Webb with 18 points and 10 rebounds, while Strait finished with 17 points off the bench. Roller and Chas Chris each added 13 points with Roller grabbing 10 rebounds. The Runnin' Bulldogs out-rebounded the Cougars 57-35, but shot just 34.5 percent from the field (29-of-84) for the game. Gardner-Webb was a frigid 9-of-45 from the field (20 percent) in the second half as MVNC outscored the Runnin' Bulldogs 51-39 to pull away for the victory.