SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Patience pays off — and so does experience.
The Grace Bible College men’s basketball team used both to methodically build a big lead, then cruise to its third consecutive NCCAA Division II national championship with a 76-56 win against Valley Forge Christian College (Pa.) on Saturday.
The Tigers’ zone defense slowed down Valley Forge for much of the first half.
Grace Bible’s perimeter shots also started dropping, as the Tigers (30-7) went on a 15-2 run late in the half to stretch their lead to 36-21 with 4:30 remaining.
Forward Allen Durham connected for eight of his points during the run.
“We wanted to pack it in with the zone defense and make them beat us from the perimeter — and they shot 1-for-10 (from 3-point range),” Grace Bible coach Gary Bailey said. “We don’t shoot a lot of 3s, but we shot well (Saturday) and it opened things up for Durham. He’s so strong that he’s very tough to stop one-on-one in the lane.”
Durham, a former Wyoming Park star, scored 26 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. He was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
“Our outside shooting opened up a lot for me,” Durham said. “They couldn’t double-team or put extra pressure down low, and that helped me out a lot.”
Grace Bible put away Valley Forge (30-8) by holding the Patriots scoreless for the first 4:24 of the second half and starting the half on an 8-2 run. Durham’s offensive rebound and basket with 13:30 remaining put the Tigers up by 21 points, 55-34, and the route was on.
“The last thing I told our guys before we took to the floor to start the second half was that a really good team came from 13 down at the half the night before to win,” said Bailey. “That team was us in the semifinals. I told them that this is a good team that we are playing and we cannot let them to do the same to us.”
Senior guard Dan Dame, who finished with six points, credited the team’s defense for the rout.
“We played well in a zone throughout the year,” he said. “We went over some changes to it in the morning shoot-around, and I think we all felt confident with it going into the game.”
Grace Bible held Valley Forge to just 35 percent shooting. The Tigers connected on 51 percent of their shots, and made 7-of-15 3-point attempts.
In winning their third consecutive title, the Tigers completed their third consecutive season without a loss to a single NCCAA D-II team. The team will graduate just two seniors, but one of them is Durham, which will leave a void next year.
“We’re going to struggle with the two seniors we’re losing,” Bailey said. “We’ll have to get better, we’ll have to coach them better. But, we’ve got some great recruits coming in and the kids continue to buy in to what we’re doing.”